Cappella is one of the oldest vineyard sites in St. Helena, six acres that sit alongside a Catholic cemetery on the west side of town. In the 1980s the church asked David to tear out the old vines, then he watched as the land lay fallow for close to two decades. When he finally got the chance to replant, he jumped. He'd tasted fruit from Cappella in the 70s. He knew what kind of wine it could make. But that first replant was ill-fated thanks to diseased rootstock, and once again he was ripping out vines. “It took us six years before we had a crop. We could have ignored it, pulled the vines out one by one as they collapsed. But then we'd have all these different ripening patterns, which would impact consistency. It was an easy decision.”
When David purchased this property in 2000 it came with an unexpected perk: first growth redwood stakes dating back over a century. Relics of an earlier era of agriculture. “When the college owned this site they'd burn all the underbrush, including the stakes, to keep it clean. When I came in we found them and set them all aside,” he says. At about 2000 feet elevation, Howell Mountain sits above the fog line, surrounded by a protected forest of fir and pine. Red Aiken soils are layered over white tufa, and the rocks that littered the site before it was planted now form walls defining the property. The redwood stakes—collected, stacked, preserved—await their next life.
If Abreu has a core, it is undoubtedly Madrona Ranch. It was the first property David fell for, and developed, back in the 1980s. The canyons and curves that snake through the site, the soils that range from red Aiken to white tufa to dark clay and rocks—it’s a magical site. Harvest picks are meticulous, often spanning weeks, but the diversity makes for incredible complexity, and plenty of blending options. Madrona is a working ranch too. In fact, livestock have laid claim to more than their share of real estate. Cattle, goats, pigs, chickens—even honeybees, which live in one of the old barns on the property. “We tend the animals and leave the bees alone,” says David. “We do collect the honey though. We consider it fair rent.”
Thorevilos was one of David's favorite haunts as a child. There were no vines then. Just pine trees, redwoods, an old olive grove. And a rusted hog wire hanging from a tree—“Hook Man” in Abreu family lore. These days it's the dirt that engrosses him. White tufa that turns to fine powder when you grind it beneath your foot. Tannish soil peppered with orange-brown pebbles. Streaks of dry, red earth. Sitting 800 feet above the valley floor, wedged between the St. Helena and Howell Mountain AVAs, Thorevilos doesn't belong to any sub-appellation. “It's an outlier,” David says. When the AVA boundaries were being determined, he could have argued to have it included. “But it wouldn't have made any difference to the vineyard. Or the wine.”