Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Burgess Cellars

Burgess Cellars is a wonderful winery that was purchased by Tom Burgess in 1972 and offered their first production the same year, making it one of the oldest family owned wineries in Napa Valley.  The Burgess family obviously values tradition.  Their winemaker, Bill Sorenson, has been with them since they were founded and our excellent wine host, JacqueLynn, raved about what a great place it is to work and how wonderful the owners are. This is not a large, corporate winery owned by some international business.  It is an older, small, family owned winery that values tradition, consideration of others, careful tending of the land and love of wine.  Unusual among smaller wineries, tradition is also honored by Burgess Cellars by having a rather unique wine library  collection, where their older wines, mostly aged Cabs, are sold at reasonable prices.

Entry to Burgess Cellars tasting room

I must confess I do not understand the logic of Napa wine districts.  Burgess is located on Howell Mountain on the road to Angwin, about half way there from the Silverado Trail on Deer Park Road just East of St. Helena.  I have driven by there many times, but this is the first time I have visited.   Two of the three small vineyard owned by Burgess are on Howell Mountain.  Yet the winery is not in the Howell Mountain District or AVA so they can't be labeled as such.  They have been growing grapes there since the 1880s and Burgess is one of the older Napa Valley wineries.  I can't imagine how they were not included in the Howell Mountain District.  They have one vineyard in Yountville in the Oak Knoll District and two on Howell mountain, one on the western slope and the other on the eastern slope.  They produce only hand crafted red wines and emphasize "terroir" in their wines. 

Tasting bar

Burgess Cellars has a lovely view above Bell Canyon Reservoir.  The tasting room was built in the 1960s when Souverain owned the winery.  All of the wine they produce is from their own vineyards, the two on Howell Mountain being at about 800 to 1,000 feet with a 10 to 15 degree warmer summer temperature than the valley floor.  With that temperature advantage their wines ripen earlier and often miss the fall rain.

View from Burgess Cellars

Before I proceed with our tasting notes, let me mention some of the wines available at Burgess Cellars and the prices, which are unusually reasonable for Napa Valley wines, especially ones of this high quality. The 2009 Grenache is $24, 2008 Merlot $28, 2008 Syrah $28, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon $38, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon  $40, 2006 Cab $42, 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon $68 and library Cabs available back to 1979 at a various prices.  Their total production is about 15,000 cases per year.

Another view from Burgess Cellars

The Burgess 2008 Syrah has 12% Grenache added.  It had a lovely aroma of plums with pleasantly brambly blackberry on the palate and good mouth feel plus a decent finish. It saw 40% French oak and 60% American oak. The Burgess 2008 Merlot is 100% Merlot and was exceptionally nice for the price.  This is not one of those bland Merlots that give the varietal a bad name.  No wonder it has received numerous awards.  It has structure and character along with lovely Merlot black cherry fruit plus a good finish.  This is a Merlot for those who like a fuller bodied and more interesting Merlot with supple tannins. The Burgess 2009 Grenache is also exceptionally good for the price.  It benefits from the addition of some Syrah skins and had a very nice aroma of red fruit with some pepper.  Although it is typically light bodied, it seemed to have more structure and body than most Grenaches; in other words, it was more complex and interesting.  Those who like an easy drinking red will relish this Grenache, but those who like reds with a bit more character and substance should also like it.  It is probably the most pleasant and interesting Napa Valley Grenache I have encountered. The Burgess 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 4% Petite Verdot and 4% Malbec) had a light nose with a full body of mostly red cherry with some spice, very well integrated tannins and a good finish. It sees French and American oak. Tannins are very well integrated. A very good Napa Cab for only $38. 

If you want to experience the difference between aroma and bouquet in a wine, you may do so in the Burgess 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon. Bouquet is what is acquired by a wine through aging or cellaring.  This Cab has a remarkable bouquet that is very complex and interesting and could perhaps be described as earthy and smokey (forest floor and cigar box), although that does not do it justice.  The French appreciate aged red Bordeauxs and, apparently, so does the Burgess family.  BTW please don't stereotype Burgess Cellars simply because they are a mountain winery.  As with most mountain wineries there is an emphasis on terroir or very interesting characteristics unique to the vineyard.  But Burgess does not produce big, bold, tannic mountain wines but rather wines that are more French in style, somewhat lighter but nuanced and complex.  Last of our tasting was a special offering of their Burgess 2007 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was a knockout wine that had wonderful fruit, great balance and a fuller body with very good substance and mouth feel.  It was lush on the palate with dark cherry and some chocolate with a long finish. It is well worth the $80 and was a real standout. 

Greeting sign

We purchase over a case of Burgess Cellar wines.  Both of us thought they were exceptionally good and excellent buys.   JacqueLynn was kind enough to allow me to purchase a bottle of their Burgess 2009 Petite Sirah ($28) when I told her how much I loved the varietal.  It sells out quickly and is in very short supply.  I was able to savor this later and really liked it.  This was the first lighter styled Petite Sirah I have ever liked.  Most PS are big and bold with plenty of tannin, spice and substance.  I've found lighter ones to be unbalanced with too much sweetness or fruitiness at the expensive the varietal characteristics.  This one was lighter for a PS but still a substantial wine with the spice and varietal characteristics all intact.  When I was drinking it I thought that this was probably how the French would make a Petite Sirah if they grew the varietal.  If you think of a big, tannic Napa Cab compared to a lighter styled red Bordeaux that reaches for more elegance than power, you will have some idea.  It is still very much a Petite Sirah but not as intense or overbearing as some. I got some raspberry on the nose. Brighter and lighter than most PS but not at all thin or lacking in body or tannin.   Some cherry and caramel with a good finish.  Proof that a PS does not have to come charging out of the bottle like an enraged bull in order to remain true to the varietal characteristics. I highly recommend the Burgess Cellars Petite Sirah if you can find some.  Probably the best way to be able to purchase some is to join the Burgess Cellars wine club which is remarkably inexpensive.  You only have to buy two bottles, three times a year, at a cost of between $55 and $80 per shipment plus shipping and tax, if applicable. In addition to 20% off, you will have priority access to their smaller production wines.

If you love unique, high quality red wines that are very reasonably priced, you will want to visit Burgess Cellars or track down some of their wines.  We really liked their entire line up of wines and highly recommend them.

1108 Deer Park Rd.
Deer Park, CA 94579
Date of visit: November 20, 2012

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