Enology and Viticulture

Consistently high-quality wines do not evolve by accident or a stroke of great luck. From vine to glass, the complex winemaking process demands extensive knowledge and oversight of the entire process, from vineyard management through each creative stage of the winemaking art.

The expert team at Handwritten Wines, led by Executive Winemaker Rob Lloyd, chooses to target small lots of fruit from high-elevation, hillside, and mountain vineyards that produce a unique sense of place exhibited by specific sensory qualities.

Following each harvest, the Handwritten Team applies its innovative skills to selecting the most suitable grapes, then converting them into world-class wine varietals and blends.

Exploring the Viticulture and Raw Material Selection

Napa Valley is one of the most diverse growing areas in the world. Concentrated in a relatively small area with multiple combinations of microclimates, elevations, and soil types, vineyard owners and managers have been able to cultivate almost the entire range of grape varieties.

While the entire Napa Valley was designated one of the nation’s first AVAs (American Viticultural Area), the region has since been subdivided into sixteen “nested” AVAs, each with different growing conditions.

And each Napa Valley AVA has proven to be ideal for producing grape varieties that will bear different and unique flavor profiles and intensities.

With a focus on high elevation, hillside, and mountain fruit, Handwritten Wine’s 2,000 case production is predominately Cabernet Sauvignon. The boutique winery also produces high-quality Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and popular blends, including “Three Words” and “The Author.”

Each year, with a clear objective in mind, Rob Lloyd and the Handwritten Wines Team have sourced grapes from vineyards from many of the Napa Valley AVAs.

Characteristics of the AVAs

While Handwritten Wines maintains its own vineyard in Wooden Valley to produce Sauvignon Blanc and an exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, the bulk of the raw material is carefully selected from other vineyards throughout Napa Valley.

To better understand the wide variety of growing conditions in the relatively small Napa Valley AVA, here is a list of 10 of Handwritten’s favorite growing areas with climate conditions, average temperatures, elevations, and the varieties that thrive in those conditions.

Calistoga AVA

Elevation: 300 to 1200 feet

Climate:  Potential variation in summer temperatures due to the cool nighttime marine air drawn from the northwest and higher elevations. However, midday temperatures can reach 100˚F.

Typical Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah

Handwritten has produced Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from here.

Coombsville AVA

Elevation: 700 feet

Climate: Cooler, rarely above 80˚F, enjoys marine winds from San Pablo Bay and Petaluma Gap.

Typical Varieties: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay

Handwritten Wines has produced an excellent Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes in this AVA.

Diamond Mountain AVA

Elevation: 400 to 2,200 feet

Climate: With moderately warm temperatures ranging between 50˚to 90˚, vineyards in this AVA experience less fluctuation overall than those on the northern Napa Valley floor vineyards below.

Typical Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc

Handwritten Wines has produced a soon-to-be-released 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon from here.

Howell Mountain

Elevation: 600 to 2,600 feet

Climate: With some vineyards above the fog line, this AVA experiences overall warmer temperatures due to more hours of sunshine, less moisture, and virtually no influence from the fog that rolls in from the ocean.

Typical Varieties:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel

Handwritten Wines has produced its world-class Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with grapes from this AVA.

Los Carneros AVA

Elevation: up to 700 feet

Climate: Cooled by winds from San Pablo Bay in the south and Petaluma Gap in the west, the temperatures rarely exceed 80˚F.

Typical Varieties: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay

Handwritten Wines has produced Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Chardonnay from here.

Mount Veeder AVA

Elevation: 500 to 2,600 feet

Climate: Cool to moderate, with most vineyards above the fog line, meaning warmer nights and cooler days than on the valley floor. Typical summer highs are 85°F.

Typical Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay

Handwritten Wines has produced an excellent Cabernet Sauvignon varietal and their “Three Words” field blend.

Oak Knoll AVA

Elevation: up to 500 feet

Climate: Moderate to cool, with marine air and fog often remaining until late morning, some afternoon breezes creating slightly cooler temperatures than up-valley. Summer temperatures may reach 92°F.

Typical Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

Handwritten Wines has produced Cabernet Sauvignon from this AVA.

Rutherford AVA

Elevation: up to 600 feet

Climate:  While having some influence from the early morning fog, this bench area is cooler, with less sun and afternoon marine winds. However, summer peak temperatures reach the mid-90s with a distinct day-to-night temperature fluctuation.

Typical Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel

Handwritten Wines produces some Cabernet Sauvignon wines from here.

Stag’s Leap AVA

Elevation: up to 500 feet

Climate: Moderately warm with cooler afternoon marine winds. Summer temperatures can reach 100°F, but more regularly are in the mid-90s

Typical Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

Handwritten Wines produces some Cabernet Sauvignon wines from this AVA.

Yountville AVA

Elevation: up to 200 feet

Climate: Moderate, cool marine breezes and fog contribute to cool summer mornings. Summer peak temperatures may reach 90°F, with nighttime temperatures dropping into the mid-50˚ range.

Typical Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot

Handwritten Wines has produced its Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon from this AVA.

Enology: The Science of Winemaking

Enology is the study of wines and winemaking. Because the processes and everchanging variables required to produce excellent wines are highly complex, today’s most successful winemakers need considerable education and experience to succeed.

Winemaking requires considerable planning, analysis, and adaptation to achieve the desired result. Grapes of a specific variety will differ from vineyard to vineyard and can also vary in quality from year to year as conditions change.

Rob Lloyd, Handwritten Wines’ Executive Winemaker, has earned his Master of Science degree in Enology and Viticulture from the prestigious University of California at Davis, which is ranked first in the nation in the study of Agriculture.

One innovative early-stage winemaking process that Winemaker Lloyd uses to create more flavorful, deeper colored final red wines is known as “sub-cap fermentation.”

Sub-Cap Fermentation

After the grapes reach the winery and are crushed and pressed, Rob and his Team assess the attributes of the raw material before beginning the process. For the majority of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and red blends,  the winemakers employ a unique process known as sub-cap fermentation.

To facilitate the fermentation process, Handwritten uses native wild yeast fermentation that can survive at a higher alcohol level required because of the high sugar levels in Napa Valley fruit.

Using sub-cap fermentation tanks designed explicitly for Handwritten Wines, the Team first ferments the new wine at low temperatures for about two weeks. The tanks perform somewhat like a French-press coffee maker with a large metal plate with holes above the “cap” (or layer of grape skins) pushing the skins below the surface. The continuous contact of the skins with the liquid creates a richer color and more structure to the finished wines. The process helps to vent off a little more ethanol/ alcohol during the process.

Sub-cap fermentation permits the grapes to remain on the vine to ripen longer while building more flavor and complexity without worrying about the higher sugar/alcohol content in the final product.

Barrel Aging

Handwritten winemakers use French oak barrels for the majority of their handcrafted wines.

The exceptions are their Chardonnay, which ages in American Oak, and “The Author” Sauvignon Blanc, which sees time in a concrete “egg.”

Fermentation creates three byproducts: alcohol, carbon dioxide, and bio-thermic heat. The latter two help the yeast rise to the top of the egg and then precipitate down the sides. This continual natural stirring lends a creamier, more balanced texture to the wine.

Handwritten Wines’ “The Author” also sees extra time in neutral oak barrels and stainless steel containers.

The majority of the Cabernets age in 50% new oak for anywhere from 18-24 months before bottling.

Sampling Handwritten Wines

Whether buying online at the Wine Shop or visiting the Handwritten Wines’ for an in-person wine tasting, wine enthusiasts should sample the remarkable wines produced by Winemaker Rob Lloyd and his experienced Team.

Currently featured handcrafted wines by Handwritten Wines include:

  • Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon

Members of the handwritten Wines Member Circle receive special benefits, dining experiences, and complimentary wine tastings throughout the year.

To join the Member Circle, visit the Handwritten Wines website and complete the Member Form.