Big and Bold Napa Cab From Calistoga

Today’s Story: Heritage School Vineyards

Heritage School Vineyards (initially named Harris Estate Vineyards) was established in 1997 by Mike and Treva Harris on an extension of Diamond Mountain in Calistoga of the Napa Valley. The property consists of 48 acres, however only 6 acres are planted to vineyards and 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2014, David and Linda Jenkins purchased the property and renamed it to pay homage to the Heritage School which was a private school for boys on site. Heritage School consists of three estate vineyards named Missiaen’s Hillside, Casey’s Lakeview, and Julie’s Creekside, as well as a non-estate vineyard source for Hannah’s Indulgence with all four wines names after the Jenkins’ daughters. Thomas Brown has been winemaker since 2006, and the wines age in a 100% new French oak barrel program. Production is rather limited, with total volumes typically around 1,200 cases per vintage.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Casey’s Lakeview Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2014 Casey’s Lakeview Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is deep purple/ruby in color with heavy staining on the glass. I double decanted this bottle, as it’s still rather youthful. Aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of blackberry, blueberry, crème de cassis, anise, clay, cinnamon, chocolate, vanilla, and toasted oak. There’s some heat from the alcohol as well that needs time to integrate. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, and the palate displays notes of blackcurrant, black plum, blueberry, licorice, coffee grounds, iron, and rich dark chocolate. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. 250 cases produced.

Price: $140. Though this is certainly a high quality wine and offers good intensity and complexity, it’s not my preferred style. The oak influence definitely sticks out to me and this is a rather big and bold Cab. I think there are better values out there too given this price-point which sees a lot of competition.

Unique White Blend for Napa Valley

Today’s Story: Massican Winery

I very recently wrote about Massican when I reviewed the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, however I loved that wine so much I wanted to return today for another bottling.

Massican Winery was established in 2009 by winemaker Dan Petroski (also of Larkmead Vineyards) and was born out of his passion for Italy and the country’s lifestyle, culture, and wines. Massican is a very unique endeavor in Napa Valley, focusing exclusively on white grape varieties including Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Bianco, and Greco common in northeastern Italy as well as the more “expected” varieties of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. True to Dan’s mission, the Massican wines are not only made with uncommon varieties for Napa but they are also not the stereotypical oaky white wines the region is known for. Dan uses varying amounts of new and neutral oak as well as stainless steel, also not allowing his wines to go through malolactic fermentation so they maintain the crisp, fresh, and refreshing characteristics of each grape variety. Another contributing factor is how Dan picks his grapes at lower sugar levels, preserving the vibrant acidity and resulting in often lower-alcohol wines.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Annia

53% Tocai Friulano, 39% Ribolla Gialla, 8% Chardonnay; 12.8% ABV

The 2019 Annia is pale yellow in color, and almost pale gold. The aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of yellow apple, tangerine, white peach, pear, honeysuckle, crushed stone, and mild green herbs. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of medium intensity, with notes of white peach, lemon zest, pear, tangerine, white florals, and beeswax. This dry white blend is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length but well-rounded finish. I didn’t find this as vibrant or complex as the Sauvignon Blanc I recently reviewed, but it still makes for a fun summer wine and a perfect match for shellfish.

Price: $30. This is a fun wine for the price, however I do prefer the Massican Sauvignon Blanc and I think that offers stronger value given its complexity, vibrancy, and mouthwatering higher acidity. I still think this Annia is worth checking out though, because it’s uncommon to find these varieties coming out of Napa and it is a well-made wine.

Napa Sauvignon Blanc That Transports You to Northeast Italy

Today’s Story: Massican Winery

Massican Winery was established in 2009 by winemaker Dan Petroski (also of Larkmead Vineyards) and was born out of his passion for Italy and the country’s lifestyle, culture, and wines. Massican is a very unique endeavor in Napa Valley, focusing exclusively on white grape varieties including Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Bianco, and Greco common in northeastern Italy as well as the more “expected” varieties of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. True to Dan’s mission, the Massican wines are not only made with uncommon varieties for Napa but they are also not the stereotypical oaky white wines the region is known for. Dan uses varying amounts of new and neutral oak as well as stainless steel, also not allowing his wines to go through malolactic fermentation so they maintain the crisp, fresh, and refreshing characteristics of each grape variety. Another contributing factor is how Dan picks his grapes at lower sugar levels, preserving the vibrant acidity and resulting in often lower-alcohol wines.

Today’s Wine: 2019 Sauvignon Blanc

100% Sauvignon Blanc; 13.3% ABV

The 2019 Sauvignon Blanc is pale yellow in color and transparent. The nose on this is absolutely gorgeous with pronounced intensity, showcasing aromas of green apple, tropical citrus, tangerine, white peach, lemon peel, white blossom, freshly cut grass, tennis ball canister, wet stone, and saline mineral. Meanwhile the flavors on the palate are also of pronounced intensity, with notes of lemon and lime zest, crisp green apple, sweet pineapple, apricot, lemongrass, mild green herbs, wet slate, white pepper, and brine. This dry white is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Blown away by the complexity here.

Price: $27. I know this is more expensive direct from the winery (though they’re sold out anyway), though finding this retail at $27 is a screaming value. The complexity and pronounced characteristics in this wine are truly impressive, and I will certainly be buying more.

Perfectly Aged Napa Valley Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

Though I’ve written about Chateau Montelena a few times previously, I feel obligated to revisit them again today after tasting this magnificent 1995 Chardonnay. You may have read my posts for the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Chardonnay, and/or Twenty Year Ruby, though I will paste the history of this great estate again for convenience.

Chateau Montelena traces its roots back to 1882 when Alfred L. Tubbs purchased 254 acres of rugged land with the dream of turning it into vineyards. Tubbs first planted his vineyards before constructing the chateau in 1886 and bringing in a winemaker from France, and by 1896 the A.L. Tubbs Winery was the seventh-largest in the Napa Valley. This prowess was short-lived, however, when winemaking shut down during Prohibition. With its repeal in 1933, Alfred’s grandson Chapin Tubbs continued harvesting the vineyards to make some wine and started selling fruit to others. He rechristened the winery to Chateau Montelena Winery in 1940 with the name derived from a contraction of Mount St. Helena.

In 1947, Chapin unfortunately passed away and winemaking at Chateau Montelena ceased again two years later. The Tubbs family sold this magnificent estate in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, a couple who emigrated from Hong Kong after WWII and were then seeking a peaceful place to retire. The Franks did not resume winemaking but rather worked to transform some of the overgrown grounds into a lake and landscaping reminiscent of their native gardens back home. Jade Lake on the property still provides evidence of this today and remains a beautiful and peaceful sanctuary.

The renaissance of this great winemaking estate, however, came about in the early 1970s under the leadership of Jim Barrett. Barrett quickly cleared and replanted the vineyards and brought in modern winemaking equipment alongside a team to oversee the vineyards and production. In 1972, winemaking resumed at Chateau Montelena and within years it would become one of the most important wineries in all of California and at that time even throughout the world. Chateau Montelena today thrives under the watchful eyes of Jim’s son, Bo Barrett.

Arguably the most important event in Chateau Montelena’s history occurred in 1976, though halfway around the world in France. Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, sought to put the best Californian wines head to head with the best French wines and assembled the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (known as the Judgment of Paris). There were an assortment of red wines and an assortment of white wines, with the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay being one of six Californian whites going against four greats from France’s Burgundy region. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat all of the other white wines in a blind tasting and shocked not only the panel and those in attendance but the entire world, cementing California as a winemaking region demanding respect. Funny enough, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars also in Napa Valley won for the red wines with their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you’d like something a bit more “fun” to learn about Chateau Montelena, watch the movie Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.

Today’s Wine: 1995 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.5% ABV

The 1995 Chardonnay (from magnum) is absolutely beautiful deep gold and transparent. The nose showcases gorgeous and well-aged aromas of apricot, golden pear, tangerine, honeysuckle, white truffle, dried herbs, and wet river stone. Meanwhile the palate displays notes of charred pineapple, apricot, golden delicious apple, white florals, honey, exotic white peppery spice, clove, and crushed rock minerality. Though not the most complex or deepest wine, this is absolutely perfect in terms of balance and I can’t find a single fault with it. The wine offers a fully round, plush, and opulent mouthfeel and is medium-bodied with still-vibrant medium (+) acidity into a long finish.

Price: $90 for 750ml or $180 for this magnum direct from the winery. For a magnum stored in the Montelena cellars until we took delivery late 2019, this is absolutely worth the price. This wine is a breathtaking example of aged Napa Valley Chardonnay and I look forward to drinking it again in another year or two.

Surprising and Fun Ruby “Port” From Calistoga

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

I previously wrote about Chateau Montelena with the 2011 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, my first post on this website, and then with the 2009 Chardonnay early this year. I figured it would be fun to return to Montelena today with a unique and special bottling.

Chateau Montelena traces its roots back to 1882 when Alfred L. Tubbs purchased 254 acres of rugged land with the dream of turning it into vineyards. Tubbs first planted his vineyards before constructing the chateau in 1886 and bringing in a winemaker from France, and by 1896 the A.L. Tubbs Winery was the seventh-largest in the Napa Valley. This prowess was short-lived, however, when winemaking shut down during Prohibition. With its repeal in 1933, Alfred’s grandson Chapin Tubbs continued harvesting the vineyards to make some wine and started selling fruit to others. He rechristened the winery to Chateau Montelena Winery in 1940 with the name derived from a contraction of Mount St. Helena.

In 1947, Chapin unfortunately passed away and winemaking at Chateau Montelena ceased again two years later. The Tubbs family sold this magnificent estate in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, a couple who emigrated from Hong Kong after WWII and were then seeking a peaceful place to retire. The Franks did not resume winemaking but rather worked to transform some of the overgrown grounds into a lake and landscaping reminiscent of their native gardens back home. Jade Lake on the property still provides evidence of this today and remains a beautiful and peaceful sanctuary.

The renaissance of this great winemaking estate, however, came about in the early 1970s under the leadership of Jim Barrett. Barrett quickly cleared and replanted the vineyards and brought in modern winemaking equipment alongside a team to oversee the vineyards and production. In 1972, winemaking resumed at Chateau Montelena and within years it would become one of the most important wineries in all of California and at that time even throughout the world. Chateau Montelena today thrives under the watchful eyes of Jim’s son, Bo Barrett.

Arguably the most important event in Chateau Montelena’s history occurred in 1976, though halfway around the world in France. Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, sought to put the best Californian wines head to head with the best French wines and assembled the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (known as the Judgment of Paris). There were an assortment of red wines and an assortment of white wines, with the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay being one of six Californian whites going against four greats from France’s Burgundy region. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat all of the other white wines in a blind tasting and shocked not only the panel and those in attendance but the entire world, cementing California as a winemaking region demanding respect. Funny enough, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars also in Napa Valley won for the red wines with their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you’d like something a bit more “fun” to learn about Chateau Montelena, watch the movie Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.

Today’s Wine: Twenty Year Ruby

100% Syrah; 20.3% ABV

The Twenty Year Ruby is translucent medium ruby to deep garnet in color. The nose is rather beautiful and surprisingly complex, showcasing aromas of bing cherry, raspberry liquor, strawberry shortcake, licorice, spice cake, chocolate, hazelnut, almond, baking spice, and vanilla. Meanwhile the palate offers equal depth with notes of orange peel, cranberry, red plum, red licorice, fig, anise, caramel, mint, chocolate, and clove. This is full-bodied with high acidity, light tannins, and a long finish. An outstanding and fun wine, though only available to Chateau Montelena club members in California or with visits to the winery.

Price: $125 (club price). I don’t think I can call this 500ml a great value at $125 each, however it is a delicious wine and surpassed all expectations I had for it. If you’re in the Montelena club, why not give it a try.

A California Titan

Today’s Story: Diamond Creek Vineyards

Diamond Creek was established in 1968 by Al Brounstein, a former pharmaceuticals wholesaler based in Southern California. During the 1960s, Al desired a career change and discovered a 70 acre property on Diamond Mountain which he believed to be perfect for producing wine and offer him a new venture. In 1966 before Al owned the property, he smuggled vine cuttings from two Premier Cru properties in Bordeaux (they are a secret) by personally flying them up through Tijuana, Mexico to a nursery in St. Helena, California. When Al finally purchased the property in 1967 and began planting in 1968, he established three separate blocks differentiated by their soil composition: Red Rock Terrace (7 acres), Gravelly Meadow (5 acres), and Volcanic Hill (8 acres). In addition to these three mainstays, there exists a 0.75 acre vineyard on the property named Lake Vineyard, and wines from this vineyard are only bottled in particularly outstanding vintages. Though the wines today are typically a blend of Bordeaux varietals, Diamond Creek was established with the idea of producing exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon.

I had the opportunity to taste at Diamond Creek and tour the property in September, 2018 and I included some pictures at the end of this post.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon

88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Volcanic Hill is opaque deep ruby in color with purple hues. Once this opens up in the decanter, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, crème de cassis, redcurrant, licorice, graphite, tobacco, damp earth, gravel, and oak. In the mouth, the wine reveals notes of blackcurrant, ripe plum, blueberry, black cherry, violet, cigar box, dark chocolate, cinnamon, crushed rock, dried green herbs, and a touch of charred oak. This wine is full-bodied with high acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. Superb bottling from Diamond Creek.

Price: $250. Diamond Creek is always exceptional and even though we committed infanticide with this bottle of a restaurant wine list its potential is monstrous. Give this at least another 7-10 years of aging and pair it with filet mignon, grilled game meat (like bison and elk), or roasted lamb.

From My Visit:

A view of the vineyards from the tasting room.
Property tour by golf cart.
The property’s lake (above) and Lake Vineyard (below).

The Wine That Shocked the World

Today’s Story: Chateau Montelena

Chateau Montelena traces its roots back to 1882 when Alfred L. Tubbs purchased 254 acres of rugged land with the dream of turning it into vineyards. Tubbs first planted his vineyards before constructing the chateau in 1886 and bringing in a winemaker from France, and by 1896 the A.L. Tubbs Winery was the seventh-largest in the Napa Valley. This prowess was short-lived, however, when winemaking shut down during Prohibition. With its repeal in 1933, Alfred’s grandson Chapin Tubbs continued harvesting the vineyards to make some wine and started selling fruit to others. He rechristened the winery to Chateau Montelena Winery in 1940 with the name derived from a contraction of Mount St. Helena.

In 1947, Chapin unfortunately passed away and winemaking at Chateau Montelena ceased again two years later. The Tubbs family sold this magnificent estate in 1958 to Yort and Jeanie Frank, a couple who emigrated from Hong Kong after WWII and were then seeking a peaceful place to retire. The Franks did not resume winemaking but rather worked to transform some of the overgrown grounds into a lake and landscaping reminiscent of their native gardens back home. Jade Lake on the property still provides evidence of this today and remains a beautiful and peaceful sanctuary.

The renaissance of this great winemaking estate, however, came about in the early 1970s under the leadership of Jim Barrett. Barrett quickly cleared and replanted the vineyards and brought in modern winemaking equipment alongside a team to oversee the vineyards and production. In 1972, winemaking resumed at Chateau Montelena and within years it would become one of the most important wineries in all of California and at that time even throughout the world. Chateau Montelena today thrives under the watchful eyes of Jim’s son, Bo Barrett.

Arguably the most important event in Chateau Montelena’s history occurred in 1976, though halfway around the world in France. Steven Spurrier, a British wine merchant, sought to put the best Californian wines head to head with the best French wines and assembled the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 (known as the Judgment of Paris). There were an assortment of red wines and an assortment of white wines, with the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay being one of six Californian whites going against four greats from France’s Burgundy region. The 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay beat all of the other white wines in a blind tasting and shocked not only the panel and those in attendance but the entire world, cementing California as a winemaking region demanding respect. Funny enough, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars also in Napa Valley won for the red wines with their 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon.

I reviewed the 2011 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon in my first ever blog post here if you would like to read tasting notes for a red offering in their portfolio. Further, if you’d like to learn more independently about Chateau Montelena’s winemaking process check out the website here. If you’d like something a bit more “fun” to learn about Chateau Montelena, watch the movie Bottle Shock starring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Chris Pine.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 13.6% ABV

The 2009 Chardonnay is a beautiful deep gold in color while being fully transparent. On the nose, this showcases aromas of green apple, stone fruit, golden pear, white lily florals, lemon citrus, cream, honey, refreshing minerality, dried straw, and a hint of toast. Once in the mouth, this beauty displays notes of dried apricot, white peach, pear, lemon zest, dry gravel, grass, light caramel, white pepper, and shaved hazelnut. This is drinking incredibly well right now while being full-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity and a fully rounded finish that lingers with you for quite some time.

Price: $80 direct from winery after visiting last September. Montelena Chardonnay is always one of my favorites, and you can typically find current release vintages in the $55 price range at a wide range of stores. You must try this wine of historic origin at least once. Pair this with shellfish, a lobster roll, roasted chicken, or assorted cheeses.