CHASE Cellars is a boutique winery located almost at the base of the western hills of Napa Valley (the Mayacamas mountains) on Sulphur Springs Road just south west of the town of St. Helena. Most visitors won’t discover CHASE Cellars on their first few trips to the valley – the winery is not located along the busy “wine strip” along Highway 29 and their production is usually only several thousand cases per year. For many years, the winery sign was simply a magnet attached to their mailbox – they are not setup for large numbers of visitors and that is part of the appeal of a visit here.
The family history is rich and influential and in the state of California, dates back to the gold mining days of the 1850s. William Bowers Bourn I came to California from New England following the discovery of gold in the Sierra foothills in 1848. Both he and his son William Bowers Bourn II left their mark on San Francisco and the mining industry. Bourn I invested heavily into what would become the water supply for San Francisco and also developed the young city’s first water and gas utilities. Bourn II invested in and ultimately became the majority owner of one of the largest and most successful hard rock mines in California, the Empire Mine located in Grass Valley (today the Empire Mine State Historic Park). Between the years of 1850 and when it closed in 1956, remarkably the Empire Mine produced 5.8 million ounces of gold.
And the family’s influence was international – in 1911 William Bourn I purchased the magnificent 65-room Muckross Mansion as a wedding present to his only child, daughter Maud and her husband Arthur Rose Vincent. And after Maud died in 1929, William gifted the estate and its accompany 11,000 acres to the Repulic of Ireland. This became the first national park in the Republic of Ireland which eventually become Killarney National Park.
After first visiting the Napa Valley in 1866, William Bourn I and his wife Sarah Esther Chase Bourn purchased their St. Helena property in 1872 as a getaway to escape the cold foggy miserable San Francisco summers (in those days with slow and limited transportation, one needed to spend more time here rather then just using the property as a weekend getaway). They grew grapes on the property until phylloxera wiped out their vineyard – which was then replanted in 1903 on phylloxera resistant rootstock. Their original site was 120 acres; today the property is 45 acres.In another important piece of local history – their son William Bourn II financed and oversaw the construction of the famous Greystone Cellars building located just north of the town of St. Helena. This iconic stone building was completed in 1888, formerly the home of the Christian’ Brothers, it now houses the Culinary Institute of America. Due to its history, and prominent size, it is one of the most remarkable stone winery buildings in all of the Napa Valley. And Bourn was also responsible for one of the great estates on the other side of the San Francisco Bay Area, Filoli (Fight, Love, Live) – the name paying homage to Bourn’s favorite credo, fight for a just cause; love your fellow man and live a good life.
This sprawling 654-acre estate located just off of the 280 freeway in Woodside (today the property is a California Historical Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public). This remarkable estate features beautiful gardens and the centerpiece of the property, the 54,000+ square foot Modified Georgian-Revival Filoli House. And of note, is the annual Vintage Affaire held on the estate every year in September since its inception in 1983 – this charity wine auction features a number of premium Napa wineries (and a few others from select parts of California) with the proceeds used to help the non-profit Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Which brings us to contemporary times; current owner of CHASE Cellars Katie Hayne Simpson is the great-great granddaughter of William and Sarah. She in fact lives on the property in the old white cottage where her great-great grandparents used to stay when they were visiting the property. The name Hayne comes from Katie’s great grandmother (one of William and Sarah’s 6 children) who married William Alston Hayne. Katie’s brother Andy created the CHASE Cellars brand in 1998 and she took over the operations in 2012.
For those looking for more details into the rich historical past of the Bourn family, the book The Last Bonanza Kings is an excellent read.
CHASE Cellars focuses on Zinfandel which comes from the surrounding historic Hayne Vineyard. The majority of the vines on the property are over 110 years old. It is always neat to walk out among old head pruned vines in vineyards of this age – mostly because the Napa Valley does not have many of these old vineyards left. Because of the vine age, the girth of the trunks are rather large – often with sizable holes in the middle and parts of the trunks are often covered with thick moss (even in the dry months of the year).
Over the years many vineyards in the Napa Valley have succumbed to various diseases and or have been pulled out in favor of more economically viable varietals, namely Cabernet Sauvignon which typically retails for much higher prices then old ‘mix blacks’ vineyards. The Hayne Vineyard vines are all dry farmed (other then young vines which are watered by hand to get them established) and have been managed by 5 generations – descendants of the Bourn family. And the vineyard is listed in the Vineyard Historical Society, a group that promotes and helps bring awareness to select historical vineyards planted prior to 1960.
In 2014, winemaker Russell Bevan was hired to oversee both the Hayne Vineyard and the winemaking operations. Russell has a led a varied life – he earned his Masters in Philosophy from Gonzaga University, worked in Minneapolis selling dental equipment, wrote a syndicated column which was published in the Wine Spectator and then became a self-taught winemaker with his first vintage in 2005. Russell has worked with a number of iconic Napa Valley based vineyards over his career, getting his start with Kal Showket (who used to own Showket Vineyards in Oakville before selling to Peter Michael). Russell identifies a select group of winemakers who he has been influenced by including Napa Valley’s long time winemaker, Philip Togni.
Russell maintains one significant requirement for all vineyards he works with: he must maintain full control of the farming practices. His personality is considerable – he is a straight shooter, a doer, someone who thinks outside of the box and who has brought his own style of vineyard management and wine making to the Napa Valley. In contemporary Napa Valley wine making, he is leading the charge – working with some of the best vineyards in the valley and producing wines that are opulent and energetic and rich and well-textured, both on the bouquet and palate.
The attention in the vineyard is meticulous; and also during harvest. Grapes picked from younger vines are kept separate and fermented separately from the older vines as are grapes picked from the north side versus the south side of the vines. The vineyard is in a very good neighborhood, one of Napa’s most historically rich vineyard sites. Beckstoffer’s well regarded Dr. Crane Vineyard is nearby as is his Bourn Vineyard. And also nearby is the Old Crane vineyard used by the Crane Assembly, one of Napa’s two oldest verified still producing vineyards.
The tasting room is located directly next to the winery and production site, all of which are surrounded by 140+ year old olive trees. Tastings are held outside overlooking the vineyards in the shadows of their olive grove or in their cozy modern tasting room (which was elegantly remodeled several years ago).
Typically visitors will begin their tasting with with a very light wine, during our latest visit it was the CHASE Cellars 2007 Rosé, a Zinfandel Syrah blend. This is a summertime wine that despite being light in body well represents the fruit flavors of both of these varietals. You will also sample several other varietals including a Cabernet Sauvignon and their Petite Sirah which is a very dark rich big wine and is even bolder than their Cabernet Sauvignon. The CHASE wines are single varietal wines while the BOURN wines are blends.
The 2015 CHASE Cellars Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel shows an appealing bouquet reveling at times dessert spices and bright fruit aromatics. Shows notes of Graham cracker, mocha, toffee, cloves and cinnamon along with blackberry. Superbly balanced across the palate, reveals flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and ripe plum. Fine-grain tannins are supple and seamlessly integrated into the long finish. This wine is simply a pleasure to drink and is so in its youth, but has the ‘stuffing’ to age well for a number of years. A Reserve Zinfandel is also made – this wine is from a barrel selection – the best lots exclusively from the old vines.
After sourcing Cabernet Sauvignon from the Stags Leap District for a number of years, CHASE Cellars produced their first Cabernet Sauvignon from the property in 2018 (these are from younger trellised vines). Two exceptional wines are the BOURN Gold Strike (a Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Syrah blend) and the BOURN Lucky (Merlot, Cab Franc & Cabernet Sauvignon blend).
CHASE Cellars also produces a Solera style Zinfandel dessert wine called Finalé – a delicious non vintage Zinfandel Port-styled wine. The wine we tried was not syrupy at all as the grapes were picked as normal and not left hanging on the vine for weeks after the regular harvest. The sugar does not overwhelm and it is a very smooth easy to drink wine of this style. Start with a few sips of this and soon the bottle will be empty. This is produced in extremely small quantities in 375 ml bottles.
Despite the pedigree of the property, the wines have been kept reasonably priced over the years. For more information and or to join their wine club (choosing from several allocation options), visit: www.chasecellars.com
Greystone (Culinary Institute of America)
Muckross House, Gardens & Traditional Farms, Ireland
We are in Europe several times a year. We will make a point to visit this location during our next visit, most likely by late Spring 2019. Photos coming soon!