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Producer profile: Ulysses

William Kelley is one of the first people to get a look inside Ulysses, the new Napa Valley venture of Bordeaux veteran and Dominus owner Christian Moueix. See his report below.

It’s easy to forget just how long Christian Moueix has known the Napa Valley.

As a graduate student in viticulture and oenology at UC Davis, Moueix worked the 1968 harvest at Beaulieu Vineyards in Rutherford. Fourteen years later, he established Dominus Estate down the road in Yountville.

So Ulysses, his new Napa Valley project which debuts in March, is only the latest chapter in a long story.

Moueix had always been intrigued by the potential of southern Oakville’s terroirs, so when the Schmidt Ranch came onto the market in 2008, he jumped at the chance to acquire it.

The property, renamed Ulysses, sits on an alluvial fan, revealing similar soils to the better-drained western part of Dominus’ Napanook vineyard. But climactically the site is very different.

Here, the cooling influence of the San Pablo Bay is mitigated by the Yountville hills, so summer temperatures at Ulysses can be as much as four degrees Fahrenheit warmer.

Upon acquiring the property, an extensive programme of replanting began, informed by over 30 years’ experience at Dominus. Above all, the winegrowing team strive to avoid sunburn and harvest ripe fruit from balanced vines.

To that end, they’ve adapted Dominus’ ‘double-double Guyot’ trellising system to accommodate higher vine densities and narrower rows.

Dominus’ Bordeaux-trained winemaker, Tod Mostero, says he pursues balance, complexity and purity. Ripeness is assessed by taste, as often as twice a day as harvest approaches.

‘Only balanced grapes produce balanced wines, and only balanced vines produce balanced grapes.’

Dust, a problem unique to Napa’s dry growing season, is rinsed from the grapes in the vineyard. Rigorous sorting in the winery ensures that all the wines’ complexity comes from the grapes themselves.

In the cellar, Mostero’s careful and classical elevage uses about 50% new oak, with Taransaud in the lead and Seguin Moreau and Demptos playing supporting roles. A long, low toast is used to ensure the wines are not marked by aromas of torrefaction or any green wood tannins.

The result is an absolutely singular expression of Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, bursting with wild, briary fruit tones (wild plum, elderberry); aromas that are the prelude to lovely juiciness and refined tannic amplitude on the palate.

The Ulysses Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 is set to be released in March at $179 per bottle.

Ulysses Estate 2012

Ulysses 2012. Credit: Gretchen Greer

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