Sova Vina. Winemaker Sean Behrens was born in Duarte, Los Angeles County, but moved to Humboldt County when he was only a few years old. He grew up in the forest, as he said, and wasn’t always exposed to good food and wine. That changed when his stepmother, Lisa Drinkward, came into his life after he met Sean’s father, Les. In 1991 Forest and Lisa opened the Folie Douce restaurant in Arkat. The title means tender madness in French and also refers to the French film of the same name from 1951. Lisa focused on the kitchen (inspired by the French) and Les accompanied the wine list and eventually won the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence. And then Sean started tasting and appreciating his good wines. Later Lisa and Les sold the restaurant – we ate here at the end of 2019, but unfortunately it has been closed since then (although one day it might open again).
When the forest settled in the Napa Valley in the late 1990s to build the Behrens and Hitchcock Winery on Spring Mountain, Sean joined him and helped him build it. After the construction of what was then called Behrens and Hitchcock, Sean continued to work in the construction sector – building mainly residential buildings, but also some ancillary work in selected cellars. After the economic downturn that began in 2008, Sean decided to join Lisa and the Forest and became an assistant winemaker with the Behrens family in 2010.
Sova focuses on one wine per year – always Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with other selected Bordeaux wines. Total production is low – usually around 200 cases, but increasing only marginally per year.
The sources of the vineyards are different, but the grapes are harvested on small family plots. Sean always takes care of his winemaking – the fruit arrives, is destabilized and is left to rest for 24 hours before being inoculated with yeast. The wine is fermented in T-bases. Sean appreciates the intimacy he has with the wine during fermentation – his hand taps the lid, always in close contact with what’s happening at this critical time.
After fermentation, the grapes are pressed with the resulting free wine, which is stored separately from the pressed wine before being blended again. He presses the wine gently – with a basket press and without exaggerating the extraction. He works with several barrels and hangs the wine in first class French oak barrels (a combination of some new and used barrels).
Like the Behrens family vineyard, SOVA is the most important small family business. Sean has no employees and makes all the wine himself. These wines are the definition of craftsmanship – small-scale production – by hand and by touch.
2016. Cabernet Sauvignon – 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Frank The fruit comes from several small vineyards, including a small vineyard north of the city of Napa, a Mora vineyard in Oak Noll, an Erba vineyard in Atlas Peak and a Barlow vineyard in Calistoga. Dark purple in the glass, the bouquet offers a wide range of scents, including the first notes of the skin, followed by lush fruit, including blackberries, plums, black liquorice, as well as nuances of dried tobacco leaves and dust. A little mocha in the background. Harmonious in its balance on the palate – this wine has no teeth. Live with a tasty acidity – slowed down by a hint of cigar smoke, mocha and round tannins with a slight but noticeable hint.
Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 – 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. It’s dark purple. Lush fragrances with both spicy and sweet properties. Skin first. Sweep with scents of plums, blackberries, violets, an old cedarwood box, a dried tobacco leaf and crushed pepper. Originally the aromas are spicy, but the more the wine breathes, the more the fruit appears. Juicy, tasty, with a scent of black cherries and plums. The young tannins have more grip than the vintage of 2016. Long finish – set with dark herbs and tough granular tannins.
And in 2018, Sean bought fruit from Marsey Winery in Calistoga, a very historic place formerly exploited by Sam Brennan (founder of Calistoga and the Napa Valley Railway) – he used it to grow tea plants and mulberry trees for silkworm breeding.
When he chose a name, Sean wanted a simple name that hadn’t yet been registered as a trademark (simpler said, he was already registered at the time), and he didn’t want to use his own name for the trademark. Initially he was interested in Parliament (a name belonging to the owl group) – but there were many complications with other uses of the name. One day his wife Laura’s nephews and nieces came to visit him, and they heard he was looking for a name. They suggested doing the research in a foreign language. Eventually they came across an owl, a word that means owl in Slovak (Laura Heritage).
Sean remembers getting interested in the owl at a very early age. When he was young, he remembered that his father was very upset. Les has just read a story about a hunter who killed a giant snowy owl for no special reason. And much later, when he was living in the Napa Valley, one day his daughter came out of his room screaming that an owl was about to fly. He entered his room and noticed that the child’s horned owl was making a lot of noise – he just crashed into the walls and flew around aimlessly. Sean reached out his hand – the owl landed soon and he could open the door and let the bird go.
The owl tag is the harvest moon with an owl sitting on the trees – Sean had already designed the statue in his head – his school friend Robin Nelson from Humboldt County made the tag.
The tastings are reserved only for serious wine lovers and are always private for your party, hosted by Sean (it is more difficult to organize them during the harvest that awaits them). At the end of the summer of 2019, the Behrens family opened a new tasting room. The doors of the tasting room, which is in an ideal position to take full advantage of the unforgettable panoramic views, are fully open so that visitors can enjoy a view of the surrounding vineyards, mountain ranges and parts of the valley far below. And Sean used his years of expertise to build this tasting room.
The wines are mainly sold directly to the consumer by visiting Sean or via the internet. For more information about purchasing the latest version or organizing a tasting, please visit: www.sovawines.com.