Holman Cellars was founded in 2010 by husband and wife Jason and Helen Holman. These are people you will want to meet. Both are passionate about wine, young and just in the beginning of what will hopefully be long careers in the wine industry. Their path to owning a winery in the Napa Valley is an interesting one. Both met on their first day attending law school in Seattle. Jason is the winemaker but it really is his wife’s family who is responsible for his second career after he retired from law. Helen’s uncle is long time Napa vintner John Kongsgaard. Helen introduced Jason to Napa and wine making through “learning by doing”. His first winery experience came during the Fall in the middle of the busy harvest season. This time of year, while often chaotic in the wineries is a great time to learn the process of wine making.
With John as his mentor Jason learned how to make wine from the ground up. John taught him less about the analysis and “making numbers match” – but more about invoking the senses and exploring the artistry of making wine – things as simple as how does yeast smell and how does fermentation sound at various stages.
Jason also worked with Andy Erickson at Favia Wines, at Ovid Winery on Pritchard Hill and spent some time wine making in South Africa. All of his wine making skills are from real world experience working with some of the best in the business.
He started making home wine in a old barn in Coombsville (just east of the city of Napa) in 2008 and 2009 and then took the jump to commercial production in 2010. His total production is merely 400 cases – only a few barrels are usually produced of each wine.
Their winery is located in south Napa in an industrial park. One could spend a week or more just visiting Napa industrial park located wineries – there is even an association of select Napa industrial/business park wineries (of which Holman is a member). A visit here as Helen says, “is one in which you come as a friend but leave as family”. Tastings are by appointment and are highly personalized – always meeting with either Jason or Helen.
Jason tends to age his reds for 36 months in barrel – some new but most once or twice used oak. As a result, current releases are usually 4 years old. The 2010 Uncharted Vineyard Blend is from a vineyard in Winters (Yolo County) – long time fruit orchard farmers grew their trees in the flatlands but never utilized their hillside land. They experimented with some grapevines from UC Davis – planted them, had success and soon planted out more of their hillside land to vines. Jason sources the grapes from their vineyards but he has complete control of how he wants his portion of their vineyard managed.
The 2010 vintage is a blend of Syrah, Tempranillo and Viognier. The bouquet is very floral with aromatics influenced by the Syrah and the Viognier in particular. Hints of white pepper on the nose. The palate shows delicious red fruit notably red cherry. The wine shows good concentration with decent structure anchoring the finish.
The 2010 Uncharted Red Wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc sourced from both Coombsville and Atlas Peak. A showy nose aromatically reveals pleasing notes of blackberry, cocoa and strawberry. This is the biggest of the three wines – with robust tannins that initially show more in the front of the palate than on the back.
Only 40 cases of the 2010 Fate Wine was produced. This is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. It shows fairly dark in the glass; the bouquet is lively, bright and very aromatic with an underlying component of spice showing – perhaps a touch of white pepper. The tannins are well integrated in the long finish. This is a very well balanced wine.
Then in 2011 Jason took the opposite approach with several of his wines – they are 100% varietal including a rare for Napa, 100% Petit Verdot.
Holman Cellars also runs a “make your own wine barrel” program – with the idea to provide passionate consumers additional education about the actual wine making side of the industry – and at the same time, be the proud owner of a barrel of wine. Individuals can put in as little or as much time into this program as they like. Work along side Jason and learn about wine making – such as using a refractometer, how to rack a wine barrel, titration and more.
In addition to the winery, they also run DemiJohn Imports. Both Helen and Jason enjoy travel and often visit France. During their trips they seek out and build relationships with small family run French wine producers – focusing on Bordeaux and Burgundy. When they are doing research for which wines to bring to the United States they always ask one question, “Who is doing unique and creative wine making in these traditional old world wine regions?” This has led them to a number of small producers whose only distributions in the USA is through DemiJohn Imports.
A visit to the winery is not only about trying the wines of Holman Cellars but also these hard to find French wines. It is interesting to contrast the Napa style of wine making based on its terroir versus the French style of wine making. And you can try both styles of wines side by side.
While Jason is a retired lawyer turned vintner, Helen is mostly retired from law. She used to offer historical walking tours of downtown Napa through the company, Walking Tours of Napa, dressing up in period clothing along with noted historian, George Weber. We have been on one of George’s historical tours; this organization does a great job of bringing historical Napa to life.
For more information about Holman Cellars and to make an appointment, visit: www.holmancellars.com
NOTE: Holman Cellars opened a shared tasting room (Rebel Vintners) on 1201 1st Street in downtown Napa in mid April with vintners and personal friends Tim Keith of Leaf & Vine and Kevin Cadle of Cadle Family Wines. Wines from all three vintners can be tasted here – no appointment required.