Franciscan Estate is an aesthetically pleasing winery located on the east side of St. Helena Highway just north of the Rutherford Cross Road. Pull into the short tree lined driveway and pass by the central fountain for parking. Icon Estates, the parent company also owns the nearby famous Robert Mondavi Winery. In fact Icon’s corporate headquarters are just up the road towards St. Helena. They are truly an International wine company with holdings in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the states. Franciscan is known for their red wines especially their Cabernet Sauvignon. Several tours and tastings are offered including a vineyard tour, a sensory seminar, and also a tasting of blended only wines – call for reservations. The general tasting bar is open to the public and you can walk right in without an appointment. The metal topped counter surrounds the main tasting area and like many large Napa Valley wineries, can be quite crowded at certain times of the year. The tasting room staff is quite friendly and as with any large tasting room in the valley, the less people tasting, the more positive the experience.
Franciscan’s history in the Napa Valley dates back to 1975 with their first vintage, a Cabernet Sauvignon made by the late Justin Meyer (of Silver Oak Winery fame). The well-known vintner August Huneeus (owner of Quintessa Winery) was instrumental in forming their proprietary Bordeaux blend. As with other hallmark wineries in the valley, Franciscan has a signature Cabernet Sauvignon wine, and this is called Magnificat. Great care goes into the making of their wines. All juice is fermented and then aged separately based on specific lots in the vineyards. The wine is integrated during their blending trials just before bottling which is a fairly time intensive process. Consider the fact they start with approximately 400 small lots and some years only end up with half of this making the cut.
Choose from three flights of tastings – each flight includes a souvenir glass. If you enjoy big red wines try their Altitude flight – these are all wines from their Mt. Veeder collection. Mt. Veeder Winery is part of Franciscan and is located at about 2000 feet in the western Mayacamas mountains. Sit in the gardens at Mondavi winery and look west, you will be looking in the general direction of Mt. Veeder. Mt. Veeder is its own separate winery under the same ownership, and its wine is actually made on site at Franciscan. Their Veeder Reserve is a big wine using only the best grapes from their property. It is a full bodied wine strong in tannins with a long slightly peppery finish. Franciscan developed Napa Valley’s first 100% wild-yeast fermented Chardonnay; this was unusual at the time as the other area wineries were using cultured yeast, rather than the native yeast from the vineyards. Native yeasts are more temperamental than cultured yeasts and require careful observation. Today they continue to use native yeasts in most of their Chardonnays. The grounds are nice to walk around on and many olive trees grow here. The fountain which sits in the middle of the circular driveway is a great spot for taking photos. Ask about joining one their “Expressions of the Vine” wine clubs – membership gives you perks and other benefits to additional Icon Estates owned wineries.