John Lockwood mastered a distinctive style of Chardonnay for his Enfield label.

Jon Bonné, Saturday, January 25, 2014

PHOTO: Lacy Atkins / The Chronicle


John Lockwood thrives on the asterisk.

There’s Syrah from a little-known parcel in Napa’s Coombsville area, better known for Cabernet. A Chardonnay from a remote spot nestled between Napa and Solano counties. More recently, a Tempranillo from high in the Sierra foothills and Cabernet made from the far coastal reaches of western Sonoma, a neighborhood known for the intensity of its Pinot Noir.

“I don’t have to have a brand identity,” he says by way of explanation. “And I’m still learning about California terroir, so I’m trying to take advantage of that.”

It helps that the Washington, D.C., native got tutored in some of California’s best cellars on the way to launching his own label, Enfield Wine Co. Having moved west after graduating from Bowdoin College, he was working at an Oakland wood shop in 2005 when winemaker David Mahaffey walked in. The two got to talking, and “he Tom Sawyer-ed me into coming up to work for him.”

“I wasn’t really into the ripe thing, or the oak thing,” Lockwood says, and so Mahaffey directed him to Littorai’s Ted Lemon, who hired him as an intern, providing Lockwood an up-close view of one of California’s best Pinot minds. But as much as Lockwood enjoyed cellar work, the vineyard called.

Friends kept mentioning Ehren Jordan, who at the time was making wine both for Turley Wine Cellars and his own Failla label. Jordan’s vineyard far out on the Sonoma coast required someone with patience to frequently make a long trek. Lockwood was a willing candidate.

Lockwood figured he’d follow in the steps of his boss, who launched his own label while maintaining a day job. At the same time, in 2010, Mahaffey found himself with Chardonnay from the Heron Lake vineyard, fruit that had been sold to Newton for its popular unfiltered bottling. Enfield was born when Lockwood initially figured he’d help his old mentor shop the fruit around, then realized, “Who out there is more excited about this vineyard than me?”

Which brings us to the asterisks. Heron Lake sits around 1,400 feet due east of Napa in the little known and desolate Wild Horse Valley, a divot in the hills between Napa and Solano that first hosted grapes in the 1880s. The Chardonnay planting has been there since around 1985. While the rocky volcanic soils harken to eastern Napa, the impact of nearby San Pablo Bay (and Suisun Bay, to the southeast) makes it more in spirit with Carneros. The result is intensely concentrated but modestly ripe grapes.

The Syrah comes from the nearby Haynes vineyard in Coombsville, east of downtown Napa, with Chardonnay planted in 1966, some of Napa’s oldest, and Syrah that’s planted on a mix of the area’s two key soils: volcanic ash and alluvial gravel, a mix of quintessential Napa.

Lockwood’s time at Failla reveals itself in his Haynes, a wine that succeeds with dense tannins and more plummy fruit than you’d expect given its modest 12.6 percent alcohol.

While Enfield – it’s Lockwood’s middle name – was meant to be a side project, he and his girlfriend, Amy Seese, discovered she was pregnant just before the 2012 harvest. Lockwood decided to leave the day job at Failla, be a stay-at-home dad and make the 800 cases of Enfield in his spare time.
Still, even as he spiders up and down barrels in the Santa Rosa facility where the wines are made, Lockwood clearly would rather be back out in the fields, translating the new, nuanced school of California winemaking into the vineyard.

“The equivalent of that hasn’t started yet on the viticultural side of things,” he says, “and I want to be part of that.”


Age: 34 (at time of printing)
What he does: Finesses Chardonnay, Syrah and more from unexpected North Coast spots
Weeknight wine: Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir
Quote: “The best sites and the best winemakers aren’t necessarily aligned.”

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