This is where aristocratic Bordeaux training meets New World potential. Philippe Melka honed his craft at the haute couture of French winemaking (Haut-Brion and Pétrus), did a stint at Badia a Coltibuono, and then at the ur-Napa property, Dominus. “All of my background is in superb, traditional winemaking,” he says. It’s the way the French have always done it, which he summarizes in three words: “It’s the terroir.”
Philippe and his wife Cherie, a long-time wine professional who manages the operations of the company (and advises with blending decisions), make four wines—all beginning with the letter ‘M’—from Napa and Sonoma. The estate Cabernet comes from a two-acre vineyard in St. Helena, where they live in a cool pre-fab, corrugated-metal, modular home (see the website).
The Melka Métisse Jumping Goat Vineyard (82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Petit Verdot, and 3% Merlot) reflects the overall approach, as the vineyard, says Philippe, is similar to one in Graves. The flavors (dark fruit, graphite, tar, and creosote) are going to take time to mature, hence why he recommends decanting the 2014 for three hours. On the other hand, the 2013 Melka Mekerra Proprietary Red (Cabernet Franc and Merlot from a mountain vineyard) is raring to go (there are only 400 cases, so you better be as well).
THE 2017 VINTAGE
“There’s been enough water to refill the reservoirs,” says Philippe, echoing the comments of other winemakers. But despite the “crazy warm” July heat, “the yield should be pretty decent,” he says. He predicts the Cabernet harvest will go into the second week of October.
“Very simple: four years of drought and now a year of massive rain in winter.”
BIGGEST HARVEST CHALLENGE
“The war is on—you have to be ready to take very quick decisions, always be ready for drama.” If there is a predicted heat wave, “should we pick prior or take the gamble?”
Also, surviving two to eight daily espressos during harvest. (Sogni Di Dolci on Main St. in St. Helena is Philippe’s caffeine spot.)
“To make good wine you have to drink a lot of beer,” he says, referring to a shed he has with beer on tap. “It’s the coolest place on the estate.”
His go-to local spot is Brasswood Bar + Bakery + Kitchen, part of the Brasswood winery in St. Helena.
He and Cherie also like “a quick flight to Hawaii.”