Summit Lake Vineyards and Winery is a much-loved stop on our California Wine Country tours. We caught up with Heather Griffin, daughter of the founders of Summit Lake, to learn a little more about the wines they produce high atop Howell Mountain.
What is key when considering where to start a winery?
One of the best jokes about what it takes….
“What is the best way to make a small fortune in the wine business? Start with a large one.”
Still holds true today.
I think the most important thing to look at is what you’re after for quality and how you expect to sell your wine when it’s done! My dad started on Howell Mountain because he couldn’t afford valley floor property in the early 70’s and our little piece pf property worked into his budget and timing. If you want to sell an outstanding product you have to grow grapes in a premium area and Howell Mountain and the Napa Valley have consistently shown to be an amazing place to grow grapes.
You recently went through harvest season, can you tell us a little about that process and what next steps are after harvest?
Harvest time is one of the best times of the year to visit. It’s like Christmas for grape growers and winemakers, the thing you wait all year for. It is the most work and the most fun. Since we grow all of our own fruit we work in the vineyards all year tending to the vines preparing for harvest. We start sampling the grapes a few weeks ahead of our projected harvest to check the sugar content and acid levels in the fruit. This allows us to have a good idea of when the quality of the fruit is best. We also wait and watch the dogs who start eating the grapes when they’re ready. Harvest is a busy time, and we have multiple days of picking over several weeks of time. We hand pick all of our fruit and can have multiple picks of the same varietal depending on the age of the vines and location on the property. We get all of our picking done while the fruit is cool in the mornings and then crush the fruit as soon as the picking is done that day.
It’s hard to describe everything that goes into making wine because everything you do to a grape affects the outcome of your finished product. We pick the fruit, de-stem the grapes (take them off the stems) and may or may not crush them, depending on the varietal and what we want from those particular grapes. They go into a fermentation tank and can spend days to weeks in the tank depending on the winemakers style. After the fermentation is complete we press the wine off of the skins and put the wine back into tanks to settle before transferring to barrels for the aging process.
Here at Summit Lake we just settled our last bit of wine down to barrels for the 2017 vintage!
What is a must-try, can’t miss wine at Summit Lake?
That’s like asking a parent which child is their favorite! Depends on the day, what you’re eating, and what you’re in the mood for. Zinfandel is what was planted on our property originally in the 1800’s by the Italians that were in the valley. It’s also the varietal my dad fell in love with and what got him into this crazy business. It grows beautifully on Howell Mountain and what we still focus on here at Summit Lake.
But we are also about family…all of the grand kids have wines named for them now. We grow Cabernet and Petite Sirah in addition to our Zinfandel, and they have all proven to do very well in the volcanic soil Howell Mountain is known for.
What pairings do you recommend?
Our wines are all made to be food friendly and to be shared. If you’re serving lamb I would go with our Zinfandel. Beef or game goes well with the any of the reds especially the Cabernet and Petite Sirah. And our Zinfandel Port is amazing with desserts or by itself after dinner. It easily pairs with cheese, fresh berries and cream, or of course chocolate.
What inspired your label design?
All of our wines outside of our Zinfandel are named for the grand kids in the family. They were all designed to reflect the kiddos and their personalities. They each have a long story behind them that takes at least a couple of glasses of wine to get through…full details available at Summit Lake visits!
What are Summit Lake’s goals for the future?
To keep making wine to share with family and friends!
Experience Summit Lake for Yourself