Winemaker Cary Gott is profiled:
Pope Valley’s Calla Lily Winery targets China with reds
By Jessica Zimmer, St. Helena Star, January 23, 2019
Pope Valley may be a little more remote than other AVAs in Napa Valley, but that hasn’t stopped one winemaker in the region from gaining an audience.
By focusing on the refinement of red wines, Calla Lily Estate & Winery in Pope Valley is meeting the demands of the Chinese market by focusing on red wines, particularly Bordeaux varietals.
“In China and Hong Kong, customers prefer red wines. They see Napa Valley as an important wine-producing region of these wines after Bordeaux and Australia, among others,” said Calla Lily’s winemaker Cary Gott.
Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs Anthony Fung and Andy Chui bought the property formerly known as Cleavage Creek Winery from the Brown family in 2011.
Calla Lily produced its first vintage that year and since, it has sent two to three containers of wine per year to China. That leaves only a small percentage of the crop to market in the U.S.
“We are now seeing these luscious wines that are elegant and represent the hillside terroir of the Calla Lily Estate vineyard in Pope Valley. Most of our wines are shipped to and distributed in China and Hong Kong. We have been selling some cases in (other parts of) California and at our tasting room (in Pope Valley). We just started distributing in Ohio and Michigan. Soon we’ll open up Texas,” said Gott.
The wines can also be found locally.
“Our Ultimate Red Pinot Noir is now the house pairing of Pinot Noir at Copia. You can find us at V Wine Cellar in Yountville and Sunshine Foods in St. Helena. We’re also selling a small amount of wine to restaurants and wine shops in Los Angeles. One of our vendors is Vendome Wine & Spirits. We’re looking at expanding Southern California sales,” said Gott.
Chui and Fung market Calla Lily wines in Asia.
“There, people rely on word of mouth and our beautiful packaging,” said Gott.
Calla Lily’s signature wines, made with grapes grown on the estate, include the Ultimate Red Cabernet Sauvignon at $65 a bottle and Audax Cabernet Sauvignon, “a tribute to all the audacious people who created the first vineyards and wines in Napa Valley,” at $125 a bottle.
“We’ve created very beautiful packages and we’ve got the wine to match them,” said Gott.
Both reds have a deep, delicious taste and complex aromas.
“Audax is built on a bigger, stronger frame. The package is more masculine-looking. It celebrates the vineyard and winery pioneers in Napa Valley in the 1800s. It has a coin on the chest and a silkscreened package surrounding it. The Ultimate Red Cabernet Sauvignon looks very elegant, with a calla lily drawn on the label.” said Gott.
Calla Lily also makes the Ultimate Red Pinot Noir at $39 a bottle. Gott said the “weight, mass, and style” of the wines make Calla Lily’s wines ideal gifts.
“In China, gifts make a statement about the giver,” said Gott.
Gott is a fourth-generation winemaker from Modesto, who has worked for Sterling Vineyards and Mumm. He was hired to assemble a team for Calla Lily in 2012.
“The winery had no wine or barrels in it but all of the equipment and tanks needed to make great wines. Andy Chui named it after the English translation of his wife’s first name,” said Gott.
Gott started off by replacing stainless steel tanks and fixing an electrical problem. He soon assembled a strong team, which includes assistant winemaker Kelley Deianni, senior cellar master Emilio Torres, and vineyard manager Alejandro Maldonado. Gott works with Maldonado, who has been vineyard manager since 1998, on the viticulture in the estate vineyard.
The Calla Lily Estate grows the five key varieties that make a proper Bordeaux blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Gott and Deianni blend the grapes in a unique manner to make Ultimate Red Cabernet Sauvignon and Audax. Audax is a Cabernet Sauvignon aged for additional half year in French Oak.
The vines grow on the foothills at the base of Howell Mountain, mostly in well-drained, fine-grained sandstone and shale soil. At the beginning, Gott and Maldonado had a lot of changes to make.
“The vineyard had been farmed for production of a large tonnage of grapes. That’s not the way you make great Napa Valley wines. This year’s crop produced about 3-½ tons per acre. That’s a good balance between getting a proper sized crop and superior quality,” said Gott.
One of the vineyard blocks is Old Clone Napa Cabernet Sauvignon on AxR1 rootstock, a cross between two American grape species. It is easy to propagate and has good vigor.
“The vines are very healthy and make a unique wine. It is old-fashioned and complex but (light) in weight,” said Gott.
The 2018 wines look to be stunners, he said, “They have high natural acidity, lower than usual pH, and are soft, round, and rich. Although they’ve only been in the barrel two to three months, they have good color and taste excellent.”
Gott said Calla Lily hosts visitors on a limited basis.
“We open (our tasting room) when we get requests for tours and tastings…through our website. We don’t get limousines out in Pope Valley. Hopefully as other wineries open in Pope Valley and Aetna Springs has its planned revival, there will be more wine tourism for (this) beautiful viticultural area,” said Gott.
Although Calla Lily gets “great point scores” on its wines, Gott sees it as a challenge to build a following without foot traffic and years of Napa Valley wine history.
“Our focus will remain on the wines going to China. But for local residents, we are a hidden gem,” said Gott.