The Chimney Rock Winery was founded by Hack and Stella Wilson in the Stags Leap District. The Stags Leap District is a very distinctive sub-AVA of the Napa Valley. It is located 7 miles north of downtown Napa located along the Silverado Trail. It is the smallest in the valley as it is only a mile wide and three miles long, with only 1,350 acres of vineyards. The AVA is bordered by rocky hillsides on the east and the Napa River on the west. The district’s name is derived from the legend of a stag that purportedly escaped a hunter by making a leap from one of the towering rock outcroppings to another. Although viticulture in the area goes back to the 1880s, it wasn’t until Nathan Fay (1915-2001) of Fay Vineyards planted the region’s first Cabernets in 1961 that other growers and notable winemakers such as Warren Winiarski recognized and sought after its unique terroir.
In 1980 Hack and Stella purchased a 180 acre parcel that is ideal for growing premium Bordeaux varietals on the east side of the Silverado Trail. They then built their estate modeled after Cape Dutch-style architecture found on the Western Cape of South Africa which was developed by Dutch, Flemish, French, and German immigrants.
They then planted 59 acres of vineyards and produced their first vintage of estate wines in 1989. The land was then plagued with phylloxera so they replanted the vineyard with 40 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 acres of Merlot, 4 acres of Cabernet Franc, and 3 acres of Petit Verdot. These are all used to make their proprietary wine Elevage, a Bordeaux-style blend.
In 2000, the Terlato Wines family joined the Wilson family as partners in the winery. The Terlato Family Wine Group (TWG) is a leading marketer of premium and luxury wines in the United States, marketing more 10% of all bottles of wine over the $14 price range in the USA. The company represents more than 60 brands from the most renowned wine regions around the globe. I have had the pleasure of visiting several of them within California including Rutherford Hill in the Napa Valley as well as Sanford Winery in Santa Barbara.
Then in 2001 the remaining 60 acres of the land was planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon. The Chimney Rock estate now consists of 119 acres of vineyards divided into 28 distinct blocks, each of which is viticulturally managed according to the characteristics of each site. A few years later in 2004 the Terlato Family acquired the entire estate and became sole owners of Chimney Rock Winery. Chimney Rock Winery has a three person wine making team; Doug Fletcher serves as V.P. of Winemaking, Elizabeth Vianna is the head winemaker and Jeff van de Pol is the assistant winemaker.
While visiting Chimney Rock Winery I sampled the following wines:
The first pour was a 2008 vintage of a proprietary Bordeaux white wine blend labeled, Elevage Blanc. This wine is a blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Sauvignon Gris. Those nose on this wine is absolutely gorgeous! It exudes aromas of pears, apples, and white flowers with a hint of pistachio nuts. On the palate it is medium bodied, very crisp and has a very long finish. This is probably one of the most interesting white wines I have tasted in a long time. This wine sells for $42 a bottle and I brought two of them home.
The second sample, which I tasted side by side with the 2008 Elevage Blanc, was the 2009 Sauvignon Gris. There is very little Sauvignon Gris grown in California, in fact this was the first time I had experienced it at a California winery. This grape is also known as Fié or Fiét and it is related to Sauvignon Blanc but has more of a pinkish hue to its skin (it is also known as Sauvignon Rosé) and it has similar levels of acidity. Sauvignon Gris tends to produce fruit with higher sugar levels than Sauvignon Blanc, which contribute to greater aromatics and a more rich and round feel to the wines. It is popular in the Graves region of Bordeaux but is usually used as a blending wine. This wine has beautiful aromas of green apples, honey suckle, nuts, lanolin and a hint of perfumed soap. It is medium bodied, crisp and has a medium length finish. Although it was an interesting wine and a very unique experience as a rare find in California, I preferred the 2008 Elevage Blanc. This wine sells for $32 a bottle.
I then tasted two red wines side by side, the 2005 and the 2006 Elevage:
The 2005 Elevage is a Bordeaux blend of 50% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Petit Verdot. The ’05 begins as very earthy with notes of dried black fruits but as I continued to swirl the glass and aerate the wine for several minutes it displayed aromas of black cherries, black currants, subtle notes of black licorice and spice. On the palate this wine has silky refined tannins that have a firm grip on the teeth and gums, it is medium bodied and has ample acidity with a hint of vanilla and tobacco on the finish. This is an absolutely phenomenal wine with a price tag to match at $100 a bottle. But, if I was tasting this wine blind I would have thought it was a 95+ point Bordeaux.
The 2006 Elevage is a Bordeaux blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot and 9% Petit Verdot. This wine is distinctly different from the ’05 not only in reversing the percentages of Cab and Merlot, but in its aroma and fruit profile. The ’06 is not as earthy and it has fresh aromas of black cherries, black currants and a hint of dried cinnamon stick. Like the ’05 it also has silky refined tannins that have a firm grip on the teeth and gums, it is medium bodied and has mouth-watering acidity with a medium length finish. But it doesn’t have the tobacco notes on the finish that tend to come with age. I preferred the ’05 but this was also a really gorgeous wine that sells for $95 a bottle.
The fifth pour was the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 1% Petit Verdot. While it is not labeled “Elevage” it has the same three grapes has the previous wines but significantly less Merlot and Petit Verdot. This wine displays aromas of black cherries, black currants, with a hint of smoke and vanilla. On the palate it is medium bodied with refined tannins, ample acidity and a medium length finish. A nice wine but it isn’t as complex and layered as the previous two wines but it is “only” $66 a bottle.
The final pour was the 2006 Tomahawk Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and it displays aromas of freshly picked red cherries, followed by subtle hints of black currants and cola. On the palate it is fruit driven with silky gum gripping tannins, medium body, ample acidity and a long finish. A really nice wine but the ’05 and ’06 Elevage were more complex and it this wine sells for significantly more at $160 a bottle.
To see more pictures of Chimney Rock Winery, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:
To visit or for more information:
Chimney Rock Winery
5350 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA 94558