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Dominari is the domain of winemaker Marie Schutz.

Dominari is the domain of winemaker Marie Schutz who uses mainly fruit from her beloved Atlas Peak vineyards.

Atlas Peak ~ Napa Valley (AVA)

Little Dominari About To Grow

We have very big mountain fruit that I don’t think needs a lot of chemical additions or changes. In modern winemaking there’s so much you can do to change the perception. With Atlas Peak fruit, whatever comes off the vine is pretty much how we bottle it. I think winemaking is done in the vineyards.
~Marie Schutz

by Alan Goldfarb
March 7, 2007

At age 52, Marie Schutz has come late to making wine. She has been a grower on Atlas Peak with her husband Jurgen since 1992, with all of their fruit going to Luna Vineyards. Then, less than six years ago, Schultz began making wine under the Dominari label.

She says she’s a huge proponent of Atlas Peak’s mountain fruit, although her vineyard, at the 1,700-foot elevation (about halfway up the mountain), has soils that are anomalous to much of the rest of the region’s vineyards.

In addition to Dominari, Schultz has two other brands, consults for several other wineries and is looking for an additional vineyard site where a new winery can be built in order to ramp up Dominari’s production 10-fold. With only three releases under her belt, three more in various stages of production, and additional plantings on her 90-acre Atlas Peak vineyard called Guadeamus – which might include Charbono - Schutz figures to become a very busy winemaker indeed.

Along with producing 350 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon (that sell for $75 a bottle) and 250 cases of Merlot ($45) for Dominari, Schultz also makes two other brands called Monet’s Palate and Baccabella. The latter uses Cabernet from Piccolo Vineyard, also on Atlas Peak at about the 1,000-foot elevation, to make from 200-400 cases ($30). The Baccabella uses fruit from the Napa Valley and the Sierra foothills to make 4,500 cases of Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Merlot which sell from $20-$40.

With the recent purchase of 95 tons from Christina Vineyards in the Oak Knoll district on the valley floor, Dominari’s production will soon rise to 6,500 cases with the ’06 vintage. That’s quite a leap. To get there, the Schutzes are looking for another winery site and vineyard which would be closer to Highway 29 or the Silverado Trail in order to attract tourists who don’t normally venture up Atlas Peak’ s winding roads.

To help ease her load and to aid her when she’s confounded about something in particular in her wine, the winemaker and consultant calls upon another consultant. When I telephoned on a rainy winter morning recently, Schutz asked that I call back because John McKay was visiting and trying to help her solve a problem with her wine.

ALAN GOLDFARB (AG): Why do you have a consultant?

MARIE SCHUTZ (MS): When things get over my head, I call on John. When I need a reference, I always like to have a second opinion.

AG: What would be some of those things?

MS: Sensory perception – the nose and the mouthfeel. If there was something off on the wine that I couldn’t perceive, or on a wine that stumped me, I would always call someone.

AG: John McKay is a proponent of micro-oxygenation. Is he doing that to your wine?

MS: No. I don’t even know what that is.

AG: Micro-ox is a process where small, measured doses of oxygen are let into a stainless steel tank so that the fermenting juice -- with the addition of oak staves or other wood products –might be improved; and be ready for market quicker than by using actual barrels. At least that’s what is claimed by its proponents.

MS: I’m an old fashioned winemaker. I don’t like to use chemicals or anything else in my wine. In my winemaking, I don’t know if I want to play around with my Atlas Peak fruit; same thing with my new French oak. And, we don’t age our wine in stainless steel tanks for starters.

AG: What do you mean by “old fashioned winemaker”?

MS: I like the Bordeaux style, typically using half new and half used barrels, racking (removing clear wine from the sediment) four times, and two years of fermentation (in barrels).

Atlas Peak vineyard
Atlas Peak vineyard at 1700 feet which is about half way up the mountain.
We have very big mountain fruit that I don’t think needs a lot of chemical additions or changes. In modern winemaking, there’s so much you can do to change the perception. With Atlas Peak fruit, whatever comes off the vine is pretty much how we bottle it. I think winemaking is done in the vineyards.

AG: A lot of winemakers say that, but their philosophy in some cases is something else.

MS: Some people feel they can take any fruit … and change the character of the wine.

AG: Why do they do that?

MS: To make a better product. Not everyone can have mountain fruit or make big wines. You have to work with what you’re given.

AG: I know of some winemakers who even manipulate mountain fruit.

MS: I’m not saying there’s anything bad with making a perfect product.

AG: So, you’re not an adherent of the new winemaking techniques?

MS: Not today’s winemaking, no.

AG: Do you get pressure from your colleagues to utilize some of those methods?

MS: There’s nothing wrong with using those additions to make a better product. Everyone has a different style.

AG: Can you define the terroir of your vineyard? In the two wines of yours which I’ve tasted – the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – there are aromas of tar and minerality on the front of the palate. Does that come with your terroir and your philosophy of winemaking?

MS: Tar and minerality aren’t very complimentary comments … But I think wines are made in the vineyard. There’s more of a rounded mouthfeel and chocolate, more than tar. We have a very mountainous region that has clay loam soils with pumice, which produces a very earthy grape. When I say earthy, I would mean something that is deep in flavor.

AG: That’s what I mean by tar and minerality. I think those are earthy qualities and I think it comes from the soil, the terroir. Tell me about your site

MS: The vineyard faces east surrounded by a group of mountains which creates a micro-climate that has warm air on summer nights. I think it’s the warmest spot on Atlas Peak. It allows the grapes to mature earlier than most. We’re normally one of the first to pick on the mountain.

There are very few rocks, unlike most of the other volcanic rock on Atlas Peak. Although some will argue that rocky soils lead to better, more intense flavors; it’s easier to grow on the vines (on clay soils) than rocky soils. We still have those intense flavors because we’re mountain fruit. But it’s different.

AG: Why are you looking for a new site on the valley floor? Aren’t you a proponent of Atlas Peak?

MS: I’m absolutely a proponent. I love the fruit there. I don’t think I could ever replace the fruit on that property. But we’ve outgrown our south Napa winery and I need to be on the valley floor because my son goes to school there.

AG: Will you continue to grow grapes on Atlas Peak?

MS: Absolutely!

~ Alan Goldfarb, Regional Correspondent

Featured Wines

Cobblestone Vineyards 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon The 2002 vintage is comprised grapes harvested entirely from our mountain vineyard nestled high in the Atlas Peak appellation.
buy wine 750ml $44.00

Dominari 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon
buy wine 750ml $75.00


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