Last Friday we got the opportunity to sit down with Christine O’Sullivan and Jim Bean, proprietors of Pritchard Hill’s iconic BRAND winery. We laughed, we learned and we tasted some REALLY good juice. We fell in love with their wines and are thrilled to be able to share their story and passion with you!
If we must pick a favorite, the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (their flagship wine) was showing beautifully. Power, opulence and finesse all in one glass. The wine burst out at us with ripe, expressive crème de cassis, freshly crushed black berries and plum preserves notes with touches of menthol, cinnamon stick, cedar chest and spice box. Medium-bodied, the palate has a firm, grainy texture and oodles of freshness supporting the expressive black fruit preserves, finishing on a lingering spicy note. In short, WOW.
Coming in a close second was their 2017 Nº95, a playful take on the iconic fashion brand Chanel and their perfume. This Bordeaux blend consists of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc and 7% Petit Verdot. Styled to give you an immediate understanding of Pritchard Hill- an area that combines the energy and wild character of hillside vineyards with something very sophisticated. This seductively playful wine exudes deep notes of dark chocolate, spice, tobacco, and mint. Textured and impeccably balanced with silky tannins, it resonates with sophisticated layers of dark red fruits, with just a hint of sweet oak.
As we sipped their beautiful wines, Christine and Jim were kind enough to allow us to ask them a few questions so that we could gain more of an understanding of their vision. They delivered for us, big time, and their answers were so spot on and thoughtful.
Transplant yourself to their perch on Pritchard Hill and live vicariously through our time with them!
Q&A with Christine & Jim
- Has Philippe Melka always been the winemaker? With him having so many projects, what makes Brand different?
Yes, Philippe has been involved in Brand since its inception 12 years ago. He oversaw the selection of clones and rootstocks during the redevelopment of the vineyards and worked with the winery architect on the design of the winery. It was one of his earliest projects and it means a lot to him personally.
While Philippe is involved in many projects he does not spend his time equally among them. He makes some of his own wine at BRAND and is very engaged in production. On smaller projects, like custom produced wines, Philippe relies upon and delegates much of the work to his winemaking team. At BRAND, Philippe works directly with our full-time winemaker, Matt Johnson, our COO Janet Pagano, the owners Jim and Christine, and the vineyard managers.
- What makes the terroir of Pritchard Hill so special?
A combination of important factors makes Pritchard Hill unique, with two in particular:
Our microclimate is very influential. At 1200-1400 ft. elevation, there is an inversion layer that results in cooler day time temperatures and warmer evenings during the growing season. We are frequently above the fog line which means more sunshine. Our proximity to Lake Hennessey results in cooler breezes and in some areas there is an Eastern exposure.
Prichard Hill is defined by its red, rocky volcanic soils, A huge amount of preparation goes into developing a vineyard here as it is necessary to remove rock to create even growing conditions for the young vines. The shallow well drained soils means that the vines are naturally stressed, producing smaller plants with fewer clusters and maximum intensity.
- With the winery recently going biodynamic, how do you feel that will influence the future vintages of BRAND wines?
As with our commitment to organic farming, biodynamic practices demand a high degree of attentiveness. One of the long-term benefits is creating greater resiliency that in turn gives us the ability to consistently produce higher quality wine regardless of growing season challenges. And if you visit in March you will have the pleasure of meeting 700 sheep munching on cover crop!
- In the last decade, what was the stand out vintage for you? Which vintage do you think is the most ready to ‘drink now’?
If we learned anything from last year it is to go ahead and drink the good stuff now! BRAND wines are beautiful and expressive when you pull the cork and for the younger vintages excellent with decanting. Historically the standout vintage are the 2013 and 2015 for the cabernet sauvignon and 2014 for the proprietary blend. The 2016 and 2017 vintages are drinking remarkably well, still very expressive wines and the 2017 proprietary blend in particular is exceptional.
- Are you currently working on any other projects?
In the past 3 years we have really focused on farming and making sure that every block of vineyard is producing distinctive fruit. Now we have the opportunity to focus on an array of innovations in the winery. In the future we hope to have small barrel lots that we bottle from time to time to highlight interesting varietal blends and techniques. We are constantly going through experiments to advance the craft of winemaking and when we have discoveries, share them with people.
- When you’re not drinking your own wines, what do you enjoy drinking?
We enjoy a variety of wines from DRCs to Jonata. We schedule regular competitive blind tastings with other high scoring Napa Valley wines to evaluate how our wines compare. We also enjoy French and Italian wines that open our minds to other styles and attributes. In particular, Cheval Blanc as its one of the highest quality cabernet francs which we love.
- Any other wineries (or winemakers) that are inspiring or exciting to you?
There are so many wonderful wineries and winemakers that are inspiring to us. It goes without saying we should pay homage to the wonderful female trailblazers such as Helen Turley and Rosemary Cakebread. In addition the work of Andy Erickson and Allison Tauziet stand out for us.
- If you could use one word to describe your style of wines, what would it be?
- When it comes to your barrel selection, is there a particular cooperage that you like to work with?
Our winemakers work with seven cooperages and are always refining the selections. Taransaud, especially the T5 barrels add finesse to the wines, while Sylvain barrels accentuate the fruit and Hermitage barrels add richness.
- Was there anything that you learned at your time with Apple that you have implemented at the winery?
We have brought a mindset from Apple that we apply at Brand. It’s summarized in a handful of guiding principles:
- Focus on making the best product possible,
- Focus on the customer and customer experience,
- Hire and work with the best people,
- Say “no" to a lot of things, to help you focus on the ‘right’ things
- Be as innovative as possible on everything we do
- Can you talk us through the change of label and the thought process behind that?
We realized after purchasing BRAND that the label could more fully represent the exceptionality of Pritchard Hill and the wines we are creating. We wanted a label grounded in the concept of place is made up of three elements: Location, locale and sense of place. Location is a physical point on a map while locale is the physical setting for relationships between people. Sense of place is the unique feeling someone has when they visit the estate vineyards and winery, gain an appreciation of the quality wines and meet the team.
- Finally, can you give your three most import reasons why our clients should choose BRAND as their next purchase?
It is rare. Of the 43,000 acres of vines planted in the Napa Valley less than 1% come from Prichard Hill. Wines from this area are much sought after for the intensity of the fruit and power of the hillside.
Eco-System. A wine is the result of a thousand small but important decisions. By controlling the winemaking from the soil to bottle on our estate, we lavish the attention to detail throughout the process of making each wine.
Quality. We grow Cabernet Franc that is the equal to Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Sauvignon that is among a handful of the very best.