Chiarello Family Vineyards is owned by Michael Chiarello a culinary celebrity who lives in the Napa Valley. He is the Emmy Award-winning host of the Food Network’s Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello and the author of a number of cookbooks. Their total production is about 2000 cases all divided into fairly small productions of the individual wines. All the Chiarello wines are from his organically farmed 22-acre valley floor estate in the town of St. Helena. Being a chef, Michael understands the importance of a healthy growing environment and balance. All their grape skins and stems are composted and reintroduced to the soils in the Spring providing additional nutrients when the vines need it the most. A variety of cover crops are planted which are also tilled back into the soil. “Pottery from the Vines” is an excellent idea in which the ash from the burned vineyard pruning is used for Michael’s “ash-glazed pottery”. Talk about recycling!
The first commercial vintage was 1997…sort of. It was a small production year, and as Michael told us “but I drank it all” so in reality the 1998 vintage would be the first commercial release. At the time Chiarello purchased the estate in the 1980′s the vines had been neglected for a number of years. Michael spent significant time fixing up the vineyard and fortunately did not pull out some of the real old vines. Today these 90+ year old vines provide the grapes for several of his commercial releases. As of press time they produce 6 different wines. Keep in mind Michael’s strong culinary background; his wines are made with lively acidity, personality and and good structure to hold up to foods; they are meant to be consumed with food.
We started our tasting with their lowest production wine (only 42 cases), the 2006 Rose of Zinfandel. Rose wines are not all that common in Napa and you never know what type of varietal it will be made from – we’ve seen Rose’s of Syrah, Merlot, Grenache and even a Sangiovese. However this is the first 100% varietal Zinfandel Rose that we’ve tried out of over 500 commercial wine producers in Napa that visited with to date. The clone for the grapes that produce this wine was given to Michael by the famed winemaker and soils expert, Andre Tchelistcheff. This wine is created by the French Saignee method in which the juice is bled off. For a Rose it has surprising body and structure, again that is what Michael is looking for when pairing wine with food. Nice wild strawberry and various tropical aromas lead to red fruit flavors on the palate with just a hint of the spice that you often find in a normal Zinfandel. The 2005 Giana Zinfandel is named after his youngest daughter and is made from the same grapes as the Rose. It is not a huge jammy Zinfandel, rather is a leaner style with lively acidity and bright fruit.
The 2005 Eileen Cabernet Sauvignon is named after Michael’s wife – merely 100 cases were produced, with the original clone source from the highly regarded Grace Family Vineyards in St. Helena. This is a good food wine that is well balanced with nice structure and notes of tangy cherry. The 2005 Roux Petite Sirah is from 95 year old head pruned dry farmed vines. This is a very dark inky wine. The fairly restrained bouquet does not reveal just how big this wine actually is both in fruit and structure. There are notes of vanilla on the nose with a nice earthy almost forest floor like nuances on the palate along with concentrated blackberry flavors. The only public tasting venue and distribution for their wines are at the Napa Style store located in the back of the Vintage 1870 shopping center in the town of Yountville. Michael also runs Bottega, located right nearby his Napa Style store in the same Vintage 1870 Shopping Center. The wine list features a great number of Napa wineries all priced extremely reasonably. Visit the main winery website: www.chiarellovineyards.com