NOTE: the sad and horrific story that occurred on March 15th, 2015 as told here: www.pressdemocrat.com/news/3677767-181/robert-dahl-napa-vintner-in?page=1
This review will be updated once we have information about possible new ownership.
Dahl Vineyards opened in mid summer 2014 on site of the old Chateau Napa Winery on quiet Solano Ave just off of the busy parallel Highway 29. The original winery here was founded in the late 1980’s and over the past 8 years or so was vacant, with the physical building slowly becoming more and more dilapidated each year. Dahl Vineyards owner Robert Dahl moved his winery operations onto this property in 2013 after buying fruit from the vineyard on site. Visitors to the property will not recognize the winery as it has undergone a complete makeover and upgrade.
Other than keeping the same winery footprint, Robert has invested in creating a modern and cozy winery – along with a comfortable and relaxing experience for visitors. Tasting is either indoors or outside on a small patio overlooking vineyards and the Mayacamus mountains in the background. The large oak tree that forms the background of their label is located on the edge of the vineyard directly below the patio. Note the large rusty metal pieces of iron that serve as the winery door handles. These used to be anchors on a dock for large boats down in the Bay Area – the boats would tie onto these when mooring.
Owner Robert Dahl moved to the Napa Valley from Minnesota. He was involved in ownership of a Chemical Manufacturing business. Tiring of the type of work that was involved in this, as well as the Minnesota winters – he moved to the Napa Valley and started California Shiners – which quickly became in a very short amount of time, the largest contract bottling winery in Napa. They produce wine in the several hundred thousand case range per year for wine importers, wholesalers, Negociants and for private label use including several celebrity branded wines. Robert has been extremely busy in a relatively few short years; he also co-founded the Napa Point Brewing Company (located in South Napa) – which focuses on hand crafted premium beer.
As Robert says of his Napa office at California Shiners, “my view was a parking lot” – and wasn’t certainly what he had in mind when he thought of the Napa lifestyle. This new winery has all that he envisioned – is small, overlooks vineyards and is in a quiet location just south of Yountville.
The winery is located on 7.5 acres of which 5 acres are planted. All of his wines are from Yountville except for the Pinot Noir which is from the Russian River Valley in neighboring Sonoma County.
Robert has enjoyed wine for many years – one of his father’s clients used to trade out wine, and it was this client’s wine enjoyed at dinner with his family is what in part helped nurture his appreciation for wine. He found himself being the only one at parties in college bringing wine, while all his friends were bringing beer.
Their total production to date has been about 1,500 cases per year – each wine is usually produced in in quantities of such several hundred cases. Each bottle of wine contains a small medallion label and indicates the number of cases produced. Their first vintage is from 2011.
This is the first winery we have visited in Napa that exclusively uses Minnesota Oak barrels for aging their wines. At one point several years ago, Robert was planning on building a winery in Minnesota – but the county he lived in housed no wineries and permits became difficult to secure. During this planning he spent a lot of time researching various winery products, uses of oak and other wine making equipment. He found that because of the cold climate Minnesota White Oak grows extremely slowly – compared to oak growing in the much more southern state of Missouri. As a result the grain of the wood is very tight. He has found that less wine evaporates during aging from the barrels compared to a traditional American Oak barrel and he is able to keep the wine in the barrel longer without detrimental results.
The 2013 Sauvignon blanc shows tropical aromas in the glass – ranging from honeysuckle to citrus blossom. This wine is lively, zesty and shows both citrus and various tropical fruit notes on the palate. It is a very young wine, but balanced, clean and crisp. This is a wine that simply disappears quickly – easy drinking if you will.
The 2013 Chardonnay underwent partial malolactic fermentation and was aged on the lees and stirred weekly for about 4 months. Initially aromas of baked pear and toffee show – the wine becomes more floral as it opens in the glass. The palate is slightly creamy, but not overly so. The weight of the palate complements the richness of fruit well – a hint of graphite shows on the finish.
The Russian River 2013 Pinot Noir has a showy bouquet that is driven by the fruit – aromatically it envelops the glass without even having to swirl much – plenty of raspberry, strawberry, perhaps a bit of rhubarb and a cherry cola note. The fruit continues on the palate – the mouth feel is soft and rounded with a clean delicate finish.
The 2011 Merlot shows a intriguing spiciness on the bouquet – notes of white pepper. Three components show – the aforementioned spicy note, a slightly herbal component and a bit of smokiness. Together all three are in balance – the wine is smooth and soft on the palate with cherry flavors, a bit of raspberry and tannins that linger delicately with just a hint of spice on the finish. The wine shows higher toned fruit flavors rather than darker fruits.
The 2011 Zinfandel was made from grapes from 65 year old vines grown in Yountville. The bouquet is full of perfume notes – lighter berry fruits including raspberry and cranberry. The palate shows more red fruit than black fruit – is soft and the delicate tannins coat the front of the palate rather than the back. Long time and accomplished Napa wine maker Nils Venge stopped by and this was the one wine he made a point of taking with him for his own cellar!
The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon shows some notes of vanilla and mocha powder on the nose, cherry, a sweet core of fruit that shows aromatically also is found on the palate. Cherry liqueur, chocolate and a structure that is balanced with gentle smooth tannins that linger on the back of the palate for some time
When Robert first came to Napa in 2011 he spent some time visiting wineries and sampling wines up and down the valley – educating not only his own palate but also meeting winemakers and getting a “feel” for the Napa wine industry. He used this time to also selectively purchase wine in barrel – which he would then bottle as his own. During one such visit he was walking with a winemaker through a winery cave when the winemaker stumbled into 4 barrels of a special wine which he had entirely forgotten about over the years. This wine was a Tawny Port styled wine that had been aging in the dark recesses of this particular cave for more than two decades.
Robert brought a sample to Prager Portworks (the noted Napa Valley “Port House” in St. Helena) and upon tasting it they quickly said “bottle it now”! Robert did just that – merely 90 cases of 500ml bottles. After one year in bottle he released it – making it available for wine club members only. He also purchased a late 1990’s vintage which will also be available at some point. So it is highly unique and somewhat odd to see (at least in Napa) a brand new bottle, with a brand new label on it indicating the vintage – 1989. Robert and his son hand sealed every bottle with wax.
This wine is amber color in the glass and initially shows wonderful aromas of hazelnut oil, walnut, orange peel and mocha. This is a wine that aromatically is complex and multi layered. It keeps evolving nuances as it breathes. Warm caramel and ultimately a smokiness develops – Robert compares this more to a smoky aftermath – not fresh smoke but rather what you smell when the coals of a fire have almost died down. On the palate it is sweet, but not overly so – the richness of flavor lingers on a very long finish.
This is of course a one time bottling – however Dahl Vineyards also produces a Petite Sirah Port styled wine each year.
All of their wines are a very good value to price point ratio by Napa standards. Visits are by appointment and often Robert or his wife will be on site. For more information visit: www.dahlvineyards.com
NOTE: This winery is currently closed – we will update this review once we have more information on how the assets are liquidated. In late 2019 the property was sold.