Fantesca Winery is located on a very historical property in the less traveled Spring Mountain district, rising above the town of St. Helena. Grapes were originally planted on site in the 1860’s and the property was part of the dowry from Caroline Bale when she married Charles Krug (names that are well known locally – reference the nearby Bale Grist Mill and of course Krug is one of Napa’s most historic wineries). Fantesca is a special winery for a number of reasons, not the least of which is their premium wines….read on!
The owners Susan and Duane Hoff were both working very high paced jobs at Best Buy and were looking for something that would allow them to slow down a bit and enjoy a more rural lifestyle. For three years they searched for property in Napa – they were specifically looking for planted vineyards with an established bonded winery. Finally in 2004 they located “the” winery and named it Fantesca after a popular character in traveling comedy shows during the Renaissance period in Italy.
The hillside vineyards are separated into a number of blocks each with its own soil, water, rootstock or varietal characteristics. The vineyard is planted mostly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and the only white they make (the Chardonnay), is sourced from the cooler Russian River area in neighboring Sonoma County. As of press time, well-known winemaker Heidi Barrett has come on board and 2008 was her first crush with Fantesca. When they bought the winery there were vintages in barrel from the prior winery (Shadow Lace); the first vintage released under the Fantesca label was 2002, and the first release totally under their control was in 2004. In their relatively short history of making wine they have already employed top winemakers – their original winemakers were the father son duo of Kirk and Nils Venge.
Fantesca’s main focus is on two wines, a Chardonnay and an estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon. Their bottles always stand out in a “crowd” – they are etched with diamonds in vertical patterns creating a unique textured effect. The 2006 Chardonnay is from Napa’s Carneros region to the south and has great color, almost golden with beautiful tropical aromas and flavors including citrus and pineapple. The 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is blended slightly with Petit Verdot which in this case helps flesh out the mid palate by providing additional structure and flavor. This is a very rich full-bodied wine with an appealing nose that includes a certain smokiness integrated with fruit. It has a wide depth of flavor from wild blackberries to elegant spices on the very long seductively lingering finish.
As of the time of this review their entire production is about 1600 cases including minute productions of Petit Verdot (from their property) and a Pinot Noir from the Russian River area. These small quantity wines are typically reserved for wine club customers only. Susan’s father has allergies to the histamines in big red wines so the Pinot noir is their tribute to him. As of press time they produce only 3 barrels of this incredible wine with one of the barrels always reserved for Susan’s father. Their 2006 King Richard Reserve Pinot noir is a fantastic wine. It has good weight for a Pinot with tons of berry aromas and flavors including raspberry and boysenberry. Spices are well integrated throughout the layered palate with just a touch of vanilla towards the finish.
Of special note is their annual exclusive “Hands on Harvest” event. If you are looking for a unique small winery experience off the beaten path that includes lots of fun, good food and wine, this event is a good choice. It is the only open to the public event (by appointment) offered by Fantesca and is a great opportunity to meet those involved with this winery, those who are interested in wine and actually help with part of a harvest. Fuel out your day early with delicious breakfast delights and then head straight to the vineyards where your team will pick about 1000 pounds of Cabernet Sauvignon (sounds worse than it is as this usually takes under an hour). The grapes are then hauled to the winery for processing; you will help with the sorting after they have gone through the destemmer (Fantesca uses a rare triple sorting system to ensure only the highest quality grapes will see fermentation) and watch punch-downs and pump-overs (basic parts of winemaking during harvest).
The on site cave was actually built during a time when Napa County had implemented strict controls on new cave construction. However one way around this was using your mineral rights in the name of digging a cave! The owner of the property at the time decided to “look” for silver and after digging a main tunnel through the mountain and several “exploratory” shafts he never found silver. Bummer. However at this point he had a very nice cave! Today this small but functional cave serves to age their own wines as well as several other wineries who custom crush on site. It also serves as a conduit between the actual winery and Duane and Susan’s home.
After the “hard work” of processing the 1000 pounds you will walk through this cave to their patio where you will be treated to a scrumptious catered lunch. This is a great opportunity to taste through the current releases as well as some of their limited quantity “special” wines. By the end of the day you will be a proud owner of a “harvest crew” shirt that boasts a truly fine quote, “it aint life until you put a girl in it” – a reference to the the girl that appears on all their branding.
Also check out their “fortune corkies” – this is a very cool idea that Duane and Susan’s young daughter came up with after eating at a Chinese restaurant…to put fortunes on wine corks. These feature short quotes about wine and love. Every year they have a contest in which they pick one favorite quote from fans, customers or other wine aficionados. Should your quote be chosen you will win a Magnum of their latest release!
Fantesca is also the brains behind the very popular educational Adopt a Grape program. Essentially the premise of the site is to allow one to “adopt a grape” and follow its lifecycle online from bud break to its aging in barrel. Visit: www.adoptagrape.org for more details as well as some great videos. Visit their extremely informative website: www.fantescawine.com