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Ovid Plays Mad Scientist with a Trio of Experimental Wines

The winemaker turns out exquisite, one-off bottles every year to make sure his flagship wines are the best they can be.

In the Wine Advocate, Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Master of Wine and editor in chief of that publication, comments that Ovid Napa Valley’s 2015 Proprietary Red “comes charging out of the gate with gregarious crushed black cherries, chocolate mint, and crème de cassis scents plus suggestions of red roses, Christmas cake, sandalwood, cloves, and unsmoked cigars with a waft of shaved pencils.” Whether or not you think black cherry aromas in a wine can be gregarious (or crushed, for that matter), you’ll have to admit the line conjures a memorable wine. And, indeed, the signature Cabernet Sauvignon blend from this jewel of a winery and vineyard on rocky Pritchard Hill (recently acquired, in large part, by the Duncan family of Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars)—as well as its Cabernet Franc–dominated sister, “Hexameter”—are complex, earthy, and, well, memorable.


Few know, though, that behind these serious wines are bottles that contain ever-changing grape varieties, simply labeled “Experiment.” Clearly, no one ever told Ovid winemaker Austin Peterson (who works with French consultant Michel Rolland) not to play with his wine. From the producer’s first vintage, 2005, along with the flagship red, Peterson has bottled small quantities of these “Experiments” each year as, he says, “a chance for those on our mailing list to join in our journey of exploration of this estate.”

The “exploration,” as Peterson calls it, is obviously not just for giggles. There was both rhyme and reason to the program. “My father, who was also a winemaker, told me early on that great winemaking is constant experimentation. Every vineyard and cellar have their own needs and protocols to maximize the potential of the wines. But there wasn’t any history at Ovid to draw on, so we needed to try things in a variety of ways, to understand how to make the very best wines possible.”


The experiments (with a small “e”) evolve with the team’s curiosity, and no two wines are alike. “The blends revolve around ideas we’re thinking about as we’re making the wines,” explains Peterson, ranging, he continues in stream-of-consciousness style, “from alternative closures, to the effects of fermentation vessels—concrete or oak—to how barrel size affects the aging of wines, to selections of rootstock and clones in the vineyard.”


Far more than idle curiosities, these wines inform the mother ship in major ways. The first Experiment, for instance, was a blend of Cabernet Franc with Petit Verdot (Cab Franc claims significant territory in Ovid’s vineyards). “We loved that wine so much,” says Peterson, “that it gave us the confidence to use more Cab Franc in the Ovid blend. Then in 2009 we finally decided that we needed to make a Cab Franc–dominant wine on the same level as Ovid, and that was the beginnings of our Hexameter wines.”

While the Experiment wines (three this year—two reds and a white) are available to mailing-list members, they’re always a fleeting, last-chance proposition, since the next vintage will be entirely different. There’s never guesswork, though, on the blend in any given bottle: The varieties are listed on the labels, down to two decimal points. This week, we got the first taste of the 2019 releases.



OVID (Publius Ovidius Naso) was a roman poet who lived from 43 bc–17 ad. His mo. famous work, Metamorphoses, + poetic narrative of the Greek myths, celebrating the themes of transformation  and change. Since winemaking . about transformation from grapes to something more sublime, that forms one connection. Our admiration for the art & culture of the romans, who had so much figured out so long ago, forms another.

The works of OVID, rich and timely, yet steeped in tradition, continue to speak to for our label , we chose a quotation from OVID’S Metamorphoses that expresses what we hope to achieve with our wine.

We produce four distinct red wine bottlings from our 15-acre estate vineyard: our flagship OVID. Napa Valley wine (Cabernet Sauvignon), Hexameter (Cabernet Franc), Loc. Cit. (produced from two adjacent blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon) and our estate Syrah. In addition, we also craft our “Experiment” wines each year – always different in their origins, blends, varietals and winemaking practices.


At OVID, we are committed to the idea and practice of experimentation in many facets of grapegrowing and winemaking, to learn more about our land and what will make the most memorable wines. We conduct formal experiments in order to investigate specific topics, and we participate in a number of applied studies as well. And we sometimes just indulge our curiosity by trying things several ways, in order to push what we know to be possible in both the vineyard and the winery. 

Our Experiment wines are the result of this process. Each vintage we offer small amounts of different wines that are of special interest to us, allowing you to taste and experience new aspects of OVID’s vineyard and winemaking.



From the beginning, David Abreu has worked with Ovid Napa Valley as Consulting Vineyard Manager. In the year 2000, he supervised preparation of our rocky mountain soil for planting and also selected, laid out, and planted our 15 acres of Bordeaux varietal vines. He and Vineyard Manager Jesus Pena continue to meticulously farm the vineyard at Ovid.

Our organically farmed, 15-acre vineyard is perched on a secluded mountaintop at 1,400 ft. elevation in the western reaches of the Pritchard Hill geography of Napa Valley. Here, we farm rocky red, volcanic soils to capture a true sense of place and craft longlived wines composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. We ferment only with native yeasts and bottle our wines without fining or filtering. Our Winemaker since 2006, Austin Peterson, combines his site-specific experience with a sense of experimentation, embracing a tension between classical and cutting-edge winemaking methods.

Our name was inspired by the Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso [Ovid], whose METAMORPHOSES, a poetic retelling of the Greek myths, celebrates themes of transformation and change.



Austin Peterson grew up immersed in the wine industry in Santa Rosa where his father is a winemaker. He made his first wine at age 15 and subsidized his college education making and selling his own wine. Before coming to Ovid, Austin worked at a number of wineries in Napa and Sonoma, and also worked at Chateau Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol. He began working at Ovid in 2006 as Assistant Winemaker. He continued to travel to gain experience during the off seasons and has worked at wineries in Australia, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand. Now he’s back to stay year ‘round at Ovid as Ovid’s Winemaker. Austin is particularly interested and active in the science of winemaking and loves to experiment in order to learn more about our particular piece of land and push the winemaking to new heights.

Austin has a B.S. in Enology from UC Davis and enjoys traveling, soccer, flyfishing, and anything outdoors. He enjoys reading the works of Jack Kerouac.

Our gravity flow winemaking process uses traditional and modern methods, including built-in-place concrete and pre-cast concrete fermenters, all with state-of-the-art controls. Designed by Architect Howard Backen, the winery is classically proportioned and built of timeless materials — wood, stone and concrete, interleaved with modern windows, hatches and skylights – and powered by solar energy.


Inside information

To take the best possible care of our beautiful little piece of Pritchard Hill, we are committed to environmental stewardship. We farm the vineyards organically, keep bees, use cover crops, create and use compost, and encourage beneficial animals and insects through the use of owl boxes, bluebird boxes and an insectary garden. To increase biodiversity, we also farm an assorted fruit and nut orchard, including, cherries, plums, pluots, peaches, pomegranates and persimmons, which we allocate to select local restaurants, including The French Laundry and The Restaurant at Meadowood.



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Wine Moments

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 Ovid Vineyards  has updated producer and wine information

9m 4d ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Ovid Vineyards . In a tasting of  21 wines 

American beauties like Colgin Herb Lamb 2000, 2002 and 2002, Opus One, Dominus etc.

1y 3m ago

 Ovid Vineyards  has updated producer and wine information

1y 4m ago

 K. Han, Wine Writer (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Ovid Vineyards . In a tasting of  12 wines 

Opus One 2016 / A rich, dense ruby color, hints at the dark fruit nose of blackberry and currant that carries through to the palate, interwoven with complex aromas of black licorice, anise and crème de cassis. On the palate, the wine opens up to reveal an earthiness, with brown spice, cigar box and ripe dark fruits that linger throughout the extracted and long finish. The texture is opulent and rich, yet has a velvety quality with supple density. Rich, fine-grained tannins are balanced with ripe fruit, acidity and oak.

1y 8m ago

 Jeb Dunnuck, Wine Writer (United States)  tasted  5 wines  from  Ovid Vineyards . In a tasting of  15 wines 

Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 / In the running for the wine of the vintage, the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select is an incredible success and offers more depth, opulence, and purity than just about every other wine out there. Revealing a dense purple color as well as a killer nose of blueberries, chocolate-covered cherries, scorched earth, tobacco, violets, and exotic spices, it hits the palate with full-bodied richness, a seamless, pure, incredibly layered mouthfeel, building tannins, and a great, great finish. As with most top 2017s, it stays tight and compact on the palate, with notable structure and impressive concentration. It has some up-front appeal given its purity of fruit and balance, yet it's going to take 7-8 years to hit prime time and will be a long-lived bottle of Napa Cabernet. Hats off to Doug Shafer and the team for yet another magical Cabernet Sauvignon!

1y 9m ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Ovid Vineyards . In a tasting of  22 wines 

American Beauty -tasting with Dominus, Dana Estate, Ovid, Caymus, Colgin etc.

2y 10m ago

 Michel Jamais, Wine Writer (Sweden)  tasted  1 wines  from  Ovid Vineyards . In a tasting of  13 wines 

Ovid 2006 / This baby is so young, color is dark purple and almost opaque. On the nose it’s initially a bit closed, although it’s packed with dark, ripe and an almost sweet cassis and cherry fruit – but it is massive in the way that the deliscious and fragrant aromas of violets, sour cherries and the stony minerialty of the volcanic soil is almost totally covered. Therefore, I let the wine sit in the decanter for another hour, and then two hours, to open up and reveal those finer notes. The oak is there, sweetish and slightly toasted, but still very well integrated. To achieve that, you need the highest quality of fruit and barrels, and the wisdom to use the oak in a smart way. I think that Andy Erickson does that. One could easily expect this wine to be heavy and sweet on the palate, and of course it’s rich and very intense, the with a lively to fresh acidity, huge but ripe tannins, and a thickeling saltiness of minerality, I find the overall impression to be extraordinary well balansced and elegant. The fruit is at first somehow sweetish, with both blackberries and cassis, but the sweetness is held back a bit, and even the oak is extremely well in tune with all other components. Balance is the key word here. It’s an impressive wine with a very promising life, which if kept in a good way will evolve to give pleasure for another 10-15 years, and for those who enjoys fully mature wines, even longer that that. Decanting is recommended, at least the two hours I did at first, but even when I tasted the wine the day after, it was very enjoyable – the fruit was the a bit more elegant with lovely notes of black currants and sour cherries.

4y 2m ago

 Ovid Vineyards  has updated producer and wine information

4y 7m ago

 Michael Jones, Wine Blogger (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Ovid Vineyards . In a tasting of  15 wines 

Dominus 2009 / great aromatics, an earth and tobacco component, excellent cassis and red fruit with silky mouth feel, long, balanced, not as extracted as some but very well knit- 94 points"    This was a bit of a surprise;  I love Dominus but usually feel that it needs 10+ years of bottle age to show its stuff.  36th wine of the tasting.

5y 11m ago

 Mario Sculatti / Sleeping Lady Vineyard, Wine Maker (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Ovid Vineyards . In a tasting of  14 wines 

Napa Valley 2011 Vintage tasting with some superb Gargiulos.

6y 7m ago

 Kate Bell / Sommelier, Pro (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Ovid Vineyards . In a tasting of  23 wines 

Napa Premiere 2014 vintage tasting / In spite of the drought and the South Napa earthquake, vintners are using words like “quality,” “depth of flavor” and “excellent” to describe their expectations for the 2014 vintage in Napa Valley. Many are also noting “perfect weather,” “abundant crop” and “good fortune” among the blessings they are counting in a season where Mother Nature threw a rockin’ curveball.

Harvest started and ended earlier than usual. The first grapes for sparkling wine picked on July 30 and nearly all harvest activity was completed by the third week in October – for many, a full two weeks ahead of the normal harvest schedule.

6y 9m ago

 Doug Hill / Wine Importer, Pro (Canada)  tasted  1 wines  from  Ovid Vineyards . In a tasting of  22 wines 

Tasting Napa vintages 2010 and 2011 - both great to drink already.

6y 9m ago

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