Barnett Vineyards is located off of the narrow windy Spring Mountain Road which connects Napa and Sonoma Counties – about 1.5 miles in. We call this side road located at the Sonoma/Napa County line, the “summit wine road” as it leads to numerous Spring Mountain wineries. It is wineries such as this one where it pays to do your homework if you are trying to get off the “beaten path” in the Napa Valley. Barnett is one of furthest in wineries on this road – the road keeps forking and look for their sign and address at each of the forks. Punch in the office number on the gate keypad once you get close to the actual winery. Groups are limited to no more than 8 as the tastings are meant to be intimate.
A tasting often begins in the barrel room and weather permitting will proceed over to the entrance to the cave or up to the observation deck. This winery has some of the best views on Spring Mountain especially from the aforementioned deck on top of the hill at about 2,000 feet. Views are offered of Mt. St. Helena and directly down into the northern Napa Valley floor all the way across the valley to the other ridge tops including Howell Mountain.
It took almost 2 years to clear and plant the vineyards despite having planted only 7 acres to vine. Today about 14 acres of vines are planted. One will see why it took so long to plant this vineyard when one visits the property – rugged hillsides dominate and are covered with thick brush; some of the vineyards are located on very steep hillsides with very wide terracing and slopes up to nearly 40% slope. In addition, it is clearly evident when you walk up to the observation deck, just how rocky the soils are. Their wines use both estate fruit as well as purchased fruit.
This property (40 acres) was purchased in 1983 by Hal & Fiona Barnett. Hal grew up in Stockton, California and built a successful career in residential real estate development (Barnett-Range Corp – building both apartments and single family homes). Fiona was born in England, lived in Mexico City for a few years as a child and grew up in Vancouver – eventually becoming a CPA. Their original intent was never to build a winery but rather to have a weekend private getaway location from San Francisco. For a fairly small production they make a wide variety of wines – as of our latest visit, 11 different wines are made here. They are strong believers in unique terroir sites and will source fruit from a variety of locations (not necessarily within Napa) based on where specific varieties grow best.
David Tate has been their winemaker and General Manager since 2007. The wanderlust gene caught him early on – leaving his native Victoria Island in British Columbia in 1994 he hitch hiked for 6 months on an epic trip southward – eventually ending up in Peru. Looking to further expand his horizon and taking advantage of the benefits of being in the commonwealth, he turned his sights to Australia. Securing an Agricultural visa he was given two choices for work – at a pig farm or at a vineyard in the Barossa Valley. He chose Barossa and the vineyards and ended up gaining valuable vineyard management experience at several wineries including at Rockford Wines. While in the Barossa he met a Frenchman whose family owns Domaine Richeaume in Provence, France – at an invite from the family, David packed up and moved to southern France and spent a year working for the family.
Realizing he was more then intrigued by the world of wine, he returned to North American and earned his Bachelors Degree in Viticulture and Enology at Brock University in Ontario. While working in New Zealand following graduation a friend called and offered him a job in California at Ridge Winery (their Montebello property). It was at Ridge that David was introduced to mountain grown Cabernet Sauvignon. He spent five years there and was their assistant winemaker.
Ready for a change, and realizing he wanted three criteria in his next job – full control over the vineyards and winemaking, work with a small producer and continue to make mountain grown wines. In 2007 he was introduced to Hal and Fiona Barnett – who offered him control of his desired criteria.
The 2006 Barnett Vineyards Chardonnay is sourced from Anderson Valley in northern Mendocino County. This wine is all about the balance – not one aspect dominates. The bouquet is very aromatic and somewhat floral – the mouth feel is smooth and rounded with some minerality and toasted almond nuances.
The 2016 Barnett Vineyards MMV (mountain meets valley) is Barnett’s first ever release of this wine – sourced from the nearby York Creek Vineyard and a vineyard on the valley floor in Calistoga. Fairly fruit forward on the bouquet with aromas of ripe plum and blackberry along with a hint of cedar. The wine flows nicely across the palate with a pleasing suppleness. The wine is balanced with a noticeable firm grip of tannins that feel somewhat chalky. Not course in their feel. The finish is savory with lingering notes of darker spices and cedar box.
The 2017 Barnett Vineyards Estate Cabernet Franc is 90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot and was aged 22 months in French oak. The genesis of this wine was a very limited production offering to wine club members only. Due to its popularity, production increased and now it is an annual offering. Portrays an elegant bouquet – centered mostly on fruit including blackberry, boysenberry and plum but with other nuances including sandlewood, truffle oil, hints of vanilla, dust and tobacco leaf. Approachable across the palate with flavors of cherry and plum. Vanilla, toasted oak, red cherry, baking spices and dry tobacco show more towards the end of the palate. A bright finish is anchored by a lively thread of acidity. The tannins are slightly tight in their youth – not rough in texture but certainly noticeable – cellar this one for 5 to 7 years, that should be plenty of time for the tannins to soften and become more integrated.
Their Merlot is delicious – however it was sold out during one of our later visits, fortunately we still have one aging in our cellar. It is noteworthy as it exhibits slightly different flavors and spices then most Merlot wines made from grapes grown much lower in elevation on the valley floor. Tends to be more robust exhibiting textural characteristics often found in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Barnett also produces several estate Cabernet Sauvignon wines including their much coveted Rattlesnake Hill (probably the wine they are most known for) and named for a bunch of rattlesnakes that were discovered when they cleared this portion of their property to plant this variety. Due to its popularity the Rattlesnake Hill Cabernet Sauvignon is typically sold out and visitors are often given barrel samples of this wine. This wine is always 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon.
Barnett Vineyards also produces a vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon called Cyrus Ryan. The 2005 Barnett Vineyards Cyrus Ryan is a robust and rich wine with notes of chocolate, and mocha on the nose intermingled in with ripe fruit aromas. The finish goes on and on. Their estate wines will age extremely well.
When the weather is warm and you have clear skies, it doesn’t get much better than this – sipping hand crafted wine and being treated to spectacular views in a casual yet intimate setting. We have been here several times and the wines coupled with the personalized tasting experience especially from their overview deck is hard to beat. And on a clear warm day in the afternoon – a pleasant breeze blows, it is quiet save for the trees blowing in the wind and Napa Valley lies “at your footsteps”.
A small cave is on site – with the portal located next to yet another scenic overlook with a table and chairs available for a tasting. This property has been blessed with a generous helping of these overlooks. An intimate room is built into the cave for when tastings need to be held indoors.
The winery and grounds can be rented for private events such as dinners. First production was several hundred cases of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1989; production has grown significantly since the early days, now around 8,000 cases per year. For more information, and or to join their wine club, visit: www.barnettvineyards.com
La Caccia di San Giovanni, Tuscany Italy
In 2017 Barnett Vineyards entered into a winemaking partnership at La Caccia di San Giovanni, in Tuscany Italy. The owners of the property Dean & Tawney Macfarlan oversee 133 acres, 19 of which are planted to vines – located within a short drive of Siena. The 7,500 square foot Villa San Giovanni is also on site with a four bedroom residence and two bedroom annex that can be rented out by guests. A tasting room opened in 2020.
Their wines are called La Caccia di San Giovanni. However, this partnership was a fairly short one – as in 2020 the Barnett’s decided to focus entirely on Barnett Vineyards and are no longer involved with La Caccia di San Giovanni. However during the partnership one estate wine was produced, the 2017 La Caccia di San Giovanni, a Super Tuscan blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Sangiovese and 10% Petit Verdot, made by David Tate.
Moving forward, the Barnett’s will also no longer be involved in the winemaking, but the estate wines will continue to be produced. And the current winemaking partnership is between Napa Valley based Gagnon-Kennedy Vineyards.