Joseph Cellars Winery is owned by the Bartholomew Family. Joe Bartholomew is originally from Florida but has been coming to the Napa Valley since the 1970’s to try and satisfy his passion for fine wine.
However, these numerous visits did not quench his interest in fine wine and he decided to seriously take his passion to the next level; he started looking for vineyard property. Upon visiting real estate offices to scan through various vineyard sites for sale, agents quickly told him they receive many requests from visitors each month – many of whom fall in love with the notion of making wine on a passing whim. They told him that most of those requests never materialize. That did not discourage Joe; he continued to pursue his interest in owning a vineyard.
Vineyard land is at a premium in Napa; Joe soon realized this and expanded his search into Sonoma. However, he wasn’t shopping to settle for just any property – eventually he realized he wanted to be in the shadow of the Mayacamus Mountains preferring its cooling exposure especially in the late afternoons in the summer. With a vision of building a winery and a hospitality center, he also knew he wanted to be located next to one of the main roads in the valley.
Joe shopped for vineyard real estate for more than three years. A number of years ago he was introduced to long time Napa vineyard pioneer Laurie Wood (a mentor to many in the valley, now deceased) and Laurie sold him what is now Joseph Cellar’s estate vineyard as well as plenty of natural forested hillside land. The property is 32 acres and is partly in the Diamond Mountain AVA and partly in the Calistoga AVA. The winery is a very short drive from Calistoga (only about a mile to the south of town). Seven acres of Cabernet Sauvignon on site form their flagship 100% varietal estate wine.
Joe personally supervised major work on 12,000 square feet of caves (which is when we first caught up with him during the construction) as well as the wine center of which the majority was devoted to hospitality and events. Their production is under 5000 cases and certainly won’t come close to filling the space – they continue to offer space to custom crush clients – part of the cave is used for their barrel storage. And on a very hot day (as it often is in this part of the valley in the summer), walking into the cave can be a 30 to 40 degree temperature changes from the outside ambient air. Their cave is drilled 250 feet into the mountain and stay a constant 59 degrees Fahrenheit year round.
Hospitality plays a large role in any visit here – two full service kitchens are located on site, one devoted to events in the cave and one for the hospitality center. Food and wine pairings are also part of visits. Views are more than nice from this part of the valley – from the second floor of the winery/hospitality building one looks out over vineyards and onto towering Mt. St. Helena in the distance (sometimes boasting a dusting of snow in the winter) and the rocky steep palisades that form this part of the Vaca Mountains to the east.
Two experiences are offered – a tasting in the patio or inside the winery (sit down or bar seating available) or a more in depth tour and tasting within their wine cave (which also includes barrel samples).
Their estate vineyard was planted in the mid 1980’s; the valley floor part of their 27 acre property lies at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountain range in the Calistoga appellation while the uppermost forested hillsides are in Diamond Mountain. A small piece of the upper property is suitable for grapes and in the future they can have both an estate Calistoga and Diamond Mountain wine.
The Bartholomew Family currently focuses on three wines, their estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay from Rutherford and a Zinfandel from 100+ year old vines growing in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. However considering their close proximity to Duneawal Lane (arguably the heart of Old Vine Zinfandel in the Napa Valley), Joe recently acquired 5 acres of 100 year old Zinfandel vines and will have an estate Zinfandel in the future.
We don’t come across to much Chardonnay grown in Rutherford, an appellation known more for its Cabernet Sauvignon and its Sauvignon Blanc. Joseph Cellars sources their Chardonnay from a small vineyard near Rutherford Cross Road. Stylistically they strive to create a wine that is a balance between a lean Chardonnay and a wine that is heavily oaked with too much influence from the secondary fermentation.
The 2010 vintage shows an aromatically diverse bouquet – mineralities, graphite, citrus blossom (more in the background), oak as well as some tropical characteristics including pineapple and banana. The mouth feel is rich and rounded. Caramel, hints of vanilla and wood tannins anchor the long finish.
Their first vintage, the estate Cabernet Sauvignon dates from 2008 – this wine is 100% varietal. Their vineyard is carefully managed and only two tons or slightly less per acre is harvested each year.
This 2008 release has a pleasing palate profile and is very approachable in its youth. Aromatically the bouquet is lively showing ripe opulent notes of red and black fruit, initially white pepper and notes of leather. As the wine evolves in the glass pleasing holiday type spices appear – brown sugar, as well as hints of coffee. The mouth feel is rounded – with a wide expression of flavor, focusing on the fruit. Black cherry and blackberry linger through a delicate finish.
Part of the packaging is quite unique on this wine – it comes with a hanging pewter neck tag with the winery name engraved on the outside.
Distribution is extremely limited to a select number of restaurants – the majority of their wines are sold only at the winery. Visits are by appointment – they are currently seeing visitors; the winery and cave project has taken several years with pieces completed as time permits. Eventually another portal of the cave will be drilled to accommodate an increase in custom crush clients.
Yoga + wine enthusiasts take note – in the past Joseph Cellars has seasonally offered a Yoga + Champagne hour long event on Sunday mornings. Inquire as to availability and timing.
For more information and or to join their wine club, visit: www.josephcellars.com