Gustavo Wine is operated by long time Napa winemaker, Gustavo Brambila. The retail/tasting room is located just down the street from the Napa wine train and across the street from Gott’s Roadside (upscale burgers). Nearby Copia (still closed), the center for Wine, Food & Arts initially attracted a number of tasting facilities all of which are located within several blocks of the main Copia center. Since Copia closed, these tasting rooms are still here and additional ones have also opened in this part of town.
This is the Oxbow District of Napa – (just east of downtown) and has become a destination in and of itself for small eateries inside the Oxbow Public Market, a diversity of tasting rooms all within a short walk of each other and for the social aspects. It is easy to whittle away several hours just in this part of town – walking from tasting room to tasting room.
Their original tasting room was located in downtown Napa (a partnership between Gustavo Brambila and Thrace Bromberger). This was the city of Napa’s first winery collective having opened in 2002. No longer a collective, the tasting room focuses on the Gustavo Wines. Long time business partner, Thrace Bromberger retired and moved on to another wine related position
Born in the tiny town of San Clemente, Jalisco in Mexico Gustavo moved to the Napa Valley with his father who worked for Beaulieu Vineyards during the 1960’s.
Gustavo remembers the first time he became interested in wine – his father brought home a bottle of juice from crushed Muscat grapes. He remembers the diversity of aromas from this varietal and it’s sweetness – almost like a creamy soda. Deciding not to drink the rest of the juice he put the cap back on and put it in his mother’s refrigerator and forgot all about it. His memory was quickly jarred two weeks later when the inside of the refrigerator was covered with fermenting juice and shards of glass as the bottle had exploded. He mom wanted to know what had just occurred – Gustavo told her he wasn’t sure but he was going to find out.
Through his father’s connections he took an internship at Beaulieu Vineyard in 1967. It was here he met one of Napa’s most accomplished winemakers André Tchelistcheff and also a young Mike Grgich.
He remembers at the time colleges were not producing a lot of winemakers but that Fresno State had well established viticulture and oenology programs. Perhaps preferring to stick closer to home he attended the University of California Davis. He was one of the first Latino graduates from UC Davis’s Fermentation Sciences program.
After graduating Gustavo took a job at Chateau Montelena working alongside Mike Grgich (who he had met a number of years prior while interning at Beaulieu Vineyard). Gustavo is spotlighted in the feel good wine movie Bottle Shock which loosely tells the story of the 1976 Paris Tasting in which wines from several Napa wineries won this now famous blind tasting (including the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay).
Later in 1977 Gustavo followed Mike Grgich to a winery (Grgich Hills) that Mike had founded with his partner Austin Hills; Gustavo worked on their first harvest. Not only did Gustavo help create the winning Chardonnay in the Paris Tasting of 1976 but several years later his work with Mike Grgich would again be rewarded. The Great Chardonnay Showdown was organized in 1980 in Chicago. Over 200 Chardonnays were entered in this competition with some International wines also represented. By the end of the competition Grgich Hill’s first Chardonnay vintage, the 1977 had triumphed over all the entries.
Gustavo spent more than 20 years at Grgich Hills. During the end of his tenure here he started making his own wine. This was in 1996 with merely 250 cases of wine. A 50 case Zinfandel was his first release. At his busiest time he making almost 8,000 cases each year. Today their annual production is closer to 2,500 cases. It was also in 1996 that Gustavo left Grgich Hills to spend time building his own wine brand. However word got around that he had left and Tony Peju of Peju Winery brought him on board to help oversee quality control at Peju Winery for several years.
Today Gustavo focuses on Gustavo Wine and consults as a winemaker for several clients (small premium producers).
The focus of his wine-making is to stay true to the varietal, creating balanced food friendly wines in the style of the ‘old world’. He strives to create wines that don’t necessarily taste the same each year – respecting the vintage variations based on any given growing season. In 40 years he said he has never had one wine taste exactly like another wine. He wants to create the best possible wines from the fruit that is presented to him in the winery.
Gustavo owns a vineyard management company – and conveniently his son Brendan manages a number of the Napa vineyards that the wines for Gustavo are sourced from. Vineyard sources are extremely important and he chooses them carefully – looking at a number of key components per site including the soil, water availability, sun, and wind. The keys to growing good wine start in the vineyard and he has carefully trained his son to have the necessary tools to manage the vineyards to create the style of wines (in the vineyards) to be synergistic with how he makes the wine in the winery.
His wines have good balance – all have mouth watering acidity and tannin integration is especially important. Stylistically he is not making wines that are high alcohol in which the varietal characteristics are lost. He wants fruit to arrive at the winery – already in balance.
The 2013 Oak Knoll Chardonnay was sourced from Napa’s Oak Knoll District – it is made in a White Burgundian style. 90% of the wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks with 10% in oak – only about 15% went through malolactic fermentation. The nose shows citrus blossom, a minerality (pencil shavings) and a toasted baking spice component.
The palate shows a richness of flavor well balanced between both a crispness and slight viscosity of weight. The finish is lively with lingering notes of lime and a slight dry component (delicate tannins) that lingers after the fruit.
Every so often the winery will re-release older vintages. Such is the case with their 2008 Russian River Pinot Noir. The bouquet is bright, lively and pretty. It shows a dusty component, tinges of mocha – both of which are anchored by aromas of strawberry and raspberry. This wine has good structure from the mid palate to the finish – notes of cranberry and red cherry show on the palate. Very good acidity with both fruit and wood tannins anchoring the finish.
2014 Sierra Foothills Barbera. Aromatically this wine is voluptuous and generous perhaps leading one to think the palate may be jammy or to ripe. Not so, on the palate there is a core of higher toned fruit – red cherry and strawberry with very good acidity. The tannins are soft and well integrated lingering both on the front and sides of the palate
The 2011 Atlas Peak Merlot is a sizable wine both aromatically and on the palate. The rich bouquet shows ripe blackberry and dessert spices. The entry is soft but quickly gains complexity of flavor. The slightly dusty tannins are well integrated. Like Gustavo’s other wines this Merlot shows excellent acidity. Juicy, mouth watering finish.
In building Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons over the years, Gustavo has experimented with fruit from a variety of the various sub appellations within the valley. He enjoys the complexities that blending fruit from various terroir brings to a finished wine and strives to create this wine each year to showcase different nuances found in different parts of the valley. Ultimately he found vineyards that blended well together from Coombsville, Atlas Peak and Rutherford. The 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon shows an elegant nose, nuances of smoke, mocha and blackberry and blueberry. The palate is clean, well balanced with firm integrated tannins. This is a nice food wine.
All their small production wines are single varietals (usually in quantities of fifty to two hundred cases. However Gustavo makes two wines that are blends from all Napa fruit: the Third Bottle Red and the Third Bottle White. These are two wines priced very affordable and are styled to be ready to drink young. The name, “Third Bottle” has an interesting story.
One year, Gustavo was hosting a New York distributor of his wines – and by the end of the evening all present had enjoyed a significant amount of wine. Late in the evening they weren’t sure what they were drinking anymore (palate fatigue) but they realized they had run out of wine. Gustavo sent someone to his cellar and they opened and then returned with a bottle of 1969 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges La Tour Private Reserve. When morning came Gustavo discovered this rare and expensive bottle of wine was 90% full and clearly the guests were in no position to either enjoy the significance of this bottle or the wine itself.
Thus the idea and name for this wine was conceived. A easy to drink affordable well-made wine that you can reach for later – after you have enjoyed the older or rarer wines.
Visitors to the tasting room will notice select pieces of art by various artists. Often they feature an individual artist. Serious wine enthusiasts can make an appointment to taste the wines in their small tasting room adjoining the winery in a business park south of the city of Napa (about 15 minute drive from their primary tasting room). While the focus here is on the Gustavo label – another label (Avinodos) run by Gustavo’s son Lorn and his business partner Dan is also available for tasting.
The wines are reasonably priced, often less than you would pay from some of Napa’s more well-known wineries. Here is a situation where you have a long time vintner who is extremely well qualified, excellent fruit sources with much less overhead of housing the winery in a business park. The savings are clearly passed on to the consumer.
To join their wine club or for more information visit: www.gustavowine.com