Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Storybook Mountain Vineyards

Storybook Mountain Vineyards (Seps Estate) is famous for its premium Zinfandels. Located north of Calistoga in Napa County just a few miles south of Sonoma County, it is the northern most winery in Napa Valley and is on an eastern slope of the Mayacamas Range that separates Napa from Sonoma Valley, giving the hillside vineyard an eastern exposure which allows for plenty of sun for ripening but helps to prevent direct exposure to hot summer afternoon sunlight.  Ocean breezes come in from Russian River, cooling the summer heat and making the temperature about ten degrees cooler than in the valley below.  They also have about twice the rainfall that is received in the south end of Napa Valley, but are less apt to receive rain during the fall harvest.  Andre Tchelistcheff advised them to plant Zinfandel, saying that the red clay soils above Calistoga were ideal for that varietal.
Storybook Mountain entry gate
The winery's  history dates back to the 1883 when it was founded by the Grim Brothers who came from a German family that has been producing wine in German continuously since 1540.  It was called Grimm Vineyards and Wine Vaults back then, and the Grimm brothers were responsible in 1889 for digging the first two of three wine caves on the property.  The tasting room is located in the wine caves where the humid temperature remains between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit year long where there are also about 400 French, American and Hungarian oak barrels.  Current production is about 5,000 cases a year.  The vineyard is organically farmed.
Entry to wine caves

During Prohibition, the winery produced "sacramental and medicinal" wines, after which it was abandoned until 1976 when Jerry and Sigrid Sepps purchased the ghost winery and ninety acres (now 120) which they replanted primarily with Zinfandel.  By 1983 Storybook Mountain Vineyards produced its first Zinfandels and began winning awards.  In 1989 their 1984 Zinfandel became the highest rated Zinfandel in history and in 1990 Jerry Seps, along with some friends, founded Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) and Jerry served five years as its president.  Storybook Mountain continues to receive stellar reviews and awards, some of which are listed here:  Awards

Wine cave

Our first sample was the Storybook Mountain Vineyards 2009 Napa Estate, Mayacamas Range Zinfandel at $36.  This had a soft cherry nose with hints of minerality and cedar.  On the palate it was very fresh, balanced, soft, smooth, relatively dry and fairly straight forward, with very good varietal characteristics.  After mostly cherry with some minerality or crushed rock, I got a rather short but pleasant finish. It is the antithesis of the big, jammy, high alcohol, overly ripe, raison oriented Zinfandels and was much more like the Chase Zins we tasted last week, Zins that are more subtle and have more varietal qualities.  There was some oak, but again it was subtle.  (It was given 30% new oak.) 
Cask from Germany

Next was the Storybook Mountain Vineyards 2009 Napa Estate, Antaeus (Zinfandel blend) at $40.  Antaeus was the son of Water and Earth in Greek mythology and the symbol of strength derived from the earth.  This is 51% Zinfandel, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot.  It had more aroma than the previous Zin and had lots of black cherry on the palate with some cassis, coco, oak, pepper and smoke with a medium length, but fairly complex and interesting, finish of chocolate, spice and cherry.  This came across somewhat like a Bordeaux blend with less of the Zin varietal than the Mayacamas.  I preferred it, though, because I found it had better structure and more complexity.  If you like more fresh fruit and Zin varietal characteristics, you might prefer the Mayacamas.

Old vines

Third up was the Seps Estate 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon at $65.  After a light nose, I got cherry with soft tannins, a medium body and a medium length finish.  It was a good Cab that avoided some of the excesses that often accompany other Napa Valley Cabs.
Tasting room

Our final tasting was the Storybook Mountain Vineyards 2011 Napa Valley Viognier at $35.  This had a great nose, although it was more of fresh fruit (pears) and minerals than the usual Viognier floral aroma.  On the palate it was dry and crisp for a Viognier, with more minerality than floral notes, mostly Japanese pear and white peach with a touch of vanilla and cream. It was also more intense than most Viogniers. Nothing insipid or pale here, but very well balanced.  It had a good, fairly long finish.  I really liked it.  It was great alone but has the structure to stand up to pairing with poultry or other food.  Along with the Antaeus, it was my favorite wine of the day.  (Storybook is especially noted for its reserve Zinfandels, but we did not taste any.)
Tasting room

If you love premium Zinfandels that maintain great varietal characteristics and are not excessive or over the top, or if you want to try a different but delicious Viognier, and you would like to visit some wine caves in a beautiful area while being hosted by friendly, informative staff, then you will want to visit Storybook Mountain Vineyards.  It is a very quiet and off the tourist trail.  An appointment is required but may easily be made.  We really enjoyed our visit and think you will too.

3835 California 128  
Calistoga, CA 94515
(707) 942-5282
Date of visit: March 27, 2013

Close up of German cask

Entry gate

Entry sign

Storage containers

Parking lot

Black mold on wine cave ceiling

Camelia on grounds

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