“He woke us up and asked if we were in heaven. The view below was indeed so beautiful we almost didn’t mind that it was very, very early, especially because the perfect name for the newest vineyard had at last been found.”
Emily Michael

The Oakville AVA (American Viticultural Area), or appellation, as it is more commonly known, is one of sixteen sub-appellations within the greater winegrowing region of Napa Valley. Each region has its own identity, and Oakville is perhaps best understood through the prism of the Goldilocks effect. Because it is in the center of the Napa Valley, it benefits from the warmer climes of the northern valley, while welcoming cool maritime breezes from the San Pablo Bay farther south. The results are emblematic: wines of power and depth (fruit ripened to full maturity) tamed by elegance and finesse (a long, cool growing season and maritime influences).

Our Oakville Estate is best known for ‘Au Paradis,’ which debuted in 2011, two years after the estate was acquired by the Michael family. On waking one morning while camping high atop the estate, Mylo Michael turned to his grandfather, Sir Peter, and asked “Are we in heaven?” As they looked out above the fog line, punctuated here and there by verdant hilltops, it did appear they were in heaven: au paradis.

“The story of the Oakville Estate is one of evolution.”

The story of the Oakville Estate is one of evolution. In 2009, it was recognized as an acclaimed vineyard but was in need of rehabilitation and stewardship: a guiding hand who understood what it needed to transmit a sense of place, or terroir.

Enter Javier Aviña.

Up to that point, Aviña, who joined the Michael Family as their vineyard manager in 1991, had created the Knights Valley and Seaview Estates in Sonoma County. He was initially concerned that he might not be familiar enough with the climate and soils of the Oakville appellation. But, he says, “I lived in the Napa Valley, I had friends who knew Oakville, and I knew Dalle Valle was making great wines. The red dirt. The rocky soils. I knew it was a great place with great soils and climate. And, in the back of my mind, I knew it would be a good challenge for myself.”

Aviña and his team set about reviewing the vineyard, walking the individual rows, and studying its vigor, climate, geography, soil profile, and soil compaction. The farming, he says, “wasn’t quite at the desired level of the winery,” resulting in a nearly two-year rehabilitation period. “We looked at the clones. Some were good, but some were not the right fit,” he adds. “We replaced the irrigation system. We removed about 40 percent of the canopy, balancing each vine and making sure it could ripen on both sides. Erosion-control systems were implemented to maintain the structural integrity of the site, as were sustainable farming practices. It took a huge effort, but the results were good.”

Aviña and his teams have collaborated on managing the estates for decades

The sum of their rehabilitative efforts resulted in 26 acres (11 hectares) under vine of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc of terroir unfolding alongside the eastern side of the Napa Valley on a gently sloping plateau. Though vintage variation certainly plays a role in a wine’s flavor profile, a signature flavor profile has emerged from this rare site. Hallmark characteristics of black currant, cassis bud, and earth are prevalent during cooler vintages. Notes of violets, iron minerals, smoked meats, leather, and plum eau-de-vie often signal slightly warmer vintages. Texturally, the site is best associated with fine-grained, supple tannins. Structurally, the wines are complete and sound, with considerable length, a hallmark of age-worthiness.

Though Napa Valley is perhaps best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, the eastern side of the Oakville appellation is also known for Cabernet Franc and Merlot of distinction. Merlot is emblematically flavor-forward, with defining traits of meat, leather, and cassis. Cabernet Franc is lighter and more delicate than the other two; its color profile is much paler, its aromatics more lifted, and its flavor more floral.

Two years ago, however, the Michael family bottled their first-ever wine from this singular designate, featuring a single block of Cabernet Franc originally planted in 1983. It was 2018, a cooler year, and the Cabernet Franc from that vintage was superlative: precise, energetic, and bright, highlighting the variety’s finest attributes. Harvested on October 12, the Cabernet Franc was unmistakable. So, too, was the Merlot, and the two, when blended, crafted a significant representation of this unique terroir.

The final blend of 90 percent Cabernet Franc and 10 percent Merlot led to the creation of a definitive new wine from the Oakville Estate. Paul and Emily Michael set about searching for the name of the new bottling. Their inquiries were soon resolved when they realized that the inspiration for the perfect name, Au Paradis, had been there all along in the history of the estate.

The unmistakably red rock and soil of Oakville are visible throughout the estate.

Aviña evaluates the fruit with Sir Peter. The 2018 vintage of ‘Le Chapeau Blanc’ Estate Cabernet Franc was introduced in honor of Sir Peter’s signature Panama hat.

Now, joining the ranks of other wines within the collection inspired by family members (‘Ma Belle-Fille’ for Emily, and ‘Ma Danseuse’ for Lady Maggie), ‘Le Chapeau Blanc,’ named for the elegant white Panama hat so often worn by Sir Peter, is a nod to the trademark accessory of an adventurous, cultured, inquisitive man who truly appreciates an inherently well-balanced, well-made wine of terroir.

Released in 2021, the 2018 vintage of ‘Le Chapeau Blanc’ joined the Peter Michael Winery collection as its newest offering. So singular is its flavor profile, it will be produced only in vintages that most closely replicate its debut vintage.

“I had the benefit of trying ‘Le Chapeau’ before and after it was blended,” Aviña says. He smiles broadly. “It’s beautiful,” he says.

Aviña has spent over thirty years with Peter Michael Winery managing each estate, evolving his processes based on his vast experience.

Aviña and Sir Peter, along with the Michaels’ belated family dog, Tucker, meander the Oakville Estate, surrounded by lush oak and olive trees, which add to this special terroir.

“He smiles broadly, It’s beautiful, he says.”

Team hand-harvest in the cold, early morning hours.