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Ashes & Diamonds

A Love Letter to Napa’s Golden Era
Ashes & Diamonds
As a former music executive, Kashy Khaledi will be familiar with the classic John Fogarty line: “Left a good job in the city / Working for the man every night and day.” Khaledi left his good job at Capitol Records in 2014 to grow and make the kind of timeless, tension-filled wines of Napa’s golden era that he loved to drink. And as Ashes & Diamonds approaches its 10th anniversary, Khaledi has plenty to be happy about. Even two crushing vintages—the estate has lost the equivalent of a whole vintage over the last three years—have done little to dim his passion for “keeping Napa honest.”

Despite his fondness for the state’s older styles, Khaledi’s blueprint for Ashes & Diamonds is not to recreate, say, a Mayacamas ’75 or a Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour ’68. Instead, the project seeks to craft restrained yet compelling Napa wines that speak clearly of their origins: a countercultural blitzkrieg against Napa’s overindulgence in fruit, oak and alcohol.

Assisting Khaledi in this mission are two of California’s viticultural superstars. Khaledi met Steve Matthiasson, a gifted dirt-under-fingernails viticulturist, while at Capitol Records. They instantly bonded over a shared love of punk and old-world Cabernet Franc. When Matthiasson mentioned he approached his Cabernet Franc “like Minor Threat, not like Blink-182”, Khaledi knew he had his man. Napa-born Diana Snowden Seysses—who splits her winemaking time between Ashes & Diamonds and Domaine Dujac, where she works alongside husband Jeremy Seysses—has been described as bringing a Burgundian approach to Bordeaux varieties. Hence, all fermentations are spontaneous, and she extracts considerably more delicately than her counterparts.

Whether from the estate vineyards in Oak Knoll or the range of small, family-owned vineyards dotted around Napa County, Khaledi hopes his wines express their terroir’s radiant fruit and vibrant freshness in an accent that might be recognised by the greats of Napa’s golden epoch of the 1960s and ‘70s. Showcasing instinct over science, the wines are restrained and nuanced, supremely food-friendly and, as Snowdon Seysses puts it, “full of life and vibration.”

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The Wines

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Blanc No.5 2019

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Blanc No.5 2019

One could never accuse Ashes & Diamonds of not aiming for the stars—this wine is a homage to the white wines of Domaine de Chevalier. It is an equal blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc from two sites in the southern Napa Valley. The Semillon component is sourced from the grape’s oldest site in California. Located in Yountville, Kendall Hoxsey’s Yount Mill Vineyard is home to 1962 vines that are head-trained, dry-grown and extremely low-yielding; Khaledi describes the fruit as “simply majestic”. To this, winemaker Steve Matthiasson blends mature-vine Sauvignon Blanc from the Ashes & Diamonds vineyard in Napa’s Oak Knoll district. Both vineyards benefit from the cool, foggy mornings and afternoon sea breezes rolling in from San Pablo Bay. These serve as a moderating influence and aid in preserving natural acidity and racy freshness.

In the cellar, the fruit naturally co-ferments in barrel. The wine spends 10 months on fine lees in French oak (31% new) without stirring before it goes to bottle. Unusually for a white, it is released after three years in bottle, during which time the pungency of Sauvignon Blanc takes a back seat to Semillon’s lemongrass and key lime pie characters. Number 5 indicates the wine’s fifth release. According to its crafter, it is “fully ripe and textured, yet bright, zesty and supremely ageworthy”. Time in bottle has served this wine well; it’s beautifully balanced, unfurling with complexity and culminating in a lengthy, elegant close.

“A barrel-fermented blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc made by Steve Matthiasson, this white is earthy, floral and structured. Honeysuckle, fig and apricot flavors highlight a reductive core of nutty complexity.”
93 points, Virginie Boone, Wine Enthusiast
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Blanc No.5 2019
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.6 2019

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.6 2019

When Kashy Khaledi first acquired the Oak Knoll vineyard, many advised him to graft it over from Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon. But, compelled to see what might come of these 30-year-old vines if nourished correctly and farmed organically, he dug his heels in and kept the plantings intact. These vines now form the base of Ashes & Diamond’s flagship wine and are joined by organic fruit from Los Carneros and Yountville. Also located in Napa’s cooler south, these sites take in the morning fog and afternoon sea breezes from San Pablo Bay, preventing heat spikes and facilitating slow, even ripening.

Taking its cues from the top bottlings of Saumur-Champigny, winemaker Steve Matthiasson gives us a snapshot of Cabernet Franc’s aromatic finesse derived from the vineyard’s volcanic clay and sandy loam soils at the southern end of Napa Valley. This year’s blend includes 25% Merlot, and fermentations took place in stainless steel tanks. The wine matured in mostly old (16% new) premium French oak (Taransaud and Orion) for 19 months. The wine was held in bottle for a further two years before release.

At 13.2%, this is naturally restrained, balanced Napa with Cabernet’s Franc’s chalky texture, combined with integrated silky tannins, impressive intensity, and a long, perfumed finish. In a wonderful spot and a fine homage to its Loire inspiration. 

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.6 2019
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Vineyard Mountain Cuvée No.4 2019

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Vineyard Mountain Cuvée No.4 2019

The Saffron Vineyard on Mount Veeder is an excellent example of an ideal site managed by the right person. It’s a beautiful vineyard, nestled among redwoods high above the fog inversion line at an altitude of 457 metres. Daytime temperatures here are often 10 degrees lower than on the valley floor. With encouragement from Kashy Khaledi, the vineyard is organically farmed by the passionate and committed owner, Lisa Chu. (Khaledi convinced Lisa to increase her prices for all her customers, including him, so that organic farming could be implemented—a move that dramatically improved soil health and fruit quality.) Deep-rooted Bordeaux varieties were planted here in 2000 in thin soils of uplifted marine sediment and fractured shale.

Part of the Mayacamas coastal range separating the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Mount Veeder is said to grow the most characterful wines of the Napa, “like a wild fish in a school of tank-raised trout”, as Matt Kramer once put it. While it has a reputation for robust, slow-maturing wines, Diana Snowden-Seysses’s Burgundian eye, choice of blend and the Saffron Vineyard’s crop of small, beautifully balanced berries infuses the natural power of the mountain with unusual silken grace. The 2019 is a blend of Merlot (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (23%) and Cabernet Franc (17%). Once at the winery, the grapes were given a cold soak until spontaneous fermentation—which included 20% whole clusters—began. The wine then matured for 19 months in French oak (28% new, all Taransaud).

According to its maker, the wine is “bouncy and outgoing, with explosive red fruit flavours—like biting into a ripe, juicy plum—and fine, focused tannins”. Fusing the explosive intensity of low-yielding Veeder fruit with impeccable freshness and focused tannin, decant this and drink it over a couple of hours to experience the full magnitude of the mountain in all its classically shaped glory.

“From an unirrigated vineyard above the fog line on Mount Veeder, the 2019 Mountain Cuvée No. 4 Saffron Vineyard is a blend of 60% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Cabernet Franc, all aged in 30% new French oak. Offering up scents of black cherries and mocha, it's medium-bodied and streamlined, with soft, silky tannins and a softly dusty finish. Winemaker Diana Snowden Seysses has crafted an intriguing wine, as it tastes ripe yet comes across as lower alcohol (it's labeled at 13.4%) than most of its brethren.”
90 points, Joe Czerwinski, The Wine Advocate
“This well-proportioned wine blended from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon offers good black-fruit flavors, nice hints of cinnamon and toasted oak, and a slightly firm texture due to fine-grained tannins and balancing acidity. It's an elegant wine that won't tire you out.”
93 points, Jim Gordon, Wine Enthusiast
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Vineyard Mountain Cuvée No.4 2019
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Rancho Pequeño Cabernet Sauvignon No.4 2018

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Rancho Pequeño Cabernet Sauvignon No.4 2018

Rancho Pequeño Vineyard is part of Bart and Daphne Araujo’s Oakville property on the valley floor's east flank in the Vaca Mountains' foothills. The 10-acre vineyard was originally planted in 1985 and screams old-school Napa Cabernet: exposed south with very thin topsoils, warm and sunny afternoons, cool dusks and dawns and gentle sea breezes. A touch warmer than the Ashes & Diamonds home vineyard in Oak Knoll, it is biodynamically farmed by two of Napa’s greatest land stewards under the guidance of A&D’s legendary viticulturist, Steve Matthiasson. The soils are deep and loamy, washed down from the Vaca Mountains, resulting in a high water table and little need for irrigation.

It’s a sad reality when working with old vineyards that they are not around forever. As with the Red Hen Cabernet Sauvignon we released last year, this will be the final release of this wine as Bart and Daphne complete a total replanting of the vineyard. It is the swansong of a great wine, an exceptional vineyard and an outstanding vintage. In Kashy Kaledi’s words: “If you made a bad wine in Napa in 2018, you probably shouldn’t be making wine.” The fruit was picked in the last week of September and spent 16 days in tank followed by 19 months’ maturation in 32% new French oak. Winemaker Diana Snowden-Seysses has been described as bringing a Burgundian eye to a non-Burgundian grape, so you can expect a restrained and respectful touch across the single vineyard wines she makes. She describes 2018 as “a kaleidoscope of aromatics ranging from rose to game, bright and crunchy red fruit flavours with weightless power and purity”. Where do we sign up?

“A classic 2018 Napa Cabernet: rich ripe and powerful, with smooth tannins and a luscious mid palate wrapped in oak. Balanced and holding well. This had 14 days fermentation/maceration with a further 20 months in 35% new French oak.”
96 points, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, Decanter
“Rich, ripe, blackberry cabernet aromas, the palate rich and full-bodied and long. A solid wine of real depth. Excellent cabernet.”
96 points, Huon Hooke, The Real Review
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Rancho Pequeño Cabernet Sauvignon No.4 2018

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