Ashes & Diamonds

The Raconteurs of the ‘New Napa’

In 2013, Jon Bonné published his ground-breaking and, at the time, controversial work, The New California Wine. Bonné’s book brought to light a story previously untold in Californian wine folklore: a groundswell of young, dynamic producers swimming against the tide of bombastic and homogeneous wine that prevailed. The subtitle read: A guide to the producers and wines behind a revolution in taste. This was the book Kashy Khaledi, then an executive at Capitol Records, had been waiting for. Restless in his work and “exhausted by exhausting wines”, Bonné’s book and the wines it described served as his catalyst to take the leap he had been considering for years.

When Khaledi established Ashes & Diamonds in 2014, he took inspiration from his favourite wines made by the great producers of 1950s, 60s and 70s California, including Mayacamas, Mondavi and Inglenook. The blueprint was a return to honest and classical Napa wines of the past, restrained yet compelling wines that spoke clearly of their origins.

Khaledi’s first coup was to hire the services of two of New California’s brightest talents: viticulturist Steve Matthiasson (Stags’ Leap, Spottswoode) and oenologist Diana Snowden Seysses (Robert Mondavi, Domaine Dujac) while securing lease holdings within some prestigious Napa postcodes. Matthiasson and Snowden Seysses share the winemaking and viticultural responsibilities, working closely with small, family-owned vineyards stretching from Santa Cruz to Yountville to make single-vineyard and multiple-site wines. Both are staunch advocates for sustainable viticulture, partnering with growers to create a harmonious relationship between the humans and dirt involved—all sites are farmed organically and are dry-grown where possible. Added to Matthiasson’s high standing within the Napa viticultural community, there’s not usually a lot of arm-twisting required to get growers on board; a rising tide lifts all boats.

In 2017, Ashes & Diamonds found its home in the Oak Knoll District with an impressive vineyard of its own. The custom-built winery was erected the same year. The collaborative approach between Steve and Diana continues—in keeping with their unique winemaking ideas, Matthiasson makes multiple-site wines while Seysses works with single vineyards. The multiple-site wines have a brightness and freshness that immediately appeal. On the other hand, Snowden Seysses’s single-site expressions are more deeply cast, so the winery holds these wines back before release. New oak is generally about 30%, there are no extended macerations, fermentations are natural and nothing is added, including acid. Sulphur is used sparingly.

The wines express sites through the prism of their talented makers. The flagship Cabernet Franc is an ode to the great wines of the Loire Valley, treated as gently as a Pinot Noir and bearing an alcohol level reflecting that approach. The red Bordeaux blends embody Khaledi’s aim to emulate the Napa wines of old; they’re refined, complex and driven by their terroir. Across the portfolio, you will encounter restraint, old-world structure, moderate alcohols, gentle oak influence and deep expression of site. If this is the ‘New Napa’, then count us in.

The Range

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Mountain Cuvée No.3 2018
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Mountain Cuvée No.3 2018
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Mountain Cuvée No.3 2018

The Saffron Vineyard on Mount Veeder is an excellent example of the perfect site managed by the right person. It’s a beautiful vineyard, nestled in the redwoods and high above the fog inversion line at an altitude of 457 metres. Daytime temperatures here can often be 10 degrees lower than on the valley floor. With a push from Kashy Khaledi, the vineyard is organically farmed by the passionate and committed owner, Lisa Chu (Khaledi convinced Lisa to up her prices for all her customers—including him—so that organic farming could be implemented, a move that quickly saw a dramatic improvement in soil health and the quality of fruit). Deep-rooted Bordeaux varietals were planted here in 2000, in thin soils comprised of uplifted marine sediment and fractured shale.Part of the Mayacamas coastal range separating the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Mount Veeder is said to grow the most characterful wines of the Napa “like a wild fish in a school of tank-raised trout”, as Matt Kramer once put it. And, while its reputation is one for robust, slow-maturing wines, Diana Snowden-Seysses’s choice of blend, her Burgundian eye and the Saffron Vineyard crop of small but beautifully balanced berries, infuses the natural power of the mountain with unusual silken grace. The 2018 is a blend of Merlot (59%), Cabernet Sauvignon (23%) and Cabernet Franc (18%). Once at the winery, the grapes were given a cold soak until native fermentation began. The wine matured for 19 months in French oak (30% new).A more ebullient expression than its single-site compatriot, the Saffron has immediate appeal;  bustling with energy, character and vibrant, charming expression. Shades of minerality weave through soft and supple fruits, velvety weight, warm spice tones and polished structures. It’s rich and silky without being overblown and finishes with finesse, grace and power. Fusing the explosive intensity of low-yielding Veeder fruit with impeccable freshness and focused tannin, decant it and drink over a couple of hours to taste the full magnitude of Mount Veeder in all its classically shaped form.

A more ebullient expression than its single-site compatriot, the Saffron has immediate appeal; bustling with energy, character and vibrant, charming expression. Shades of minerality weave through soft and supple fruits, velvety weight, warm spice tones and polished structures. It’s rich and silky without being overblown and finishes with finesse, grace and power. Fusing the explosive intensity of low-yielding Veeder fruit with impeccable freshness and focused tannin, decant it and drink over a couple of hours to taste the full magnitude of Mount Veeder in all its classically shaped form.

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Mountain Cuvée No.3 2018
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Mountain Cuvée No.3 2018
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Vineyard Mountain Cuvée No.4 2019
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Vineyard Mountain Cuvée No.4 2019

The Saffron Vineyard on Mount Veeder is an excellent example of an ideal site managed by the right person. It’s a beautiful vineyard, nestled among redwoods high above the fog inversion line at an altitude of 457 metres. Daytime temperatures here are often 10 degrees lower than on the valley floor. With encouragement from Kashy Khaledi, the vineyard is organically farmed by the passionate and committed owner, Lisa Chu. (Khaledi convinced Lisa to increase her prices for all her customers, including him, so that organic farming could be implemented—a move that dramatically improved soil health and fruit quality.) Deep-rooted Bordeaux varieties were planted here in 2000 in thin soils of uplifted marine sediment and fractured shale. Part of the Mayacamas coastal range separating the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Mount Veeder is said to grow the most characterful wines of the Napa, “like a wild fish in a school of tank-raised trout”, as Matt Kramer once put it. While it has a reputation for robust, slow-maturing wines, Diana Snowden-Seysses’s Burgundian eye, choice of blend and the Saffron Vineyard’s crop of small, beautifully balanced berries infuses the natural power of the mountain with unusual silken grace. The 2019 is a blend of Merlot (60%), Cabernet Sauvignon (23%) and Cabernet Franc (17%). Once at the winery, the grapes were given a cold soak until spontaneous fermentation—which included 20% whole clusters—began. The wine then matured for 19 months in French oak (28% new, all Taransaud).According to its maker, the wine is “bouncy and outgoing, with explosive red fruit flavours—like biting into a ripe, juicy plum—and fine, focused tannins”. Fusing the explosive intensity of low-yielding Veeder fruit with impeccable freshness and focused tannin, decant this and drink it over a couple of hours to experience the full magnitude of the mountain in all its classically shaped glory.

“From an unirrigated vineyard above the fog line on Mount Veeder, the 2019 Mountain Cuvée No. 4 Saffron Vineyard is a blend of 60% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon and 17% Cabernet Franc, all aged in 30% new French oak. Offering up scents of black cherries and mocha, it's medium-bodied and streamlined, with soft, silky tannins and a softly dusty finish. Winemaker Diana Snowden Seysses has crafted an intriguing wine, as it tastes ripe yet comes across as lower alcohol (it's labeled at 13.4%) than most of its brethren.”
90 points, Joe Czerwinski, The Wine Advocate
“This well-proportioned wine blended from Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon offers good black-fruit flavors, nice hints of cinnamon and toasted oak, and a slightly firm texture due to fine-grained tannins and balancing acidity. It's an elegant wine that won't tire you out.”
93 points, Jim Gordon, Wine Enthusiast
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Saffron Vineyard Mountain Cuvée No.4 2019
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Rancho Pequeño Cabernet Sauvignon No.4 2018
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Rancho Pequeño Cabernet Sauvignon No.4 2018

Rancho Pequeño Vineyard is part of Bart and Daphne Araujo’s Oakville property on the valley floor's east flank in the Vaca Mountains' foothills. The 10-acre vineyard was originally planted in 1985 and screams old-school Napa Cabernet: exposed south with very thin topsoils, warm and sunny afternoons, cool dusks and dawns and gentle sea breezes. A touch warmer than the Ashes & Diamonds home vineyard in Oak Knoll, it is biodynamically farmed by two of Napa’s greatest land stewards under the guidance of A&D’s legendary viticulturist, Steve Matthiasson. The soils are deep and loamy, washed down from the Vaca Mountains, resulting in a high water table and little need for irrigation.  It’s a sad reality when working with old vineyards that they are not around forever. As with the Red Hen Cabernet Sauvignon we released last year, this will be the final release of this wine as Bart and Daphne complete a total replanting of the vineyard. It is the swansong of a great wine, an exceptional vineyard and an outstanding vintage. In Kashy Kaledi’s words: “If you made a bad wine in Napa in 2018, you probably shouldn’t be making wine.” The fruit was picked in the last week of September and spent 16 days in tank followed by 19 months’ maturation in 32% new French oak. Winemaker Diana Snowdon-Seysses has been described as bringing a Burgundian eye to a non-Burgundian grape, so you can expect a restrained and respectful touch across the single vineyard wines she makes. She describes 2018 as “a kaleidoscope of aromatics ranging from rose to game, bright and crunchy red fruit flavours with weightless power and purity”. Where do we sign up?

“A classic 2018 Napa Cabernet: rich ripe and powerful, with smooth tannins and a luscious mid palate wrapped in oak. Balanced and holding well. This had 14 days fermentation/maceration with a further 20 months in 35% new French oak.”
96 points, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, Decanter
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Rancho Pequeño Cabernet Sauvignon No.4 2018
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.6 2019
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.6 2019

When Kashy Khaledi first acquired the Oak Knoll vineyard, many advised him to graft it over from Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon. But, compelled to see what might come of these 30-year-old vines if nourished correctly and farmed organically, he dug his heels in and kept the plantings intact. These vines now form the base of Ashes & Diamond’s flagship wine and are joined by organic fruit from Los Carneros and Yountville. Also located in Napa’s cooler south, these sites take in the morning fog and afternoon sea breezes from San Pablo Bay, preventing heat spikes and facilitating slow, even ripening. Taking its cues from the top bottlings of Saumur-Champigny, winemaker Steve Matthiasson gives us a snapshot of Cabernet Franc’s aromatic finesse derived from the vineyard’s volcanic clay and sandy loam soils at the southern end of Napa Valley. This year’s blend includes 25% Merlot, and fermentations took place in stainless steel tanks. The wine matured in mostly old (16% new) premium French oak (Taransaud and Orion) for 19 months. The wine was held in bottle for a further two years before release. At 13.2%, this is naturally restrained, balanced Napa with Cabernet’s Franc’s chalky texture, combined with integrated silky tannins, impressive intensity, and a long, perfumed finish. In a wonderful spot and a fine homage to its Loire inspiration. 

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.6 2019
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Blanc No.4 2018
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Blanc No.4 2018

One could never accuse Ashes & Diamonds of not aiming of the stars—this wine is a homage to the white wines of Domaine de Chevalier, an equal blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc sourced from two sites in the southern Napa Valley. The Semillon component is sourced from the oldest vineyard of the varietal in California. Located in Yountville, Kendall Hoxsey’s Yount Mill Vineyard is home to 1962 vines that are head-trained, dry-grown and extremely low-yielding—Khaledi describes the fruit as “simply majestic”. To this, Steve Matthiasson blends mature-vine Sauvignon from the Ashes & Diamonds vineyard in Napa’s Oak Knoll district. Both vineyards benefit from the cool, foggy mornings and afternoon sea breezes rolling in from San Pablo Bay, which serve as a moderating influence and aid in preserving natural acidities and racy freshness.In the cellar, Matthiasson naturally co-ferments the parcels in barrel. The wine spends 10 months on fine lees in French oak (25% new) with no bâtonnage before it goes to bottle. Unusually for a white, it is released after three years in bottle, during which time the pungency of Sauvignon Blanc takes a back seat to the key lime pie and lemongrass characters of the Semillon. Number 4 stands for the wine’s fourth release. According to its crafter, it is “fully ripe and textured, yet bright, zesty and supremely age-worthy”. Vibrant and agile from the first look, this awakens the senses with tingling tension and bright energy. Citrus and florals align with notes of honey and a backdrop of toasty spice, while filigree textures weave throughout. Time in bottle has served this wine well, it’s beautifully balanced, unfurling with complexity and finishing with an elegant but lengthy close.

Vibrant and agile from the first look, this awakens the senses with tingling tension and bright energy. Citrus and florals align with notes of honey and a backdrop of toasty spice, while filigree textures weave throughout. Time in bottle has served this wine well, it’s beautifully balanced, unfurling with complexity and finishing with an elegant but lengthy close.

“Half the blend is from the oldest Semillon vineyard in California with the Sauvignon Blanc from Oak Knoll. Co-fermented in 25% new French oak, aged statically on lees for 10 months then kept in bottle for three years before release. Nose of candied lemon and beeswax with a layer of woodsmoke and spice. The palate is fleshy and textured with a hint of honey, balanced by fresh acidity.”
92 points, Michelle Cherutti-Kowal MW, Decanter
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Blanc No.4 2018
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Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.4 2017
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.4 2017
Added

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.4 2017

When Khaledi first acquired the Oak Knoll vineyard, many advised him to graft it over from Cabernet Franc to Cabernet Sauvignon. But, compelled to see what might come of these 30-year-old vines if they were nourished correctly and farmed organically, Khaledi dug in his heels and kept the original plantings intact. These vines now form the base of Ashes & Diamond’s flagship wine and are joined by organic fruit from Los Carneros and Yountville. Also in Napa’s cooler southside, these sites take in the morning fog and afternoon sea breezes from San Pablo Bay, preventing heat spikes and enabling slow ripening.Taking its cues from the top bottlings of Saumur-Champigny, Steve Matthiasson gives us a snapshot of Cabernet Franc’s aromatic finesse derived from his vineyard’s volcanic clay and sandy loam soils at the southern end of Napa Valley. The fruit was fermented in stainless steel and rested in barrel for two winters before bottling, then was held for a further two years before release.At 13.5%, this is naturally restrained, balanced Napa with Cabernet’s Franc’s chalky texture, combined with integrated silky tannins, impressive intensity, and a long, perfumed finish. Flush with juicy red plums, some pepper, a ripple of bramble and a touch of spice, this is in a wonderful spot and is a fine homage to its Loire inspirations – just spot on!

At 13.5%, this is naturally restrained, balanced Napa with Cabernet’s Franc’s chalky texture, combined with integrated silky tannins, impressive intensity, and a long, perfumed finish. Flush with juicy red plums, some pepper, a ripple of bramble and a touch of spice, this is in a wonderful spot and is a fine homage to its Loire inspirations – just spot on!

Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.4 2017
Ashes & Diamonds Napa Valley Cabernet Franc No.4 2017
Added
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Country

USA

Primary Region

Napa Valley, California

People

Winemakers: Steve Matthiasson, Diana Snowden Seysses

Availability

National

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