Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Neal Family Vineyards

Neal Family Vineyards is located just outside the town of Angwin on Howell Mountain.  The Neal family has been engaged in vineyard management since 1968 and began producing wines under their own label in 1997.  The current winery and estate was built in 2001 and includes a house where  Mark Neal and his family currently live. They continue to farm over 1,000 acres of vineyards and are the third oldest vineyard management company in Napa County

Wine cave entrance

They have been using organic gardening practices since 1984 and were certified in 2009 by the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF.) Only natural yeasts are used in fermentation.  All of their wines are produced using free run juices, with the remaining pressed juice sold on the market.  They are so committed to quality wine that in 2000 when the grapes were determined not to be of sufficient quality, they decided to produce no vintage for that year.  During most years their production is less than 1,000 cases.

Koi pond

Tastings and tours are by appointment only and, although, there is no charge for this, they do ask for a $25 refundable deposit for each person.  Your credit card is not charged if you appear for your appointment.  This only makes sense when you consider that they are such a small winery and that Gove Celio, the Director of Winemaking, or Mark Neal, the owner, are the two who usually conduct the tours and tastings.  Because it was a weekday and not the weekend, Gove assisted us although we were introduced to Mark.

Tasting bar with Bill and Cove
We recently had a bottle of  Neal Family Vineyards 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon during dinner at the restaurant called Press after it was recommended by the waiter.  The wine was excellent, lush and smooth, with black currants, blackberries and toast. Very reasonably priced, even with the restaurant mark up.  We decided that evening that we would visit the winery.


Our fist wine to taste was the Neal Family Vineyards 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc at only $18 a bottle. This is 100% Sauvignon Blanc from Pope Valley and saw no oak or malolatic conversion. 992 cases were produced.  It was Sur Lie aged for four or months in stainless steel.  It had a pale straw color with light lemon and melon on the nose.  On the palate I got rich white peach and distinct pineapple with a medium length, smooth, very pleasant finish.  It is very well balanced and leaned more toward the New Zealand style, emphasizing refreshing fruit over herbaceousness or bright acid.  Unlike some New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, this one was not overly fruity, but remained dry and very refreshing with good but very well balanced acid.  The presentation was somewhat simple but very pleasant, making this is a real bargain at the price.  If you often do not like California Sauvignon Blancs, you might want to try this one.  No bell pepper or tartness here.  It is very enjoyable to drink by itself although it would pair well with seafood.  After tasting this, I regretted that Neal Family doesn't make a Chardonnay.  Highly recommended, especially at this price.  We purchased a bottle.

Wine cave

Second was the Neal Family 2011 Rutherford Dust Vineyards Zinfandel at $24.  This has 4% Petite Syrah added for color and depth, and these two varietals were co-fermented.  40% of it saw 13 months on Hungarian oak.  About 1400 cases were produced.  It is a lovely medium purple in color with an even lovelier red cherry aroma. I got mostly cherry and strawberry on the palate with great pepper and spice.  Tannins are finely laced. The finish was long with  some spiciness and soft chewy tannins that gave it a dusty quality.  This Zin was not too high in alcohol or too jammy as are many Zins these days and it had layers of interesting complex flavors to it.  I later opened a bottle of this and shared it with three others. Two of them drink mostly Pinot Noir and rarely like Zins but loved this one.  I knew it was an excellent Zin when I tasted it at the winery, but it really blossomed at home.  Excellent balance and structure was evident at the winery but only later was I able to appreciate the complexity of this wine.  I can hardly believe that a Zinfandel this well balanced, interesting and complex is only $24.  I tasted about 80 premium Zins at ZAP this year and this one would have been among my top picks if it had been there. I'm rating it 92 points.  An outstanding Zinfandel.  I wish I had purchased more than I did.


Our third tasting was the Neal Family Vineyards 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet at $48.  This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and 81% saw 23 months on new French oak.  It is wonderfully appealing to the eye with its deep, intense, dark purple color.  You will certainly want to hold this one up to the light and over a white background to admire it.  The aroma was fantastic, mostly black cherry with sweet oak.  I got rich, lush black cherry, black currants and some black plum with sweet oak on the palate along with well integrated tannins, great structure and a good finish with some spice.  This is very drinkable now but should age well.  Very reasonably priced for the quality, this is easy to recommend and we do so highly.  We purchased several bottles.

Wine cave troll

Next was the Neal Family Vineyards 2005 Second Chance Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon at $75.  This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and all of it saw 26 months in new French oak. Only 227 cases were produced. I thought the previous Cab was appealing to the eye, but this 2005 was even more  amazing with its deep black, inky purple color.  This is one of the darkest Cabernets I've ever encountered.  After a pleasant black cherry nose, I got intense, ripe, sumptuous black cherry, with some oak and mocha, followed by a medium length dusty mocha and cherry finish and soft tannins that coated the mouth.  This leans toward the ripe, extracted, wines that certain wine critics seem to like, but it has not been overdone so that you get interesting layers of flavor.  We liked it even better than the previous Cab but then it sells for $75 instead of $48.  I'd love to open both bottles side by side and spend some time getting to know these two Cabs.  Highly recommended.


Last but not least was the Neal Family Vineyards 2004 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($65)  100% Cabernet.  80% of it aged in new French oak.  Good nose of mocha, chocolate and cherry with a dark intense black cherry, black currant and mocha on the palate.  Smooth with softly integrated tannins and a medium length finish.  Another winning Cab.  We purchased several bottles.

Antique wine tools

Although Neal Family Vineyards is well known for making excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, they also produce an outstanding Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc, both of which are extremely reasonably priced for the quality.  You will feel right at home when you visit this small, friendly family winery, something we highly recommend that you do.

Entry sign

Neal Family Vineyards
716 Liparita Rd.
Angwin, CA 94508
Phone: 707-965-2800
Date of visit: May 22, 2013

Poppy garden
Bottling room

Window view from tasting room
Antique bottle corker

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