Making it Count: Wallis Family Estate
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Napa Valley’s Wallis Family Estate is one of the most gifted cult wineries on the planet. With a minimal production of just 300 cases at a go, founder Edward Wallis has maximised its potential through hard work, dedication, and a winemaker’s God-given talent.


If you are not acquainted with Wallis Family Estate, we admit that it is easy to mistake such a generic name for anything but a winery. (Its founder, Edward Wallis was a real estate developer.) But if you ever get your hands on a bottle of Wallis, you would know that its potential puts everything else in the backseat.


Located at the beloved wine-growing region of Diamond Mountain in Napa Valley, Wallis Family Estate’s neighbour is Diamond Creek Winery (DCW), one of the most prestigious Californian cult labels today. Why is this association important? It is because Wallis pulled a favour from Phil Steinschriber, a celebrated figure of Diamond Creek Winery and a winemaker known for his cabernet sauvignon.


In his two decade-long career in DCW, his wines never dipped below the top grades. This includes a highlight of the 2005 vintage that he earned a score of 98 by Wine Spectator. Having Steinschriber as the winemaker at the youthful Wallis Winery is much like handing a katana to a well-trained samurai. In just two vintages in 2006 and 2007, Wallis became a cult winery to watch – the first two vintages were sold out. With a limited 300 case production, Wallis is a heartbreaker in the wine community with its members, lengthy waiting list of devotees, and premium wine shops such as Dean & Deluca, 750 Wines and Acme Wine in Napa Valley, all fighting for allocation.


Rather than continue this formula of working with Steinschriber, founder Edward took a different approach. After all, he already owns 85 acres of land at Diamond Mountain which he purchased in 1975. He bought the land not just because of its ideal volcanic soil, but because of conditions such as the direct sunlight exposure it receives and the fog from San Pablo Bay. It is the perfect condition for growing quality cabernet grapes. It is now a place where he calls home with his wife Marilyn Belk and two daughters, Jamee and Charlotte.


Call it a slow cooking process but it took 20 years for Edward’s vineyard to reap its rewards. In 1997, the fruits he grew were then sold to familiar names like Ramey and Lokoya winery. As wines using Wallis’ fruits yielded high scores and praise from critics, it was only natural that he went into winemaking. Without knowing much about the subject matter, Edward did not want to deal with the nightmare of something that was not his expertise. After all, he knows more about building a house than making wine. However, ask him about winemaking today and he continues to abide by four basic principles – ideal location, pedigree of the fruit, meticulous farming practices, and sensible winemaking techniques.


Knowing the land is a superior growing area in Napa Valley for cabernet sauvignon, Edward did extensive research on varietal clones and root stocks that complement the soils and climate. He also hired Daniel Avina and Clark, one of the most renowned vineyard management companies in Napa Valley, to farm his vineyards. With their practice, the yielding from Wallis Vineyard is low but the long hang times enrich the flavour of the grapes and the complexity of the tannins. So, what is left to complete the puzzle? The winemaker.


While Steinschriber was the central figure in getting the ball rolling for Wallis, the winery has not let the momentum wane. Edward sought another top name in Thomas River Brown for its 2008 vintage and his accomplishments speak for themselves. Also known by his initials, he is the first and youngest winemaker to score two 100-point ratings from Robert Parker in the same 2006 vintage from two different cabernets; another two 100-point ratings from Parker on the 2002 Schrader wines; and he is still the only Californian winemaker awarded with two 100-point ratings by Wine Spectator.


Natural talent aside, it still requires a substantial level of knowledge and experience to handle Diamond Mountain’s fruits as well as understanding the capabilities of the grapes and tannins. What he does is to wait for as long as possible before harvesting them, which means Wallis’ fruits are often one of the last to leave the mountains. A risky technique he employs is

to remove the wine from the skins early into the tannin curve – that makes for softer and silkier characteristics in the end product. Those are just some of his secrets behind the 2010 Wallis Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon, the third and latest vintage by TRB for Wallis.


In this vintage, the bottle opens with splendid dark fruit flavours that are synonymous with TRB’s style, showcasing the beauty of Diamond Mountain’s grapes. Toasted oak and roasted coffee beans follow with lavish blackberries and currants. Flavours layer on the tongue with a boisterous pounding of exotic fruits before capping off with silky but intense tannins for the long-lasting finish. This is as much a showcase of TRB’s talent as it is a great use and understanding of Diamond Mountain’s potential.


That being said, Wallis’ wine has never relied on dumb luck in its recipe for success – just street smarts, natural talent and working with some of the world’s best fruits.

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