Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Barnett Vineyards

Barnett Vineyards makes some excellent wines and has incredible views.  Located in Spring Mountain District near St. Helena, Barnett is near the top of Spring Mountain Road, close to the county line with Sonoma.  A sign on Spring Mountain Road marks the exit to a winding road that continues another mile and a half or so to the vineyard.  There are 40 acres total with 14 of them cultivated.  Barnett Vineyard was purchased in 1983 and produced its first wines in 1989.  The elevation is 2,000 feet and some of the steep terraces have a grade of over 35%.  Total production is around 6,000 cases.  Their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are grown on Spring Mountain and the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are sourced from vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, Carneros, Russian River, Anderson Valley, etc.  Barnet is very well known for their Rattlesnake Hill Cabernet Sauvignon and their Merlot.  Reservations are required.

Wooded drive to Barnett

Gate to Barnett winery

Tastings are held outside at tables just in front of the entry to the wine cave next to a spectacular view.  Our tasting began with the Barnett 2011 Andrews Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Dry Creek Valley.  At $28, it is a good SB with some lime and kiwi on the nose and more melon and apple on the palate.  It has some bright acid typical of Sauvignon Blancs but is very well balanced.  We moved next to the Barnett 2010 Savoy Vineyard Chardonnay ($42) from Anderson Valley.  We were told that this one has 60% malolactic conversion and 20% French oak and I thought it might be a butter bomb with too much MLF, but it was not.  The fruit is so intense that had it not undergone MLF, it would not be balanced.  The aroma was good. On the palate, it was well-balanced, more green apple and lemon with some richness but mostly intense fruit.  I liked it and Bill liked it even more.

Outdoor tasting in front of wine cave

The Barnett 2010 Donnelly Creek Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley at $42 was next. This is a lighter style Pinot, rather delicate and fresh, but very well done with some minerality and a touch of blueberry on the palate. It is a wine to drink now and not cellar.   I usually do not like lighter style American Pinots because they are too simple and one-dimensional, almost like Beaujolais Nouveaus.  This one, however, is very well done, interesting with complexity.  It led to my asking who the winemaker was.  I learned it was David Tate who was trained at the great winery Ridge.  After tasting the Barnett 2010 Savoy Vineyard Pinot Noir ($55) from Anderson Valley, I knew David Tate had an affinity for Pinot Noir and that Anderson Valley was due for a visit by us.  With a nice nose, medium plus body, ripe black cherry-like fruit, good acidity, integrated tannins and a great balance, this PN is one of the finest I’ve tasted from a Napa Valley winery.  Obviously, some great fruit was put into the care of a wine maker who knew what to do with it.  Our kudos to David Tate, the winemaker.  This will definitely make the list of one of our favorite Pinot Noirs!  Our final bottle sample was the Barnett 2009 Merlot from Spring Mountain ($55).  It had 11% Cabernet Franc added and was very nice indeed and much more interesting that many Merlots.  It was every bit as good as the Savoy PN and is one of the finest Napa Valley Merlots.  We thought that would be the end of our tastings, but we were invited into the wine cave for a barrel sampling of the well known and difficult to obtain Barnett Rattlesnake Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was the 2009 still in a barrel.  Once it is bottled, a few people will be able to purchase some for $140 a bottle.  This Cab has a reputation of being a spectacular, huge, mountain cab and I was expecting a young, unbalanced, tannic, difficult to appreciate Cab that needed many years of aging.  Instead, I got this lush, concentrated, intense but interesting Cab with good acid and tannins and all sorts of subtle earth, spice and berry tones.  It has not even been bottled, but is very drinkable.  Barnett also makes a Spring Mountain Cab and a Cyrus Ryan Cab which we were not able to taste but I suspect are very good.

Just outside tasting area
Inside new wine cave

If you don’t have the opportunity to visit this lovely winery, you might still be able to locate some of their wines.  You will probably not be able to find the Rattlesnake Hill Cab and you might not want to spend the $140 (even though it really is worth the price), but you might be able to locate and will certainly want to purchase some Merlot and the Savoy PN.  BTW, they also have very reasonably priced library wines, including a Barnett 2000 Merlot for only $45.  (We were informed that this is 100% Merlot, but it tasted a week later it seemed more like a Merlot that  has some Cabernet Sauvignon in it, with its good tannin and bass notes. I’m not, of course, questioning the information we were given. It just tasted more like a right bank Bordeaux than a 100% Napa Merlot, and that is meant as a compliment. Light cherry on the nose with excellent balance of red cherry, good acid and very well integrated tannins, this is a very nice Merlot.) The library wine list is on a counter at the end of the cave. It is well worth checking out but difficult to read with the dim lighting. Be sure to check it carefully because you might find an older Cab or Merlot at a great price.  The 2010 Savoy Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley, 2009 Spring Mountain Merlot and 2009 Rattlesnake Cabernet Sauvignon will be placed on our favorite wine list when it is updated.

Can you imagine what this looks like on a really clear day,
in the morning mist or when the sun is setting?

4070 Spring Mountain Rd
Saint Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-7075
Date of visit: July 3, 2012


  1. We love high elevation, mountain Cab. We love Spring Mountain, specifically. And we are enormously fond of the Anderson Valley and its Pinots. Couldn't have found a better post through which to become acquainted with your blog. Great tasting notes! Nick from WineSpeak USA steered us here with his very gracious post on fellow bloggers. We'll be back!

    Lucy and Kip (aka The Thirsty Kitten)

  2. Thank you for your encouraging words. You might want to check out the other Spring Mountain wineries we visited: Behrens, Juslyn, Marston, Paloma, Pride, Robert Keenan,Schweiger, Smith-Madrone, Spring Mountain, Stony Hill and Terra Valentine. Our next one will be Cain. Many wines from Spring Mountain are on our favorite wine list or will be added to the next update of it: http://bachtobacchus.blogspot.com/2012/04/favorite-napa-valley-wines_29.html
    Best wishes, TJ

  3. I would love to visit! Thanks for sharing these lovely pictures!

  4. Thanks for your comment. Many people visit Napa Valley and only stay on the valley floor. There are great wineries and incredible views in the hills and mountains above Napa. Spring Mountain is a special place, but we have not done Howell Mountain or Mt. Veeder yet. Chappellet, in the hills on the other side of the valley is gorgeous as are many other wonderful wineries out that way which we will get to. It is one type of experience to visit the large valley floor wineries, and I certainly recommend them. But small, appointment only mountain wineries have a intimate uniqueness and a special terroir that provide a completely different experience. Spring Mountain is probably our favorite Napa Valley District or AVA because of the consistently high quality of the wines and the old fashioned friedliness and charm that reminds us of Napa Valley back in the 1970s before it became so famous and popular. I first began visiting these wineries in 1973 and remember them well. If you really want to step into the past try Smith-Madrone. But every Spring Mountain winery we have visited has been exceptional and each is unique. Somebody needs to write a book about Spring Mountain wineries and vineyards, with plenty of photos and all sorts of interesting stories about the people and history.

  5. Replies
    1. Thanks. It is easy to write about exceptional wineries because they inspire so much enthusiasm.


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