Fontanella Family Winery is located in the rolling hills of the southern part of the Mt. Veeder appellation almost on the AVA dividing line between Mt. Veeder and Carneros. This location is west of the town of Napa, located about 5 miles from Highway 29. Jeff Fontanella is the winemaker; he originally studied Bio Chemistry at the University of California at Davis but enrolled in the college’s wine making program after he became interested in viticulture and enology. After graduating he worked for several premium Napa Valley based wineries including his first harvest at Opus One in 1998 and Saddleback Cellars. Jeff is a busy guy and as of the time of this review, besides his own winery he is also the consulting winemaker for a number of other premium Napa producers.
Their location is very unique and one of the last relatively undeveloped vineyard properties in this part of the Napa Valley. Historically this was grazing land for cattle and was never planted to vineyards until more recently. The winery sits just down from a country road which used to connect Napa with the town of Sonoma – at the time providing a shortcut to Highway 12 which currently bisects the Carneros region to the south. Today this sleepy little road is rarely used as it dead ends at private property and there is no way to access the town of Sonoma. Several wineries are located fairly close as the crow flies – Artesa and Kieu Hoang are both located on the other side of the hills that border the Fontanella property. While the winery is located in rural Napa Valley, in reality this property is only about a 15 minutes drive from downtown Napa.
Fontanella Family Winery is located at an elevation of about 750 feet and is somewhat sheltered from the cooling San Pablo Bay breezes that blow across the Carneros District slightly south of the winery. The rolling hills that surround the winery are the southernmost extension of the Mayacamas mountains (that form the north south spine of the west side of the Napa Valley) before ending in the low lands of the Carneros District.
Jeff made Fontanella wines for several years prior to building this winery. He and his wife Karen purchased this 26 acre property in 2005. Building new wineries in today’s contemporary Napa Valley environment is usually a gargantuan task which involves significant paperwork and often years. Fortunately, Karen is a real estate lawyer and her knowledge about the permit process helped expedite things to the point that this winery was completely finished in merely two years.
As of the time of this review they focus on several different wines including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. The 2007 Fontanella Family Winery Chardonnay was sourced from various vineyard locations in the Napa Valley. This wine was fermented in barrel and stirred on the lees for 8 months. Only a certain percentage of the wine was allowed to go through malolactic fermentation. This wine shows a richness of fruit and some weight on the palate. Pleasing honeysuckle, lime and nuances of caramel show on the nose with an expressive palate that offers mineralities, nuances of tangerine, and caramel. The wine is well balanced with noticeable mouth-watering acidity.
The 2005 Fontanella Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from Rutherford and Mt. Veeder. The wine is crimson red in color and has a bouquet that offers hints of sweet plum with floral nuances. The palate is rounded and smooth containing lots of fruit. The finish is somewhat smoky and very long. This is a good food fine. Also note that every bottle is individually numbered.
We also tried the 2007 Fontanella Family Winery Zinfandel (not yet released) – a day after it was bottled. Jeff tends to bottle Zinfandel early to mitigate the effects of oak, rather allowing the true varietal flavors to show. With Zinfandel, the harvest time can always be a tightrope in deciding when to pick. Jeff told us he has seen this varietal progress from ripe and juicy grapes to dried up raisins in merely a week. Not yet suffering from bottle shock we picked out notes of cranberry on the nose with nuances of dried fruit and a palate that is extremely well balanced between ripeness, acidity and flavor. a hint of smoky Asian spices show towards the finish.
Many of the grapes they source are from either Mt. Veeder or more cooler sites in the southern part of the Napa Valley. However they also make a complex limited production Cabernet Sauvignon from the Andy Beckstoffer managed Georges III Vineyard in Rutherford (one of Beckstoffer’s Heritage Vineyards – a select number of Napa Valley vineyards identified as top vineyard sites).
This cooler part of the Napa Valley is well-suited for Chardonnay, Merlot and specific clones of Cabernet Sauvignon. Approximately five acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines are planted on site. Their first commercial release was in 2005. A visit here is for serious wine enthusiasts (by appointment only) – this small family owned winery has a feel of “old Napa” feeling far removed from the winery crowds and traffic often found along Highway 29 between Yountville and St. Helena.
Wine enthusiasts who want to learn more about the art of blending can purchase one of Fontanella’s Blending Kits. This unique offering includes several bottles of wine each containing a vineyard component used in the final blend for their Cabernet Sauvignon. A graduated cylinder is also included with directions on blending techniques and instructions from Jeff on how to create the wine. Once you have a blend you enjoy you can contact the winery with your desired percentages and they will produce and bottle your proprietary blend (1 case minimum). Some people get very creative with the names of their wines – which go on the labels of each bottle.
Fontanella opened their tasting room (by appointment) in October 2008. The best way to acquire their wine is to join their mailing list. For more information or to schedule an appointment, visit: www.fontanellawinery.com
NOTE: we heard that in 2018 Fontanella acquired or is leasing the nearby cave that was originally developed by Renteria. We will update this review once we have more details.