Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards is located a few miles in from the Silverado Trail on several very windy narrow roads that meander through rolling hills and past mostly native vegetation. The terroir here is definitely not flat valley floor vineyard land. The winery location is marked with very few signs until arriving at their main gate. Allow about 10 minutes to reach the winery from the Silverado Trail.
Todd Anderson & his father Gus originally built the winery and planted the vineyards from scratch; Todd has a degree in Geology from the University of Pacific in Stockton. He was the winemaker for many years until the business grew to the extent that he had to hire a winemaker (and now employs a small winemaking team).
The winery dates from 1983 with their first commercial vintage in 1987. When the Anderson’s initially looked at this property it was not for sale (despite their interest in purchasing it). However the Anderson’s persevered and eventually were able to acquire the 40-acre site. As of our latest update to this review, they typically produce around 6,000 cases per year. Two sets of caves are on the property – the primary cave houses Anderson’s Conn Valley and the smaller one was used for many years by Todd’s father Gus (who died in 2016 at age 86) for his own winery Eagle’s Trace (no longer producing). And Todd and his father are not the only winemakers in the family; Todd’s son Mike runs the cleverly named MGTA Cellars (using the first initial of his name, his father and his grandfather).
Visitors to the property will sometimes be hosted by Todd (who strikes a larger then life pose and personality at 6’5″ and is often wearing his trademark black cowboy hat), but more likely by one of their hospitality staff or their winemaker. Visits are one on one experiences which can last a long time – often running several hours depending on who provides your tasting experience. If your tasting is with Todd, this will probably be by far the longest tour/tasting of any Napa Valley based winery you visit. If you do not want to be rushed, set aside at several hours for a visit. The entire purpose of the tour is educational – visitors are shown the vineyards, wine production facilities (the original winery is an old barn the family converted) and caves. Guests will be treated to a wide variety of wines both from barrel and bottle – while relaxing in the larger of the two caves.
Their current release Chardonnay is typically offered during the tasting. They were one of the first wineries in the area to inhibit secondary fermentation (malolactic fermentation) on their Chardonnays – with the intent to create a wine that does not have overt buttery characteristics or is creamy in texture. A by product of secondary fermentation is diacetyl which can cause the buttery flavors in wines. Todd told us often guests tell him they don’t like Chardonnay but after trying his Chardonnay, they decide they do in fact enjoy Chardonnay.
During one of our earlier visits to the property, we tried the crisp 2005 Sauvignon Blanc (sourced from Lake County) & then tasted through a short vertical of their delicious Pinot Noir. The “Right Bank” red wine is an interesting blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc; it features a very smooth mouth feel yet is richly concentrated with enticing fruit flavors. Eloge is their Bordeaux styled red blend – with a backbone of predominately Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon is a barrel selection that differs each year depending on the vintage. The 2012 Signature shows darker fruit notes on the bouquet along with a spicy toasted oak component. As the wine breathes a tinge of mocha creeps onto the bouquet. This wine reflects higher toned fruit with good acidity which is noticeable on the mouth watering finish. Offers flavors of red cherry and black currant along with firm slightly chewy tannins which linger for quite some time.
Ghost Horse Vineyards
Todd also runs one of the most prestigious and limited production Napa area wine brands called Ghost Horse Vineyards (first vintage was from 2000); these wines are usually sought out by extremely wealthy collectors including both domestic and international buyers. Todd counts the production of Ghost Horse Vineyards each year in bottles rather than cases. The only white wine under the Ghost Horse label is a Chardonnay. The Ghost Horse Cabernet Sauvignon (the entry level wine) is among some of the highest priced wines in all of Napa Valley with his other labels Fantome, Apparition and Spectre even more sought out and priced much higher. A newer label, the Premonition was introduced in 2010 – this wine takes the Ghost Horse scarcity to the next level; only six, 6 Litre bottles were crafted. On the price alone, several of the Ghost Horse wines are well above the typical bottle price of the seven established Napa Valley “cult” wineries (Bryant Family, Colgin, Dalla Valle, Eisele Vineyard, Grace Family, Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle).
The tiny vineyard for this wine (all the reds) is located in Coombsville (southern part of the Napa Valley) and encompasses slightly less than 2 planted acres. All the wines from this vineyard for the Ghost Horse label are 100% varietal. Despite the vineyards’ size – tiny sub blocks are harvested separately creating each of the Ghost Horse wines.
For many years Ghost Horse was only available through personal relationships with Todd and visiting the winery; in more recent years he selectively distributes the wine to several high end restaurants and resorts in Las Vegas.
Serious collectors can visit the winery and choose from a variety of exclusive Ghost Horse tasting and experience options including a BBQ, various dinners and a Library tasting featuring older vintages. Membership to this wine club is very exclusive and ensures one has access to a variety of interesting perks including participating with Todd in some of his adventures such as auto racing, downhill skiing, cigar smoking and other experiences. There are two tiers of membership to this wine club, one starts at $500,000 and the other is a million dollars. When people come to the Napa Valley – mentioning the price of these two tiered wine club membership is always a good conversation piece.
Be sure to ask Todd about the many worldwide wine events that he hosts or participates in. He keeps a travel schedule that would bring younger men to their knees. For more information about Ghost Horse Vineyards visit: www.ghosthorseworld.com and the Anderson’s Conn Valley website here: www.connvalleyvineyards.com
NOTE: Astute followers of Anderson’s Conn Valley will remember that in September 2017 Anderson’s Conn Valley partnered with the Thorn Hill tasting room on Main Street in downtown St. Helena to offer their wines to visitors (without needing an appointment). Even some of the entry level coveted Ghost Horse Vineyard wine was available here for a very short while. Visits were by walk-in hosted either at the sit down tables, the bar or on the small patio in the back where customers could bring and eat their lunch either before or after a tasting. As of October 2018, Anderson’s Conn Valley is no longer tasting their wines here and the Thorn Hill Tasting room is permanently closed.