The Evolution of Realm


It’s rare that a wine surprises me these days. Some might say I’m jaded, but I usually go into a tasting knowing what to expect. However, a recent tasting of Realm put me on my heels. The evolution of Realm’s winemaking style and the concerted efforts to accrue top vineyard property are apparent in the soaring quality of the recent vintages. Realm has always made incredible wines, but it was clear at this exclusive tasting that Realm has NOT been resting on its initial success.

Realm Cellars is a respected and well-known California producer who joined the ranks of Cult Cali fame in the early 2000s. You might well know their origin story as a virtual winery sourcing grapes from notable vineyards in Napa. Their iconic single-vineyard wines, Beckstoffer To Kalon and Beckstoffer Dr. Crane, have been produced since the first years of Realm. Beckstoffer To Kalon, perhaps the most historic vineyard in Napa, delivers dense opulent wines, whereas the Dr. Crane vineyard, oft-compared to Haut Brion for its stony, gravel soils, is mineral-rich and elegant. Surprisingly, the Beckstoffer To Kalon 2017 was put forth in the tasting to showcase the charms of this vineyard. 2017, a disastrous fire-robbed vintage for most, was a game changer for Realm’s Beckstoffer To Kalon. Making the fortuitous decision to pick early this vintage, Realm was one of the few wineries able to produce a wine from this vineyard. The expressive, fresher style that resulted from an early harvest so struck Benoit and the leadership team that they have since chosen to make earlier harvest in Beckstoffer To Kalon standard practice.

Realm has also been producing a few of its Proprietary blends since the early 2000s, The Bard and The Tempest most notably. We enjoyed a comparison of the evolution of Realm’s style with a comparison of The Bard 2014 and The Bard 2021, just released earlier this year. The 2014, sourced from largely Calistoga fruit, has aged beautifully with soft, savory black fruit character and a velvety finish. The 2021, sourced from cooler sites such as Oak Knoll, is far more precise and elegant with nuanced blue and black fruit and violet notes. Perhaps the best known and most lauded is The Absurd, a wine that “transcends varietal [and] place.” A limited production wine that is only available by exclusive allocation (and in Zachys upcoming June sale), The Absurd is a unique creation each vintage. First produced in 2012 and with 100 points out of the gate, followed by a run of 100-point vintages in 2013, 2014, and 2015. The 2016 garnered 99 points and the 2021, yet unrated, comes from a vintage highly lauded by Realm’s leadership team. A vertical tasting of The Absurd is high on my bucket list of epic wine tastings!

Clearly, Realm was achieving a high level of success with its multiple 100-point wines. Much of this was achieved through the addition of Benoit Touquette as lead winemaker in 2011. He has been described as a meticulous and precise technician whose focus on clean and proper winemaking has led not only to tough choices, such as pouring the entire 2009 vintage of The Bard down the drain due to a hint of Brettanomyces, but also to the evolution of Realm’s wine style, wines of pure fruit, expressive minerality, increased freshness, and potent structure. The creators at Realm prefer chiseled and bright fruit with a focus on tension between opulence and acidity. Scott Becker also joined the leadership team in 2011, bringing a fresh and nuanced perspective on the industry. The combined forces led to radical change in business decisions and the winemaking approach. Perhaps, the greatest outcome is Realm’s decision to start purchasing vineyards and taking control over the source of their grapes and the winemaking facilities in which they create.

 The first step in this strategic move was the purchase of the estate property on Wappo Hill in Stag’s Leap District in 2015 leading to the acquisition of winemaking facilities and ownership of its related vineyards. In 2018, Realm obtained a long-term, purchase-oriented lease of the cooler-sited Farella vineyard in Coombesville. This is now the main source of Merlot for the delicious Tempest, one of the standout favorites at the tasting. 2020 was the year that the Hartwell Estate atop Wappo Hill was added to their holdings. If you are lucky enough to find a bottle of Hartwell XX (less than 200 cases produced), add it to your collection and let it slumber for many years. This is a mind-blowing wine made from over 80-year-old vines that came from cuttings from the original Grace Family vineyard. First produced in 2018, the Hartwell could go against a First Growth and shine. I was privileged to taste the 2019 Hartwell XX and I am eager to see how this wine evolves with age, what a powerhouse!

While the Hartwell explores the micro-terroir of the top of Wappo Hill and an expression of old vine Bousche clone Cabernet Sauvignon, the Moonracer 2019, also sourced from Wappo Hill, was THE Zachys team favorite at this recent tasting. The Moonracer, first produced in 2014, is considered by Scott and Meaghan to be the “intellectual” wine of the portfolio. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with a varying addition of Merlot, this is a structured and layered wine with complex aromatics. The most recent addition to Realm Cellars’ holdings is the Houyi vineyard, located next to Colgin Estate on Pritchard Hill at 1300 ft elevation. This spectacular mountain vineyard sits above the fog line and is laden with volcanic boulders. Scott and Meaghan coordinated the purchase of Houyi from the Chang family in 2022 after sourcing grapes from the vineyard since 2013. Perhaps the most intriguing component of the Realm tasting, was the comparison of Realm’s Houyi to its neighbors’ Bevan Cellars, Nine Suns, and Colgin IX Estate. Each of the wines stood on their own, but the Realm Houyi was by far the most perfumed and structured, clearly an elegant and age-worthy treasure. The Colgin IX Estate showed particularly well in this line up, demonstrating a softer and more immediately approachable side of this terroir.



The wines we were privileged to enjoy at this tasting spoke for themselves (on a few occasions, I wondered if I had transcended the terroir of Napa), yet we had the lovely Meaghan Qian-Fu Becker from Realm Cellars leading us through the history and evolution of the wines. As mentioned, the past and recent Realm releases in this tasting demonstrated the success story that IS Realm Cellars. Meaghan helped fill in the details to reveal the hardships, successes, and wise decisions that led to the amazing wines we enjoyed that day. It would be wise to collect the legacy 100-point wines from Realm, and wiser still to keep a close eye on the newest allocations and forthcoming projects!