Heritage School Vineyards (originally Harris Estate Vineyards) was founded by the husband wife team of Mike & Treva Harris. We first met with Mike at the estate and then later followed up by tasting at their appointment only outlet – Salon St. Helena in downtown (now closed). Mike & Treva purchased 48 wooded acres here in 1997 and then cleared 7 acres for planting vines. Their vineyards are located in a unique part of the Napa Valley – in an area known as Franz Valley. The term “valley” is somewhat misleading for this area as most of the plantable vineyard land is hillside. Their location however, is minutes away from the town of Calistoga and the main valley floor. Their nearby vineyard neighbor, Grgich Hills has farmed this area for many years and some of the fruit from Mike Grgich’s vineyard was used in the 1973 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel (same year but different varietal than what won at the Paris Tasting of 1976).
In 2014 Harris Estate Vineyards was acquired by David and Linda Jenkins and later renamed to Heritage School Vineyards.
They manage three uniquely different vineyards: Trevas, Lakeview and Jake’s Creek. Each vineyard is predominantly planted with the same clone of Cabernet Sauvignon each has unique soils. The Trevas is a hillside location with red very rocky soil reminiscent of the soil types you might find across the valley on Howell Mountain or even in parts of Oakville. The wines produced from this vineyard are often high in fruit flavors with higher alcohol i.e. California “cult wines”. The Lakeview vineyard is situated in very chalky soil and produces wines that have a lot of spices on the palate. The Jake’s Creek Vineyard (named after their dog Jake), produces a Bordeaux style wine with good acidity; it is this wine of their three vineyards that has the longest aging potential.
For small production and small acreage the dramatic differences in their vineyards really make this property unique. Because of the soil types, these vineyards are a classic example of how different teroir can provide wines with completely different flavors and structure. After walking the vineyards for the first time their winemaker said “If I can’t make great wine from this fruit, you should fire me!”
Heritage School Vineyards uses a 100% new French Oak program using the same cooperage, and for the most part the wines from all three vineyards are treated the same. Generally speaking, there are three factors that make great wines, the vineyard location, the winemaker (the sought after Thomas Brown who won winemaker of the year in 2010 from Food and Wine Magazine, and the particular vintage. Harris has definitely nailed the first two factors which is certainly all you can ask of a small producer.
The estate’s first commercial Vintage was in 2002. Right out of the gate they earned a 94 rating from Robert Parker for their Trevas vineyard wine. What a way to start off with a bang! At the time, Mike Harris had only one vineyard employee and was is personally involved in all aspects of the vineyard management including dropping fruit, canopy management, trellising as well as harvest and final blending decisions.
The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Jakes Vineyard is from a vineyard named after their original black lab, Jake. This vintage has a very distinctive nose – its earthy, with notes of mushrooms, sweaty leather and black cherry. As the wine breathes a wonderful core of sweet fruit starts to show. The wine is very dark in the glass. The entry is soft, rounded and immediately, despite the 15% alcohol, you can tell this wine has decent acidity. The fruit is lively both on the bouquet and the pleasing palate shows notes of red licorice and tangy cherry.
The 2008 Indulgence is their first wine from fruit off the estate and is a blend of three Cabernet clones. It shows an appealing bouquet – the aromas are rich, red and slightly dusty. Its an elegant nose but it certainly shows ripe California fruit with a hint of spiciness. The palate is bright, lively and shows good acidity. This wine has an especially long finish.
Heritage School Vineyards does not produce a lot of wine – about 1000 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon annually. As a result, the majority of their wine is distributed through their mailing list. You can find their wine locally at Dean and DeLuca Wine shop & ACME wine shop in Saint Helena, and on the wine list at Brix Restaurant.
NOTE: this review has been identified as needing an update.
Appointments for serious wine enthusiasts can be made for visiting their vineyard estate. Visit: www.heritageschoolvineyards.com