Three Men, One Shovel: The Single-Vineyard Cabernets of La Pelle

Earlier this year, I wrote up an extensive report on many of the new (to me) producers of Napa Valley wines. One of the most interesting of those was a new wine brand called La Pelle, which also (as I noted in the original piece) has some of the most stunning visual branding I’ve ever seen from a winery.

La Pelle is a collaboration between Maayan Koschitzky, a partner in the winemaking consultancy Atelier Melka, and Miguel Luna and Pete Richmond, who are partners in the Silverado Farming Company.

The company started almost as a joke, resulting from Luna’s experience working a harvest in Bordeaux at Chateau de Fieuzal as an intern fresh out of winemaking school.

“When you go to work at a winery in France you think it’s going to be romantic but it’s really hard work,” says Luna. “All I did all day long was dig out tanks,” referring to the messy and backbreaking work of shoveling the must (leftover skins and seeds) out of the fermentation tanks after they have been drained.

“I asked them how you say ‘shovel’ in French,” laughs Luna, “and then I told them one day I’m going to start a winery called Domaine de La Pelle.”

While it was a fun joke with his French bosses, the name lodged somewhere in Luna’s head and was there waiting for the perfect opportunity. That opportunity turned out to be a 2016 conversation between Luna and Koschitzky who, after two years of deepening friendship were kicking around the idea of doing something together.

“If you think about it,” says Koschitzky, “the shovel is the only tool that you use both in the vineyard and in the winery.”

The Team

The three founding partners represent an unusual synthesis of experience. Luna is a first-generation child of immigrants who worked his first harvest at age 14, the year after his father brought the family from Mexico in 1996. Luna’s father had been working the harvest in Napa since 1968.

Luna graduated from St. Helena High School, like many children of immigrants, while simultaneously working in the vineyards. After his girlfriend pushed him to continue his education, he went first to junior college (which took 5 years while working full time in vineyards), and then transferred to the Viticulture and Enology program at UC Davis. After graduation, Luna got his first jobs working in cellars, but also went back to work part-time for Silverado Farming, where he had done some previous work before heading to Davis.

“Pete eventually asked me to come on full-time,” says Luna, who faced the tough decision of whether to focus on winemaking or viticulture. “His pitch was that if I came back full-time, he’d support me with a label.”

So Luna started as a full-time vineyard management employee at Silverado Farming Company in 2015, and Richmond came on as a partner when La Pelle launched in 2016. Luna was made a partner at Silverado in 2017.

From left to right: Maayan Koschitzky, Pete Richmond, and Miguel Luna of La Pelle Wines.

Maayan Koschitzky is an Israeli-born winemaker who comes to his job with a degree in viticulture, rather than enology.

“It’s crazy,” says Koschitzky, “Miguel and I are always laughing about how he has a degree in enology and I don’t, but I’m the winemaker with a degree in viticulture.”

Koschitzky, who also has a background in Engineering, worked his first harvest in Israel in 2004 and spent 7 years there before moving to Napa and landing assistant winemaking jobs at some big-name wineries, such as Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle.

In 2014, he was hired as an Assistant Winemaker for superstar winemaking consultant Philippe Melka’s company, Atelier Melka. Melka would go on to make him Director of Winemaking in 2016, and a full partner in 2019.

A Perfect Solution

Starting a Napa wine brand is pretty tough for non-billionaires. Especially if you want to make top-tier, single-vineyard wines.

“Maayan and I both have similar day jobs with high-end clients,” says Luna. “We get to do exactly what we think is best in every way. That’s what you get to do with an estate-model winery.”

“We’re both earning a living,” continues Luna, “but if we want to have our own project with similar levels of freedom it’s pretty hard. If you’re just buying fruit, you’re trusting the farming company. But since we own the farming company, we know exactly what’s being done.”

“We’re sort of modern-day vignerons,” chuckles Luna, “We’re doing everything from the farming to the winemaking, but we can do it affordably with our day jobs.”

Three Men, One Shovel: The Single-Vineyard Cabernets of La Pelle
The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Boutique, ‘Affordable,’ Classic

The La Pelle lineup began with a Napa Cabernet, a Reserve Napa Cabernet, and the Sauvignon Blanc. It then expanded to include the three single-vineyard-designate Cabernets, as well as a Chardonnay from Bien Nacido Vineyards, after the trio managed to get ahold of fruit from the 1973-planted, own-rooted Chardonnay.

Koschitzky says there will soon be a “Block X” Syrah from Bien Nacido in the lineup as well.

“Our goal is to be about 2000 cases, and to sell somewhere between 50 and 70 percent DTC [direct-to-consumer].”

So far, so good. The 2018 single-vineyard Cabernets which I review below sold out to their mailing-list customers within 2 weeks.

Despite the pedigrees behind the partners and the vineyard sites (which could command far higher prices), prices for the La Pelle wines look quite attractive, at least for Napa.

“A lot of the wines we make for our clients we can’t afford to buy ourselves,” says Luna.

Their Napa Valley Cabernet sells for $75, the Reserve for $175, while the single-vineyard Cabernets are $125 apiece (sold primarily in 3 packs of either the same wine or all three different wines).

From a winemaking perspective, Koschitzky has taken a decidedly classic approach, threading the needle between truly old-school and the rich styles of modern luxury Cabernet. The grapes are picked for moderate alcohols (their entry-level and single-vineyard Cabernets are 14.5% or less, while the Reserve is made in a slightly richer style and ends up around 14.8%).

The farming is a mix of organic and sustainable, depending on the vineyard, though Luna and Koschitzky would love for it to be 100% organic. Luna says Silverado stopped using Roundup three years ago on all of their vineyards, and has bought 2000 sheep to help with weeds.

The wines are excellent across the board, but the single-vineyard Cabernets are quite fantastic, especially at prices that are below many of the lower-priced or second-label Cabernets from upper-echelon producers in Napa.

This is a brand to watch for sure. And not just because it’s hard to stop staring at those stunning labels.

Three Men, One Shovel: The Single-Vineyard Cabernets of La Pelle
The three-pack of single-vineyard Cabernets, with their textured photo labels, each showing the soil of the vineyard in the bottle.

Tasting Notes

2018 La Pelle “Red Hen Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Oak Knoll District, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry, tobacco, dusty road, and dried flowers and herbs. In the mouth, juicy black cherry, cassis, and a touch of citrus peel are dusted with muscular but extremely fine-grained tannins. Gorgeous, supple, balanced, and bright. With a long finish of dried sage and dusty road. Organically farmed. 14.5% alcohol. 150 cases made. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.

2018 La Pelle “Alluvium Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, St Helena, Napa, California
Inky garnet in the glass, this wine smells of sweet black cherry, cassis, and cola. In the mouth, rich black cherry and blackberry flavors are bursting with acidity, wrapped in a thin, gauzy skein of tannins that flexes its muscles over time. Bright cassis and black cherry linger with the earthy tannins long in the mouth. Powerful and broader shouldered than the Red Hen. Planted in 1981. Expansive. 14.5% alcohol. 150 cases made. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.

2018 La Pelle “Ceniza Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Coombsville, Napa, California
Inky opaque garnet in the glass, this wine smells of black cherry, chopped green herbs, and cola. In the mouth, rich and bright cola and black cherry flavors are enclosed in a thick fist of tannins. Excellent acidity, hints of dry herbs on the finish, massive, with a touch of heat. Chewy tannins linger. Most heavily structured of the three, and needs some time. The vines were planted in 2001. 14.5% alcohol. 150 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $125. click to buy.         

And just as a bonus, here are my notes on the very unusual Sauvignon Blanc that the team makes, which will be released for sale on August 5, 2021, after quite a bit of time aging on the lees (read the note and you’ll see why).

2019 La Pelle Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of white flowers, lemon pith, and a touch of pastry cream and grapefruit. In the mouth, the wine is…. positively screaming with acidity. Amazing lemon pith and lemon juice profile mix with some crushed shell and seawater. Mouthwatering and unbelievably bright. This ain’t your standard Napa Sauvignon Blanc. It’s waaaaay better. Some will find it austere, but others, a breath of fresh air in the universe of largely unremarkable California Sauvignon Blanc. Made from a vineyard planted in 1981, and farmed to keep the fruit lean and ready for an early pick. Spent 18 months in barrel, 30% of which were new. A mere 11% alcohol. 275 cases made. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $45. To be released on August 5th, 2021.

Three Men, One Shovel: The Single-Vineyard Cabernets of La Pelle
The Sauvignon Blanc

Images courtesy of La Pelle Wines. Shovel image and the portrait of partners by photographer Suzanne Becker Bronk.

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Wine Reviews: Late Summer Selections

I can’t believe it’s almost August. But there’s still plenty of summertime left, and this week I have a mix of wines to keep the summer vibes going.

There are some diverse white wines in here, from Austrian Gruner and a kicking South African Chardonnay. Plenty of value is on display as well, with some Rioja rosés and a delightful Rioja Blanco. And Napa’s Shafer turns out a really impressive vintage of their Red Shoulder Chardonnay.

I also received several wines from Jumilla Wine, which promotes this Spanish region’s wines in the U.S. These inexpensive wines are branded by the region to show the importance of Monastrell to this sun-roasted region of Southeastern Spain.

I rarely review anything besides wine, but I’m making an exception in this report for these non-alcoholic grape juices from Castello di Amorosa. They harvest some grapes a few days early for acidity, and make juice out of them. Yes, clearly they are sweet, but they’re also well made, smell and taste like their respective varieties, and are yummy.

The juices are sold at their Calistoga location or on their website. I’m glad to see these being made, because they’re interesting and offer the sense a lot to unpack without the alcohol, and would be great drinks to share with friends and family who do not consume alcohol. I tasted these with my six-year-old daughter and we took tasting notes together, and it was a blast. (She’s a big Gewurz juice fan.)

All of these wines (and juices) were received as samples and tasted sighted.

2020 Domaine Wachau Grüner Veltliner Terrassen Federspiel Austria, Niederösterreich, Wachau
SRP: $18
Pale lemon color. A nose of white peach and lemons topped in mint, honeysuckle, honeyed white tea. Zippy and crisp on the palate with a bright, racy appeal yet a punchy texture. Limes, lemons and green melon fruit, tossed together with celery seed, lemongrass and spicy mint. A lot of fun, solid value, this would be such a good sushi wine. (89 points IJB)

2019 Veramonte Chardonnay Reserva Chile, Casablanca Valley
SRP: $12
Light yellow color. Honey, apples, lemon curd on the nose, a creamy display with some peanut shells but also some bright floral tones. Crisp acidity on the palate with some solid textural depth. Lemons and yellow apples are tossed together with honey in this wine with some graham cracker and biscuits. Notes of saline and breezy floral tones, too. Stays lively on the finish. Lots of value for this price. (88 points IJB)

2017 Capensis Chardonnay “Silène” South Africa, Coastal Region, Stellenbosch
SRP: $40
A bold yellow color. Deep and rich aromas of honey, cream, mixed nuts, almond and crumb cake, and sea salt, over top of juicy lemon and yellow apples. The palate shows a deep texture but moderating acidity. Lemon curd and pear butter fruit mixes with nuances of peanut shell, salted pecans and honey. But these vibes of chalk, flint, minerals and dried white flowers bring these elevated, airy vibes to the richness. Lovely stuff, complex but vibrant, their first release of this wine and it is on point. Sourced from two mountain vineyards, their estate Fijnbosch Vineyard and its neighbor, Nooitgedacht. (91 points IJB)

2020 C.V.N.E. Rioja Blanco “Monopole” Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
SRP: $16
Straw color. A bright an perfumed appeal on the nose with peaches and limes, topped in dandelion and daisies, some talc and steely tones. On the palate, this is really zesty but also shows a good amount of depth. White peach and green apple fruit blends nicely with elements of talk, chalk and minerals. Cucumber slices and dandelion add a pleasant kick. This is brisk but delightful and sports solid complexity for the price. (89 points IJB)

2020 Bodegas Beronia Verdejo Rueda Spain, Castilla y León, Rueda
SRP: $12
Light yellow color. The nose pops with honeysuckle and dandelions, with pineapple, lemons and orange peel. Nice, creamy texture with fresh acidity. Limes, kiwi and pineapple fruit mix well with sea salt, sliced cucumbers, white tea and some white pepper. Simple in the best way, as in it is well-made, crushable, but complex. A perfect hot day and gazpacho kind of wine. 100% Verdejo. (88 points IJB)

2020 Bodegas Muga Rioja Rosado Spain, La Rioja, La Rioja Alta, Rioja
SRP: $17
Pale salmon color. Delightful aromas of rose petals, white cherries, dandelion, clover and chalk dust – so fresh and exciting. Crisp and juicy on the palate with a chalky essence. Lemons, watermelon and kiwi fruit tastes vibrant and delicious. Floral, minty, spring meadow vibes. Versatile across the pink wine palate spectrum, I think, and it sports a whole lot of balance and complexity for this price point. Well done! (90 points IJB)

2020 Bodegas Alceño Jumilla Rosado Spain, Murcia, Jumilla
SRP: $10-12
Deep watermelon color. Aromas of white cherries and strawberries, topped in wildflowers, honey, mint, fun and inviting stuff. Punchy but fresh on the palate, zesty but juicy with strawberries and white cherries, topped in white flowers, dandelion and honey. Lots of summery fun, ripe but nuanced. (87 points IJB)

2020 Bodegas Xenysel Monastrell Tinto Joven – Spain, Murcia, Jumilla
SRP: $10-14
Medium ruby color. A fun, juicy approach on the nose with jammy raspberries and plum sauce, with some mocha, anise and coffee tones. Full but smooth with moderate acidity, along with jammy, ripe plums and baked raspberries. Juicy and ripe but stays moderately fresh, with tones of coffee, cocoa and vanilla. I could see this being a serious crowd pleaser at cookouts. (86 points IJB)

2019 Shafer Chardonnay Red Shoulder Ranch USA, California, Napa / Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $52
Dense yellow color. The nose exudes rich apricot and yellow apples, with a generous dose of honey, marmalade, ginger, also some white tea and chalk dust. The texture is viscous and creamy but the acidity is lively and holds everything together really well. Apricot marmalade and baked yellow apple fruit blend well with complexities of whipped butter, honey, raw almond, but there are also these oyster shell and flinty, mineral elements – and they intermingle in lovely fashion. This is definitely hedonistic, but it presents itself wonderfully. Beautiful, age-worthy Chardonnay. Aged 14 months in 75% new French oak. (94 points IJB)


N.V. Castello di Amorosa Gewürztraminer Grape Juice USA, California, North Coast, Anderson Valley
SRP: $14
A light yellow, slightly pale copper color. Ooh, classic nose of ripe lychee, kiwi, white peaches, with lots of honey, clover and all sorts of tropical flowers. Plump texture on the palate with a pleasant creaminess and a sense of depth that you don’t get from your typical fruit juice. The complexities of honey and white tea are lovely. The acidity is a bit low to balance out the sugar, but it’s undeniably delicious. From Anderson Valley Gewurz.

N.V. Castello di Amorosa Muscat Canelli Grape Juice USA, California, Napa Valley
SRP: $14
Light yellow color. Bursting with peaches, guava and lychee on the nose with dandelion and sweet honeyed tea. Ripe and plush on the palate, but the acidity is really nice here, too, helps keep things focused. Peaches in syrup and lychee fruit play well with notes of honey, sugar cane, floral potpourri and a hint of ginger. The balance here is really nice. All Muscat Canelli from Sonoma, Solano and Santa Barbara.

N.V. Castello di Amorosa Sparkling Grape Juice Red Blend USA, California
SRP: $14
A pretty watermelon/cherry color with a slight fizz. The nose shows wild raspberries, peeled red delicious apples, some interesting tones of hayfield and barley. Pleasantly soft bubbles with medium acidity and the sugar is woven in well. Fun flavors of strawberries and watermelon Jolly Ranchers, with some rose hips and earthy, herbal kicks, too. Interesting stuff. A blend of 90% Gamay and 5% apiece of Grenache and Cab Sauv. From Calistoga and other Napa fruit.

Vinography Images: Vine Hill Hands

The amount of work required to produce the highest quality grapes remains unknown to most wine drinkers. Here a crew removes leaves in the morning fog at the Vine Hill Vineyard in Forestville, Sonoma County. “Leafing,” as it is called, involves removing individual leaves and stray vine shoots to optimize the amount of sunlight and shade in the “fruit zone” where the grapes sit. It’s a tricky process and usually done by hand in California’s top vineyards. Too much leafing and grapes can get sunburn. Too little, and you might get uneven ripening or mildew as leaves trap moisture and prevent airflow.


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The work of photographer Jimmy Hayes can be further appreciated in his forthcoming monograph, Veritas, which will be published in 2021 by Abrams Books / Cameron + Company. Pre-order the book from the Abrams web site.


Fine art prints of this image and others are available from Jimmy Hayes Photography.


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Welcome Back Concert: Die Walküre

Music and Libretto by Richard Wagner.

In celebration of our community and return to in-person performances, Seattle Opera invites you to join a spectacular outdoor event. The music of Richard Wagner’s iconic opera will fill the Seattle Center campus from the Fisher Pavilion Lawn to the International Fountain and includes jumbo screens for all to enjoy.

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