Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Chase Family Cellars

Home of great Zinfandels, Chase Family Cellars is a small family run winery on Sulphur Springs Road off Highway 29 just South of St. Helena.  They do not even have a winery sign, merely an address sign.  It is an informal, down to earth winery where a visit requires an appointment, which can easily be made.  It is owned by Katie Simpson and Mike Simpson who are great great grandchildren of the vineyard founder, Sarah Esther Chase Bourn, who purchased the property in 1872 and whose son built the Greystone building in 1888 where the Culinary Institute is housed.  Chase has only two employees, the winemaker, Joel Aiken, and the hospitality/sales representative, Rebecca Martin.  We were able to meet one of the owners, Katie, briefly and extend our thanks to Rebecca for a very courteous and well informed hosting.  Staff

Rebecca at the tasting bar

Hayne Vineyard (now Chase Family Cellars) grapes were purchased by Charles Krug for many years.  In 1998 the first of S.E. Chase Family Cellars Zinfandel was produced from the Hayne vineyard. These Zinfandel vines, now over a hundred years old, are all head pruned and dry farmed.  It is a lovely site, these ancient black trunks standing in the field with no wires or trellises to mar the view.  It would be a picture postcard scene if there was yellow mustard planted to contrast with the dark old vines.  There are very few old, head pruned vineyards left in Napa Valley. Chase has a total of 45 acres, all planted with Zinfandel, but they also sources grapes for other varietals so they can produce a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.  The new release of the Sauvignon Blanc had not yet been released and the Petite Sirah was nearly sold out, so neither were available for tasting, although I was able to purchase a bottle of Petite Sirah.  Total production for Chase is a mere 1800 cases.

Chase entry way

We opted to skip the white Zinfandel and started out with the Chase Cellars Hayne Vineyard 2008 Zinfandel ($45).  It was light ruby in color with a nice nose.  I got some pronounced raspberry on the palate with good tannins and a medium length finish.  This is a fairly dry Zinfandel with good structure, not at all fruit forward or lacking in acid.  It is easy to ruin a Zin with not enough acid (flabby), too much ripe fruit (fruit bomb with too much sweetness), too much alcohol (Lodi) or too much oak.  A Zin cannot handle the oak that a Cab or Petite Sirah can.  The first thing I look for in a Zin is balance.  Then I look at the quality of the fruit, the spice, the tannins, the nose and finish, etc.  What I like about this, and the other Chase Zins, is that it is honest to the varietal, very well balanced and, although it has good fruit, it is still fairly dry.  They have more finesse than rusticity.

Chase tasting room

Next up was the Chase Cellars Hayne Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel ($49).  I liked this somewhat better than the 2008.  I got some raspberry and forest floor on the nose and more raspberry with red plum and soft tannins on the palate.  The finish was longer than the 2008.  Although this is a lighter style Zin and fruitier than the 2008, it still has good structure and some complexity.

Hayne Vineyard Zinfandels

My favorite of the wines we tasted, however, was the Chase Cellars Hayne Vineyard 2009 Reserve Zinfandel ($75) which comes from the finest grapes from the old vines.  It had a better nose than the other two Zins, with a smooth, lush body of cherry and chocolate on the palate, along with pleasantly integrated tannins.  The finish was especially long and satisfying.  An excellent Zinfandel!

Chase patio

Our last offering was the Chase Cellars 2009 Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon ($65).  This was made from grapes sourced from Sam Brannan Vineyard Calistoga, using three different clones.  After a light nose, I got a medium to full bodied Cab with blackberries, black currants, and cedar along with good tannins and acid, all well balanced with a medium length finish.  This is more of a soft and graceful Cab than one of overwhelming power. It was a pleasant Cab but did not displace the Zin Reserve as my favorite of the wines we sampled.

Hayne Vineyard 100 plus year old Zinfandel vines

I was able to purchase and taste a bottle of the Chase Cellars 2009 Petite Sirah ($50) which was sourced from Barberis Vineyard in Calistoga.  Intensely dark black-purple in color, it had a light to medium nose with an intense, balanced, concentrated blackberry with some dark cherry, cedar and toast on the palate.  Tannins were firm, somewhat chalky and delightfully integrated.  I did not get much black pepper but the balance was perfect.  It had a moderate length smoky cherry finish. Definitely a superior Petite Sirah and highly recommended!

Storage tanks

What I especially like about Chase, in addition to the small, friendly, welcoming atmosphere, is that their wines are very true to the varietal and that they do not taste like everyone else's wine.  My two favorites, the Reserve Zin and PS, both are unique and different than what others are producing.  Balance is impeccable.  The winemaker has brought out the best in these high quality grapes.  If you like high quality Zinfandels and want something different from the wonderful Turley and Biale Zins, try some Chase Zins.  And don't forget their Petite Sirah.  Better yet, visit them and try them all.

Winery dog

Chase Family Cellars
2252 Sulphur Springs Avenue
St. Helena, CA 94574
Date of visit: March 20, 2013


  1. I enjoy your wonderful notes. I feel like I have tasted the wines with you.

    1. Thanks. I've been eating (and smelling) black currant (cassis) jam all week. The week before it was gooseberries so I would know what gooseberry referred to in Sauvignon Blancs. Prior to that it was a bottle of nutmeg. I try to take notes that are simple and not too esoteric or exotic


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