Heitz Wine Cellars operates a tasting room located almost directly across from Hall Winery on Highway 29 just south of the town of St. Helena. This tasting room opened in 2002 and is on the location of their original winery site which was founded in 1961 by Joe and Alice Heitz. However note that perhaps Joe Heitz purchased fruit in the mid 1950's for use under the Heitz Label. Reference his 1956 vintage here. This certainly makes them one of the older continuously operating wineries in Napa. In fact when they were founded, there were less than 20 wineries in operation in the Napa Valley. It certainly took a while for the Napa Valley to recover from Prohibition and today more than 75 years after the end of Prohibition there are now more than 750 business in the Napa area making commercial wine. Joe passed in 2000 but Alice remains active in the winery operations. Joe Heitz received invaluable training for a number of years when he worked with the famed winemaker and soils expert Andre Tchelistcheff at BV Vineyards. Heitz is still very much a family owned and operated business; today Joe & Alice's children run the winery; David is the winemaker (over 30 years of winemaking experience - this amount of time at the same winery is quite rare) and Kathleen is the President. The actual winery is located about 2 miles east of the tasting room near Joseph Phelps winery and serious Heitz wine enthusiasts may make an appointment for a winery tour. A visit to their tasting room along Highway 29 does not require an appointment.
The tasting room is in a classy small stone building and your tasting will be held at a long table (not a bar). This is a very intimate tasting experience as the main tasting room is very small, with a cozy fireplace and several comfortable looking well padded chairs to relax in. There is a large shade providing arbor out back with excellent views of their valley floor vineyards. Unlike most "table" tastings in Napa, this is not a sit down tasting, rather you stand at the wood table as your server pours the wine. Laminated tasting notes and other details about each wine will be provided as the wine is poured. The small tasting room is in no way a reflection of their winery size. Heitz actually owns significant acreage in several different locations within the Napa Valley ranging from their winery and property in the eastern hills to acreage on the valley floor to hillside vineyards on Howell Mountain. They farm their vineyards sustainably and organically (CCOF certified).
The focus of Heitz Cellars is their premium single vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignons however they also make several other wines. We tried the 2006 Chardonnay - this wine has pleasant citrus driven aromas which lead to a palate that shows notes of lemon and green apple with some steely minerality notes towards the finish. This wine has just the right amount of tanginess to pair well with food. Heitz also makes a Zinfandel. The 2005 vintage is not a jammy type of Zinfandel, rather its more lean and focused in style. It has spicy notes both on the bouquet and on the palate and screams to be paired with chocolate! Martha's Vineyard is one of the more recognizable vineyards in Napa; it is located in the heart of the Oakville Appellation, one of Napa's prime mostly valley floor Cabernet Sauvignon appellations. This vineyard has been producing high end Cabernet's for Heitz for many years and in 1966 owner Joe Heitz made the decision to bottle this wine as a single vineyard because of its own unique characteristics. He was one of the earlier Napa Vintners to bottle a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and now today some of Napa's most sought after wines are from single vineyards. This vineyard consistently shows great fruit as well as some minty and herbal characteristics. We had the privilege of trying an older Cabernet, in this case a 1998 from their Bella Oaks Vineyard. Age has treated this wine well; it opens with dark earth aromas, almost forest floor like as well as some tobacco and leather. Ten years later, the palate is still very much fruit driven and rich in flavor. The tannins have been tamed by time, but still present excellent structure and in our opinion, this wine could go at least another 10 years! These are the types of wines Heitz makes, wines that will age fantastically well, are balanced upon release and stay balanced for many years.
For the price and the quality, the Grignolino and the Ink Grade Ports cannot be beat. Heitz makes these two ports each year. The Grignolino is a variety that is mostly grown in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. Of 600+ commercial Napa wine producers that we have visited and tasted with to date, this is the only winery we are aware of that grows and produces this varietal. Pretty rare stuff! They make a 100% varietal of this wine, a pink colored Grignolino Rose and their luscious Port. We tried the 2004 vintage of Port; the bouquet opens up with amazing floral and fruit aromas that quickly invite a taste. Flavors of strawberry and raspberry show well with delicate tannins anchoring the finish. This wine in Italy is sometimes referred to as "little strawberry" and these fruit flavors are definitely present in the wine. The Ink Grade Port has been made every year since 1994 and only three times has it been a vintage wine. As a result, most releases are non vintage. With a non vintage wine like this you get the best of both worlds, the great fruit that comes from younger wine as well as the characteristics that only age brings. This wine is rich in flavor and alcohol with a sweetness that is perfectly in balance. Flavor, sugar and alcohol are key ingredients in these types of wines and if one of these is out of balance it can be very noticeable. This wine is certainly not just sugar and alcohol; it has a richness and complexity of flavor not often found in Ports that are even priced much higher than this one. The nose is very fruit driven with a palate showing dark fruit including baked black cherry and plum. Each year this wine contains a number of ancient Portuguese varietals which grow on their property on Howell Mountain. Trust us, you will have an extremely difficult time finding these particular varietals grown in other parts of Napa! There are not a lot of Napa wineries making premium ports, and its always a treat when we find one.
We will close this review with a humorous story. Some years back the famed wine critic Robert Parker said one of their wines was lacking in aromatics. After hearing this, Joe Heitz then sent him a box of handkerchiefs insinuating that Parker had a cold when he tasted this wine. Nice! Sometimes Heitz offers International cruise trips as well - inquire for more details. They have fairly good distribution in all 50 states as well as a number of other countries. Visit: www.heitzcellar.com