The brand name is a tribute to both the vineyard and the winery – a reference to the tool used in both areas. Miguel worked as an intern in Bordeaux, where he spent most of his harvest helping dig reservoirs. And according to Maayan, Miguel has always joked about returning to California to start his own brand, simply called Shovel. In fact, this vision has become reality, but with a much more elegant French name.
Maayan initially worked as a mechanical engineer in Israel, but in his mid-twenties he changed careers and began working in wineries. In 2010, he and his wife decided to move to the United States and applied for a job as a winemaker in Napa Valley. He was hired by a small, high-end producer in the Valley, but was then hired as an intern at Screaming Eagle to work with the new winemaker at the time, Nick Gislason. He had never heard of Screaming Eagle, so he mentioned the name to his older brother, who then looked up their family tree on the internet and quickly realized that this was a job not to be missed. Maayan and his wife, planning to stay only a year or two and work a crop before returning to Israel, settled in the Napa Valley.
His first harvest at Screaming Eagle was in 2011, the same year the new winery was completed; he recalls that the tanks arrived just in time for harvest that year. The time he spent in the cellar during harvest was remarkable – often working 5 month days of over 20 hours. Maayan admits that working at Screaming Eagle, his first job in Napa Valley, was a bit of a shortcut. Instead of returning to Israel, Maayan and his wife decided to stay in the Napa Valley.
Eventually he was introduced to Cameron Wouter, who was the winemaker at Dana Estate at the time. Cameron offered him a job at the Dana Estate and told him to meet Philip Melka. Maayan remembers having lunch with Philip, but Philip had no room for him at that time. Later Philippe Maayan called and invited him to join his wine consulting team (Atelier Melka for a year in 2014). This position allowed Maayan to become director of winemaking at Atelier Melka and then a partner in the company. Maayan also advises on various international projects, including in Australia, Chile and Israel.
From the beginning, the three partners decided to invest in getting fruit from first-class sources into the vineyards. They only use grapes from the vineyards and manage their own production, focusing on making terroir wines. Vineyards include Lambert Vineyard in Coombsville, Red Hen Vineyard in Oak Knoll and two vineyards in Saint Helena. The importance of place in winemaking cannot be understated; it is sometimes difficult to understand this truth until you visit the vineyards (throughout the year) and notice the different exposures, soils, temperatures and altitudes among many other characteristics (all factors that contribute to the sense of place and the resulting wines).
There aren’t many vineyards with old Sauvignon Blanc vines in Napa Valley – the oldest we know of are the Block I vineyards at Robert Mondavi Winery’s Calon Vineyard – dating back to the 1940s. This is due to the fact that it is more difficult to grow this grape variety in the Napa Valley than the red varieties, to the older and less economical configuration of the vineyards, and to the various disease problems that often occur in older vineyards. So when we come across a wine from a block of old white vineyards in the valley, we don’t fail to notice.
Maayan has been working with a rare block of dry-hopped Sauvignon Blanc in St. Helena since 1981. Over the years, he’s learned that making this wine in the cellar is less – or as he puts it, silent. The wine is fermented in barrels, is given a minimum of sulphur and does not run off during maturation. The wine spends 18 to 19 months on a coarse lees without a specific schedule – instead, the lees are stirred according to texture, flavor and aroma. The wine is bottled before bottling and then spends additional time in the bottles before being released. The inspiration for this wine came from the Sauvignon Blanc that winemaker Didier Dagueneau made in the Loire Valley (he was tragically killed in a plane crash in 2008).
The 2018 Sauvignon Blanc La Pelle is medium yellow in color; the bouquet offers generous aromas including sweet honeysuckle, citrus color and a hint of vanilla. This wine has a nice cadence on the palate between flavor, texture and acidity. The Californian influence is certainly present, but it is wonderfully balanced by its liveliness and freshness. It has aromas of tangerine and lingering notes of green apple and lime in the finish. Your mouth is watering. And it’s a wine that can definitely age for a few more years. Very well done.
2018 Napa Valley had a fairly moderate growing season, and as Maayan reminds us, they were able to make the decision to harvest on their own terms, rather than being influenced by outside factors (i.e. severe weather, fires). The 2018 La Pelle Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot) is surprisingly dark – a rich ruby color with aromas of dried cigar leaf (more so than tobacco smoke), cherries and black currants. The nose and palate show spicy notes – with flavours of plums, dried herbs and black spices – especially towards the end. Texture is an attractive feature of this wine – the tannins are moderately structured with some noticeable grip, but they are round and well integrated on the finish. The wine matured for 18 months in French oak barrels, 50% of which were new. He spent six months in the bottle before being released. Very good value for money.
The Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is a selection of barrels that changes each year – weighted by the specific parcels that are assigned each year for one reason or another. The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve La Pelle shows dark purple in the glass with generous aromas that focus more on fruit than barrel influence. Blackberry, hawthorn, mocha and crème de cassis. It offers remarkable density and concentration on the palate with aromas of dark fruits such as plums and blackberries. Long, slightly dusty tannins linger on the surface and coat the mouth. This wine shows a lot of Napa Valley power – while going the way of restraint. Definitely age appropriate.
Helena (organically grown and dried vines from 1982), Red Hen at Oak Knoll (still one of the darkest wines Maayan works with for La Pelle) and Ceniza (meaning ash in Italian), located in Coombsville. This Reserve Cuvee is weighted with fruit from the Ceniza vineyard. The wine was aged for 22 months in 80% new French oak barrels (final assembly occurred about 7 months before bottling), and another 8 months in bottle before release.
And La Pella produces different wines from the same vineyard (the label has a vertical image of a pit with soil from each vineyard). Located in the Santa Maria Valley on California’s Central Coast, the Chardonnay from Bien Nacido Vineyards is an unusual wine in their portfolio. This wine is made from vines dating back to 1973. And it is harvested much earlier than typical California Chardonnays.
When it came time to choose a label for the brand, Maayan based his design on Silverado Farming Co.’s logo by imagining a farmer standing with a shovel. He pitched the idea to their graphic designer Mark Wigard, creative director of Guage Branding (responsible for Tusk Estates’ elegant logo) and asked Mark to design it. The marker came back with a simple cutout on the label. Sometimes simpler is just more elegant. It is a sticker that is immediately noticeable from the other side of the room. And the bottles aren’t just pretty to look at: all corks used in their wines are certified TCA-free.
The total production of all wines per year is about 2,000 cases. For the most part, their wines are sold directly to consumers through their mailing list, with the exception of the reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (which is sold in packs of 3 bottles), their wines are sold in packs of 6 bottles. For more information and to join the mailing list, go to: www.lapellewines.com.
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