Jarvis Estate Winery is located on Highway 121 on the way towards Lake Berryessa – only about a 15 minute drive from downtown Napa. The estate is over 1,320 acres of which only 37 are planted to vine.
The winery was founded by William and Leticia Jarvis. William met Leticia in Mexico where he was studying Spanish – she is from Puebla Mexico. William was born in 1925 and grew up in Oklahoma and has led a fascinating life. He was an officer in the Navy stationed in China slightly after World War II. After returning stateside he attended both UC Berkeley and later earned his MBA at Stanford University. After graduating, he worked for Hewlett Packard and in 1960 co-founded Wiltron, an extremely successful electronics company that was based in the Silicon Valley. William was president of Wiltron for 25 years before stepping away in 1985 – Jarvis Drive in Morgan Hill, site of the company’s later operations was named after William. Wiltron was purchased by Anritsu in 1991.
Much later in life William wrote a fascinating book about his family history – available for sale in hard cover at the winery. Both he and Leticia have lived and traveled extensively throughout Europe and have an appreciation for fine wine. The first wines made on the property were made by William prior to the cave being built.
When one owns 1,300+ acres and are growing grapes on the property, water sources on site are critical. Two small ponds on site are appropriately named Lake Leticia and Lake William. Parts of the property burned during the terrible Atlas Peak fires in October 2017 – fortunately most of their product was safely stored in the cave during the fires – although they did lose a number of case goods that was being stored near one of the entrances to the cave near where the fire burned.
In what is possibly the most diverse vineyard in all of the Napa Valley – the Experimental Vineyard contains some 55 varieties of grapes – both table grapes and wine grapes. Traditional varietals that Napa has become known for are grown here including Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay but this vineyard also contains obscure varietals that one will never see planted commercially in the Napa Valley such as Perlette, Pedro Ximenez and Muscat Hamburg, to but name a few.
Due to its somewhat isolated location from the rest of the Napa Wineries be sure to allow yourself ample time to get here. Also summer months can be booked up well in advance. Once you pull in off of Highway 121 and are buzzed in through their gate – the drive winds past some of their vineyards – ultimately reaching the winery entrance in about 3/4 of a mile. There is nothing here that would lead one to believe such a visually stunning cave exists under this hillside – other than the two simple entrance doors. The entire tour and tasting takes place within the caves.
The highlight of a visit here is the tour and tasting through the 45,000 square foot cave system. All wine making facilities are located within the cave itself including their offices. Because of this, it is not an intrusive winery on the surrounding landscape. Coupled with a huge solar array installed in 2008 Jarvis is a fairly “green”, electrically self sustaining winery. This winery feels like a complete underground city. We propose one office be on hydraulics in which it would raise above ground for the beautiful views and then lower back into the cave at closing time!
This cave is arguably one of the top 5 most interesting winery caves in all of the Napa Valley. A natural spring within the cave system was discovered while drilling the cave. They were advised rather to plug it up and take the risk of it leaking out somewhere else in the cave – to incorporate the water as a feature of the cave. And this extra water actually helps maintain a higher humidity content – and helps limit the evaporation of their wines in barrel.
A beautiful waterfall flows into a ‘river channel’ in the floor of one of the tunnels – and this runs for some distance through the cave. The entrance to the tasting grotto is certainly one of the more unique presentations in the Napa Valley. One must walk on large stones over the small creek. The Crystal room contains large geodes of amethyst and other crystals – all imported from Brazil and other countries. Another cavern can comfortably hold up to 500 people, and yes they hold some of the most memorable hi-so events in the valley.
Other highlights of the tour include a small room where the reserve wines and large format bottles are all hand dipped in wax. The wax comes in small colored blocks; these blocks are then put into a pot and heated so that the wax melts – the already corked bottles are then lowered into the wax. Unlike other wax coated bottles, they score the top of the wax so that is can easily be removed with a knife prior to opening.
The tasting is held on a large stone covered table which seats no more than 10 people in a very well lighted tasting cavern. Tastings and tours are limited to under 10 people.
Their focus is on red wine (all are unfiltered) but they do produce several premium chardonnays. The 2013 Finch Hollow Chardonnay (a tiny vineyard block seen from the highway before approaching their gated driveway) was barrel aged in new French oak and aged surlie. It shows nice notes of caramel, citrus blossom and a pleasing lemon zest on the bouquet. As the bouquet opens nuances of yellow pineapple show and as the wine continues to open these aromas become more caramel like. This wine is supple and rounded on the palate with a rich finish showing both fruit and toasted oak.
The 2017 Jarvis Finch Hollow Chardonnay is golden yellow with rich aromatics including popcorn, citrus, and a lemon zest. As this wine breathes it reveals additional aromas including notes of almond and crème brûlée. Intensely flavored across the palate with mineral nuances – the entry is rounded and soft but not necessarily creamy. Complemented nicely by a lively acidity with a long finish showing notes of citrus. Recommended serving temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit and Jarvis suggest pairing this wine with a variety of seafood including oysters and scallops.
The 2011 Jarvis Cabernet Franc was produced in a challenging year for the Napa Valley that saw late rains into June and early rains coming in September. Not all the valley was affected in the same way – parts of the valley produced better wines during this year than others. Cabernet Franc can sometimes produce green aromas and even taste a bit green on the palate. This wine is not green but does show an easily recognizable hint of toasted pepper – as the wine opens more like a Serrano pepper. It is nice to discover a wine that has some character on the bouquet such as this one. Earthy aromas also show with notes of mushroom and some spice. On the plate, this is a very well balanced wine, showing good acidity and framed by tempered and integrated fine grained tannins.
The Lake William Blend is generally a steak wine showing good fruit up front in the nose and a softness in the mouth that seemed to carry over into the several vintages we tried including the 2009.
Of note is the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve which is only made from the best juice and only during certain premium vintage years. The 2006 Jarvis Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve was 9 years old at the time of our most recent visit. It is starting to show a brick red color in the glass from it’s aging. A certain spice shows on the nose continuing as the wine opens – cloves and perhaps a touch of cardamon, with nice fruit notes of black fig and black licorice. Hints of mocha show on the finish anchored by lingering fruit and still fairly robust but certainly softened tannins.
Science Project is a wine created by William and Leticia’s son Will. While in 8th grade at Harker Boarding School in San Jose, California Will decided to make wine for his eight grade science project. He used a tiny two-gallon barrel to age the wine in his dorm room. Ten years later Will showed this wine to his parents – they all tried some and were pleasantly surprised at the quality. The family decided to bottle a wine commercially in honor of Will’s own wine – the first vintage of what is called the Will Jarvis’ Science Project was from the 2007 vintage – it is made every year, a Cabernet Franc dominated wine and is always aged in smaller barrels.
Well-known consulting winemaker Dimitri Tchelistcheff (died at age 87 in Hawaii 2017) was the founding winemaker at Jarvis in 1988. He was the son of well known winemaker André Tchelistcheff. Dimitri enjoyed a long career in the business, first starting at Beaulieu Vineyard in 1944 as a lab assistant for his father. He went on to be a part of Gallo’s wine making team and eventually took a series of wine consulting positions. He spent his later years living in Hawaii.
Associate Vintner Program
Jarvis offers a unique opportunity to make your own wine using grapes from their own vineyards. A small section of their cave is dedicated to vintners who participate in this program. Choose from either 1/2 or full barrels – one can be as hands on as one likes with the goal of creating a customized wine. Choose the varietals and once these grapes have been fermented, the Jarvis winemaker will offer guidance throughout the aging process including feedback on blending and when to rack the wine. Associate vintners can be as hands on or as hands off as they like throughout the winemaking.
The wine is ultimately bottled with a custom label – while not bottled to sell commercially, the wine can be enjoyed with family and friends and or be used for gifts.
The Jarvis’s also founded the Jarvis Conservatory, based in Napa (a few blocks from downtown – see photos below). This was the old Lisbon Winery built in 1882 by founder J. A. Mathews, who was born in Lisbon, Portugal. The winery was in operation until 1976; it was significantly renovated after William and Leticia purchased the property. It is an excellent resource for the city of Napa for arts, music and opera performances. The conservatory features several annual workshops including Spanish opera, Baroque dance and a puppet festival. Art films are presented in high definition.
For more information and or to join the inner circle membership, visit: www.jarviswines.com