Dalla Valle has been making some of Napa’s best Cabernets since the early 1990s and is recognized as one of the Valley’s preeminent family-run wineries. Founded in 1986 by Naoko and her late husband Gustav Dalla Valle on the famed eastern hillsides of Oakville, Dalla Valle Vineyards is guided by the mother-and-daughter team of Naoko and Maya Dalla Valle.
Maya–which is also the name of one of the winery’s most heralded wines–has followed in her mother’s footsteps. After earning a master’s degree in viticulture and enology from Cornell University, and a Master of Business and Science degree in vineyard and winery management from France’s prestigious Bordeaux Science Agro, she worked at a variety of the world’s most iconic wineries, including Ornellaia e Masseto, Bodegas Rolland, Pétrus and Château Latour. In 2017, she returned home to Dalla Valle Vineyard, joining the winery as director in 2017 and being named winemaker in January 2021.
We sat down with Maya Dalla Valle to learn more about her family’s vineyard, what she took from working at the world’s top wineries, and to get a better understanding of her journey to the top of her craft.
Spirited Zine: Just to start, what is your first memory of wine and how does that memory impact the way you approach your craft?
Maya Dalla Valle: Now looking back on my youth, I can appreciate how attuned I was to the different seasons with the cycles of not only the vines but growing our own vegetables and tending to the orchard. My first memory with wine was watching my parents pull samples from the cellar and teaching me how to taste wine from an early age. I was pretty gourmand as a kid (I ate everything!) and was fascinated by the flavors and complexities of wine.
SZ: You’re a second-generation winemaker, did you feel like there was pressure to go into wine or was it something you felt naturally drawn to from the beginning?
MDV: I didn’t feel pressure but it seemed too obvious growing up that I would end up in this career so I chose to explore other areas of interest. I was fortunate to grow up in Napa Valley, participating here and there in different activities, a specific favorite was roaming the property with my Dad on the ATV and surveying the vines. Also, I attempted to lay claim to all the wine boxes with my name written on them (my parents were quick to dispel the myth that they were all my wines). I studied International Relations in college at the University of Washington, and I think after physically removing myself from Napa Valley I truly began to appreciate the region and a career in the wine business. Working harvest at Neyers Vineyards in 2009 sealed my fate.
SZ: On your way to becoming the winemaker and wine director at Dalla Valle Vineyards, you trained at some of the world’s most impressive wineries in Italy, Argentina, and France–Ornellaia e Masseto, Bodegas Rolland, Pétrus and Château Latour. Between those four storied vineyards, are there similarities to approach and if so what are they?
MDV: I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunities to learn from some of the greatest winemakers in the world and their vineyards. I would say they all place an intense amount of focus on the vineyard and precision farming. Without quality farming, organization and focus it is a challenge to make wines at a high caliber. Also having a focused and passionate team to oversee vineyard to bottle is crucial.
SZ: How do you find Italians, Argentines, and the French differentiate in their approach to wine?
MDV: Funnily enough there was a French connection in every place I worked, so that was an undeniable influence and continuity in approach in all three countries that I spent time in.
SZ: What was the most important lesson you took from your years of training?
MDV: Having patience and not rushing things. There is no instant gratification in winemaking or grape growing, and you cannot be hasty if you want to do it well. Sometimes certain operations may seem menial and repetitive like pruning or fermentation but in fact they are some of the most important decisions you can make, and you only get one shot a year to get it right!
SZ: What is unique about making wine in Napa and what is distinctive about Oakville in comparison to all the surrounding AVAs?
Napa has a unique collective spirit that creates a wonderful community of colleagues to exchange ideas and techniques with, I haven’t really seen that in other wine growing regions to the level that we experience here. Napa Valley has over half the world’s soil series combined with a diversity in Microclimates allowing for many different varietals and styles of wine to coexist. Oakville stands apart from the other AVAs for many reasons. One reason being that there is a rich diversity of soils and climates as you span east to west, and all happen to be incredibly high quality for growing Cabernet Sauvignon. I would say arguably also due to this quality we have a number of iconic producers who call Oakville home (Harlan, Opus One, MacDonald, Vine Hill Ranch, Screaming Eagle, etc.).
SZ: Can you tell us a bit about Dalla Valle Vineyards… the terroir, the grapes you grow, and the wines you make?
MDV: The vineyard is tended by a dedicated vineyard team, with a focus on winegrowing, as opposed to grape growing. The estate wines produced originate in specific vineyard blocks, imbuing each with a unique sense of place. There are three wines produced each year from the estate. Collina Dalla Valle, translating from Italian to “Hill of the valley”, is the introductory wine into the brand. This red blend is created from the younger vines on the property and offers a more approachable profile in its youth. Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon was the first wine created from the estate in 1986. Always blended with a small fraction of Cabernet Franc, the Cabernet expresses the beauty of Dalla Valle Vineyards terroir. Maya is a special blend of Maya’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and our best selected blocks of Cabernet Franc. MDV is a mailing list only wine that is produced only in exceptional years. It is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Maya’s Vineyard, the base of Maya.
SZ: How would you describe your philosophy when it comes to winemaking?
MDV: I share my mother’s philosophy that a sign of a great wine is its ageability and it is essential the wine is balanced for it to be structurally sound over a 30 – 40 year period. I was taught that the ideal picking time is just in the moment before you believe the fruit to be perfectly ripe to capture freshness.
SZ: What’s something that people generally don’t think about when they think about making wine, but it’s essential to the job?
MDV: Attention to detail in all stages of the winemaking process (from vine to bottle) is incredibly important. But the most important aspect is the quality of the fruit and the care given to tending the vines.
SZ: If you had to choose, other than your own, what are your three favorite bottles of wine that you’ve ever drank?
MDV: That is a difficult decision to make but I would say 2010 Ornellaia, 1985 Jayer Clos Parantoux, and Stella di Campalto.
Learn more at the Dalla Valle’s official website.
To find a bottle, head over to Wine.com.