Bravante Vineyards was founded and is owned by George and Nancy Bravante. The winery is located in the Howell Mountain sub appellation high in the hills above the main part of the Napa Valley. The Bravantes have a long history developing real estate and agricultural land; they currently own and operate Bravante Produce in the small town of Reedley in the south San Joaquin Valley which they founded in 1992. This company has grown significantly over the years, today they farm about 2,000 acres of both citrus orchards and other tree fruits including peaches and plum pluots. In addition they also supply a number of table grape varieties to market – the company operates their own packing facilities – the majority of the fruit processed here is from their own farms. Their products are distributed around the United States and in numerous international locations.
Upon purchasing their first Howell Mountain property in 1992 they soon planted the vineyards to a number of Bordeaux varieties as well as Sauvignon Blanc. Several years later they sold this property and purchased what is now the home of their winery and one of their vineyards, the Stone Ridge Vineyard. This property is approximately 20 acres of which 10 acres are planted to vines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Just north of the winery, off of Keyes Road is their second property, the Black Oak Vineyard planted with a very rare for Howell mountain planting of Sauvignon Blanc (a Musque clone) and several other red varieties.
Both vineyards are at elevation – winery is at about 1,700 feet in elevation and the Black Oak Vineyard is slightly higher.
Their first vintage was in 1995 with the first releases coming in 2000 – a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot. Until their own winery was built they produced the wines off site – including at Frank Family Vineyards. They tend to hold their wines back a bit longer then most wineries with a focus on producing only wines from estate grown grapes.
Long time Napa Valley resident Duane Dappen has been their winemaker since the 2000 vintage. Duane has worked at a number of notable Napa wineries over the years including Grgich Hills Cellars, Storybook Mountain, Rombauer and Frank Family. In addition he also runs his own label, D Cubed which focuses on Zinfandel.
During our first visit, we enjoyed a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musque from the North Coast. Unfortunately the big frost that hit many of the northern California vineyards in 2008 also hit Bravante and they lost their entire Sauvignon Musque crop. Their 2008 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc certainly helps temper that loss. This wine has good weight and viscosity. It saw only 1/3 neutral oak during its aging (only 3 months on this oak). Pleasant notes of citrus blossom are found on the nose followed by a very rounded mouth feel with lingering rather concentrated flavors of pineapple and lemon on the finish. This is a wine that while it has a concentrated rich palate still maintains its liveliness as well as a good acid balance.
Their Merlot has long garnered attention and is the wine they have been known for, for a number of years. This is not a delicate Merlot by any means. Rather its a big mountain grown wine that expresses rich dark mountain grown fruit and more resembles a Cabernet Sauvignon than your typical Merlot. The 2006 vintage is a dark wine with big aromas including chocolate, blackberry and hints of sage. The wine is very concentrated, especially on the mid palate. The finish shows dusty expressive tannins which are broadly distributed; this helps maintain a very balanced structure.
Two of Bravante’s biggest wines are their Cabernet Sauvignon and Simpatico red blend. Howell Mountain is known for its big structure and bold tannins and these wines deliver in that regard.
The 2005 Bravante Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon is slightly blended with Cabernet Franc. This is a dark brooding wine that shows enticing aromas of crushed rock and mineralities on the bouquet. Notes of cedar, cigar and big black flavors including blackberry and black plum are spread evenly across the palate. The structure is anchored by broad long lingering tannins. For hillside Cabernet Sauvignon this is a wine that only helps add to Howell Mountains already excellent reputation. With big structure now and rich fruit this is a wine that should age and evolve well for many years.
The Simpatico is a wine they make every year for Auction Napa Valley. However they also make enough to release on a limited basis. The 2005 Bravante Vineyards Simpatico shows intriguing spice notes on the bouquet including white pepper, along with blueberry and warm cherry pie. As the wine is allowed to breathe additional aromas of mocha develop. There is a lot going on in terms of flavor in this wine and the layers of flavor continue to develop towards the super long finish.
After a number of years of custom crushing their fruit at other local wineries they built their own winery next to their vineyards – completed just prior to the 2009 harvest. The winery is small but very functional with a number of tiny tanks corresponding to individual vineyard blocks. A small wine cave provides enough room for several vintages.
Visits are by appointment only and are held in the second of the two caves on site – a tiny hospitality cave setup for hosting visitors including tastings held at the tiny bar or the table on site. Visits are highly personalized. Allow at least 25 minutes to drive up to the winery from the town of St. Helena and be sure to get directions ahead of time as this is a winery located well off the beaten path.
Production is usually around 2,000 cases selling direct to consumer but also through select national distribution. Much of their distribution is through restaurants. In addition you can find the wines locally sometimes at Sunshine Market in St. Helena. They do hold a certain amount of wines back each year and may have some library vintages available.
For a limited production Howell Mountain based winery their pricing is very reasonable. For more information visit: www.bravantevineyards.com
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