Celani Family Vineyards (pronounced ‘Chelani’) was founded in 2005 by owners Tom and Vicki Celani. They divide their time between Napa and their home in Michigan. Tom has led a diverse life centered on his varied business interests including developing North American Native American gaming and casino properties (he used to own the iconic Cal-Neva at Lake Tahoe – once owned by Frank Sinatra), ownership of a Harley-Davidson dealership in Michigan and the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre (north of Detroit). But Tom grew up around beer (his father ran a beer distribution company beginning in the late 1960s in Detroit) – and after his father died, Tom later took over the company at age 26. He grew Action Distributors into one of the largest Miller Beer distribution companies in the country.
Tom was raised in an Italian family; he used to make wine with his grandfather (who immigrated to the USA from Italy, eventually winding up in Detroit). Later Tom began collecting wine and over the years has amassed a fairly large cellar. His passion and enjoyment of fine wine ultimately took the “next step” when he purchased the land for what would become Celani Family Vineyards. Tom discovered this property during trips to the Napa Valley while working on developing a casino to the north of the valley. He actually purchased this property without telling Vicki – and brought her to the site for the first time after he had made the purchase. One can certainly imagine her surprise once she discovered she now owned a beautiful piece of the Napa Valley. At the time the 20-acre property was planted to Merlot and Chardonnay with the grapes being sold to Sterling Winery.
The location is ideal – within a several minute drive of the Napa city limits yet is located in the country. Nearby winery neighbors to the north include Monticello Vineyards, Andretti Winery and Lewis Cellars.
The winery focuses on limited production, premium wines from the estate vineyard as well fruit from other southern Napa vineyards. Winemaker Mark Herold has made every vintage since their first release. Mark is the co-founder of the popular Merus Wines (he is no longer involved with Merus) and founder of Mark Herold Wines (he maintains a tasting room in downtown Napa). Mark has long favored the moderate influences of the nearby Coombsville region for his red varietals and this is where Celani sources their Cabernet Sauvignon from.
Originally Tom wanted to bud over his Merlot to Cabernet Sauvignon but Mark talked him out of it (perhaps not an easy decision at the time as the movie Sideways had been released only a year before they purchased the property). The Robusto Reserve is a limited production Merlot produced each year from the estate. Today there is still no Cabernet Sauvignon on the property – 17 acres are under vine including Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.
The appealing part of this property (other than its obvious Tuscan feel) was that it was already planted to vines and came with an existing winery. With a bit of modernization and addition of state of the art wine making equipment, the winery was fully functional in time for their first harvest in 2005. Only one wine was made then, their flagship Cabernet Sauvignon (Ardore) and in 2006 they introduced 4 other wines, all of which are produced each vintage. All their red wines are unfiltered and unfined.
For several years Celani Family Vineyards sourced their Chardonnay from the Hudson Vineyard in Napa’s Carneros district and also from a historic vineyard in Sonoma County. Starting in 2018 they again began producing Chardonnay from the estate vineyard. During our first visit to the property we tried the 2008 Celani Family Vineyards Chardonnay; this wine is delightful entirely by itself. It did not go through secondary fermentation – offers a rounded mouth feel and carries good weight and structure. This weight in part comes from ‘battonage’ where the lees (sediments) were stirred in barrel for a number of months as the wine aged. This also helps contribute to the rich golden color. Pleasing mineralities show on the nose complemented by various tropical aromas including pineapple. Notes of citrus, more orange than lemon and some of the tropical components found on the nose are also on the palate. The finish is clean and lingers for some time.
The 2007 Celani Family Vineyards Tenacious is a predominantly Merlot based blend with the remainder being Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. This wine may be named Tenacious, but its bouquet is anything but, rather it is elegant showing cassis, cedar, baking spices and dark berry fruits. This wine is richly layered; the entry is soft and supple across the palate and finishes with pleasing tannins and a subtle lingering presence of mocha.
The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from several vineyards in Coombsville and perhaps was created with one purpose in mind – to be paired with steak! It is medium to full-bodied bodied with a juicy mid palate showing characters of spicy plum and blackberry. This wine has both big structure, big fruit and meaty tannins.
Their flagship very limited production Ardore is a wine that tends to age for quite some time before being released, both in barrel (usually around 36 months) as well as in bottle. Staying true to his heritage Tom named this wine, Adore which means “passion” in Italian. And the label has significant personal meaning – visually it has similarities to a cigar label (Tom enjoys cigars); the initials VOB (represent the first letter in each of Tom and Vicki’s children). The 2006 Celani Family Vineyards Ardore is showy on both the bouquet and palate. This vintage has well structured tannins which are complemented and balanced by the rich fruit on the lengthy finish (black cherry, blackberry and cedar box spices). This is a robust and rich Napa Cabernet Sauvignon; the weight of the bottle matches the structure of the wine. In fact, this is was the largest custom designed 750ml bottle ever produced by this particular glass company (Saver).
Only 10 barrels were produced of the Celani Family Vineyards 2015 Ardore (a selection of their most premium barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon from Coombsville). Shows an opulent nose of ripe fruit – a sweetness of fruit (black berry, boysenberry and a hint of prune) complemented nicely by dark spices including notes of dried tobacco leaf especially more so as the wine opens in the glass. A very pretty bouquet. It is often easy to mistake a Napa winery’s flagship wine as being so powerful and structured that one may not necessarily enjoy this style of wine in its youth or by itself. However, the Ardore is not one of those types of wines. Shows very good concentration – with layers of flavor framed by noticeable tannins but not gripping in nature. Very long finish.
Tastings are private and are typically reserved for members of their wine club. Several experiences are offered including a boutique catered lunch (all by prior appointment). For serious cigar aficionados Celani offers a cigar and wine tasting (which can be a good option as this is held later in the day after most wineries have already closed).
Celani’s wine is currently distributed in a number of states including New York, New Jersey and for obvious reasons, in Michigan. At times, you can find the wine locally in Napa at Backroom Wines, and in St. Helena at the St. Helena Wine Center. They are also on the wine list at the French Laundry in Yountville. For more information or to join their wine club, visit: www.celaniwines.com