CONSTANT Diamond Mountain Vineyard. One leaves the valley floor just south of Calistoga, carefully navigating the narrow Diamond Mountain Road as it winds through redwood trees and soon begins its climb up the rugged eastern facing slopes of Diamond Mountain. Typically allow about 10-12 minutes to drive from the bottom of Diamond Mountain Road to the gate that leads up the final hill to the winery and residence.
Visits are strictly by appointment, reserved for serious wine enthusiasts and collectors or current allocation members.
CONSTANT is located nearly on the the spine of the Mayacamas mountain range – offering one of the most spectacular and expansive views of the northern part of the Napa Valley. A quintessential day at CONSTANT Diamond Mountain Vineyard is when it beautifully warm here but cold at lower elevations and the valley floor is still blanketed in a thick white layer of fog. The rugged yet elegant architecture offers a seamless and sophisticated blend between the indoors and outdoors.
The site was originally developed in vineyards by Danish born Andras Andrew Rasmussen. He moved to Napa County in 1880 initially working in vineyards in what is now the Carneros District. He purchased 120 acres on the site of now CONSTANT Diamond Mountain in 1895 – cleared forest land and planted 30 acres of vines. After he died, his family sold the property.
The winery and vineyards were developed by Fred and Mary Constant after they acquired of the property in 1993 (Fred died in 2014). His vision complemented the already inspirational value of the property and ultimately created one of the Napa Valley’s most extraordinary estates including gorgeous vineyards, a winery and a barrel storage cave (created from stone quarried on site) which leads to a small residence simply called The Peak (designed by noted wine country architect Howard Backen of Backen, Gillam & Kroeger).
Fred was an alum of Princeton University; he started out his career as a disk jockey and eventually began developing radio stations – ultimately owning several radio groups from the east to the west coast – including founding Wine Country Radio in the nearby city of Santa Rosa.
This historic property dates back to the 1890’s. The Constants were only the third owners of the property. After Fred passed, Mary sold the property and today it is owned by a family from China (their wedding present). Sai You and Aries Liu are only the property’s fourth owners. After the Constant’s moved here they initially began selling fruit to other premium producers. After Fred made some wine during the first few years he realized there was something special about this particular site. Philippe Melka was their consulting winemaker for a number of years and today the well-regarded Paul Hobbs is the winemaker. The first vintage of CONSTANT was 1995.
After driving the narrow harrowing windy road to the top, it was always nice to be greeted by Fred and his friendly black poodle, Floozie at the winery gate (at the end of Diamond Mountain Road) where guests would hop into his Pinzgauer 4wd vehicle and he would serenade you with stories of the property all the while you held on tight to your seat belt as he expertly navigated a number of steep and sometimes harrowing sections of the vineyard. Today, guests are met at the stone walled gravel parking lot and then accompanied into the winery cave. The entrance to this parking lot is actually in Sonoma County and as one proceeds into the winery, one walks over the county line into Napa County.
The vineyards are at an elevation of up to 2100 feet and as a result often see some snow each year. This is classic Diamond Mountain terroir, featuring steep, rugged, brushy, rocky, and east facing slopes. The Mayacamas mountain range is similar to California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains on a much smaller scale in that the western side of the range has a more gentle elevation gain while the Eastern side drops off rather dramatically. You certainly experience this on the drive up from the valley floor. Flat land is at a premium here.
The entire appellation is over 400 feet. Because of its northern location and elevation most of the appellation is above the fog line including Constant’s property. The soils are porous and volcanic in nature. The first vines (Cabernet Sauvignon) were planted in this region in the early 1860’s by wine pioneer Jacob Schram (Schramsberg Vineyards). One of Napa’s best Cabernet Sauvignon producers is located much lower on the slopes of Diamond Mountain – Diamond Creek Vineyards.
Several pools are located on site and the views from these locations provide some of the best vistas of Mt. St. Helena (4,341 feet) of any Napa winery. From the Constant property one can see the entire mountain from its base to the summit. Often during late Spring into Fall an inversion layer forms in the hillsides surrounding the valley floor – so while it can be quite chilly in the lower elevations in the mornings – often it is much warmer on the uppermost slopes (and this inversion layer can remain even at night on certain days). Due to their elevation the vineyards are typically above the fog and as a result, receive plenty of sunshine which allows the fruit to really ripen to perfection as well as creating an intense flavor.
Nearly 40 acres of vineyards are planted forming a gorgeous backdrop against the views in all directions as well as the natural forest. Most of their vineyards are on the Napa side with the exception of their Syrah vineyard which lies on the Sonoma County side. The largest vineyard block is the Diamond Peak Vineyard (22 acres). They continue to sell about 60% of their grapes to other premium producers in the Napa Valley. They focus on limited production of select wines including a Chardonnay, Merlot, a Claret (blend), Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a very intriguing Syrah. The vineyards are carefully managed on a block by block basis.
Initially they produced wine at a custom crush facility down in the valley but it soon made more sense to build a winery on site; owning their own winery allows them to control the entire process from vineyard to bottle.
There are not a lot of Napa wineries making premium Cabernet Francs that are 100% varietal, and this wine is certainly one of the highlights of a tasting. We have tried several vintages over the years including the 2004 and 2006 and 2014. The 2014 CONSTANT Estate Cabernet Franc shows aromas of blackberry, dessert spice notes and a floral nuance along with a core of ripe elegant fruit throughout the bouquet. There are no herbaceous notes on either the bouquet or palate. The tannins are well integrated, slightly dusty and linger pleasantly for some time.
One of our favorite CONSTANT wines is their Syrah – its a unique wine in their portfolio and the several vintages we have tried over the years have been among the nicer Syrahs coming out of the Napa Valley. Only about 3 acres of this variety are planted on site – all on the Sonoma County side of the property. A real standout is their 2006 Estate Syrah which is one of the finer Syrah’s we have tasted in the Napa Valley. It shows a lot of fruit both on the bouquet and palate. It has a juicy rather soft entry with rich concentrated flavors spread across the palate anchored by a clean smooth finish. This wine is all about the fruit and the variety rather than being overly spicy or dominated by oak as some Syrahs tend to be.
The 2013 CONSTANT Estate Syrah is noticeably dark in the glass revealing an intriguing and brooding bouquet – somewhat meaty, savory with aromas of dark fruit and hints of cracked black pepper. And those with an acute sense of smell, may notice the very subtle herb or sage aromas. The bouquet is powerful, rich in flavor and depth. Great acidity – juicy it leaves you salivating on the finish. The well integrated but noticeable tannins linger on the long finish.
The 2014 CONSTANT Estate Cabernet Sauvignon shows a sweetness of fruit on the bouquet including cassis and blackberry. This wine is superbly balanced showing both red and darker fruits including cherry. Features excellent acidity – it is somewhat savory on the palate. Weighty but not grippy tannins linger for quite some time. This is a wine that can be consumed young but is very much built to age.
In addition to about 1,200 cases of wine produced annually, they also create a very limited production olive oil from the 100+ trees on site. There is even a waiting list for this olive oil. For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.constantwine.com