Scott: “When you’re in it for the long term, you need to own the land, and when an opportunity like this comes up - once in a generation – you need to make it work. If you go back to the vision we laid out for Realm, to build something truly iconic, owning one of the very few hilltop parcels in Napa Valley fits into that definition. What we do with it now is our challenge. But the land is there.”
On October 23, 2020 Realm completed the acquisition of two parcels of land that had previously belonged to the Bob and Blanca Hartwell family. These acres, contiguous to those we acquired from the family in 2015, extends the reach of Realm’s Stags Leap Estate property to the north and to the very top of Wappo Hill, 550 feet above the Napa Valley floor. Both parcels are significant to Realm, but for different reasons.
The hilltop parcel was acquired by Bob Hartwell when he moved to Napa Valley in the 1980s. The land and home had previously belonged to Charles “Harry” See, Founder of See’s Candy. In 1986 Bob planted two acres of vines, using Grace Family Vineyard’s Bosche clone, cuttings he’d acquired from his friend, Dick Grace. 1990 was the first vintage from those vines, and the early wines of Hartwell Estate Vineyards were made at Grace. The original Hartwell labels even had the “G” logo on them.
Over time Bob acquired the two parcels lower on the hill; the larger of the two is the site Realm purchased in 2015, with the winery and most of the vineyard acreage. At the time, Bob and his family were returning to their roots, focusing again on producing wine from just the top couple of acres. Benoit continued to make those wines for Hartwell, just as he’d done since 2006. That was part of Realm’s agreement with the family.
When Bob and Blanca Hartwell passed away in the late 2010s, the family began to rethink its brand and vineyard holdings, and in late 2019 approached Realm about the possibility of purchasing the remaining two parcels of land. As with all such transactions, the negotiations had its ups and downs, and after nearly a year of discussion, we were able to reach an agreement. For us, the purchase seemed like it was meant to be. While we’d spent many hours on that upper parcel of land, especially when we used it as a lookout during the 2017 fires, the reality of owning it felt like laying claim to an important piece of Napa’s history.
Scott: “Perhaps it’s my military background, but there's something about this high piece of ground that really speaks to me. From the top you have a 360° view, from the city of Napa to the south all the way north to Mount St. Helena. And I love the fact that this is Wappo Hill, which the Wappo tribe used as an observation point, I assume because it has the highest elevation. There are only a handful of these knolls or hilltops on the valley floor, and this is the highest.”
As Benoit will tell you, the wines from these upper blocks are also fascinating, in part because they’re so different than Moonracer, the wine we’ve made from the lower blocks since 2015. The Grace/Bosche clone is part of that, but the soils up top are also distinct, more homogenous with pure, fragmented sandstone. And because it’s relatively flat, the exposure is more uniform than the lower hillside blocks. The purchase of the property included the 2018 and 2019 vintages from these blocks, and we’ll continue to produce them as a separate wine, both as a nod to the site’s terroir but also in tribute to its history. We know these blocks will eventually need replanting, and we’ve already started to collect clean budwood to propagate and replant using the same clonal selection. There’s a legacy here we want to preserve, a continuity that goes all the way back to the relationship between the Grace and Hartwell families.
That’s the top parcel. The other parcel we acquired in 2020 comprises a few acres of vineyard north of the existing driveway, land we’ve actually leased from the Hartwells since 2015. This acreage has east facing slopes, and the fruit we grow here goes into Moonracer. The different exposure of this hillside contributes something different to the profile of the wine, and we’re happy to count these acres as part of our estate holdings.
While these two parcels are part of a property we know well, we still have years of learning and work ahead of us here. The last five years have taught us a lot, but we still have a long list of questions to ask ourselves as we envision what we want this property to be. But there’s one thing we do know: as we contemplate the future of Realm and this estate, we are humbled to carry on the legacy of the Hartwells and all those who came before us. Their stewardship of this special place serves as inspiration as we plan for the decades to come at Realm Cellars.