Girard Winery. In the years since its founding vintage (1975) Girard has somehow survived the decades and undergone a remarkable transformation both in various site locations and ownership. Its roots are with Steve Girard (died in 2004), a Kaiser Corporation executive who served as president and executive of several Kaiser companies and his son Steve Jr. The Girard family decided to purchase land in Oakville (Steve Girard was getting ready to retire from Kaiser) and they purchased land in next to the Silverado Trail and Oakville Cross Road in 1974. They also owned property in Yountville near Domain Chandon. Ultimately Steve Jr ran the operations – building a winery in 1980.
Steve Jr ran the winery – with his winemaker producing excellent wines – at one point they were served at the White House and also taken on a Presidential visit to China by President Reagan. Stephen eventually sold the winery in 1996 to Leslie Rudd – the current site of Rudd Winery. Steve and Carol Girard then moved to Oregon to focus on Pinot Noir and built and operated Benton-Lane Winery located northwest of Eugene – before selling the winery in early 2018.
Girard Winery stopped producing wines for several years until vintner Pat Roney – President and a founding partner of Vintage Wine Estates (along with Leslie Rudd of Rudd Winery, Michael Stewart and Chuck Sweeney, one of the founders of Napa’s Vine Cliff Winery) based in Santa Rosa purchased the Girard Winery name in 2000. Today Vintage Wine Estates has become a significant player in the wine worlds of Napa and Sonoma – with the acquisition of a number of winery properties and vineyards in both counties. In Napa, as of our latest update – in addition to Girard, they own Clos Pegase, Cosentino, Delectus, Swanson and the former Napa based Cartlidge & Brown.
Pat has a strong background in the wine industry as past President of several Sonoma Valley Wineries & the iconic wine shop, Dean & Deluca. He is also a partner in the well-regarded custom crush facility south of the city of Napa, Bin to Bottle.
And the wines have been made in a number of locations over the years, including at a small winery on Pritchard Hill above Oakville where we first visited Girard many years ago (now owned by Napa vintner Dave Del Dotto). More recently, until the 2017 vintage, Girard has technically been a Sonoma County winery as the wines were made in a warehouse location near the town of Sonoma. In 2017 and 2018 a state of the art winery and hospitality center was built in the north part of the Napa Valley – just south of Calistoga and across the street from Clos Pegase.
For many years, they have maintained a beautiful tasting room open to the public, located right next to Kelly’s Filling Station & Wine Shop in north Yountville (called NoYo if you are a local, a Yountie). This tasting room is in Washington Square, a collection of small shops and tourism related businesses within walking distance of a number of hotels, restaurants and other tasting rooms. Yountville is small enough that if you are up for a walk you can make this tasting room and this part of town a destination for the morning or afternoon. The tasting room is modern and well setup with both a bar as well as walk-in sit down tables. A scraped/sandpapered effect on the white paint on the walls is a nice touch to the main room.
Girard offers two private by appointment sit down tastings in the VIP lounge. Both tastings include current releases as well as select limited release and library wines – one tasting is paired with a variety of cheeses and charcuteries. Serious wine enthusiasts can make an appointment well in advance to visit their actual winemaking facility. As with the town of Napa, Yountville has seen a serious increase in tasting facilities and several additional tasting rooms are within walking distance of Girard.
Girard’s motto could easily be “high quality wines at affordable prices” – this is very true. In general, their wines have great mouth feel, big aromatics and are reasonably priced.
As of the time of our latest update, Girard uses indigenous yeasts to kick off the fermentation for all their wines with the exception being their Sauvignon Blanc which is inoculated with commercial yeasts. We tried the 2007 vintage – this by the way is also the only filtered wine in their lineup. It sees only tank (no barrel), it is a bright wine that is crisp and refreshing with aromas of guava and grapefruit with the citrus characteristics carrying over to the palate. Are you under the impression that a 100% malolactic fermented Chardonnay always produces a wine that is buttery. Not so. This wine uses a type of yeast that doesn’t create huge amounts of diacetyl, the by product of fermentation that brings the “buttery” characteristics to Chardonnay. As a result, this wine is crisper than you would expect, with a soft mouth feel with a lingering finish full of toasted almond and other nice nutty characteristics. This wine delivers an impressive amount of fruit both on the bouquet and the palate.
A wine of note is their 2006 Old Vine Zinfandel. This is 77% Zinfandel (some vines up to 100 years old) with 23% being a mix of Rhone Varietals. We’ve long wondered which vineyard is the highest one in Napa County. Look no further – the Harris Blue Ridge Vineyard which provides some of the Zinfandel fruit for this wine is Napa County’s highest vineyard at about 2700 feet in the isolated region on the slopes of Mt. Vaca next to the Solano County line (followed by Lampyridae Vineyards on Mt Veeder at slightly over 2500 feet at its high point). There are other high vineyards on Howell Mountain, Atlas Peak (Kongsgaard) and on Mt. Veeder, but certainly none as high as this one.
The style of this wine is more refined and elegant rather then being over ripe and high alcohol with overly spicy notes that we’ve certainly tried in Zinfandels from other Napa producers.
Girard is best known for their Artistry blend which incorporates the five main Bordeaux varietals. Aside from the great aromatics and appealing fruit characteristics on the palate, the price of this wine has always been attractive. Want their “cult wine” – try the Petite Sirah. This is a big wine from a small berried clone sourced from a fairly warm weather location (Calistoga) and as a result produces very rich concentrated flavors. Their Limited Production wines are generally under 1000 cases and are not sold online.
The 2005 Diamond Mountain was their first vintage using Diamond Mountain fruit (their winemaker has past experience with fruit from this appellation) and this is a very appealing wine. Smooth and soft with juicy fruit this wine sees extended maceration; texturally the tannins are well managed. Their Cabernet Franc is only bottled as its own varietal during “high quality” years and when produced is only available in limited quantities. As they say at Girard, there is “always something happening at the tasting room”. Special days include chocolate pairings, wine and cheese, a library wine day and more!
During the summer, Girard’s Yountville tasting room is regularly open later than most tasting venues – usually until 7 or 8pm. They are also setup to hold private events from several to 100 people including receptions or full-service sit downs.
For more information and or to join their wine club, visit: www.girardwinery.com
Note: In exciting news for Girard, as of mid 2018 construction continues on what will be a rather sizable winery – almost across from Clos Pegase at 1077 Dunaweal Lane (just south of Calistoga). The location is certainly convenient as the parent company, Vintage Wine Estates based – also own Clos Pegase.
We continue to keep a close eye on the construction progress and will visit and update this review once the winery and hospitality center opens (currently estimated to be sometime in late August or September 2018).