Friday, June 28, 2013

Oakville Ranch Vineyards

Oakville Ranch is an amazing winery.  The wines are phenomenal.  The views are spectacular.  The hospitality is superb.  They are also extremely eco friendly. Great place.  Much thanks to Shelia for hosting us during this wonderful experience!  You will need an advance appointment.

View over Napa Valley

Oakville Ranch Vineyards is on the eastern side of the Oakville Appellation in Napa Valley, situated near the top of the Vaca Mountain range at about 1400 feet above the valley floor.  This magical Shangri-la like winery and vineyard is surrounded by red volcanic soil with many large rocks and a rugged, inhospitable landscape that makes you appreciate the imagination of anybody who would establish a winery here.  The weather is hot, getting the full brunt of the afternoon sun that is much gentler on western portion of the Oakville AVA.  A long abandoned stagecoach trail winds through the nearby terrain heading from Napa Valley to Sacramento. Building and maintaining a winery here is obviously difficult and expensive and only a hand full of other small, exclusive wineries such as Dalla Valle are located nearby on the drive up.  The narrow winding road seems to take forever to go up the mountain, but when you arrive you can see that the Silverado Trail down below is not so far away.  The expansive view of Napa Valley is amazingly beautiful.

View toward Napa Valley

Bob and Mary Miner purchased the 350 acre property back in 1989 and planted 55 acres of vineyard.  Bob, who died in 1994, was a cofounder of Oracle. Mary Miner continues to own the winery and is very active in managing it.  She recently hired Shelia Gentry, formerly of Harlan Estate, as their new Sales and Marketing Manager.  Shelia was our charming, knowledgeable host for the visit.  Her enthusiasm for the winery was infectious.

View toward Napa Valley

There are now 75 acres of planted vineyard.  It is certified organically farmed and biodynamic methods are also followed. Solar power provides 100% of the electricity and 1% of the net revenues of the ranch are donated to the Napa Valley Land Trust for conservation efforts and preservation of wilderness land.  Cover crops encourage beneficial insects while raptor roosts and owl nesting boxes encourage natural gopher control.  Special water-seeking rootstock are used in the vineyards to help with erosion control and to minimize the need for irrigation. The main historical house, a five bedroom guest house, a small swimming pool, a tennis court and some interesting sculptures, including one by Henry Moore, are nestled together in a small green oasis on the 350 acre property that is still mostly natural, undeveloped land.

Some of the undeveloped area.
Note red soil.

The red soil in this small, eastern section of Oakville is famous.  Millions of years ago there was a massive collapse of the earth when hundreds of feet of iron rich debris tumbled down the mountain.  Eventually this eroded into clay loam, the strikingly red color coming from the oxidized or rusted iron.  Wine critic, Steve Heimoff, wrote an article about this soil for The Wine Enthusiast Magazine:  What’s So Special About East Oakville? Soil.

Henry Moore sculpture

Although all of the wines Oakville Ranch produces are from grapes grown on their own estate, about half of the grapes they grow are sold to other premium wineries, which have include some of the most famous and high end wineries in Napa Valley. Oakville Ranch grows low yield, high demand, crème de la crème grapes.  I was, therefore, surprised that the prices were relatively affordable, given such premium grapes.

Tasting patio

After an interesting and spectacular tour around the property on an electric all terrain vehicle, we sat down for a tasting that was accompanied by a cheese plate.  Usually the tastings are outside on the patio, but because of the unusually hot weather that day, we sat inside instead.  Oakville Ranch is not open to the public, but tasting appointments may be made.  The tasting fee is $50.


First up, after some glasses of water, was the Oakville Ranch 2011 Chardonnay at $50.  It was barrel aged for ten months in 100% French oak and 50 cases plus 10 cases of magnums were produced.  It was light gold in color with lovely green hues and a very nice aroma of white peaches and pears.  On the palate I got pear, melon, and lemon with great balance.  It had substantial body but was still crisp and clean.  The finish was long and very good with the addition of toast and some distinct and very pleasant honeysuckle.  An excellent Chardonnay.

Office and guest house

Next poured was the Oakville Ranch 2010 Field Blend at $55.  This is 32% Zinfandel, 32% Petite Verdot, 19% Primitivo and 17% Petite Sirah and it was barrel aged in French oak with 25% being new oak.  147 cases were produced.  After a light nose I got blackberry, black cherry and a little raspberry in a very fresh fruit presentation that comes together with decent structure, good acid and interesting tannins.  The finish was medium length.  This is an interesting, multi dimensional wine for one so pleasantly fruit forward and approachable.  I liked it a lot.

Patio behind main house

Third up was the Oakville Ranch 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon at $82.  It is 100% Cab and was aged for 21 months in French oak with 80% of that being new oak.  516 cases plus 15 cases of magnums were produced.  A lovely red-purple with rose hues, it had a good aroma of cherry and toast.  On the palate I got cherry, black currant, and plum with some baking spices, beautifully balanced, very smooth and interlaced with great tannins that were chalky and subtle. Finish was medium length.  This is a really outstanding Cabernet that fascinates and delights.  It seemed more complex and interesting than it should be for one still being so youthful.  It is quite drinkable now.  Exceptional.

View toward valley

I must confess that after tasting the Cabernet Sauvignon I expected it to be the outstanding wine of the tasting and was caught off guard by the final pour which was the Oakville Ranch 2009 Robert's Blend at $98.  I am quite fond of Cabernet Francs but have encountered very few of them that can stand alone.  I don't mind some herbaceousness in a Cab Franc but dislike that green, vegetative, unripe characteristic that many of them have.  This one is 97% Cabernet Franc with 3% Cabernet Sauvignon added.  It was aged for 22 months in French oak with 75% of this being new oak.  240 6-pack cases were produced.  Let me start out by saying that this is a phenomenal Cabernet Franc, one of the finest I have ever tasted.  In the glass it is deep purple with pinkish highlights around the edges.  It has a very good nose of black cherry, toasted oak and forest floor.  On the palate it is incredibly intense, lush and sumptuous without being overwhelming.  The balance is perfect.  It is hard to know where to begin describing this wine.  Fruit wise I got black cherry with blueberry and black currant.  But it has all sorts of lovely undercurrents of flavors with good lively acid and great tannins.  It seems like there is so much going on that it shouldn't all be able to come together so well, but it does.  If that isn't enough, it has a long to-die-for finish.  It is an amazing wine and I would have to sit down and spend a lot of time with it to do it justice in any description. This is the ultimate Cabernet Franc that does true justice to the varietal, bringing out all of the best.  No wonder they have named this wine after Robert Miner.  What a wonderful tribute. 

View overlooking the valley

7781 Silverado Trail
Napa CA 94558
Phone: 707-944-9665
Date of visit: June 28, 2013

View near pool

Pool view over Napa Valley
Zen garden
Mushroom garden
Zen garden
Zen garden

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