“This is the first media lunch I have ever done. I never meet with the media…my wife and sales director had to trick me into this at the last minute,” shares Jayson Woodbridge at a recent meet with the media. The outspoken, contrarian, and yet wildly successful owner and winemaker of Hundred Acre wines doesn’t have to either. The cult Napa Cabernet Sauvignons he makes under the Hundred Acre Label commands consistent four-digit values on the open market; with a five-year wait for its waiting list.
Printed on the label of every bottle of Hundred Acre wine is the opening paragraph of Homer’s Odyssey. It’s the story of a man’s “singular quest”, to which Woodbridge can certainly relate. In his quest for perfection, the 55-year-old investment banker turned-winemaker has carved his own path – essentially doing anything he pleases, sometimes against common wisdom or even fiscal sense.
Despite – or because of – that, Woodbridge is supremely confident of Hundred Acre, and has got away with it for almost two decades because the process (described by Master of Wine Lisa Perrotti-Brown as thinking “on another plane of existence”) clearly works.
Hundred Acre is regularly described with all manner of positive adjectives and hyperbole like “plush, opulent, and elegant” – and they are. Since its first vintage in 2000, the winery has been awarded 22 100-pointers on Robert Parker Wine Advocate.
Under the Hundred Acre label, Woodbridge grows 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon – because “Cab is king” – out of three vineyards in Napa Valley, California.
To get to that point in quality for his wines, Woodbridge also affords Hundred Acre wines every possible attention to detail, sparing no expense at every step of vinification, from caring for his vines, to crafting each glass bottle.
In stark contrast to the current non-interventionist winemaking zeitgeist, Woodbridge’s philosophy boils down to doing whatever is necessary to make the best possible wine for each vintage.
To that end, technology plays a big part. Hundred Acre’s vineyards are installed with micro-misters that create superfine droplets of water that instantly evaporate, effectively air conditioning the entire piece of land without watering the grapes. There are also Nasa-grade air filters in the wineries to keep them sterile.
Clearly, the land the vineyards sit on has to be exceptional too. “I’ve looked at thousands of vineyards, and have chosen only four in the whole world to make Hundred Acre,” shares Woodbridge.
Take his Ark vineyard for example, a geological marvel that lies at the foot of Howell Mountain in Napa Valley. Tectonic movements had flipped the land on its side, exposing nine soil types that have formed over millennia — like a layered cake (coincidentally or not, Woodbridge also used to make a series of more accessible wines named Layer Cake). Here, two different rootstocks are grown on each stratum.
Then there’s the incredibly fastidious picking process. When it’s harvest time, workers only pick berries that are suitably ripe — leaving the rest for future passes through the vineyard. Pickers are paid by the hour — instead of by weight of their harvest, as is the norm in Napa — so that they’re incentivised to pay attention to what they pick. When the fruits go into the crusher, they “look like caviar”.
If that wasn’t enough, Woodbridge’s vinification process takes it a step further. If a particular harvest takes six rounds of picking, that’s — after multiplying it by the soil types and varieties of rootstock — 108 possible expressions of wine from a single vineyard.
Woodbridge then ferments each expression separately before doing the blending with what sounds like an almost supernatural precision. “I taste every single barrel, and I combine them in my head. I don’t lay out a hundred glasses and move between them. There’s no trial and error.”
To protect the precious liquid in each bottle of Hundred Acre, unusually long and dense corks are used, in addition to a final sealing of beeswax that protects the wine and cork against microorganisms.
The cherry on top of it all is a band made of 24-carat gold – since we’ve already come this far – that is fired directly into the glass bottle with a process that took Woodbridge’s glassmaker years to figure out how to do. Woodbridge declares the gold band his bond to his customers.
“Hundred Acre isn’t cheap. If people are paying those prices, they need to be getting greatness in every bottle.”
Hundred Acre is distributed by Grand Vin