Fortunati Wines is a small producer owned by husband and wife Ellen and Gary Luchtel. Ellen and Gary met at San Francisco State where both were majoring in business – at the time Gary was already as Ellen puts it “a wine geek” before this term was known. Both started coming up on the weekends to Napa and Sonoma – meeting with winery owners, visiting tasting rooms and vineyards and furthering their wine education.
They traveled as far north as Mendocino County where they entered themselves in the California State Wine Tasting Championship – this tasting had several levels. Gary entered himself in as a novice taster, soon he was moved up to the amateur category and then ultimately it was decided his level of expertise was that of the professional category. Remarkably he soon found himself in a “sudden death” taste off with five accomplished wine professionals – at this point he realized his palate was actually fairly well developed.
In the 1990’s when the couple was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, Gary made home wine – in the garage of a family friend and at their own home. Taking his hobby to the professional level, Gary and a friend started Sur Luchtel in 1999, a winery which focused on Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon.
He and Ellen were living in a high rise in San Francisco – space was at a premium and looking to make a change in lifestyle they began a multi year search for property in the Napa Valley. Oak Knoll was not yet designated one of Napa’s sub appellations – and a vineyard manager friend of Gary’s (Doug Hill) brought to their attention a ten acre site in the southern part of the Napa Valley.
They purchased this property in 2003. It had never been planted to vines and was covered with brush at the time. After clearing the land they planted Syrah, Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. They released their first wines under the Fortunati label in 2009 – an estate Syrah and also a rosé of the same variety.
Looking to bolster their International wine perspectives, both Gary and Ellen would travel overseas during the slowest months of the year in the wine business – typically in January and February. They traveled to Australia, specifically to visit the Barossa Valley to discover how Australian vintners were growing and making Shiraz as well to wine regions in New Zealand and South America. Some of these trips resulted in the style and types of wines they make today.
Ellen compares both their vineyard and where their winery location to the symbiotic relationship in high tech between software and hardware – both aspects are needed. Not only does Gary make the wine but he also spends significant time overseeing the management of their vineyard (in conjunction with their vineyard management company). Their wines are truly hand crafted from vine to bottle.
For a small producer they make a surprisingly diverse amount of very limited-production wines. This is directly related to both Gary and Ellen’s preferences and interests in a wide variety of wines. As Ellen says, “we like to have different go to options – for different occasions, time of the year, where you are, and weather conditions”. This also translates nicely for their customers – offering up a number of small lot productions and varieties.
The 2014 Fortunati Vineyards Rosé is of Syrah from the estate This wine shows very delicate aromas in the glass of gooseberry, watermelon and raspberry. As the wine breathes there is a minerality component that shows. The palate is also delicate with notes of white strawberry, red grapefruit and a refreshingly light finish. Good acidity.
The 2013 Fortunati Vineyards Chardonnay was aged in all neutral oak barrels – they prefer to showcase the variety and its characteristics rather than overpower this wine with oak. The wine was allowed to fully go through the secondary/malolactic fermentation. The bouquet initially shows notes of tropical fruit – as it opens the aromas become more citrus oriented with aromas of lemon and line. This wine is surprisingly crisp on the palate – with good acidity and a rounded mouth feel.
The 2013 Fortunati Vineyards Vinto Syrah Red Rhone is a proprietary name that roughly means “to be a winner” in Italian. Incidentally this wine recently took best in show at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition Tasting. Their viognier ripens earlier than the Syrah. As a result, they pick this variety and keep it chilled in a warehouse in Napa until the Syrah is harvested. Then the viognier is warmed up and co-fermented with the Syrah.
This wine shows a dark purple color with pink tinges in the glass. It is floral on the nose, with hints of cedar and mushroom. The wine is juicy on the palate – nice layers of flavor show including darker cherry and blueberry. The finish lasts for quite some time – the tannins linger more on the front of the palate rather than the back.
The 2012 Fortunati Vineyards Signature Cabernet Sauvignon shows a complex nose – it is a mix of spices, black pepper, black cherry and tobacco smoke. The wine is in balance – with more red fruit showing on the palate than darker. Notes of raspberry, red plum show – it has very nice acidity. The tannins are slightly chalky and long lingering, especially on the back of the palate.
The 2012 Fortunati Vineyards Porto Fino Dessert Wine is from estate grown Syrah that was harvested when all their Syrah was picked (it is not a late harvest wine). It was fortified with brandy. The aromas are rather delicate and floral with hints of red licorice. On the palate it is a nice mix of sweetness, acidity and alcohol with flavors of fig and blackberry. The wine has a soft and rounded mouth feel. This is a very balanced and might we also add, delicious dessert wine.
The name Fortunati perfectly represents both Ellen and Gary. Ellen is a first generation American and is partly Italian – she grew up speaking Italian in her family. Fortunati means “lucky” in Italian. And Gary’s nickname based on his last name ‘Luchtel” has always been lucky.
Fortunati Private Wine Lounge. Tastings are for serious enthusiasts and are held in north Napa (by appointment only) in a two-story set of offices appropriately called the Cooperage Square Business Center. This location is ideal as it is right next to Highway 29 on the north bound side. Tastings are private. At the time of our latest update, this small complex is now home to several Napa producers. An inviting image of their vineyard hangs on the fence next to the tasting room.
Fortunati does not distribute their wines – all wines are sold direct to consumer. Each wine is typically only a production in the several hundred case range or smaller. For more information and to join their wine club visit: www.fortunatiwines.com
Note: we heard that they have built a small winery on the estate and will be hosting select tastings. We will visit to update this review once we have more details.