Interview with Steven Leveque, Winemaker, Chalk Hill Estate
By Jim Clarke
Jim Clarke: Where did you grow up? Did you
grow up in an environment that fostered an appreciation of wine?
Steven Leveque: Hailing from Napa makes it all but impossible not
to be immersed in everything “wine”. Interestingly, I
grew to appreciate the lifestyle and culture of wine in my days away
from Napa, while in college. The wine bug stung hard, and my journey
back to wine country was laden with aspirations of being a winemaker.
JC: What drew you to working at Chalk Hill
SL: Simply stated, I was attracted to the commitment to quality
and the estate vineyard concept. That winning combination, firmly
established by Fred and Peggy Furth, is a rarity, and I had to pursue
JC: As a winemaker what differences have you
found working in Sonoma rather than Napa?
SL: Sonoma, as a whole, is far more diverse than Napa, both in terms
of its residents and its vineyards. The mentality is different as
well, tending to be more down to earth, whereas Napa is too often
caught up in the celebrity of winemaking. In Sonoma, I feel less
distracted and more able to focus on what is paramount to making
great wine – the vineyards and winery!
JC: If you were to make wine in some other
part of the world, where else would you be most interested in?
SL: Burgundy has always been an inspiration to me. Burgundy is the
model for estate winegrowing. I would love to spend a few vintages
on a Grand Cru estate. My heart, however, is in Sonoma and I am ecstatic
to be on board with Chalk Hill Estate.
JC: You are obviously intimately involved with
the grapegrowing in addition to the winemaking at Chalk Hill. How
does this approach contrast with the many “flying winemakers”
SL: As cliché as it may sound, making great
wine starts in the vineyards. As winemaker at Chalk Hill Estate,
I have two distinct advantages. Firstly, I work with Mark Lingenfelder,
arguably the most gifted viticulturalist in the North Coast. Mark
has been at Chalk Hill Estate for nearly twenty-five years and intimately
knows how to grow wine. My first order of business was to tap into
his collective brilliance and establish a partnership. Secondly,
Chalk Hill Estate is the only 100% estate winery in the Chalk Hill
Appellation. That adds up to quality grapes!
Flying winemakers will never have enough knowledge and appreciation
of the land to get the highest potential into the bottle, period.
JC: What changes or new developments do you
foresee for Chalk Hill in the future?
SL: As winemaker, I intend to carry on the tradition of making great
Chardonnay, as established when David Ramey was at the helm. And,
Chalk Hill Estate has steadily been increasing its red wine production.
Having been deliberately planted only to the warmest sites with hillside
aspects, the Bordeaux red varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot,
Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Carmenere) are showing amazing
promise. We are making Cabernet and Merlot based wines that will