Spiriterra is a small family-run wine producer based in the hills of the Vaca Mountain Range – with vineyards above Lake Hennessey. Husband and wife, Paul and Shirley Dean moved here in 1996 after they took a trip to California to specifically watch the “Big Game” between Stanford and Cal Berkeley (their daughter Ashley was at Stanford at the time. Ashley has since joined with here parents in the family business). During their visit, they drove up to the Napa Valley to do some wine tasting when Paul happened to glance at one of the real estate magazines sitting outside one of the grocery stores and Paul called up one of the agents who introduced him to a hillside property, by the end of that week the Dean’s had purchased 52 hillside acres. The Dean Family uprooted themselves from their long time home in Connecticut and moved to the Napa Valley permanently. Several acres of Cabernet Sauvignon were planted on-site at the time of their purchase – and for many years they sold the fruit until 2009 when they held back all of this varietal and made their first Cabernet wine.
A little history on Paul Dean who had moved to Georgia at a very young age and grew up on a farm in the small town of Eatonton. One of Paul’s memories was that of late summer and eating Muscadine grapes – both the bronze-colored cultivated ones as well as the purple ones growing in the wild. Dean wondered how his Muscadine grapes would fair on his new home of Napa. In 2009 Dean decided to see how Muscadine would fair on hillsides in the Napa Valley because he wanted to have fresh grapes of this varietal that he could simply enjoy eating straight from the vine. He planted about 20 vines, was pleased with the results and then planted several blocks entirely to several clones of this varietal.
After visiting many California wineries and producers over the years, a varietal such as this growth in the Napa Valley in Paul & Shirley’s vineyard immediately caught our attention. It is an intriguing varietal for a number of reasons but especially so when no one else is growing it here! Muscadine is a grapevine native to the southern part of North America that has been grown domestically since the 16th century. The Muscadine grows naturally at a latitude in the Eastern USA from about West Virginia and Delaware all the way through the southern states as far west as Texas. Paul purchased all the cuttings from a nursery in Georgia. These grapes grow on their own rootstock (not grafted) and are highly resistant to pests. They do not spray for pests or spray sulfur – and in nearly 20 years they have never had a problem with frost on their property during the growing season. They are located at an elevation of approximately 700-800 feet above sea level. The roots grow very shallow on the Muscadine vines – and as a result, they have installed a special 4-drip per vine irrigation system. Paul keeps a close eye on the development of the Muscadine vines and helps with the vineyard management. You know this is not a “normal” variety of grape planted in Napa Valley as soon as you see the fruit on the vines. These are the size of table grapes and often much larger. Muscadine has a surprising diversity of flavor depending on the ripeness of each individual grape. At times they taste like a plum, some have flavor characteristics of concord grapes and others that are extremely ripe almost have a jammy quality.
These Muscadine vines are a work in progress. They continue to look at optimum trellising techniques, are considering if and how much fruit to drop at certain times during the growing season (these vines are prolific producers even on the hillsides) and other variations in both the vineyard management and winemaking. It did not take much to convince their winemaker Kenn Vigoda to work with this varietal. He had never worked with it before – and like other winemakers in the Napa Valley, has made his fair share of Cabernet Sauvignon. This was something “new” and intriguing.
Spiriterra produces two wines from these grapes – an almost dry wine and a sweet dessert wine. The sweet wine is called “Scuppernong”, which is a name for a Muscadine varietal that originally was found growing wild in part of North Carolina. Eventually, this name has become another name for Muscadine grapes – and is associated with sweet wines from this varietal in the southeast part of the United States.