Early on, it was all about the vineyards. Making wine didn't happen until 1986, when David tried his hand with a few barrels of Cabernet from Madrona Ranch. He never released the wine. He'd always heard the first release can make or break you, and the '86 just wasn't good enough. So '87 was the first Abreu wine David sold. “I'd leave bottles at restaurants around the valley and tell them to drink it with their staff. ‘If you like it, call me.’”
That’s how it all began. A close observer, David had the opportunity to learn from some of the best. Winemakers who understood, as he did, that it was all about the vineyards, the soils, the fruit. As for the winemaking, he got a lot of advice, listened to it all, and then carved his own path. Made wine the way he thought it should be made.
Some people shook their heads. Wondered why he went to such lengths. But it's the same approach he takes in the vineyards. He just does what he feels, in his gut, is right.
He's done it that way for 30 years now.
“In those days, the farmers would drink martinis after work, not wine. Farming was a lot more about business, about the markets. If prices for two crops were up and two were down, you were probably okay. Laurie Wood and Chuck Carpy were people I followed closely. They only farmed vineyards, no cattle or anything else. I was fascinated by that.”
“I'd see people come back to Napa from a trip to Bordeaux, and all they'd talk about were the lunches and dinners they'd had. I wanted to know what they'd learned. Later on when I went, I studied the vineyards. If I had to, I'd hop a fence to see the vines. They were so well-groomed, so precise.” He recognized how different the climate was, how difficult the weather could be. “Education is important. Traveling and seeing other parts of the world. I won't sit here growing complacent. I'm always asking what we can do to better ourselves, no matter what Mother Nature dishes out.”
“I watched a whole revolution in this valley, with some great individuals, people who competed at the highest level. In the 90's things really changed, the way we thought about our vineyards and gained an understanding about special pieces of land. It was like pedaling a bike—we put it into a higher gear.”
Compromise was never acceptable. “People told me how critical the first release was, but then how the second release was even more critical, like you have to prove it wasn't a fluke.” The '86, '88, '90 and '98 from Madrona Ranch were all declassified. Different reasons each time, all human error. Which is why, when he could, he got his own winery. “There was a level of work he wasn't able to execute because he didn't have that control. He didn't want to put his name on it,” says Brad. “That's just David. It's no different than a super-meticulous chef in a kitchen. He's not going to put food out that he's not comfortable with. He'll just throw it in the garbage, start over.”
In 2000 David was making his wine at Stuart Sloan's place. Winemakers were in the early stages of sorting their fruit. Stuart and David would have discussions about sorting—why they did it and if it made any difference. The idea of making two tanks side by side with the exact same fruit—one sorted, one not—came up. Would they be able to tell the difference? ‘Ok Stuart, you've got two blocks on the same rootstock with the same scion selection, let's do one in one tank and one in the other.’ Stuart rebutted. ‘You've got Madrona, why don't you do two tanks of Madrona side by side?’ David refused. Neither would accept anything less than perfection. Sometimes you don't need proof to know in your gut what's right.
“The excitement never ends. There are stories every vintage. There's something to talk about every year.”