Arrow&Branch included in Kelli White’s book Napa Valley Then & Now

Here is how Kelli White describes us in her book, Napa Valley Then & Now, published in the fall of 2015:

Arrow & Branch is the latest in a series of ventures based on a particularly compelling patch of Cabernet Franc. This exceptional vineyard has inspired many a vintner, first gaining renown in the 1990s as the elegant, herbaceous Stonefly Cabernet Franc. In 2002, it was purchased by Tony Soter (founder of Etude) and rechristened Little Creek. Five years later, when Soter left Napa to pursue winemaking in Oregon, he sold the vineyard to Steve Contursi, one of the country’s pre-eminent coin collectors, and his wife Seanne Contursi. They named their new venture Arrow & Branch, after the items clutched in the talons of the eagle depicted on the back of most American coins.

In addition to coins, the Contursis also collect wine, and they profess a special fondness for Bordeaux. As such, they built their new life as vintners around the dream of creating an American Cheval Blanc. Aspiring to this model, the Contursis and their winemaking team have managed to craft one of the very best Cabernet Franc-based blends in Napa Valley.

Vineyards

Located in north Coombsville, the vineyard had been in the hands of the Payne family for over a century until Lee Burns bought the property in 1991. That year he planted three acres of Cabernet Franc—vines that are still going strong today. In 2002, Tony Soter added a half-acre patch of Malbec to the vineyard. The Contursis played with this fruit for five years before grafting it over to Cabernet Franc in 2012.

Also in 2012, the Contursis purchased the adjacent property, planning another 1.5 acres of Cabernet Franc. The soils of the vineyard are deep and gravelly, with lots of loam—well-draining and slightly acidic. Coombsville is notoriously cooler than the rest of Napa Valley, and its prolonged growing season is ideal for Cabernet Franc, whose delicate aromatics can easily be ripened out of existence in too warm a location. The vineyard is farmed organically by veteran vineyard manager Mike Wolf.

In addition to their estate grapes, Arrow & Branch purchases Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot from various sources within the Valley. The core of their Sauvignon Blanc hails from a vineyard within Soda Canyon, which they supplement with a shifting supply of Sauvignon Musque, Sauvignon Blanc’s more tropical cousin. The Merlot comes from Stagecoach vineyard and the Petit Verdot comes from their Coombsville neighbor Sodaro. Supplemental Cabernet Sauvignon is occasionally purchased from the Stagecoach vineyard as well as an undisclosed site in St. Helena. In 2012, the Contursis secured a steady allocation of Cabernet Sauvignon from the historic Beckstoffer Dr. Crane vineyard, which they plan to bottle independently.

Wines & Winemaking

Arrow & Branch’s very first vintage, 2008, was ravaged by the extreme spring frosts that destroyed over 80 per cent of that year’s crop. They had intended to produce a varietal Cabernet Franc, but were left with too little to work with. As such, they boosted production slightly by blending in the estate Malbec along with some Petit Verdot acquired from Sodaro. The result was a whopping 69 cases, but the wine produced by this emergency measure stuck. Thereafter, Arrow & Branch produced a Bordeaux blend based on the estate Cabernet Franc, but supplemented with purchased blending grapes.

The winery produced its first varietal Cabernet Sauvignon in 2010, sourced predominantly from the Meteor and Stagecoach vineyards. With the 2012 vintage, they added a third red, the Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Cabernet Sauvignon. These three reds are all inoculated and fermented in stainless steel tanks before aging in barrel for 19 months. The Cabernet Franc blends sees 50-60 per cent new French oak, while the Cabernets see 65-75 per cent. The wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

In 2010, when they were preparing to release their debut 2008 blend, the Contursis wanted some Sauvignon Blanc to serve at the release party, so the winemaking team produced a small amount. Enjoying the results, the Contursis insisted that the Sauvignon Blanc officially join the Arrow & Branch line-up. Neither grassy nor overtly tropical, this balanced, serious Sauvignon Blanc is vinified and aged in a mixture of stainless steel barrels and neutral and new French oak.

Rising star Helen Keplinger was the original winemaker for Arrow & Branch, but Keplinger passed the torch to Jennifer Williams (ex Spottswoode) when she left to take over the winemaking at Bryant in April 2011.