Steve Leveque: Inside the Mind of a Winemaker

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HallWinesSteve.jpgAnytime you have an opportunity to talk with a winemaker it's a special experience.  Here is "The" person directly responsible for making the wines you love to drink. And . . .you can now ask them any question imaginable...

I had such a moment at the HALL Rutherford Release Party for their wine Excellenz.  Their new winemaker Steve Leveque answered every standard and zany question I asked.  Steve has been making wine for about 16 years. He began his career at Robert Mondavi Winery under the tutelage of Tim Mondavi for close to 11 years.  Eventually, he spread his wings and flew to Chalk Hill Estate Winery in Sonoma Wine Country where he served as Executive Vice President and Winemaker.

New to the HALL Wines family starting summer of 2008, Steve says he's found a place he's proud to call home. It sounds cliché, but Steve relates that Hall Wines is dedicated to making great wine. "The owners are committed to the winemaking process, passionate about the wine experience, and they have one of the best vineyards - Sacrashe - to produce from."  With all the right components in place, you might say the only thing missing was Steve Leveque as winemaker....

I could regale you with all of the advances in new technology HALL Wines is using to produce their wine or even tell you how their winemaking process differs from others, but you could just as easily read that information on their site.  It's much more fun to interrogate winemakers and you read their responses.

HallWinesSteve1.jpgWhat's your take on the 2008 harvest? A good vintage or bad vintage?
"I can make good Cabs in any type of weather. (Definitely the response that any boss/owner would love to hear...) And, 2008 was exceptional - I know, I know, all winemakers tend to pile on the accolades for each and every new vintage. Although '08 provided many early challenges with frost and bad weather during flowering,  the majority of the season, especially the last four weeks of ripening, were fantastic - allowing great purity of fruit and really ripe, suppleness of tannin."

You are scheduled to die tomorrow.  What does your last meal include (wine specifically)?
"I would fly to France and head to Christian Etienne - in Avignon -- and have a 5-course black truffle extravaganza.  I would include the 2005 Hall Bergfeld Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon , a '89 Vosne Romanee from Meo-Camuzet, 2000 Pavie, the 2005 HALL "Kathryn Hall" Cabernet and also the 2005 HALL "Excellenz" Sacrashe Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon."

What's the difference between a sommelier and a winemaker?
"A sommelier is much more versed in pairing wine with food whereas the winemaker is tasting wines in their raw stage and responsible for putting the blend together."

What did you want to be when you grew up?
"I went to school in Napa and there were scores of kids in my classes that were sons and daughters of folks in the wine industry. Interesting enough,  I actually wanted to be an NBA star. I played during high school at the point guard position and considered playing basketball at a Division 2 school. I still get out there and play every once in awhile with friends"

HallWinesBottles.jpgI have a theory that you can't go wrong with red wines in the odd years. They always turn out a fabulous vintage.  The even years tend to be "uneven" and can't be consistently trusted, so I tell my friends when they order at a restaurant to stick to the odd years.  Any validity on this little theory of mine?

Laughingly, the reply was "Well, there might be some validity to that. Can't deny that the vintages of '97, '99, '01 etc. were some great years. But, there are some even years in there that were good.  I don't know...not a bad theory though."

You a fan of the cult wines out there?
"Nah. Cult wines are all about image and not substance  Too often they are overripe and monolithic. They are overrated; don't believe the hype!"

Favorite Sonoma Winery?
"Peter Michael Winery in Knights Valley. They have awesome vineyards and produce some great Chards, Cabs, and Pinots".

Just how dedicated to Hall Wines are you really?
"Well...if the temperature of the wines changes even slightly I'm automatically sent an alert to my Blackberry - even in the middle of the night -  and can remotely make adjustments from my house - in the middle of the night...." (Now that's dedication!)

Time flies when you're talking with Steve. His relaxed nature and enthusiasm for wine makes for wonderful conversation.  One could just as easily be talking with him at a family dinner table as you are in the caves. Stop by the winery in your travels through Napa Valley; you never know who you will meet among the barrels at HALL Rutherford . . .


If you could ask a winemaker anything you wanted, what would you ask?


Awesome article! Great wine!

I am looking forward to tasting a Hall Cab.

The cheerfulness of the article whet my appetite.

Great article! Steve's enthusiasm and dedication is admirable and I am encouraged to add Hall wines to my list of great wines to try. Thank you!

And best of all girls....he's single.

This vintage of Hall is defiantly the best to date. Did not take to some of the ones before but gosh darn the, Kathryn Hall, Darwin, and the Sacrashe are kick butt. This is the first vintage I have bought wine from them and it is not because of all the wine mag hype I live in the area and work in the industry and taste all the time, and this line up stuck OUT. As fr cult wines, come on Steve at least Harlan and I am pretty sure Peter Michael is considered a "Cult- Winery" look at the winemaker(s), prices, and the scores.