CATCH THE LIGHT
Family has always been at the heart of Gemstone Vineyard. Founded in the early 1990s by a gemologist, hence the company name, the 16-acre Napa Valley vineyard was purchased in 2008 by Michael and Carole Marks, and has been a family affair ever since. Today run by their daughter, Amy Marks Dornbusch, Gemstone produces some of Napa’s highest quality wines.
Gemstone Vineyard was planted back in 1994, marking Gemstone as one of the earlier estate-grown Cabernet producers in Napa Valley. Even more impressive is that, while the vast majority of Cabernets produced in Napa are grown using ubiquitous clones from the nearby UC Davis, Gemstone Vineyard was originally planted using clippings from an impressive array of early “cult Cabernet” producers in Napa Valley and world famous châteaux in Bordeaux, France. Factor in the vineyard’s micro-block farming system and the blending talents of acclaimed winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown, and the result is an incredibly exclusive, high-quality family of Cabernets.
“We have 20 different micro-blocks that are densely planted to a variety of root stock,” Amy explains, “and within those are 11 different clones of Cabernet alone. We take an incredibly meticulous approach to farming. Each individual micro-block is treated as if it’s its own mini farm, with its own water, fertilization and pruning programmes. They go through harvest, winemaking, and the barrel-ageing process separately. This allows us to engage in extensive blending trials, from which we are able to produce three Cabernet Sauvignons with distinctive character. This is our differentiator, and what sets us apart from many of the other small-estate producers.”
Gemstone Vineyard is incredibly selective about the quantity of wine it produces; for the family, quality is of prime importance. “The vineyard could produce more than 4,000 cases of wine annually, but we’ve reduced production to just 1,600 cases to make the highest quality wines that we can, wines that are truly reflective of the unique diversity of our property.”
From those select cases, Gemstone offers three limited-production Cabernet Sauvignon selections every year, chiefly to those on its mailing list. There are 750 cases each of Gemstone’s Heritage Selection, released in March, and another 750 cases of its Alluvial Selection, released in July. That leaves just 100 cases of the Ruby Barrel Selection – the most exclusive and exquisite, released in September. Each of these special wines can be aged for 20 years or more.
The discerning Thomas Rivers Brown makes his four-barrel Ruby Selection based on the blend that exhibits the best balance of fruit character, power, acidity and structure and is most characteristic of the vineyard. And, true to Gemstone’s love of family, the title is of very special importance.
“The Ruby Barrel Selection is named after our daughter,” says Amy. “We’re always striving for perfection, and while there’s no perfect Cabernet, those four barrels are as close as we can get to it. It’s the wine that represents the best of what we do. My husband and I welcomed our daughter at the end of 2016, so we wanted to honour her as being part of our family. For us, this is about the beauty of the land, sharing our wine with our friends, and keeping Gemstone in our family for a very long time to come. It all comes back to family and to the people we love.”