Friday, September 20, 2013

Bello Family Vineyards – St. Helena, California

Bello Family Vineyards is an “under the radar” boutique winery with a tasting room located along highway 29 that has an understated exterior with an over-the-top Las Vegas-like interior design. The 5 acres of vineyards are located at the family home in Rutherford and are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc and Petite Verdot. They only produce around 5,000 cases of wine from this vineyard as well as from fruit sourced from other premium vineyards in the Napa Valley.

The Founder

The winery was founded by Michael Bello. Like many others who have founded a winery in the Napa Valley, he didn’t make his money from making wine. There is an old saying in the valley, “If you want to make a small fortune in the wine business you need to start with a large fortune.” It is not uncommon for people to spend tens of thousands of dollars, if not millions, on starting a winery and have to wait at least 5-10 years before they see any return on their investment. People go into wine making not to make money per se, but because they have a love and passion for wine. 

This is true for Michael Bello as well. His fortune was made in Orange County in Southern California where he founded Bello Construction Co., a successful residential home subcontracting business. But he had two passions he wanted to pursue: to make world class wine and get into the horse racing business. He began to take steps towards the former of these two interests in 2000 when he purchased a piece of premium vineyard real estate in Rutherford. Soon after, he built a beautiful French styled farmhouse and began to plan on making wine. 

Michael has been involved in horse racing for many years but in 2001 he purchased a horse that would go on to much success, a Thoroughbred racehorse named Megahertz. This horse became a winner from her first race in the USA in 2002 at Santa Anita Park and would ultimately win 14 races before retiring. Today, Michael remains heavily involved in horse racing and owns a number of race horses. The room showcases Megahertz, Bello’s champion race horse, his awards and a large screen TV screen allows visitors to watch horse races. The fame of Megahertz now lives on as of the Cabernets bears his name today.

The Winemaker

While the farmhouse was being built Michael forged a relationship winemaker Aaron Pott who has an extensive history as a winemaker in the Napa Valley and France.

After graduating from U.C. Davis Aaron worked at Newton Vineyard in Napa Valley. He then became the head winemaker at Château Troplong-Mondot, a Premier Grand Cru Classé in Saint-Émilion, France. A year later he became the head winemaker at Château La Tour Figeac, a Grand Cru Classé located in Saint-Emilion. During the next five years he earned a degree in Viticulture from the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France. Six years later Aaron returned to the United States and became the head winemaker in charge of international brands for Beringer Wine Estates of the Napa Valley. In 2004, he accepted a position as winemaker and general manager at Quintessa Estate in the Napa Valley.[1]

In 2007, Aaron and his wife Claire founded Pott Wine, producing wine from their 76-acre vineyard property on Mt. Veeder. In addition to serving Bello Family Vineyards he is also a consulting winemaker for numerous other Napa Valley wineries including Quixote Winery, Stagecoach Vineyard, Blackbird Vineyards, Seven Stones Winery, Fisher Vineyards, and Jericho Canyon Vineyard.

In recognition for his achievements, in 2012 Aaron Pott was named “Winemaker of the Year” in the November issue of Food and Wine Magazine.[2]

The Vineyard Manager

In addition to Aaron Pott serving as winemaker, Michael Bello also acquired the services of vineyard manager David Abreu. David Abreu is a third generation native of the Napa Valley. David grew up in Rutherford in a farming family. Starting at an early age, David worked during the summers at Inglenook and Caymus vineyard. Eventually his interest in viticulture led him to farm and manage several properties on his own. Then in 1980 he founded David Abreu Vineyard Management, Inc. and developed the Madrona Ranch vineyard. In 1986 David produced his first wine from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc at Madrona Ranch. His first commercial release was with the 1987 Abreu Madrona Ranch.[3]

The Wines

The first Bello Family Vineyards vintage was 2004, and today their production has reached 5,000 cases per year. Some of the grapes that are used in the making of Bello’s wines come from the estate, while others are sourced from other premium vineyards in the valley. 

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

My first sample was the 2012 Oliver Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has an explosive nose with pronounced aromas of white flowers, tropical fruits, mandarin oranges, dried apricots, ripe grapefruit and lemon zest. On the palate it is very crisp, medium bodied with a prolonged finish. This wine typifies a Sauv Blanc from a warmer climate than Sancere or New Zealand as it is more on the tropical and stone fruit side of the aroma spectrum than the grassy and herbal side that is typical of cool climate wines. I brought home a bottle of this for $34.

The second pour was the 2011 Chardonnay, Carneros.  This wine was fermented on indigenous yeast in French Oak Barrels, underwent full malolactic fermentation and was left sur lies during the 20 month aging process. On the nose this wine has medium intense aromas of fresh peaches, creamy butter, caramel, and butterscotch. On the palate this wine is very rich and creamy, full bodied and crisp acidity with subtle notes of hazelnut and marshmallows on a prolonged finish. This is a well-balanced “California style” wine that sells for $45 per bottle.

The third pour and first red wine was the 2009 Megahertz Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is 100% Cab made from a blend of grapes from four different Napa Valley AVAs – St. Helena, Rutherford, Atlas Peak, and Mt. Veeder. On the nose it has pronounced aromas of cassis, dark cherries, and subtle hints of mocha and dusty earth. On the palate it is soft and supple on entry, very delicious, full-bodied with refined tannins, mouth-watering acidity and a long finish. This wine sells for $50 per bottle.

The fourth wine was the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose this wine displays aromas of black fruits, cassis, blackberry compote and a hint of smoke. On the palate it has firm tannins, it is full bodied with medium acidity and a little heat on a medium length finish. This wine sells for $50 per bottle

The fifth pour was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is lighter in color than the previous Cabs and on the nose it has medium intense aromas of raspberries, red currants with a hint of black pepper and anise.  On the palate is velvety on entry and mid palate with supple refined tannins, medium body, high acidity and a medium+ length finish. This wine is definitely “drink now” and although I wouldn’t expect it to improve with age, but it could be cellared for 1-3 years. This wine sells for $100 per bottle.

To visit or for more information:

Bello Family Vineyards

929 Main Street

St. Helena, CA 94574

Phone: 1-70-967-8833



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