Tangible and intangible– the forces of nature are what govern life over at Eagle Eye Winery.
Nestled in the quiet hills of Gordon Valley, Bill and Roxanne Wolf have created a sustainable paradise for their vines and rootstock to thrive. Bill’s wisdom allowed us to become passive observers as he enriched the atmosphere with a hearty sense of passion for viticulture and mother nature. Eager to tell the classic tale of two lives, Bill expanded our understanding of what sustainable and regenerative farming truly means and how it can be successfully achieved by anyone with their hands in the dirt.
History in the Making
Bill and Roxanne’s story of transformation began how most begin – to the monotonous pulse of Corporate America.
“I worked for corporate America for 27 years. At 47 years old, I walked away. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I was a trained chef and I worked in the foodservice industry… I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”
Roxanne, a real estate broker at the time, also felt it was the beginning of a new chapter. “We sat down one night and said, you know – enough is enough. It’s not worth it anymore. So I quit… she [Roxanne] quit.] They sat down and decided where to go from there, but no matter which path they chose, they wanted to do it together.
“What was our passion? What did we like? What did we love?”
They knew they loved food– Bill was a professional chef. They’d also earned their “wine groupie” status Bill liked to call it.
“We went to all the wine auctions, we went to all the wineries and we started studying wine. We sat down and decided that we were going to go into the wine business.”
Bill and Roxanne are seekers. They spent the next 8 months full-time looking for properties in five different counties while studying viticulture at UC Davis, fully immersed in becoming experts in viticulture. One thing was for certain– if they were going to get into the business, Bill wanted to do it his way. “I looked at it like this – I could buy somebody else’s mistakes or make my own stupid mistakes, and I chose the latter” Ultimately, they found a vacant property in Napa County which remained untouched for 15 years.
“There was an investor out of San Francisco who owned the property… he wanted to do what we were doing so he'd come up here on the weekends… He had a tractor with a blanket on it and would drive it underneath the walnuts– acting like a farmer. But he didn't put any input. The land was clean, 15 years of no chemical input because he didn’t farm it, he just drove the tractor around!”
Interestingly enough, through soil investigation, Bill discovered that this unique piece of obsidian-rich land was a 4000-year-old trade route. Ancient Native Americans crossed over the Vaca Mountains and set up a ranchería at the creek behind the property, leaving behind many remnants of the past including tools, shaped obsidian, and soil blackened from cooking oils and foods pressed into the land over time.
Now here we were– 4,000 years later sitting on a slice of history, on some of the richest soil in Napa, learning about what makes Eagle Eye Vineyard sustainable and Bill was our teacher.
On Soil and Water
“I brought a soil scientist out...we have 5 different soil types on this property. All the soils were very conducive to growing grapes and olives.”
Napa Valley claims to have 90% of all the soil types in the world due to many factors including plate shifting, alluvial fans, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc. To add to the unique characteristics of this vineyard, the pristine Lake Curry feeds the creek that essentially waters the vineyards of Eagle Eye Winery.
“It’s the cleanest lake in the state of California. It was used as drinking water between 1926-1992 by the city of Vallejo. They closed the lake down and have kept it closed since so there are sea otters in there; there's a pair of bald eagles– it's pristine. Why is this important?... I'm watering my grapes with some of the cleanest water in California because it feeds into my well”
On Working with the Climate in Grape Selection
“We looked at the climate, we looked at the dirt… we looked at where the water comes from and we took samples of the water to see how clean the water was. We looked at as much as we knew at the time.”
Bill call’s this terrior– a French term used to describe a crop’s phenotype based on environmental factors such as climate, soil type, terrain, and other organisms growing in, on, or around the vines. For this particular landscape, it was discovered that Bordeaux, Cabernet Savagnaun, and Cabernet Franc were the most advantageous for this climate –they can sustain the heat!
“For me to plant Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir doesn’t make any sense because that's not what this climate supports and it doesn't make the best Pinot Noir and Sauv Blancs… Mother Nature does strange things, it makes no sense but that's what she does. We chose those grapes because of what the soil and the climate told us to.”