A Taste of Harvest with Priyanka French of Signorello Estate
October 15, 2020
Written By Coravin
Welcome back to Coravin’s Taste of Harvest series! Today we sit down with Priyanka French, Winemaker at Signorello Estate. Signorello Estate is nestled in the southeastern corner of Napa Valley and has been home to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Chardonnay varietals. Since joining the Signorello team in the spring of 2019, Priyanka has focused on producing premium, estate-grown wines using precision viticulture and restrained winemaking to showcase the fruit expression of the unique site. We caught up with Priyanka to learn more about her harvest experience at Signorello and beyond.
What do you find to be the most interesting part of harvest?
There is always an element of unpredictability in harvest. There could be a sudden heatwave, or a rain event that calls for quick pick decisions, or it could be beautiful, moderate weather allowing extended hang time. You really don't know what you are in for until you are in it, so constantly evolving and understanding the vintage keeps harvest challenging, yet most interesting.
Tell us about your first harvest experience and how it has shaped you into the winemaker you are today.
My first harvest experience was at Louis M. Martini winery in St. Helena. I had a chance to work in the laboratory as well as in the cellar for the reserve wines. The winery had just come under Gallo ownership so I learned a lot about modern winemaking while preserving the history and legacy of wines. The cellar crew was very experienced and willing to teach me details and efficient methods in the cellar. Moreover, I had a chance to taste fruit and wines from many different vineyards and participate in tastings with the winemakers, which was very educational.
What makes Signorello’s harvest process unique compared to other vineyards?
Signorello is a very unique site located on the southern end of Napa Valley. In spite of its location, we find that this site is an early ripening site with tannin and color concentration developing early in the vineyards compared to our neighbors. Our estate vineyards are located on both the eastern and western side of the hill so we have two very distinct profiles in terms of vineyard management and fruit expression. The philosophy of the wines is minimum intervention so we try to express the unique character of the estate through native fermentations, focussed extraction methods and the final wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.
With COVID-19 reshaping the way most businesses operate, how has the harvest process differed this season than in years past?
We have adopted all the necessary precautions to ensure everyone’s safety on site during harvest. Our crew has been with us a long time and the new rules were difficult at first, but we have found that the division of roles has given us a lot of team efficiency and growth.
Do you have any special celebratory harvest traditions?
Yes! We always celebrate the first pick with a bottle of sparkling wine once the pick is completed. Our crew picks at night into early mornings and then continues to work in the winery if needed. Carlos, our vineyard foreman who has been with us for a little over three decades, cooks us a hearty lunch on picking days and we all sit together (socially distanced these days) and enjoy a good meal and conversation.
What’s something wine lovers might not know about how their wine gets from the vine to their glass?
The number of decisions that influence the final product in the glass. Right from the vineyard to the bottles, winemakers and vineyard crews are focussed on every aspect of the growing season, to every detail in the winery during the fermentation and aging process. The final product is truly a labor of love, especially estate wines which are stewarded along the way by the same team. This is such an important facet for me, and I always seek wines with incredible stories and consistent philosophies.
What role does your Coravin System play in the harvest/tasting process?
For us, Coravin has been so important during the tasting process. I joined as Winemaker last year and we’ve been tasting through the library wines at Signorello to better understand the property and the history of the blocks. Being able to taste while still preserving the wine/bottle, is invaluable for us. We are able to revisit these wines when needed in the future and it is an incredible tool in this respect.
How do you know when you have a good vintage on your hands?
For me, there’s a few different markers - smaller berry sizes imply concentration and density, flavors in the field and the resolution of tannins as you taste the skins is a good indicator of wine quality as well. In a good vintage, you see the ripening profile of the fruit steadily evolve. If the conditions in September/October are perfect, a nice extended hang time allows for picking flexibility and development of complex flavor profiles in the resulting wines.
How do you approach the picking decisions for Signorello’s different varietals?
Precision Viticulture is a very important method of farm management for me. We study and predict each varietal as a separate entity every harvest. There are no predetermined rules but instead our decisions are a response to the patterns that we see in the field. Our pick decisions are never the same sequence or the same method, we are constantly developing our plan and programming depending on the vintage and how the varietals respond to it.
Tell us about the varietal you are especially excited about this harvest season.
We have a 5 acre parcel of Chardonnay that I’m completely enthralled by. Originally planted in 1980, the original vines give us so much fruit complexity and texture. This year, we spent a lot of time marking vines to differentiate age, clones, and made several picks to reflect these differences. The Hope’s Cuvee Chardonnay has been a single vineyard block wine in Signorello’s portfolio for almost four decades now and I am honored to continue that tradition and create this unique cuvee.
What complications has your team faced as a direct result of the Northern California wildfires?
We have been incredibly fortunate to not have been directly impacted by the LNU Complex and now the Glass Complex Fires. Our estate, crew and team are all safe and the wines are fermenting off site. Our hearts go out to all those who are currently affected, evacuated and have lost their homes, wineries and more. The loss from these fires is absolutely devastating and will have a significant long term impact. We continue to pray and hope for the safety of our fellow vintners and members of our community.
Stay tuned on Coravin’s social channels for our next harvest partner spotlight.