Highlands Winery dates back to its days of being owned by another Napa winery, Freemark Abbey. It was sold in 2005 and today it is privately held by two partners, Paul Seagus and Dave Cofran, both Napa wine industry veterans. Dave (who we met with at his home) has a long history in the wine industry dating back over 45 years. He is a graduate of UC Davis during the mid 1960’s from a class that produced industry pioneer winemakers for Napa including Justin Meyer (Silver Oak Cellars), Ric Forman (Forman Vineyards) and Nils Venge ( Saddleback Cellars and Envy Winery). Dave worked as General Manager at Silver Oak Cellars for almost 20 years before retiring. We also visited with Dave for a review of another winery he was involved in called Strata.
Paul worked as an executive at IBM in the early 1970’s, had a desire to get into the wine industry, but had very little wine related knowledge. He acquired Napa property, planted vineyards, took viticulture classes and in a relatively short amount of time his vineyards were being highly coveted by select wineries including Chateau Montelena, Joseph Phelps and Robert Mondavi.
Highlands Winery dates back to 2000 when Paul met the owners of Freemark Abbey (now owned by Jess Jackson Artisan and Estates Group). Paul met their winemaker at the time, Bruce Scotland and together both men decided to create Highlands Winery (never associated with Freemark Abbey). In 2005 Paul switched partners – he purchased Bruce’s share of the company and brought on Dave as his business partner – the timing was good as Dave had recently retired from Silver Oak.
And a third partner was also added in 2005, Thian Hoo (TH) Tan. TH was born and grew up in Penang Malaysia – his story is a fascinating one from how he grew up in the slums to taking the helm of a billion dollar company. He was CEO of Komag Inc., before ultimately retiring in 2006. He has helped promote the Highland wines in a variety of ways including in the Silicon Valley and select parts of Asia.
The initial focus of Highlands was fairly specific, a 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel each year, always from two select vineyards on Howell Mountain. Incidentally Howell Mountain was the first AVA within Napa, formed in 1983; today there are 16 AVA’s with Coombsville being the newest and probably the last for some time. Production has somewhat expanded and today they also produce a Merlot, Pinot Noir and a Zinfandel.
One of their vineyards deserves special mention. It is the Black Sears vineyard and is highly sought after by those in the know who produce Zinfandel & Cabernet Sauvignon (D Cubed, Turley etc). There are only several other vineyards in Napa County higher than this one; the uppermost part of this vineyards sits and an elevation of just under 2,500 feet; the vines are completely organically farmed and the older vines are still head-pruned. This is also a unique site because it is one of the few places in Napa Valley where on an extremely clear day one can look far to the east and see the tops of the Sierra Nevada mountains (parts of Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak are the best places in all of Napa to enjoy these stellar views of the Sierra).
The other vineyard they source from is Beatty Ranch which is located at about 1800 feet (also in Howell Mountain). This vineyard is source for the oldest Zinfandel grapes on Howell Mountain. Two parts of the Napa Valley are known for producing Zinfandel – Calistoga and Howell Mountain; today there are still a number of Zinfandel producers and vineyards in this sub appellation.
We tried the delicious 2004 Highland Wines Zinfandel. This is mountain grown fruit and the nose is a characteristic of a full bodied rich Zinfandel. The aromas are intense which lead to a plethora of up front fruit flavors including various berries including blackberry and raspberry with a structured slightly spicy mid palate to finish.
You can find their wine locally at Backroom Wines in Napa or taste select releases at Silenus Vintners (located near Yountville). With approximately 2000 cases produced each year you can also find the wine in select major markets across the US.
For more information or to join their wine club, visit: www.highlandswinery.com
NOTE: Last we heard, the wines may be selectively available for tasting at the Fairwinds Estate tasting room along the Silverado Trail (just south of the town of Calistoga).
Note 1: this review has been identified as needing a *major* update.