Somnium: From Checkered Flags to Napa Wine Country

By Published On: May 14, 2024

Credit: Will Bucquoy

The thrill of the race had been Danica Patrick’s  life’s blood, the scream of engines and the blur of the finish line her world. Yet, in the quiet sanctuary of the Culinary Institute of America, a different kind of passion ignited. Here, Danica discovered the artistry of cuisine, a world where the ingredients alluded to secrets of lands far and wide, where every dish was an adventure.

Her hands, once steady on the wheel, now moved with grace and precision to chop, stir, and season. The kitchen became her racetrack, the sizzling pans her cheering crowd. And as she triumphed on the culinary stage of “Chopped,” another layer of her story began to unfold. It was in the rich, velvety depths of a Cabernet Sauvignon, shared by her winemaker friend Aaron Pott, that Danica’s senses awakened to the romance of winemaking. The bold reds of Napa Valley called to her, each sip a discovery, each bottle a new chapter waiting to be written.

Credit: Will Bucquoy

This wasn’t just a casual appreciation though. Danica, ever the competitor, craved a deeper connection. She embarked on a quest to find the perfect vineyard, not just any plot of land, but one with the potential to craft exceptional wines.  Imagine her delight when, on a chance visit back to Napa with Aaron, they stumbled upon a diamond in the rough on the slopes of Howell Mountain.  The view was breathtaking, a panorama of rolling vineyards bathed in golden sunlight. But it was the land itself that took her breath away. Volcanic soil, rich in history, promised to give the grapes a unique character. This wasn’t just a vineyard; it was an opportunity.  And so, Somnium was born.

The journey hasn’t been without its hurdles–crafting exceptional wine requires a critical attention to detail and a respect for the land. But with the help of her team, led by the visionary winemaker Julien Fayard, Somnium is producing wines that stand out from the crowd.

Somnium’s relative youth presents a unique opportunity: to witness the evolution of its Cabernet Sauvignon firsthand. Crafted for longevity, the Estate wine showcases a balanced profile of acidity, fruit, and structure. This translates to vibrant enjoyment in its early years (roughly 7-10). To fully understand the transformation, the Somnium tasting room offers a Vertical Estate Cabernet Tasting. This experience features a selection of library vintages presented alongside delectable seasonal bites. 

Howell Mountain’s unique terroir plays a starring role in shaping Somnium’s Cabernet Franc. The property’s excellent airflow, thanks to its location, shields the grapes from excessive sun exposure. This, Somnium believes, contributes to the wine’s darker core with intriguing violet notes. The characteristic rocky volcanic soils of Howell Mountain impart a minerality to this Cabernet Franc. These challenging conditions also force the vines to work harder, resulting in grapes with exceptional concentration and intensity.

The same tenacity and relentless pursuit of perfection that propelled Danica’s cars to the finish line now nurture the vines of Somnium. In the heart of Napa Valley, she applies a Wisconsin work ethic—unpretentious, steadfast, and resilient—to cultivate not just wine, but a legacy. At Somnium, which means ‘dream’ in Latin, every bottle is a celebration of the belief that with hard work and unwavering focus, dreams ferment into reality. 

Wine Recommendations

Credit: Will Bucquoy

2019 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- Deep ruby with a hint of garnet on the rim, suggesting a poised balance between youth and maturity. Flavors of black currant, plum, and black cherry, with a touch of cedar and graphite.  Richly textured, the palate offers added dimensions of dark chocolate and mocha. The tannins are firm yet silky, integrating seamlessly with a finish that is both long and harmonious. 

2021 Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley- shows impressive density in the glass, with a dark ruby core The nose offers classic aromas of black cherry and blackberry with hints of dried herbs and subtle oak. On the palate, a velvety sleek texture. Ripe fruit flavors are well-balanced by earthy notes, displaying finesse and elegance. The tannins are well-integrated, suggesting aging potential.

2019 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley- aromas of black cherry, blueberry are laced with hints of dark-roasted espresso. The palate is full-bodied and opulent, revealing a robust framework of fine-grained tannins that provide grip and structure. 

2023 Danica Rosé- peach notes leading the charge, complemented by subtle hints of red berries and a touch of floral undertones. On the palate, this wine offers a bright and textural experience. The peach notes promised by the nose are delivered with precision, accompanied by a balanced acidity that adds a crisp freshness to the wine.

About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : joe@winebulletin.net .