About California's Napa Valley wine region
The Napa Valley, to the North of San Francisco, is the heart of the north Californian wine industry and is one of the world's premier wine regions. It is best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. The most famous AVA’s (American Viticultural Area) in Napa include Rutherford, Oakville and Stags Leap. Land in the Valley now sells for very high sums with $750,000 per hectare not uncommon, in line with Premier Cru Pinot Noir vineyards in Burgundy's Côte d’Or.
The various sub-regions of the Napa valley including cool bayside Carneros to the South and the warmer Calistoga to the north mean that there are different terroirs and hence differentiated wine styles throughout.The style of wines produced in the Napa Valley has evolved over recent years to exploit these geographic and soil differences with several wineries seeking to produce more distinctive style, different to the profile favoured by wine writers like Robert Parker Jr.. The criticism of top Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was that they all tasted the same with extreme ripeness and there was a reluctance to produce single vineyard wines. Nowadays winemakers are exploiting Napa's terroir to produce elegant wines from regions like Stags Leap and Rutherford and more rugged wines from AVA's like Howell Mountain. The best Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa is now less about just concentrated fruit and big flavours and more about balance, freshness and elegance.
Napa Valley Climate
As it is a valley the terroir is very much defined by the nearby mountains, the Mayacamas to the west (Spring Mountain, Mount Veeder, Diamond Mountain). Along the base off this range, Napa's key Cabernet Sauvignon regions are based: Rutherford, Oakville, Stags Leap. To the East are the Vaca Mountains (Howell Mountain, Atlas Peak, Pritchard Hill).
The Napa Valley has a relatively relatively benign climate ideal for grape production. For example Rutherford has a July average high of 89°F or 31.7°C and low of 55°F or 12.8°C with no rain, and average January low of 39 °F or 3.8°C temperatures with around 17.5 cm of rain.
History of Napa Valley Wine
George C. Yount is thought to have been the first to grow grapes in the Napa Valley and in 1864, on the marriage of one of his granddaughters to Thomas Rutherford, Yount gave the couple around 1,000 acres of land, which Rutherford planted with vines.
John Patchett was the first to start commercially selling wine in the area in 1858 and in 1861 Charles Krug opened Napa's first true winery in St. Helena.
Captain Gustave Niebaum established Inglenook Winery in 1879 near the village of Rutherford which won gold medals at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris.
In the late 19th century Phylloxera wiped out many of of the vines in the valley and America's Prohibition on alcohol introduced in 1920 and the Great Depression of 1929-1939 caused a major setback to Napa's wine production.
André Tchelistcheff is generally credited with bringing in modern wine making techniques in the Napa Valley when the Beaulieu winery hired him in 1938. He introduced aging wine in French Oak barriques, cold fermentation, vineyard frost prevention, and malolactic fermentation.
In 1965, Robert Mondavi left his family's Charles Krug estate to found his own winery in Oakville and was first new large scale winery to be established in the valley since prohibition,
1976 Judgement of Paris
The Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 or "The Judgement of Paris" was a wine competition held in Paris on 24 May 1976 organised by Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, who owned a wine shop in the city.
French judges carried out two blind tasting comparisons of the highest quality wines from California and France, one for Chardonnay's and another of red wines (Bordeaux wines from France and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California).
The results were surprising and ground breaking given that a Californian wine won in both the red and white competitions despite a notable French judging panel. The winning red wine was Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 1973 produced by winemaker Warren Winiarski and the winning white was Chateau Montelena Chardonnay 1973 made by Mike Grgich.
Napa Valley AVA’s (American Viticultural Area)
Napa Valley has 15's AVA's or American Viticultural Area's and unlike more established appellation systems like in France or Italy the US system is still evolving. The AVA establishment process has been criticised for the ease in which political and legal pressure can alter the boundaries and entry of certain wineries into a particular area. A classic example being the establishment of the Stags Leap AVA which was mired in legal action because of the fame of Warren Winiarski Stag's Leap winery (note with the apostrophe as compared to the AVA due to legal protection).
Los Carneros AVA
The AVA was established in August 1983 and includes parts of both Sonoma and Napa counties. It is exposed to the fog and sea breezes from the San Pablo Bay which makes the climate in Los Carneros cooler and more moderate than the wine regions further north in Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. This cooler climate has made the AVA particularly notable for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The history of Carneros is linked to that of the nearby mission town of Sonoma and the name is Spanish for sheep, referring to the many sheep ranches that dotted the hills in the early days. Grapes played a prominent role in Carneros agriculture and noted wine historian William Heintz of Sonoma contends that Carneros may in fact be the second oldest vineyard area in northern California. In the late 1830's Jacov Leese planted a small vineyard on the Huichica grant. In the mid-1850s William H. Winter of Indiana purchased 1,200 acres of the Huichica Rancho from Leese and by the early 1870s, had not only one of the largest vineyard holdings in the area, but had also built the first winery in Carneros, Winter Winery. While the wine industry thrived in Carneros in the mid-1800's, it came to a halt caused by the combination of phylloxera in the late 1870's and 1880's and Prohibition (1919-1933). John Garetto established the first post-Prohibition winery in Carneros (the present site of Bouchaine Vineyards). Shortly thereafter, Andre Tchelistcheff and Louis M. Martini pioneered the rebirth of Carneros by establishing it as a cool climate viticultural region. The 1960's heralded a new wave of vineyard development begun by Beaulieu Vineyards and growers Rene diRosa of Winery Lake Vineyard, Ira Lee, and the Sangiacomo family.
Howell Mountain AVA
Established in December 1983, Howell Mountain AVA was the first sub-appellation within Napa Valley AVA. It is located in the Howell Mountains within the Vaca Range on the northeast side of Napa Valley around the towns of Angwin and St. Helena. All the vineyards need to be at 1400 metres or higher which means that they are above the fog which is endemic in the area. The mountain does get cool breezes directly from the Pacific Ocean, and the relatively high elevations result in a cooler climate than on the valley floor with less variability during the day leading to a longer growing season. The soil in the appellation is volcanic with good drainage. Top estates include Cade, Dunn, O'shaughnessy and Abreu with Cabernet Sauvignon being the dominant grape variety.
Wild Horse AVA
The AVA was founded in November 1988 and its southerly location results in more hours of sunshine than other locations in Napa Valley or nearby Green Valley. The proximity to San Pablo Bay results in a cooler climate, making Wild Horse Valley ideal for cool climate grape varieties like Pinot Noir and Joseph Vorbe, one of the earlier settlers, planted 50 acres of wine grapes in the area as early as 1881.
Wild Horse is only 3,300 acres in size, with around 100 acres under vine and just a single winery, Heron Lake Vineyard and Winery. Crossing Napa and Solano counties, the area enjoys more sunshine hours than both Napa and Green Valleys, as summer fogs usually stop before reaching Wild Horse’s elevation. Its southerly location near San Pablo Bay exposes Wild Horse Valley to cool westerly winds from the ocean and bay, especially in the spring and summer.
The soil in Wild Horse Valley is unique in the region —part of the “Trimmer” soil series that once blew out of a volcano. The rocks are rich in minerals and being very rocky, the soil is well drained, but does not retain moisture well– thus the vines have to struggle to become established and simply are not able to ripen a large crop. These low yields (as low as one ton per acre) helps intensify flavours of Pinot Noir.
Stags Leap District AVA
This is one of the most famous of Napa's AVA's associated with 1976's "The Judgement of Paris" and the Stag's Leap Wine Cellars with its Cabernet Sauvignon's having a distinctive supple texture. It was founded in January 1989 and is located 6 miles (9.7 km) north of the city of Napa. The Stags Leap District was the first appellation to be designated an AVA based on the unique terroir characteristics of its soil.
There is a great diversity of soils within the Stags Leap District but two main types predominate. Soils on the eastern elevation are the result of volcanic eruptions that took place millions of years ago, as well as the slow erosion of the arid Vaca Mountains. In the lowland area, where a much broader Napa River once ran, old river sediments have created a blend of loams with a clay-like substructure. These gravely soils, and those of the hillsides, are coarser and retain less water than most resulting in low-vigor vines that yield fruit of great intensity and flavour.
The rock faces of the Stags Leap palisades reflect the heat of the sun onto the vineyards below, causing temperatures to rise more quickly than in neighbouring vineyards. At the end of each afternoon, the hills funnel the cool, marine air from the San Pablo Bay through the Stags Leap District corridor. The cooling effect of this breeze, coupled with nighttime air drainage off the mountains and hills, means lower nighttime temperatures. This allows the grapes to achieve an excellent balance of acid and sugar and also minimizes the threat of frost. The end result is a longer growing season of warm days and cool nights—perfect for late-maturing varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Ninety percent of the district is planted to Bordeaux varietals, with 80% planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. There are also small amounts of Petite Syrah and Sangiovese and Sauvignon Blanc.
Well known producers include Clos Du Val, Shafer and Chimney Rock.
Mount Veeder AVA
Mount Veeder AVA is located among the Mayacamas Mountains with 1,000 acres (400 ha) planted on thin volcanic soil and was founded in February 1990.
Mount Veeder was named for the German Presbyterian pastor, Peter Veeder, who lived in Napa during the Civil War Era and enjoyed hiking on the mountain. It was during those Wild West days that winemaking on Mount Veeder was first recorded; in 1864 Captain Stelham Wing presented the first Mount Veeder bottling in the Napa County Fair, a wine coming from today’s Wing Canyon Vineyard. By the late 1890's, there were some 20 vineyards and 6 wineries on the slopes of Mount Veeder. Prohibition reduced the number of vineyards, which revitalised beginning with Mayacamas Vineyards in 1951 and Bernstein Vineyards in 1964. Arlene and Michael Bernstein's 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was the first wine to bear the Mount Veeder designation on the label.
Many vineyards are located on the steep mountain face with the vines benefiting from more direct sunlight as they are above the fog and better drainage. But there is also shallow topsoil, minimal water retention meaning small grapes meaning that the wines from Mount Veeder are typically powerful in structure with intense flavours yet soft tannins.
It is the only hillside appellation in Napa Valley that adjoins the cool, bayside Carneros, benefiting from the cooling influence of San Pablo Bay.
Mount Veeder is an island of ancient seabed pushed up into a mountain, surrounded by volcanic soils that typify the rest of the Napa Valley. The AVA has the longest growing season and the lowest yields in Napa Valley, with almost all vineyard work is done by hand, due to the rugged conditions and steep slopes.
Atlas Peak AVA
Established in January 1992, the Atlas Peak AVA is located north east of the city of Napa. The appellation is at a higher elevation than most of Napa's wine region which limits the effects of the cool fog coming in from Pacific Ocean and the westward orientation of most vineyards on the Vaca Mountains also extends the amount of direct sunlight on the grapes. The soil of this AVA is volcanic and very porous which allows it to cool down quickly despite the increased sunlight. The area has a fairly significant diurnal temperature variation upwards of 30 °F (17 °C) between daytime and night which adds to the balance of acidity in the grapes.
Spring Mountain AVA
The Spring Mountain District AVA was officially established as an American Viticulture Area in May 1993 and it is situated in the north west of the Napa Valley near the town of Saint Helena.
The AVA is around 8,600 acres in size, of which about 1,000 are planted to vineyards. Currently the region has just over 30 vineyard / wineries.
Historically, the name Spring Mountain has been used in a regional context and does not refer to the name of a peak or prominent point. The area has numerous springs, and is drained by several small streams.
The appellation's vineyards are on steep terraces of the Mayacamas Mountains that separate Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa Plain. The appellation boundaries extend from the top of the ridgeline on the western edge, which traces the Sonoma/Napa County border, down to the 400-foot contour line at the eastern base of the hillside (generally considered the dividing line between hillside and valley vineyards in Napa Valley). The southern boundary is Sulphur Creek and one of its tributaries, while the northern boundary is Ritchie Creek. Elevations range from 400 to 2,600 feet, with a predominantly eastern exposure.Elevations range from 400 feet (122 m) to 2,600 feet (792 m) with a predominantly eastern exposure.
Oakville AVA was established in July 1993. The AVA is an officially demarcated two-mile-wide swath of Napa Valley that extends to 1,000 feet in elevation up the base of the Vaca Mountains to the east and 500 feet in elevation in the Mayacamas Mountains to the west.
H.W. Crabb was the first man who made Oakville a premium wine district. He came to California in 1853 and settled in San Lorenzo. In 1868, Crabb purchased a 240-acre parcel in Oakville. By 1877, Crabb had 130 acres of the best vines available and was producing 50,000 gallons of wine. He called the place To Kalon, Greek for “most beautiful.” By 1880, there were 430 acres of wine grapes in the area.
The cool northern reaches of the San Francisco Bay and the warmer inland air of California’s central San Joaquin Valley combine to provide a temperate Mediterranean climate in Oakville. In general terms, and as American wine regions are classified, the climate of Oakville is considered moderately warm but it is just far enough south to receive regular morning fog from the San Pablo bay. This slows the warming early in the day. But after the fog blows off in mid-morning, Oakville receives the full benefit of the afternoon Napa Valley sun. In the afternoon, when temperatures begin to peak, the bay blows cool breezes north to Oakville to begin again the cooling cycle of night that preserves the colour and acidity of wine grapes. The result is that during most of the growing season, Oakville is about one degree cooler than Rutherford and three degrees cooler than St. Helena. Average low temperatures in Oakville are generally in the low 50's in March, with highs in the mid-80's during July and August. Daytime highs often reach the mid-90s in mid-summer before the sun sets behind the Mayacamas Mountains.
Rainfall also increases from the south to the north. Oakville usually receives around 35 inches of rain per year, almost all of which falls in winter and early spring. Each spring, the rains dissipate in March and April, and Napa Valley receives negligible rain through the end of the growing season in October. November brings the beginning of the new rainy season, and heavier rains and occasional flooding in December and January replenish the Napa Valley watershed.
The Oakville district of Napa Valley has many top wine producers including Robert Mondavi, Groth, Far Niente, Opus One, Joseph Phelps, Dalla Valle, Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle.
Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most renowned variety grown in Oakville, and by far the most widely planted, other grapes grown include Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
One of the most well known AVA's in Napa with some of the most famous estates including Inglenook, Quintessa, Beaulieu Vineyards, Rutherford Hill, Raymond Vineyards and Caymus. It is centred on the town of Rutherford in the northern half of Napa Valley between Oakville and St. Helena. With its more northern location, further away from San Pablo Bay, and narrower width, Rutherford is slightly warmer than Oakville and Stags Leap and is particularly well known for its Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The Rutherford area west of Highway 29 - stretching from the highway into the base of the Mayacamas Mountains - is commonly referred to as the “Rutherford Bench”.
The well drained soil of this area is composition of gravel, loam and sand with volcanic deposits and marine sediments from the Franciscan Assemblage. Soils in the Western benchland are sedimentary, gravelly-sandy and alluvial, with good water retention and moderate fertility. The eastern side has more volcanic soils, moderately deep and more fertile. Elevation is from 100 to 500 ft. (33 to 150m).
Rutherford is moderately warm, still partly influenced by fog in the morning. The Western bench area is cooler, with less late afternoon sun and with more cooling marine winds. The AVA summer peak temperatures are around mid-90°F (34-35.5°C) with a good diurnal range and average annual rainfall of 38 inches (95cm).
The term “Rutherford Dust” is commonly used to describe the dusty, earthy flavours common in Rutherford wines. Rutherford red wines are typically rich, medium to full bodied, yet elegant, with black-currant, cedar, cassis, liquorice, spice box, cherry, and earth flavours.
St. Helena AVA
Established in September 1995, the St. Helena AVA is located near the the town of St. Helena with flat narrow land towards the northern end of the Napa valley between the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains. Its boundaries defined by Zinfandel Lane to the South, Bale Lane to the north, the intersection of Howell Mountain and Conn Valley Road to the east, and the 400 ft. elevation line on the west.
In 1861, Charles Krug established a winery just north of the town of St. Helena. Henry Pellet, another winemaking pioneer, had a winery just south of the town of St. Helena. In 1873, he and Charles Krug combined their wine lots in carloads to ship to eastern cities such as Detroit. But the wines were not well received, buyers having the impression that there were too many Mission grapes in the mix. This impression was confirmed again the following year when Charles Krug returned from a trip to the east and met with discouraging results. Adding to their woes, the country was in a recession and the market was flooded with French wine. Tariffs on the imported wine were low, but railroad fees for the California wine were high. Phylloxera had begun to surface in California, and a glut of wine was beginning to accumulate in the Napa Valley. In December 1875, Charles Krug, Henry Pellet and Seneca Ewer met to establish a new set of quality standards in the area and finally overcame the financial challenges of this period of the 19th century which has stood the AVA in good stead up to modern times.
Top roducers in the area include Corison and Spottswoode.
Chiles Valley AVA
The Chiles Valley AVA was founded in February 1999 and is located in the Vaca Mountains on the northeast side of Napa Valley. The appellation has a cooler climate than the main Napa Valley floor due to elevations of 600-1200 feet as well as a cooling breeze from the Pacific Ocean. The most planted grapes in the well drained soils of Chiles Valley are Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon blanc but the AVA is best known for Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
In the evening and overnight, winds blow through the region and cool air settles on the Chiles Valley floor from the surrounding ridges. The growing season begins and ends later than it does in adjacent regions. The terrain of Chiles Valley Wineries are quite distinct from surrounding areas. Chiles Valley is very narrow and runs from southeast to northwest. Because the ridges that surround the region are so steep, grapes are only grown on the valley floor.
In 1844, Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltorena granted Rancho Catacula to Colonel Joseph Ballinger Chiles. The first Chiles Valley vineyards were planted in 1870. Because of the region’s isolation, many of these vineyards were spared from phylloxera. Because of this part of Chiles Valley’s history, there are some very old Zinfandel vines in the AVA.
The Yountville AVA, founded in March 1999 is centred on the town of Yountville. The town's founder George Calvert Yount planted the first vineyard in this area around 1836. Yountville AVA is one of the coolest wine regions in Napa Valley, which helps contribute to a long growing season. The area is particularly known for its high tannin Cabernet Sauvignon wines, particularly suited for cellaring.
The AVA is 8,620 acres in size, of which roughly 2,700 are vineyards. The first vineyards in the Napa Valley were planted by George Yount in the mid-1800's in the areas now known as Yount Mill and Napanook.
Wineries in Yountville include Grgich Hills Estate, Dominus Estate, Blankiet and Domaine Chandon,
Diamond Mountain District AVA
The Diamond Mountain District AVA, established in June 2001, is located in California's Mayacamas Mountains in the northwest portion of the Napa Valley AVA. The appellation sits at a higher elevation than most of Napa Valley's wine region, resulting in less cool fog coming in from San Pablo Bay, and more direct exposure to sunlight. The soil of this AVA is volcanic and very porous which allows it to cool down quickly despite the increased sunlight.
Oak Knoll District AVA
The Oak Knoll District AVA was established in February 2004 and has the largest acreage of vines within the Napa Valley. Its close proximity to San Pablo Bay results in a climate that is cooler and more moderate than any region in Napa Valley other than the Los Carneros AVA. The area mainly grows Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon but varieties such as Riesling and Chardonnay are also produced.
Calistoga AVA is located in the northern portion of the Napa Valley and was established in December 2009. The area is characterised by its high daytime temperatues (up to 100 °F or 38 °C) and cool nights during the growing season due to breezes from the Russian River, causing the highest diurnal temperature variation in the Napa Valley—up to 50 °F (28 °C).
Coombsville AVA is Napa Valley's newest appellation, being established in December 2011, and is one of the coolest with wine from the area featuring higher acidity. It is located just east of the city of Napa and varies from near sea level at the Napa River on the west to 1,900 feet at the ridge of the Vaca Mountain Range. Since it is close to the San Pablo Bay, cooling breezes and fog occur almost daily during the growing season, arriving earlier and lingering longer than in the more northern regions of Napa Valley. Temperatures are less extreme during the winter frost season. The Coombsville soils are dominated by the volcanic rhyolitic tuff sedimentary rock and lava flows of the Vaca Range on the eastern side of the Napa Valley. Located in the wide alluvial deposits created by the wearing down of the hillsides the Coombsville soils contain abundant rock, gravel and, in some areas, are layered with volcanic ash deposits from Mount George.
Renowned Napa Valley wineries
Several of the following wineries are often described as the "First Growths" of California's Napa Valley and are often considered cult wines given their limited production and availability. Many are only available from coveted mail order lists, auctions or from high end restaurants around the world.
Beaulieu Vineyard, St. Helena Highway, Rutherford, CA 94573
In 1900, Georges de Latour founded his winery in Rutherford to produce world-class Cabernet Sauvignon, with the Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon now their top wine.
When Georges and Fernande de Latour first saw the Napa Valley near Rutherford, Fernande exclaimed "beau lieu!" or "beautiful place." The first Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was made with grapes from the 1936 vintage by André Tchelistcheff, who tasted the wine in barrel and insisted on giving it an independent bottling. André Tchelistcheff, a research enologist from France's Pasteur Institute was recruited in 1938 and he applied his scientific knowledge to vineyard and winery, benefiting Beaulieu Vineyard as well as the entire California wine industry. His highly trained palate led him to identify the superior Rutherford fruit quality-with the distinctive character he called "Rutherford Dust". Mike Grgich of Chateau Montelena fame has also been a winemaker at Beaulieu.
Screaming Eagle, Oakville
Screaming Eagle, founded in 1992 and owned by Jean Philips, is one of the original Californian "cult wines" with only 400-750 cases made each year. Phillips originally bought the 57 acre Oakville vineyard in 1986 which was planted to a mix of varieties, most of which Phillips sold to various Napa wineries except the 1 acre plot of around 80 vines of Cabernet Sauvignon. She took her home-made Cabernet Sauvignon based wine made in a plastic trash can to Robert Mondavi. They told her bottle it and the rest is history.
She hired Richard Peterson as a consultant, and subsequently met Peterson's daughter, Heidi Peterson Barrett, who became Screaming Eagle's first winemaker. The entire vineyard was replanted in 1995 to three varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Cabernet Franc. The 1992 vintage, released in 1995, through a combination of very low production numbers and highly positive reviews (wine critic Robert Parker awarded the wine 99 points) resulted in Screaming Eagle becoming one of the most celebrated and expensive wines in the Napa Valley.
On March 17, 2006 the estate was sold to Stanley Kroenke and Charles Banks, after Phillips received an offer she couldn't refuse. In April 2009, Charles Banks left Screaming Eagle leaving Stan Kroenke as the sole owner.
Screaming Eagle's 100% Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard near Oakville is ideally situated. The soil is virtually a rock pile on a gentle, west-facing slope east of the Napa River. Drainage and exposure are excellent. The vineyard is at a point in the Napa valley where the weather is hot enough during the day to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon perfectly, but the grapes are cooled by the northely afternoon breezes from the San Pablo Bay.
The Screaming Eagle wines are complex with blackcurrant, cassis, blackberries and black cherry. The tannins are soft and refined but are firm enough to allow aging for at least 10 years.
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars
Not to be confused with Stags Leap Winery based off the Silverado Trail.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars is best known for being the winery owned by Warren Winiarski that won 1976 Judgment of Paris, beating top French wines in the process.
Winiarski was born in 1928 in Chicago, Illinois to Polish parents and his experience in Italy convinced him that he should be a winemaker. In 1964 he accepted a job at Souverain Winery in 1964 before moving to Robert Mondavi Winery in 1966 and Colorado's Ivancie Cellars in 1969.
In 1970 Winiarski bought a 44 acre property, which was primarily a prune orchard, next to Nathan Fay's vineyard, named the property Stag's Leap Vineyards, and replanted it to Cabernet Sauvignon and a little bit of Merlot. Stag's Leap Wine Cellars was born. The vineyard sat below the rocky promontory of the Stags Leap Palisades, so named because of the legend of the stag who successfully eluded hunters by leaping to freedom across the district's landmark peaks, was the first planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in what later became the Stags Leap District AVA in 1989.
The land which cost around $200,000 was situated next to the vineyard owned by winegrowing pioneer Nathan Fay. Winiarski decided on purchasing land in the region after tasting a homemade wine from Nathan Fay's vineyard, after tasting the wine Winarski stated “I said to myself, Eureka! That’s it. This wine satisfied what I hoped was possible in the Napa Valley. It had not only regional character but also elements of classic or universal character.”
The first vintage of S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon was produced in 1973 and CASK 23 was produced in 1974 after consulting winemaker André Tchelistcheff, while tasting through the lots of wine from this vintage, decided that one lot, which was in the large wooden cask numbered 23, was so good that it should be bottled separately.
In 1976 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars put Californian wine on the world map by winning the Cabernet Sauvignon category in a blind tasting staged by Steven Spurrier, an English wine merchant in Paris, among French wine experts between American and French wines. This later became known as the "Judgement of Paris".
A lawsuit initiated by Winiarski and a counter-suit filed by Carl Doumani, owner of Stags' Leap Winery, was decided in 1986 by the California Supreme Court. The two wineries were founded in the same year, and both claimed first use of the name "Stag's Leap". The court decided that the wineries were named after the area which went back to the 1880's or before, so both were allowed to use the name. The judgment included a provision that Winiarski would keep the apostrophe before the s in his winery name, whereas Doumani would use the apostrophe after the s. But despite the lawsuits Winiarski and Doumani worked together on a Cabernet Sauvignon Wine called Accord in 1985 and unsuccessfully tried to stop the Stags Leap Cuvée by Gary Andrus's Pine Ridge label being sold. They also initially opposed the Stags Leap American Viticultural Area from being created but later changed their mind.
The winery was sold to a joint venture by Chateau Ste. Michelle of Woodinville, Washington, and Marchesi Antinori Srl ofItaly for $185 million in August 2007.
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars have always had the philosophy of producing wines in a style of “an iron fist in a velvet glove,” a reference to the balance between ripeness and restraint.
The flagship wine from the winery is still the Cabernet Sauvignon Cask 23 from the SLV and Fay vineyards. There is still an "Estate & Single-Vineyard Collection" include two Cabernet Sauvignon single vineyard wines, from the "S.L.V" and "Fay" vineyards, as well as a Chardonnay from the "Arcadia" vineyard. A mid-level range called "Napa Valley Collection" is also producd. These wines are made from estate owned vineyards as well as purchased grapes from other vineyards in the Napa Valley. Wines in this range include a "Artemis" Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, "Karia" Chardonnay and a Sauvignon blanc. A range of second wines are produced at a lower price point, under the brand name "Hawk Crest".
Inglenook Winery, Rutherford
In 1879 Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea captain, wine connoisseur and entrepreneur, came to Rutherford to build a wine estate that would rival Europe’s finest. In 1882 Inglenook crushes its first vintage of 80,000 gallons of wine and Niebaum purchases 712 additional acres from five neighbours to add to his Inglenook estate and by 1884 the estate is making 125,000 gallons of wine.
In 1908, dies at the age of 66 and winemaking ceases for several years but in 1911 Inglenook was re-oopened by his widow. Niebaum’s grandnephew, John Daniel, Jr. inherited the chateau and vineyards in the 1930s and in 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon earns the reputation of being one of the best Cabernet Sauvignons ever made, achieving a perfect 100 score in the Wine Spectator.
By the mid-1960's harvests were small and profits had not yet materialised. The internal system of quality control, initiated by Niebaum and continued through strong directors, ended. The uncompromising management of the Inglenook estate, installed by Niebaum and continued under John Daniel's stewardship, starts to take its toll. In December 1964, the winery is sold to Allied Grape Growers. The purchase includes the brand name Inglenook, the chateau and about 94 acres, with 72 acres in vineyard. It forms United Vintners, a San Francisco-based marketing organization, which officially owns Inglenook. John Daniel Jr. keeps the Niebaum mansion and about 1,500 acres of the Inglenook Estate, where he and his wife continue to live.
In 1975 Francis and Eleanor Coppola buy 1,560 acres of the Inglenook estate, including the Niebaum mansion, with profits from The Godfather films. In the French tradition, they join their name with Niebaum’s, making the property the Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery. Three years later, the first harvest at Niebaum-Coppola creates the Estate’s flagship wine, Rubicon, a red Bordeaux-style blend named after Caesar’s famous crossing of a river in Northern Italy, which denoted the point of no return for him and his troops – an appropriate metaphor for Coppola’s own quest to create world-class wine. The wine is made in the Carriage House on the back property. In 1995, the Coppolas purchase the last of the Inglenook land parcels with profits from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, including the historic Chateau. This reunites the property and its Chateau for the first time in three decades. The restoration of the Chateau begins. In 2011 Francis and Eleanor Coppola acquire the iconic Inglenook trademark and announce the estate will once again be known by its historical name, Inglenook.
In April 2002, all the of vineyards were certified organic, a process that took several years.
The 2012 Rubicon, the estate's flagship wine, released in September 2015 (86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 1% Merlothas), "very pronounced dark fruit with aromas of currants, black cherries, blackberries, cinnamon, floral notes and the freshness of thyme and other sweet herbs. The palate shows great volume and nicely integrated flavors, fine grained tannins and subtle oak that works beautifully with the fruit. There is softness and delicacy with layered complexity that is constantly evolving. The finish is long and expressive. "
Harlan Estate, Oakville
Harlan Estate is based in the western hills of Oakville and like Screaming Eagle is described as a cult winery. It consists of 240 acres (97 ha) above the Oakville benchlands. The property rises in elevation from 225 to 1225 feet (68 to 374 m) above sea level. Forty acres (17 ha) are under vine, planted to cabernet sauvignon (70%), merlot (20%), cabernet franc (8%), and petit verdot (2%).
In 1984, H. William Harlan, a real estate developer and Napa Valley resort owner bought the property, a forested area, with steep hillsides, multiple elevations and exposures, west of Martha's Vineyard in Oakville, and proceeded to clear 40 acres (16 ha) for viticulture with an ambition to "create a first growth wine". Harlan attended the opening day of Robert Mondavi’s winery in 1966 and by this time was already nurturing a dream of owning his own wine estate. He traveled to Europe and visited some of the great European estates all the while taking copious notes. He fell in love with Bordeaux and was taken in with the quality and consistency of the wines from these estates. Before Harlan there was Merryvale in 1983 which he sold his interest in in 1990's. This was the first winery to be built after Prohibition in the Napa Valley and Harlan and partners brought it back into production.
All hillside siting, on both volcanic and sedimentary bedrock; a combination of terraced vineyards and closely spaced vines on spare soils over fractured rock; vertical trellis with shoot positioning, 360º of exposition.
Harlan’s first “vintage” was 1987 but this was not released and not was the 1988 or the 1989. The first Harlan Estate wine label, a design inspired by a 19th-century engraving which was overseen by retired U.S. Treasury engraver Herb Fichter, was 10 years in the making, from when Bill Harlan first started his search for an engraver to the release of the 1990 vintage in 1996. On its qualities, Harlan has stated, "It was a label designed for a bottle that would sit on a table in candlelight, not on a store shelf." It was priced at $65 a bottle.
Dalla Valle Vineyards, Oakville
Dalla Valle vineyard is now owned by Naoka Dalla Valle and before his death in 1995 also her husband Gustav. The winery produces powerful and concentrated Cabernet Sauvignon & Cabernet Franc blends with a cult status.
Founded in 1986, the winery and vineyards are located 400 feet above the valley floor, in the eastern hills of Oakville, Napa Valley. The combination of perfect sun exposure and the cooling marine influence from the Pacific Ocean make this an ideal site for great wine.Gustav came from a family that had grown grapes in Italy for nearly two centuries and now winemaker Mia Klein works with Naoka.
The 16 acre Maya’s Vineyard, named after Naoka's daugher, is planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Sangiovese. The property is located at an elevation of 400 feet off of Silverado Trail in the eastern hills of the Oakville AVA. The soils of the vineyard are compact and quite dense. They are largely volcanic with sand, loam, and red clay mixed in.
The proprietary red wine, named after their daughter, Maya, is usually a blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. These wines are of immense stature and richness with well-integrated tannin and acidity. Only 500 cases of Maya are made each year.
Bryant Family Wineyard, St. Helena
Bryant Family Vineyard was founded by businessman and art collector Donald L. Bryant Jr. in 1985 and was one of the original Napa Valley cult wineries. It is particularly known for its 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines grown on their Pritchard Hill estate Low production levels, high quality and high demand for the wines mean that the estate produces some of America's most expensive wines.
Bryant Family Vineyard is based at Pritchard Hill near St, Helena and overlooks Lake Hennessey and has approximately 13 acres of vineyards.
The first vintage was released in 1992 with winemaker Helen Turley. The 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997 wines scored 97, 98, 99, 99 and 100 points, respectively, on Robert Parker's Wine Advocate.
In the early 2000's Helen Turley's issued a lawsuit against Donald Bryant over her firing and Phillippe Melka took over winemaking duties.
Robert Parker Jr. said "The wine from this hillside vineyard near Napa's Pritchard Hill, has already become mythical (1992 was the debut vintage). This is a wine of world-class quality, and is certainly as complete and potentially complex as any first-growth Bordeaux...It is not too much to suggest that in the future, Bryant's Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon might well be one of the wines that redefines greatness in Cabernet Sauvignon." Critic Antonio Galloni, who has taken over Robert Parker Jr.'s role in scoring California wines for the Wine Advocate as of 2011 said"Bryant is without question one of the most spectacular vineyards in Napa Valley. I don’t see any reason why the Cabernets that emerge from this property shouldn’t be among the top 5-10 wines in the valley each and every year
The winery produces Bryant Family Vineyary as well as BETTINA wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from some of David Abreu's vineyards) and DB4 is the second wine for Bryant Family, consisting of declassified wine from Bryant Family Vineyard and BETTINA.
Araujo Estate Wines, Calistoga
Araujo Estate Wines was founded by Bart and Daphne Araujo and its vineyards are located in the Calistoga and Napa Valley AVAs producing organic and biodynamic wines from its Eisele Vineyard. Araujo is one of California's cult"wineries, with the winery's flagship wine, the Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard considered a Napa Valley "First Growth".
The Araujo's bought the 162-acre property in Calistoga in 1992 including the 35-acre Eisele Vineyard and produced the first vintage of Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon in 1991. Named after Milt and Barbara Eisele, who owned the vineyard prior to Bart and Daphne Araujo, the Eisele Vineyard has long been known for the quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is located on an alluvial fan and has cobbled stone, mineral-rich soils.
Each vintage, four Araujo Estate wines are produced: Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard; Altagracia; Syrah Eisele Vineyard; and Sauvignon Blanc Eisele Vineyard. A Viognier Eisele Vineyard is bottled in some years as well. On average, Araujo produces 2,000 cases of Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon annually. The wines are made from the grapes grown on the estate, except Altagracia, where grapes from other Napa Valley vineyards are used.
In 2013 the winery was acquired by French businessman Francois Pinault through his holding group, Artemis.
Blankiet estate, Yountville.
The Blankiet estate was created in 1996 is located in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains near to Yountville and owned by Claude and Katherine Blankiet. in the Napa Valley, the estate produces a portfolio of wines from their Paradise Hills Vineyard which is east and southeast facing to catch morning sun but limit the hotter afternoon temperatures.
Claude Blankiet was born in Burgundy and he was a pioneer of weathered washed jeans that he sold to companies like Levi Strauss. His visits to San Francisco meant he got to know the Napa Valley and in the mid 1990's he and his wife Katherine decided to try to find a wine estate to buy in the western hills, a difficult task as most land was sold through personal contacts. However, one day he was told a 24 hour hold had been secured on the land above Dominus on the valley floor and adjacent to Napanook. Claude viewed the property immediately. Claude took chance and purchased the land that day despite the undeveloped property and the rest is history.
Yountville AVA is a bit warmer than Bordeaux but the summer days are sunny and dry with cool nights. Temperatures swing 50 degrees in a 24-hour period, allowing full phenolic ripening of the grapes while maintaining a fresh acidity. Paradise Hills is cooled by constant breezes flowing from the cold waters of the San Pablo Bay and the grape berries tend to develop a thicker skin that protects them from dehydration.
The soil is composed of Pacific seabed formations of greenstone, sandstone, limestone, shale, white volcanic tuffs and pyroclastic lava flows. Each hill is separated by alluvial fans that drain the mountain range.
The estate produces annually a few hundred cases of flagship wines which are farmed organically with Robert M Parker saying “The goal to produce world-class wines at Blankiet Estate has been accomplished, combining the extraordinary power of the site with unbelievable elegance and definition.”
Blankiet Estate Proprietary Red, Paradise Hills Vineyards -predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.
Blankiet Estate Rive Droite - Merlot with a little Cabernet Franc.
Blankiet Estate Mythicus Paradise Hills Vineyard - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon selection from the best lots and produced for extended cellaring.
Prince of Hearts Red - One of the six “Napa Valley Super-seconds” according to Robert M. Parker and Antonio Galloni. Predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon from barrels not used for the flagship cuvées.
Prince of Hearts Red ROSÉ -A uniquely made wine from Merlot and Cabernet Franc, cold fermented in 100% new French barrels and aged for a year prior to bottling.
Other notable Napa Valley producers and wines
- Heitz cellars, St. Helena. With the flagship organically produced Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville), oak aged 3½ years. heitzcellar.com
- JJ Cohn Scarecrow Wine, Rutherford . Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon crafted from the oldest, most balanced and most intense Cabernet lots grown on the J. J. Cohn Estate, adjacent to Inglenook winery. http://www.scarecrowwine.com/
- Abreu vineyard, Rutherford. Abreu's label concentrates exclusively on estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon blends from the two vineyards. abreuvineyards.com
- Shafer vineyard, Stags Leap. Known for its Shafer Hillside Select® Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged for four years prior to release (three years in Alliers and Tronçais oak barrels and 15 months in the bottle). http://www.shafervineyards.com/
- Colgin cellars, Pritchard Hill, St. Helena. Founded by Ann Colgin and husband Joe Wender. The winery provides great views of Lake Hennessey.The Colgin IX Estate red wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The number IX refers to the parcel number and is also significant as the date Ann and Joe were married: 9/9. The 2002 vintage was the first, of four vintages, from this property to achieve the highest accolade of “a perfect wine”. Each year the blend has intensity, purity, and is remarkably long. As well as this and a Syrah, Colgin now makes three different Cabernet's, each with its own characteristics. Tychson Hill is probably the most feminine and floral, while Cariad, made mostly from old-vine Cabernet from Mr. Abreu's Madrona Ranch Vineyard, tends to be more exuberant and spicy. http://www.colgincellars.com/
- Dominus Estate, Yountville. In 1982 Christian Moueix entered into a partnership to develop the Yountville vineyard and 1995 became sole owner. He chose the name Dominus or "lord of the estate" in latin to underscore the longstanding commitment to stewardship of the land. The winery seeks to make the best Bordeaux style wines. Dominus and Napanook wines are produced with Dominus 2012 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petit Verdot. http://www.dominusestate.com/
- Chappellet, Pritchard Hill. Donn and Molly Chappellet with the help of renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff created the first winery to plant vineyards exclusively on the high-elevation hillsides of Pritchard Hill (rising up to 1,800 feet) and produced wines from 1967. The estate is known for its Signature Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. http://www.chappellet.com/
- Spottswoode family estate, St. Helena. A family-owned winery known for its Cabernet Sauvignon. Established in 1882 by George Schonewald and acquired by Mary and Jack Novak in 1972. Mary released Spottswoode’s first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1982, exactly one hundred years after the estate’s founding. Today, Mary’s daughter Beth Novak Milliken manages the winery. The estate was organically farmed since 1985, and the vineyard was certified organic in 1992. Every year four wines are released: Spottswoode Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc, Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon, and Field Book Syrah. Spottswoode wines are especially known for their refined elegance, balance, and classic structure. http://www.spottswoode.com/
- Corison Winery, between Rutherford and St. Helena Corison is a family winery Founded by Cathy Corison and in 1987 she made the first vintage of Corison Cabernet. The Corison Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is the signature wine. www.corison.com
- Dana Estates, Rutherford. The land in the Rutherford Bench was first farmed and developed by German viticulturalist H. W. Helms in 1883. It was purchased in 1976 by John and Diane Livingston and served as the home for Livingston Moffett winery until proprietor Hi Sang Lee bought the property in 2005. Helms, Hershey and Lot vineyards, farmed organically at low yields, produce sought after Cabernet Sauvignon. danaestates.com/
- Larkmead vineyards, Calistoga. In 1993, Cam and Kate began making Larkmead wines from the Estate at Napa Wine Company in Oakville. The 1997 Larkmead Cabernet Sauvignon was released to great acclaim. The Larkmead Estate is made up of three contiguous vineyard parcels at one of the narrowest points in Napa Valley. The vineyard spans almost the entire breadth of the valley floor from Highway 29 to Silverado Trail with the Napa River dissecting it in half. The vineyard's three block contain four primary soil types: sand, silt, clay and gravel. www.larkmead.com
- Bond Estates, Oakville. Founder Bill Harlan owned Merryvale Winery in St. Helena and Bob Levy was his winemaker. At the time Merryvale worked with around 60 vineyards in the valley; ultimately Bob recognized several vineyards that stood out from the rest based on quality of site.After Bill sold Merryvale, both he and Bob decided they would work together to create an estate built around select vineyards in the Napa Valley (none of which would be under their ownership, but all would be farmed by their own vineyard team – rather than by the owners of each vineyard). They were able to keep several of these premium vineyards after Merryvale was sold. Sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from the Melbury, Quella, St. Eden, Vecina, Pluribus vineyards around the Napa Valley. These are hillside vineyards with locations in both the Vaca and Mayacamas mountain ranges.bondestates.com
- Joseph Phelps. In the late 1960’s, Joseph Phelps was running one of the largest construction companies in the U.S., Hensel Phelps Construction Company, when he won the bid to build Souverain Winery (now Rutherford Hill) located a few miles outside of St. Helena. In 1973 Joe bought the 600-acre Connolly cattle ranch in Spring Valley, and began planting vineyards and construction of a winery. The first harvest in 1973 yielded Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Johannisburg Riesling bottlings, all custom crushed at nearby wineries. The Joseph Phelps winery was completed in 1974 in time for harvest, crushing grapes for the first Insignia and the first Syrah bottlings. Today, the Phelps estate consists of the Spring Valley Home Ranch outside of St. Helena, Banca Dorada in Rutherford, Backus Vineyard in Oakville, Las Rocas and Barboza vineyards in Stags Leap, Yountville Vineyard in Oak Knoll, Suscol Vineyard in South Napa and Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard in Carneros. The flagship wine range is Insignia. http://www.josephphelps.com/
- Opus One, St. Helena. Château Mouton Rothschild winemaker Lucien Sionneau and Robert Mondavi’s son Timothy made the partnership’s first vintage at the Robert Mondavi Winery in 1979. The following year the partners officially announced their joint venture. In 1981 a single case of the joint venture wine sold for $24,000 at the first Napa Valley Wine Auction – the highest price ever paid for a California wine. The partners agreed to choose a name of Latin origin for the joint venture, allowing for easy recognition in both English and French. Baron Philippe announced his choice, “Opus,” a musical expression denoting the first masterwork of a composer. Two days later he proposed an additional word: “Opus One”. The 1979 and 1980 vintages were simultaneously unveiled in 1984 as Opus One’s first release. Constellation Brands purchased Robert Mondavi Corp. and assumed 50% ownership of Opus One in 2005. The current 2012 vintage is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon 79%, Cabernet Franc 7%, Petit Verdot 6%, Merlot 6%, and Malbec 2%. http://en.opusonewinery.com/
- Siverado vineyards, Napa. The winery’s name, Silverado, comes from the abandoned mining town at the top of the Napa Valley. The owners, Ron and Diane Miller (Son and Mother) first came to the Napa Valley in 1975. In 1976 they bought the 81-acre Miller Ranch in Yountville and in 1978 the 93-acre Silverado Vineyard, several other properties have been acquired in subsequent years. The estate now makes several wines: Napa Valley : SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon (Stags Leap District), Limited Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Mt. George Merlot, Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc (Yountville), Estate Sangiovese, Sangiovese Rosato. Carneros: Carneros Chardonnay, Vineburg Vineyard Chardonnay. Coombsville: GEO Cabernet Sauvignon http://www.silveradovineyards.com/
Futo Estate, Oakville. Futo Estate is owned by Tom and Kyle Futo and began in 2002 when they bought Oakford Vineyards and is in the same area as Bond and Harlan. Oakford, was a 40 acre property with 7 acres of vineyard and in 2004, an adjoining 117 acre parcel was added to the property, of which 6 acres were planted to vineyard Late in 2011, the Futos completed the purchase of a property in the eastern hills of Stags Leap District. This 40 acre property included a 9 acre Cabernet vineyard planted in 1986. The estate focuses on a very limited production estate Cabernet Sauvignon blend and a second wine called OV made in a part of the Napa Valley at an elevation of 300-500 feet where the soils are a combination of both benchland as well as true hillside slopes (Mayacamas Mountains). The soils here are very rocky and well drained. Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot also also produced. While not receiving as much sun as the eastern hillsides of Oakville Futo’s site tends to remain fairly warm during the growing season. The fog breaks sooner here and because of their slight elevation above the valley floor they tend to be exposed to the warmer air that rises due to the inversion layer. The first vintage was in 2004 with a production of 80 cases with a first commercial release in 2005. The Futo Oakville Estate Red wine 2012 is 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. www.futowines.com
- Au Sommet, Napa. Au Sommet is a partnership between Heidi Peterson Barrett, John Schwartz and Jim Barbour and is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot blend from a seven acre vineyard on top of Atlas Peak. The vineyard, part of a 45-acre property and is one of the highest vineyard sites in Napa Valley, rising 2,100 feet above sea level. Unlike the Napa Valley floor, which is often covered in morning fog, the mountain vineyard is exposed to more sun during the growing season. Refreshing mountain breezes cool hot summer days, protecting the fruit from overheating. The nights are much cooler than other areas and can sometimes experience a 20-degree drop in temperature. These cool nights allow for slower maturation of the fruit, resulting in well-balanced, complex wine. The shallow volcanic soils limit vine growth, producing small amounts of fruit with exceptional, intense varietal character. The 2013 vintage of Au Sommet Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 96% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot with 422 cases produced. http://www.ausommetwine.com/
- Lail vineyards, Rutherford. Lail Vineyards was founded by Robin Lail and her family and whose father was John Daniels Jr. who inherited Inglenook winery from his father (Rubicon Estate). Robin also co-founded Dominus with her sister and Christian Moueix (of Château Pétrus in Pomerol) and co-founded Merryvale Vineyards with Bill Harlan. Wine is produced from two estate vineyards; the Totem Vineyard in Yountville, which was part of the original Inglenook vineyard estate and Mole Hill vineyard which is on Howell Mountain at about 1600 feet. The Estate's key wine is J. Daniel Cuvée Cabernet Sauvignon and is Bordeaux style blend of estate and premium vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon selections. Coming from three vineyards in Napa Valley: one in Calistoga, one in Oakville and the other on Howell Mountain. This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged 20 months in about three-fourths new French oak. Just under 1,000 cases are produced. https://www.lailvineyards.com/
Napa Valley Vintages
- 2014 - Despite a drought and the South Napa earthquake expectations are high for the 2014 vintage in Napa Valley due to good weather. Harvest started and ended earlier than usual, up to 2 weeks early in some cases. The first grapes for sparkling wine picked on July 30th and nearly all harvest activity was finished by the third week in October
- 2013 - There was an early, even and excellent growing season with a good quality harvest of grapes. A warm, dry spring brought early bud break, helped with canopy vigour and berry size and created ideal conditions for flowering and fruit set under sunny skies. With the exception of one heat spike in late June/early July, temperatures were consist for optimal vine activity, resulting in notably healthy vines as fruit went through veraison and started ripening.
- 2012- A Classic Vintage for Napa Valley from Start to Finish with perfect conditions. There was optimal spring bud break, steady flowering, even fruit set, and a lengthy stretch of warm days and cool and often foggy nights during the long summer months. Late and light rains held off grapes found optimal ripeness. This vintage, while as much as 30% higher than the past two years' smaller crops, is on par with near-normal quantity.
- 2011 - There was a wet winter and spring which continued into mid-June that delayed bloom and disrupted fruit set which meant a long, cooler-than-average growing season with a later-than-average harvest beset with autumn rain storms. Rainfall by June 30th was more than a third above normal and the cloud cover and cool temperatures delayed vine development by several weeks at the onset of the growing season. The first varieties for sparkling wines found the latest harvest start in anyone’s memory, beginning August 29. Few high heat events occurred at any point this year, but growers managed more open vine canopies to ensure sunlight, warmth and good air circulation around the grape clusters. After a consistently cool summer season, significant mid-October rain pushed the vintage even later, but an excellent period of weather in October/November helped ripening. Most waited through the first two rains of this year to pick Chardonnay in October, and that patience paid off. Yields were generally consistent with 2010 — down by 10%. Quality looks very good with lower alcohols, good structure and length on the palate. Mold, rot, and botrytis were challenges to the grapes that were not harvested, and had a major impact on the quantity of the harvest, but not the quality. While quantity was low, the fruit this year will make for well-balanced wines with good intensity, structure and texture with a brightness of flavor.
- 2010 - Rainfall returned after three dry years, pushed bud break, flowering and fruit-set back by at least two weeks at the front end of the growing season, and due to the cloud cover, there was no frost damage in 2010. The summer brought cooler than normal temperatures, where constant vigilance and rigorous canopy management averted mildew or pest problems. The ten-day to two-week lag continued into a later than average veraison. Winegrowers were faced with a two-day heat spike into triple digits for the first time in the season, coinciding with the first day of harvest on August 24. With canopies thinned to adjust for the cooler season, grapes at various sites experienced some sunburn. The damage was variable site-to-site with many vineyards reporting no sunburned clusters at all. The relatively cool growing season coupled with the unexpected heat spikes in late summer resulted in a late and shortened harvest with lower yields. Vintners were excited about what they were tasting from the vineyards--concentrated flavours that will materialize into elegant, structured wines, almost European in style. Cooler than average temperatures retuned again in early September, but gave way to warm and consistent Indian Summer. In the midst of the 2010 growing season the potentially crop devastating pest known as the European Grapevine Moth or Lobesia looks to be successfully eradicated in Napa County.
- 2009 -With nearly thirty days of intense frost from spring 2008 to the fewer than five frost incidents in 2009, the start to the vintage was much less eventful for growers who were able to sleep nights not worrying about the threat of frost—or the lack of water to combat it if it came. Late spring rains delayed irrigation needs and the warm spell in June helped curtail excessive canopy development. The nearly 14 days of 100°f plus temperatures that mark a typical growing season, 2009 counted perhaps only four or five overall, again helping to reduce demand for water when the resource was relatively scarce. Though rainfall was little more than two-thirds of normal for the third year in a row, the timing of rain was good and with lack of frost and with a mild, relatively cool growing season,it meant good quality grapes.
- 2008 - Was a low-yielding, yet high-quality vintage from Napa Valley. In contrast to 2007, the New Year began with intense storms that brought high winds and heavy rains to the region, but the rain soon waned and for the second year in a row, Napa received little more than 60% of its normal rainfall. The spring season was one of the driest on record with virtually no rainfall. The drier soils prompted vines to push out early, providing the "perfect storm" for frigid, dry air to create conditions for the deepest and longest frost period in decades. As vines all over the appellation were budding, the sheer number of days of frost threatened the future of the crop. Some growers, especially those in the eastern hills around the Howell Mountain AVA were low on water for overhead irrigation or farmed in areas that rarely see any frost and were therefore hit hardest. Some growers reported losses of thirty percent or more. Though a second budding occurred, the fruit set was thin and uneven. Daytimes during the spring were perfect, yet the cold temperatures and frost threat held on for more than three weeks. Then, within the same week that many had been irrigating for frost protection, vineyards were irrigated because of a multi-day heat spike that brought early season temperatures into the triple digits in many parts of the appellation and at the time that vines were beginning to flower, another time when fruit and vine development is particularly susceptible to extremes. After the fruit set, fewer clusters with smaller berries appeared to be the norm all around the Napa Valley. The dryness of the season produced less vine canopy, and allowed the vines to focus on fruit production. Fortunately, the summer season continued with cooler, consistent temperatures. A benefit of the dry year found very little pest infestation in the vines, little mold or mildew problems and very healthy vines. Because of the early vine development in spring, growers were initially predicting a very early harvest, however because of the cooler summer it started just a little ahead of normal. As grapes for sparkling wines began to be harvested in mid-August, the lighter white varieties began in earnest toward the third week of August. Then, a week-long heat spell over the Labor Day holiday meant that several varieties were coming to ripeness all at once. Then, just a quickly as the heat arrived, it was as if a switch had been turned and the temperatures dropped to well below normal. This allowed cellar crew to catch up, and with the following weeks returning to seasonally normal temperatures with warm days and cool nights, the red varieties, which were largely untouched to date, languished on the vine with optimal hang time, excellent ripening and balanced structure. The light rain events in late September and early October had no effect on the grapes or the harvest in Napa Valley.