The dawn of the new millennium saw the beginning of an inspired venture when the de Villaine family from Burgundy and the Hyde family of Carneros, California, decided to work together on a family-run project in Carneros, Napa Valley. Thus, with a combined viticultural history spanning some 400 years, Hyde de Villaine came to fruition. The joint venture between Aubert de Villaine and Larry Hyde was launched in the UK in 2010. The Hyde de Villaine wines, two Chardonnays, a Syrah and a Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon blend are extraordinary; the result of a unique partnership of skills and cultures, which have resulted some extraordinary wines. These Californian wines combine a degree of the finesse, elegance and refinement, which most of us would associate with European wines, with a balance of richness and vitality afforded by the relatively cool, windy climate of the Carneros region.
In all of our correspondence and third party endorsement, there are three recurring themes which unite the Hyde de Villaine philosophy: respect for the combined families’ histories, a belief in a sense of place and a profound awareness of responsibility towards future generations.
Larry Hyde laid the foundations of what would become Hyde vineyard when he persuaded his father to buy the land in 1979. He had studied at Berkeley and Davis before entering the wine industry in 1970. Over the decades Larry has built up a formidable reputation for quality and many top names, such as Ramey, Paul Hobbs, Patz & Hall and Kistler beat a path to his door, eager to access Hyde vineyard fruit. It was from these holdings that 6.9 hectares were ceded, after much negotiation, to the Hyde de Villaine project.
Aubert de Villaine is one of the most highly-regarded and respected men in the wine world. As co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti as well as co-owner of Domaine A & P de Villaine in Bouzeron, Aubert has amassed a wealth of experience. For decades, he has meticulously researched, observed and annotated every nuance of viticultural and vinification practices and followed their impacts on his wines. He brings all of this knowledge to the HdV relationship. Although tradition runs deeply in his veins, Aubert nonetheless is always questioning and experimenting. The gravitas of experience has done little to curb the enquiring mind of youth.
The president of the company is 44-year-old Rick Hyde III – representing the new generation – charged with steering the company into the future, supported by another cousin, Charles Fairbanks, as general manager.
Hyde de Villaine – The Vineyard
The Hyde de Villaine wines come exclusively from the Hyde vineyards – and only the best plots at that. It is universally accepted that great wines come from great terroir but the skill really comes in respecting that terroir and translating it as honestly as possible in the finished wines. Having managed these vineyards for over thirty years, Larry Hyde has an unrivalled knowledge of their character. This is central to the HdV quest for optimal quality.
Winemaker Stéphane Vivier has a refined understanding of vineyard management, recognising that the bulk of the work, which he will later finesse, is achieved in the field. Having gained practical experience in Burgundy, Switzerland, New Zealand and Sonoma, Stéphane has a well-rounded body of experience from which to call. He works closely with Larry and Aubert, questioning the conventions in the region and adapting and implementing the best viticultural and vinification practices that France has to offer. Yields are precisely managed, intensifying the character of the resulting wines.
The vineyard is situated on gently rolling hills, facing south-east. The majority, Chardonnay and the Syrah,are planted on shallow, loamy soils over ancient alluvial terraces and impenetrable clay. New plantings of Chardonnay are planted at 2,800 vines per hectare, the older ones at 1,630 vines per hectare. The vines are varied in age with those vines which graduate to HdV being 25 years and over with de la Guerra vines (see below) at between 13 and 15 years. De la Guerra loses out in volume to HdV as the vines age, though some is made up as new plantings come into play.
The 1994 plantings of Syrah are at 2,445 vines per hectare, those planted in 2000, 2,800 vines per hectare. The Merlot and Cabernet vines tend to be planted at the northern end of the vineyard, further away from the bay and the fog it induces. The soils are deeper here too and the south-east slopes, steeper. Merlot is at 1,620 vines per hectare and the vines are 21 years old. Cabernet vines are at 1,950 vines per hectare and are 24 years old. New plantings are in a north south direction.
The temperate Carneros climate prolongs the growing season, allowing the vines to take advantage of their geological sites, gaining intensity and complexity whilst retaining optimal balance. The rainfall is less than surrounding areas and drainage is helped by ancient creek beds which lie between the topsoil and the relatively impenetrable clay pan. Enough moisture is retained to avoid irrigation, as far as possible.
The vineyards are farmed organically to encourage healthy, living soils, avoiding compaction and encouraging a richly diverse microbial ecosystem. Instead of the more standard approach, using pesticides, specific flowers are seeded which attract the natural predators of harmful pests and the natural habitats for owls, hawks and wasps are protected as they too provide a natural protection. Similarly, ploughing and natural compost replace herbicides and fertilisers respectively. This is sustainable agriculture taken very seriously, borne of the families’ keen sense of their responsibilities to past and future generations.
Hyde de Villaine – Cellar
The HdV cellar was built in 2003 and was designed to ensure the gentlest possible handling of the fruit.
Initially sorted in the vineyard, the grapes enjoy two further sortings at the winery. Within, the building has been designed to maximise the use of gravity, avoiding, as far as possible, mechanical pumping.
The juice is taken to a variety of casks; stainless steel, oak vats and oak barrels – marrying individual blocks to the most appropriate vessel. Each barrel or vat’s progress is overseen by winemaker Stéphane Vivier until the wine is blended, using only the very best barrels. In tune with the vineyard and cellar, Stéphane can assess the impact of vintage and be flexible rather than systematic during the élevage. He favours minimal intervention and judicious use of oak – all to ensure that the personality of the vineyard shines through in the finished wines – a philosophy which draws strength from Aubert’s own reputation in this key area.