Napa Valley AVA
One of the pioneers of the region's wine industry
It is seldom than anyone can claim to be a ninth generation anything, much less a world renowned member of one of France’s great winemaking families. Bernard Portet, 69, is such a man. Portet can trace his roots back to 1698, or further.
“Most of the records before the French Revolution were lost in church fires and the like,” he explained. “But my family has been making wine since the beginning of the 18th Century as far as we know.”Portet himself was born in Cognac, just north of Bordeaux. His father Andre had vineyards there that sold produce to the big Cognac houses that was made into the internationally acclaimed brandy that bears the town’s name.
In 1955, Andre Portet was appointed regisseur (estate manager) for the heralded Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac, one of the historic communes above Bordeaux. Chateau Lafite, as it is popularly known, is still considered one of the premier wines in the entire world.Bernard Portet remembers walking the vineyards of Lafite as a youth with his father. “My father would explain why Cabernet Sauvignon was planted in a particular spot and why Merlot preferred a cooler environment. At the time I wasn’t really sure why the terroir made such a difference to the wines.”
After completing high school, Bernard studied agronomy, viticulture and enology at universities in Toulouse and Montpelier. A trip in 1968 to California’s Napa Valley changed his life forever. Impressed by the similarities of Napa Valley and French growing regions, Portet took a job two years later to establish a world class winery that was to become known as Clos du Val Winery.
He selected property in the then unknown region known as Stag’s Leap District in the southern region of Napa Valley. Stag’s Leap was a relatively cool growing place that seemed perfect for cultivating the type of grapes that fit Portet’s winemaking style.
By picking grapes at relatively low sugar levels, Portet was able to control the balance and acidity of his wines. Consumers and publications alike marveled at his early wines and their classic Bordeaux style. Medals came raining down and Clos du Val was a remarkable success.When Portet finally retired from his position as Co-founder, Vice-Chairman and Winemaker at Clos du Val Winery near the end of 2008, he had no idea he would reenter the wine business as soon as 2010. A chance meeting with Don Chase, a former executive with a number of California wineries, provided Portet with an opportunity to start a new winery with his close friend.
“Don wanted to start a new wine venture and insisted that I be part of it. We got together and decided to go for it,” Portet explained. The new endeavor became Heritance, an amalgam of both ‘heritance’ and ‘inheritance,’ a pair of significant words in the life of Bernard Portet. Plans were made and grapes were purchased for the winery’s first release, a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.
“I was quite happy with the way it was received,” Portet revealed. Heritance Wines’ style is modeled after the classic "Old World" and combines fruit and elegance in the bottle. Contrasted to some of the modern behemoths that feature higher alcohol and very fruit forward wines, Heritance offers an excellent representation of well-made wines that are very food friendly and easy to consume.
“We have had a great reception for our wines in fine restaurants throughout the country,” Portet’s partner in Heritance Wines, Don Chase, added. “These places tend to know good food pairings and are appreciative of our style of wines.” Now in its sixth year, Heritance Wines has become well respected for its dignified wines and authentic style.
Portet is happy he’s not the last in his family to enjoy the fruits of the wine business. His son, Olivier has followed his father into the business and has served as marketing director for the venture since its inception.
“Olivier was born into the wine business, just as I was and all the generations before us. It’s in his blood just as it is in mine. I hope he is successful and carries on the family tradition for many years,” Portet finished.
Bernard Portet contends that he is a simple, humble man, much in the tradition of his fathers and ancestors. Since the Portet Family has been at it more than 314 years, and possibly even longer, history seems to be in their favor.
About the Vineyard
First planted in the late 1800's, the historic Stanly Ranch is located in the south-eastern part of the Carneros region of Napa Valley. The vineyard holds an important distinction in the modern viticultural history of Carneros, with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clonal trials conducted there in the 1950's by Louis Martini, the Wente family, and UC Davis. Today, Stanly Ranch is home to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir clones that originated this assemblage style and create uniquely distinctive wines for the Heritance brand.
While he continues to utilize the assemblage style, Portet has also began crafting tiny batches of vineyard-designated wines. There may only be a few barrels made of these new wines, and they may not be produced each year, but the selection process is rigorous and the lots will only be set aside when deemed truly exceptional. The first, but certainly not the last, of these special vineyard-designated offerings is this month's featured 2011 Pinot Noir from the famed Stanly Ranch in Carneros, Napa Valley.
Portet certainly has an appreciation for the distinctive winegrowing regions of Napa Valley, and combining that with his artistic winemaking style, he takes the idea of terroir to an exciting new level.
A Note from Bernard Portet
Dear Platinum Series Members,
It is with great pleasure that I offer you our 2010 Heritance Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. This is our second vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon and it reflects the highest quality fruit, which we sourced from the Oakville, Oak Knoll, and Carneros appellations. Heritance reflects my Portet Family’s heritage (1 Family), having inherited from (9 Generations) of winemakers’ wisdom, as well as my very rich personal experience (4 Continents). This wine reflects my personal style, using the assemblage winemaking approach whereby I blend small lots of wine from different varieties and terroirs to create a finished win that is greater than the sum of its parts.
This particular vintage is an assemblage of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. It is deep ruby in color with very red undertones. The aromas are fresh and fruity showing more red fruit at the beginning, while blackberry fruit emerges as the wine breathes. This wine is beautifully fragrant, the palate smooth with plenty of fresh fruit up front giving way to a full and rich mouthfeel. Well balanced with integrated tannins, the finish lingers as elements of spice, cherry, currant and tar surface one after the other.
This elegant yet complex wine is a perfect example of my background and family winemaking legacy. Utilizing the power of Napa Valley fruit and a Bordeaux winemaker’s style, this 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon makes Heritance a culmination of my life’s work.
Bernard Portet, Winemaker
Bernard Portet - Winemaker
Since Bernard Portet has been a world-class winemaker for more than four decades, his reputation speaks for itself. His background (Cognac and Bordeaux) is classic and his wines have garnered more accolades than many of his younger counterparts put together. His approach is from the classic side, extolling the virtues of terroir and traditional winemaking.
Portet utilizes a method of winemaking called assemblage that is used in preparing each of the winery’s final releases. Wines from different vineyards throughout Napa valley and elsewhere, are blended together to produce a finished product that rises above its individual components. The axiom ‘the wine is far more than the sum of its parts’ can certainly be applied to all of the winery’s releases.