I have heard “our wines are Old World style” in Napa more times than I’ve heard “I’m here for the right reasons” on the Bachelor. I rarely buy this line. However, there are a few unsung producers where this claim is a reality. Some of them have vineyards dating back to prohibition times, and some have had the same barrels and foudres in use since the '20s, but what they all have in common is staying true to their convictions. There have been times when trends in winemaking or consumer pressure may have encouraged them to make a hedonistic, "100 point" Chardonnay, use all new oak or rip out their old vines, but they ignored the bandwagon. These producers are some of the few that are truly O.G. Napa, and that are making wines that I fully believe in.
Stony Hill planted their first vines on Spring Mountain in the late '40s. Starting with Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Semillon. This is extremely bad-ass, as there was certainly no one else producing Alsatian white wines in Napa at that time. Even now there aren’t many Rieslings or Gewürztraminers made in Napa Valley, the few that are probably got the idea from Stony Hill. If given the opportunity, I could spend all day drinking these wines.
Their cellar has been in continuous use – with few adjustments to winemaking or aging techniques – since 1953. The smell of vintages past permeates the air, telling savory tales of dedication and hustle. You can't help but want to be a part of it.
Their Chardonnays are always the stand out. They are some of the most Burgundian-tasting California wines I’ve ever had; and tasting a current vintage next to an older release will demonstrate that they can go the distance.
Yes, I live in Napa Valley. Do I drink Napa Cab? Not really. But if more of them tasted like Stony Hill’s, I would. Although Stony Hill did not plant Cabernet until the '80s, this expression is (like all of their wines) playful, and yet deliberate and sincere.
I have no doubt Stony Hill will continue to make whatever they damn well please, however they damn well please, and I'm rooting for them.
Tucked in the Mayacamas mountain range, on Mt. Veeder, this property dates back to the 1800’s. Their cellar contains large barrels and foudres from the '20s which they still use today, and it is said to have even been in use during prohibition by bootleggers (mobsters n' shit, guys!) If that's not authentic, I don't know what is.
Mayacamas gives us wines of unfaltering character. Using their ultra-neutral oak is just one of the ways they pull this off. The 2013 Chardonnay gives me life; its ripping acid and focused minerality is as captivating as the upgraded property. Their rustic, sturdy Cabernets too, have a long history of adoration, even by the French (as seen at The Judgment of Paris.) They have always made wines for ageing, and their first release under new ownership is no exception.
Their terroir has at every opportunity told the story of this magical place, I thank the new owners for allowing this narrative to continue. Like a good story, these wines stick with you long after you delight in them.
School House Vineyards are located on Spring Mountain and named for the 19th century schoolhouse that was once in use there. The property was purchased by the Gantner family in the 1940's and is still run by them today. They produce very small quantities of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and their "Mescolanza" blends (of both Zinfandel and Syrah). Some of the vines on the property date back over 100 years. It is rare you find vines this old in Napa as grape production slows the older the vine gets, and some wineries can't (or won't) afford to make less wine. In this case, of course, less is more.
School House originally got their Chardonnay vines from (fellow gang member) Stony Hill in the '60s. I like to think you can see the resemblance. The 2014 is reminiscent of Meursault: Textural and outrageously aromatic.
School House Pinot Noirs will charm your socks off in their youth, and grow more romantic with age. The feelings that stir up many to spend $10,000+ on a bottle of wine can be found in an older bottle of School House. So it only made sense when I found out that their Pinot vines were originally clippings that came over from the Old Country - and even more legit: they came from one of the baller DRC vineyards.
School House is not nearly as talked about as they should be considering the lineage and finesse of their wines. To anyone who's listening, they have a lot to teach us.