AuburnJames Winery was created as a joint venture between winemaker James Frost and Matthew Ospeck after meeting at a friend’s party. James made wine under the label Hidden Creek for several years until Auburn James was formed in 2008. While James has long been attracted to the Bordeaux varieties and has sourced fruit from the Napa Valley since their inception, the actual winery was located in the Livermore Valley until 2015 when they purchased an existing winery along the Silverado Trail in St. Helena. At one point this property was an abattoir – the words Sunshine Meat Co 1973 are still engraved in concrete on the property. In later years it was home to several prior wine brands including Napa Creek. Auburn James made their first wine here in 2015.
James grew up near Cambridge in England and was exposed to wine at an early age. He remembers wine was always in integral part of meals. Both his grandfather and mother made home wine – not from grapes but rather from from fruits – he recalls his mother collecting wild berries for making wine. He did not become a winemaker until much later in life – becoming involved in the bio tech industry for more then 25 years. Work brought him to the USA in 1988. James learned wine making by doing – making home wine for a number of years until starting his own brand. In 2015 his son Jonathan joined him as assistant winemaker. Music is Jonathan’s passion and after learning wine making on the job he has come to the conclusion that both wine making and music share as many similarities as differences. Keep an eye on this talented father son wine making team.
The existing guest cottage on site has been converted into a tasting area for guests; they opened this to guests by prior appointment in June 2016. Tastings are intimate with your host and sometimes James or Jonathan will drop by to answer questions from guests. A cheese plate with small bites is always paired with the wines. A visit here is highly personal and educational. A smaller more private room and an outdoor deck are also available for tastings.
This is not their first tasting room; their original tasting room opened in downtown Danville in 2011 and until that tasting room closed in 2017, most of their wine was sold through there. While they continue to source from select vineyards outside of Napa County, much of their production is Napa based and having a base of operations here logistically made sense.
The winery name pays tribute to both James as the winemaker and co founder Matt’s love of automobiles. The Auburn Automobile was a short lived company based in Indiana with years of production from (1930-1937). Today their cars are highly sought after by collectors.
Auburn James employs (at the time of this review) a very unique system of aging a small portion of their wines in tank. They are using a product called the Wine Grenade on a trial basis comparing the same wine aged with this device versus aging in barrels without using this device. The Wine Grenade is a stand alone micro-oxygenation product developed by five Auckland University students in New Zealand – it is far more cost effective then prior micro-oxygenation products. It is installed within a tank and is meant to help replicate oak barrel maturation but over a much quicker time period. The amount of oxygen imparted into the wine is controlled via a computer over the Internet. Auburn James estimates this may save up to 8 months in oak aging – and are looking to create a wine for distribution channels that is quicker to market as a result.
They currently produce over 8,000 cases of wine – which includes a diversity of types of wines. Many of their wines are produced in quantities of 400 cases or less. The focus of their wine making is on red wines – Bordeaux styled balanced wines that are approachable by themselves and are meant to accompany food. With that said, they do produce Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot noir. James embraces both as he calls it “the molecular level and sensory level of wine making” or in other words both the science and art of the craft.
Their artists series are red wine blends featuring the works of various artists on the label. In 2010 the label for this wine was based on an original oil triptych painting (titled, Charleston Nocturne) by Rick Reinert (the original piece is on display in the tasting room). One can purchase three bottles of this same wine each with one panel of the triptych as a label. Lined up in a row they creatively mimic the original painting.
The 2010 Artist Series Meritage is a five Bordeaux varietal blend with the Cabernet Sauvignon coming from a vineyard they look to often for premium grapes – the Bella Vista Vineyard, a 200+ acre vineyard that is nearly half in Sonoma County and half in Napa County. These grapes were grown on the Napa side of the vineyard. There is a sweet note on the bouquet, brown chocolate, clove and red licorice. There is softness on the entry with a richness of flavor that soon shows mid palate through to the finish. The wine has good acidity. The tannins are somewhat earthy and last for some time.
The 2009 Napa Valley Meritage is a five Bordeaux varietal blend. Sweet red cherry aromas, blackberry and toasted cedar show on the bouquet. There is a richness of fruit mid palate anchored by dusty slightly chalky tannins which are well integrated into this wine’s overall profile. The finish lingers for some time with both fruit and subtle structure.
The 2009 Napa Valley Bella Vista-Block 1&4 Cabernet Sauvignon shows distinctive earth nuances, cigar smoke, toasted cedar with lively notes of plum on the bouquet. Good acidity, great balance and very well integrated tannins. The 2009 RDH vintage was created from the best barrels from this production – with the name RDH in honor of the former owner of this vineyard, Bob Hayes.
For more information about the wines or to request a tasting appointment at their Napa winery cottage, visit: www.auburnjames.com
Auburn James enthusiasts may also want to visit the Auburn Lounge (formerly the Auburn James tasting room) in the heart of historic Danville, California about a 90 minute drive from Auburn James Winery. A speak easy theme, focuses on wine, beer and specialty cocktails. Open 7-days a week, from mid to late afternoon until late (depending on the day). When the lounge first opened we heard the selection of wines did include some from Auburn James (but we need to verify this is still the case).
Auburn Lounge & Wine Bar, Danville