Carver Sutro is located in the northern reaches of the Napa Valley in the shadow of the rocky Palisades which are part of the Vaca mountain range. This is a historical property with the vineyard originally planted in the early 1900’s by an Italian, Domenico Barberis who came over from Genoa by himself. This part of the Napa Valley is home to a number of old hillside mines including quicksilver which was made famous by Robert Louis Stevenson in his book Silverado Squatters.
Domenico originally worked one of these mines near the property. His brother who was living in Italy at the time found a “wife” for Domenico, and she then joined him sight unseen in the Napa Valley after he had already been here for a few years. They settled down, planted and managed a vineyard while raising six children, all of whom were born on site. In later years one of the son’s managed the vineyard and sold fruit to several Napa wineries. The original winery building still stands on site and contains old wine making equipment including a vintage conveyor belt. Their bond was number 118 – any winery with a bond this low in California has one of the older bonds considering that according to the TTB in 2008 there are at more than 5800 bonded wineries nationwide.
The 18 acre vineyard was purchased in 1992 by Dennis and Ann Sutro. Carver Sutro takes its name from Dennis’s last name and Anne’s maiden name. Dennis was a trial lawyer for a few years and then made a dramatic career change and took up carpentry before becoming a vintner. This location was initially just going to be a bucolic setting to raise the family.
However the property was already planted to vines so Dennis went to work – taking viticulture and enology classes at UC Davis and then working hands on in the vineyard. For several years they sold the fruit and made small batches of non commercial wine. However realizing the potential of these grapes and tasting the wines that they were supplying the fruit for, they decided to make commercial wine, releasing their first vintage in 1998.
Much of the vineyard is just slightly above the valley floor with several hillside plantings. This is the only Napa winery that we know of that focuses entirely on Petite Sirah. We recently had a chance to walk part of the vineyards. The main vineyard contains old head pruned vines (30 and 40 years old) while their side vineyards are newer plantings of other varietals. It is becoming more of a rarity to see this older style of vines – as most of Napa’s grapes are on trellising systems. The vineyard is dry farmed.
Carver Sutro typically produces about 600 cases each year of Petite Sirah while still selling the fruit from the rest of their vineyard to other Napa wineries. Because of their location at the mouth of a narrow canyon up against steep forested slopes, animals can be a problem (hence the tall deer-proof fencing that surrounds the vineyard) – the occasional bear even sometimes wanders down from the steep canyon slopes.
It is always a treat to find a special Petite Sirah that has both elegance and power, a wine that doesn’t overwhelm your palate with mouth drying tannins. We’ve visited over 500 commercial Napa wine producers over two years and in merely two days we tried two of the nicest Petite Sirahs we’ve had on this entire project (reference our review of David Fulton for the other one). Carver Sutro’s 2005 vintage was aged for 22 months using a combination of Bordeaux barrels and actually drinks quite well at a younger age. The dark purple color of the wine can be deceiving leading one to almost believe it will be a huge Petite Sirah. However, Carver Sutro does as much as possible during the wine making to manage both the fruit and oak tannins.
The bouquet is very elegant with notes of earthiness, blackberry and hints of cedar. The mouth feel is smooth and rounded with complex flavors dominated by dark fruit including blackberry and blueberry. The tannins are nicely managed – they are present of course but are well integrated into what is a very long finish. With this wines structure and good acidity the fruit will be well represented for years to come; it is a very age worth wine if you can resist drinking it now.
Serious Petite Sirah enthusiasts may consider making an appointment. This is an ideal food wine and as you would expect they have good distribution at restaurants especially in California as well as in New York, New Jersey and Nevada. Some of Napa’s top restaurants that carry their wine include the famous French Laundry, Tra Vigne and Don Giovanni in Napa. Historically their Petite Sirah receives excellent reviews and the price to quality ratio is excellent. You can also find their wine up and down the valley at select wine shops. Visit: www.carversutro.com
NOTE: this vineyard was sold in 2015 – the new owners continue to sell fruit to several wineries but we are not aware of them making their own wine. We will archive this review at some point.