Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hill Family Estate Wines Revisited

Hill Family Estate Wines is a very friendly, family owned and operated winery located in downtown Yountville where you can find some outstanding premium Napa Valley wines at prices that are less than what comparable quality wines usually sell for elsewhere. That is why we are members of their wine club.  Their wines start out as little as $22 for their very nice Sauvignon Blanc ($17.60 if you are a wine club member.) Nine of the twelve wines on their list are $50 or less.  Some of the finest grapes grown in Napa Valley are used in their wines and Hill Family sells most of these wonderful grapes to other high quality wineries.  Please see my previous 2011 review of Hill Family Estate for more accolades:  Hill Family Estate Wines Review


Hill Family tasting bar

After over 23 years of growing grapes for some of Napa Valley's finest wineries, the Hill Family began producing their own wine in 2001.  Their first release was a Merlot blend called "Origin", a blend that changes from year to year and continues to be offered.  Total production is about 14,000 cases per year, the actual crushing being done by them at the Laird Family Estate. The winery and vineyards are family owned, and the family members are fifth generation farmers and local Yountville residents.  (Douglas, Darci, Ryan and Carly Hill.) Hill Family grows most of its grapes on fifteen different vineyard locations in Napa Valley. Doug Hill is manager of over 600 acres of vineyard located in Los Carneros, Oak Knoll, and Atlas Peak. Most of their grapes are sold to other high quality Napa Valley wineries, but they keep most of the best for themselves. Please don't be put off by their downtown boutique looking tasting room where there is no vineyard or winemaking facility. This is a premium Napa Valley winery.

Hill Family tasting room area

Hill Family Estate's winemaker is the charming and amiable Alison Green-Doran, who has been a winemaker for over thirty years and was mentored by the famous winemaker Andre Tchellistcheff who is referred to as the "dean of American winemakers." Alison's father purchased Simi Winery in 1969 and hired Tchellistcheff, as a consultant.  After taking time off from college in 1973 to work as an intern with Andre for six months, Alison switched from studying animal science at UC Davis to completing a degree in winemaking there and then spent more time studying at vineyards in Alsace, France. Alison has been a winemaker since 1981 and has been with the Hill Family since their inaugural vintage of  2001. She was one of the first women winemakers in California, probably the fourth in its history, starting back when it was difficult to be taken seriously in this career if you were not a male.  Today many of the finest winemakers in the world are women!  Alison is now a consultant winemaker to six wineries and has her own label called Hoot Owl.

 
Hill Family lounge area

We visit the Hill Family Estate about every three months.  During the current  visit I decided to taste all of the regular "Tasting Today" wines, six of them in all.  This began with their regular Sauvignon Blanc. I have liked all of the Sauvignon Blancs I've tasted at  Hill which have included the 2010, 2011, and 2012 vintages of both their regular Sauvignon Blanc and their "Tiara" Sauvignon Blanc.  The Tiara is a different clone and is dissimilar to most California Sauvignon Blancs with its floral and white peach nose and peach and honeysuckle on the palate.  The regular SB is drier and more citrus like, more typical of California SBs. The Hill Family 2012 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc retails for $22.  It is 100% Sauvignon Blanc.  70% of it was aged in stainless steel and 30% in neutral oak and 1,437 cases were produced.  It had a very nice aroma of honeysuckle and melon.  On the palate I got mostly lime, white peach and melon.  It was dry and very well balanced with good acid and a moderate plus finish.  This is a very nice SB for the price.


Hill Family tasting room area

The second pour was the Hill Family 2012 Rose of Pinot Noir at $26.  This is 97% Pinot Noir, 2% Malbec and 1% Chardonnay and is from Carneros grapes.  Only 260 cases were produced.  This was a lovely light pink in color with a light but refreshing nose of melon and lilac.  On the palate I got mostly lemon and melon with a dry crisp presentation and a very clean finish.  Those who like dry roses should find this very appealing.


Hill Family tasting table


The Hill Family 2012 Reserve Chardonnay at $65 followed.  This is 100% Chardonnay, the grapes coming from two different vineyards in American Canyon.  60% of it saw new French oak for ten months and 483 cases were produced.  It was allowed partial malolactic conversion to soften the acidity.  This Chard had a great nose of apple, lemon and floral notes.  On the palate I got mostly apple with some buttered toast and a  concentrated but well balanced presentation with a medium plus finish. It is great on its own but will pair really well with a wide variety of food.  This is the finest Hill Family Chardonnay I have tasted and is highly recommended.  Alison must have used one of the bats in the corner of the photo below to hit a home run with this Chard.  

Another Hill Family tasting table

Fourth up was the Hill Family 2011 Clarke Vineyard Syrah at $40.  It is 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier.  40% of it saw 9 months in new French and American oak with the rest in neutral oak.  475 cases were produced.  It was deep purple in color with a good nose of cherry and spices.  On the palate I got mostly cherry with some spice, smooth, very well balanced and not at all over the top with fruit.  Too many Syrahs these days are fruit bombs, not so much fruit forward but fruit in the face.  This one is very tastefully done and allows for some spice, vanilla and varietal characteristics to come through without being overwhelmed by the fruit.  It also has a good medium plus finish.  Very nicely done.

Early Christmas decorations

The Hill Family 2010 Origin at $45 was next.  This blend changes from year to year and has not always been my favorite, sometimes being too fruit forward for me.  The 2010 is 57% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 9% Malbec and 9% Syrah.  It saw 16 months in French oak and 928 cases were produced.  This one had a very nice aroma of plum and vanilla.  On the palate it was ripe with black plum, black cherry and some chocolate all in a smooth, rich package with a medium to long finish.  A very appealing blend that is well worth trying, especially as it matures.

Hill Family gift shop
Our final pour was the Hill Family 2010 The Messenger at $48.  This is mostly a Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah blend, a blend that is found mostly in French Provence.  In this case it is 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Merlot, 2% Malbec and 1% Viognier.  It was aged for 16 months in French oak with 50% of this new oak.  A mere 197 cases were produced.  I've not always been fond of Cab and Syrah blends.  Ideally they should complement each other but too often to me they seem at odds with each other.  This one is an exception, and I quite liked it as did my friend.  It was a deep purple in color with a really nice nose of cherry, chocolate, vanilla and baking spices.  On the palate it was full bodied with cherry and spice along with a clean medium length finish.  Alison somehow managed to get it all to come together in a very interesting way.  Both of us liked this best of the red wines we sampled at Hill Family this time.
 
Although we did not taste any of the Cabs this time, we have had many of them in the past and highly recommend them, especially the 2007 and 2008 Napa Valley Cab and their 2007 Double Barrel Cab.  I did not like the 2009 regular Cab quite as well as the 07 and 08 and don't recall tasting their current 2010 release which sells for $50. ($40 to club members.) I have not tasted their 2010 Sacrashe Cab ($120).  In general you can't go wrong with a Hill Family Cab.

If you are serious about premium wine, especially Cabs and Sauvignon Blancs, (and now I have to add the 2012 Reserve Chardonnay!) then you should check out Hill Family Estates next time you are near Yountville.  If you are unable to visit, we recommend you purchase some of their wines to try at home or to take with you to a nice restaurant.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.  Much thanks to Jeff for being our friendly and informative host.

6512 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
Phone:  707-944-9580
Date of this visit: November 6, 2013

The Hill Family Estate tasting room is located in downtown Yountville and not at a vineyard.  Tastings are available without an appointment. They are easy to locate and there is usually ample parking on nearby streets.  Most of the tasting is done at the tasting bar but there are tables, sofas and lounge areas for special events, such as their many wine club get togethers, or by prior appointment. Please check the Hill Family Estate website or call them for the most up to date information, including the minimum purchase for a waiver of the tasting fee.  As of November 6, 2013, their website listed the following:
"Our salon-styled tasting room offers a setting, amid eclectic d├ęcor such as a Fender electric guitar, antique furniture, a surfboard, and baseball bats stained with Hill Harvest Red wine. It’s elegant and quite polished (this is Yountville after all) but still kicked-back, with relaxed staff who can impress sophisticated foodies as well as rowdy imbibers. Our tasting room is open daily from 10am to 6pm (except on major holidays). We offer bar tastings (no appointment necessary) for $20.00/guest, and table tastings paired with prosciutto, cheese and a baguette for $35.00/guest.  To schedule a table tasting paired with food, please call 707-944-9580."


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