Conn Creek Winery Conn Creek Winery was founded in 1973 by Bill and Kathy Collins (Bill died in early 2017 at age 89) – making this one of the older continuously operating wineries in the Napa Valley. Bill and Kathy purchased 54 acres of Zinfandel off of Highway 29 just north of St. Helena in 1968 and called it the Collins Holystone Vineyard. Sourcing grapes from Napa’s famed Eisele Vineyard allowed them to make a wine in 1974 that received high accolades and praise.
The winery location dates from 1979 when after outgrowing a facility they were leasing (now Plumpjack Winery) they moved to their Rutherford home. The Collins sold the winery in 1986 but retained their Holystone Vineyard (which son Peter still manages today – and sells some fruit to Conn Creek). Collins Holystone Vineyard contains rare (for Napa) ancient vines of Zinfandel and according to the Historical Vineyard Society, dates back to the 1920s. Collins Holystone was partially named after Bill and Kathy Collins and “Holystone” refers to a porous sandstone rock used to scrub wooden decks of ships. This is an appropriate name since the vineyard is full of rocks and Bill spent several years in the Navy.
Conn Creek is owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates based in Woodinville, Washington (about a 30 minute drive north of Seattle). In the Napa Valley, the company also owns Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. These are only two of a number of wineries in their overall portfolio.
Anthogy is the wine they are most known for – it is a Bordeaux styled blend containing five of the primary Bordeaux varieties. The 2014 Conn Creek Anthology is dark ruby in the glass with bright aromatics including blackberry and plum. On the palate there is a pleasing suppleness on the front and mid palate with well integrated tannins anchoring the finish along with some spice notes, presumably from the oak. This is a food friendly versatile wine that shows great acidity.
While they own 2.5 acres of vines surrounding the winery (all planted to Cabernet Sauvignon) and over 40 acres in Wooden Valley (a more recent purchase in a small valley east of the city of Napa) most of their grapes come from growers and privately owned vineyards. Conn Creek sources from vineyards up and down the Napa Valley – both valley floor to hillsides from Carneros to Calistoga. They source grapes from fourteen of the sixteen sub AVA’s in the Napa Valley. While they have their own viticultural in-house team they also work with growers and their own vineyard management teams.
As a result of all their vineyard sources, Conn Creek produces a number of limited production single vineyard wines – focusing on Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon found under their AVA Series. These limited-production hand crafted wines are not the same wines merely with different labels on the bottle; rather they represent unique vineyard sites and terroir and each wine is meant to be unique from the others. A couple of our favorites are the Hozhoni Vineyard (Rutherford), Rutherford Estate and the Herrick Vineyard in Yountville.
Winemaker Mike McGrath was with Conn Creek since 1986 and must have been one of longest tenured Napa winemakers working for one winery (he retired in mid 2017). Influential winemaker André Tchelistcheff used to consult for Conn Creek. One day Mike called him up and complained the wines were tasting to acidic and the tannins were to strong. Andre came down to the winery to see for himself. Finding nothing wrong with the wines he told Mike he was probably getting a cold which was altering his palate. Sure enough, two days later Mike came down with a cold.
During a trip to France Mike participated in a cellar tasting in which wines were tasted from many different appellations. Enjoying the experience he brought the concept back to Conn Creek. He was instrumental in setting up their appointment only one-of-a-kind Napa offering (the AVA Room Barrel Blending Experience).
The AVA room contains barrels of wine from vineyards within 14 of Napa’s 16 distinct sub appellations. This room was originally used for club members and those in the industry for tastings. This is a fun and educational introduction to the art of blending components together to create something that has favorable aromas, flavor and structure – in a balance that ideally you will enjoy. It is also a rare opportunity to taste wines in one room sourced from vineyards throughout the valley. The wines are organized by style ranging from soft, supple, complex, rich and bold. As you taste through each style of wine your wine educator will walk you through their differing nuances.
Once you have tasted through the various styles you can then decide which wines you enjoy the most and use the provided pipet to create your own blend. Once you have decided upon your Cabernet Sauvignon blend you have the opportunity to further add to the complexity of the blend with additional Bordeaux varieties including Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot. The same barrel regiment is used for all wines, the wines are all the same vintage and each wine is 100% varietal from the barrels. Soil samples are provided from the vineyards represented. This two hour seminar is offered twice daily except Wednesdays.
One of their wine educators, Tom, recommends the morning session, saying “what better way to start off the day but to taste through single vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons”. Agreed! The seminar includes a basic overview of the Napa Valley, a number of tastes of the blending components, advice during your own blending including various techniques and strategies, and the fun part – a 750ml bottle of your custom blend to take with you, a tasting of their current Anthology release prior to your blending and a tasting of select Conn Creek’s current releases following your seminar.
As long as you take good notes on the provided blending card (with the blending percentages, varieties and vineyards) – you can order up to a case of your own special blend.
Generally this is a session of cooperation and collaboration. However some groups reserve the space and it becomes a competitive environment – trying to create the ‘best’ blend. These groups even bring their own trophy to award the ‘winner’!
Two general tastings are available for visitors to the winery – the Napa Valley Collection and the AVA Cabernet Sauvignon Series. Among other perks, wine club members enjoy complimentary tastings and discounted pricing on the Barrel Blending Experience. Some older vintages are available for purchase at the winery. Total production each year is around 25,000 cases. For more information, visit: www.conncreek.com
Chateau Ste. Michelle, Conn Creek’s parent company is a gorgeous estate open for tastings and tours throughout the year. The property is 105 mostly wooded acres and used to be called the Hollywood Farm. This is the oldest winery in the state of Washington having been founded in 1954 with roots dating back to 1934 – however the first vintage of Chateau Ste. Michelle was not produced until 1967 overseen in a consulting role by legendary Napa Valley winemaker André Tchelistcheff. The French-styled chateau was built in 1976.
Today the winery operates two separate state of the art production facilities – one for whites in Woodinville and one for reds at their Canoe Ridge Estate property (559 acres) located outside of the tiny community of Paterson along the banks of the Columbia River (an extremely confusing name since there is also a non-related Canoe Ridge Vineyard – a winery + separate tasting room in the town of Walla Walla). The first vineyard planted for Chateau Ste. Michelle was in 1973, the Cold Creek Vineyard – now 753 acres and dedicated to André Tchelistcheff. Andre’s influence in Napa Valley has certainly been well chronicled – however he also left his mark on the Washington wine industry. And his nephew Alex Golitzin co-founded one of Washington’s top wineries Quilceda Creek along with his wife Jeannette.
Today Chateau Ste. Michelle contracts the majority of their grapes (rather then owning vineyards) and they are the largest producer of Riesling wines in the country.
Chateau Ste. Michelle, similar to Robert Mondavi Winery helped spawn the careers of numerous winemakers. Noted Washington vintner and founder of Long Shadows Winery, Allen Shoup worked at Chateau Ste. Michelle from 1980 until 2000, serving 17 years as the company’s CEO.
Visitors to the winery are free to explore the gorgeous grounds and picnic. Several tasting or tour options are available on site including an estate tasting (no appointment required) a tour of the winery + tasting, a guided tour of the property including a tasting, a blending session where guests learn the art of ‘building’ wines through blending and a separate sensory educational experience focusing on identifying characteristics of wine including both through smell and taste.
Also popular at the winery is their Summer Concert Series (similar to the ones held at Robert Mondavi Winery – but with a bit more space). Popular acts perform on select dates throughout the summer – big name acts have performed here in the past including Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and John Legend.
Winery & Grounds
Chateau Ste Michelle, Woodinville, WA EXTERIOR
Chateau Ste Michelle, Woodinville, WA INTERIOR