Judds Hill Winery is owned and operated by the Finkelstein family. The story begins with Art Finklestein, a successful architect in Los Angeles. He began making home wine in the early 1970s and entered bottles in both the LA and Orange County Fairs – earning high praise from judges along with various awards.
His first trip to the Napa Valley was in 1971 – both he and his wife Bunnie were hooked by the landscape and lifestyle. In 1979, along with Art’s brother Alan Steen & his wife Charlene (one of Napa Valley’s most fascinating couples) purchased a vineyard along Highway 29 just south of St. Helena. Judd designed what would become Whitehall Lane Winery – releasing his first wine in 1980. Eventually as the winery grew to over 30,000 cases a year, the couples sold the winery (in 1988). And if you are wondering why the brothers have different last names, it is because Alan legally changed his name from Finklestein when he was a teenager.
And then Art and Bunnie purchased what became the original home for Judd’s Hill Winery – 14 acres in the hills above Conn Valley and Lake Hennessy (currently home of Aonair Winery). The winery name combines both the hillside location and the name of their son, Judd.
Unfortunately Art passed away in 2010; today Judd and his wife Holly oversee the winery operations. Judd’s Hill is located on the southern part of Silverado Trail slightly merely a few minutes north of the city of Napa. Visitors pull onto their small driveway, almost immediately crossing a very narrow bridge; the gravel road winds through the vineyards before reaching the winery and tasting room.
The winery is in a very picturesque location, among rolling vineyard hills surrounded by rows of grapes. Typically your host will provide a short production tour which involves seeing the “guts” of their operations (the cellar room). An ideal time to visit is during the harvest months when the winery is a hive of activity.
What sets this winery apart from other wineries are their MicroCrush services. This tiny wine making program specializes in making small batch wines (minimum quantity is 1 barrel – about 24 cases – 288 bottles). It is ideal for those looking to make vanity brands, special occasion wines or even those who make small lot wines for sale. Other custom crush facilities in the valley typically have much higher quantity limits – wineries such as Napa Wine Co and Laird Family Estate among others. Clients provide varietal and other related preferences – Judd’s Hill will then secure the grapes, do all of the wine making, aging, blending, bottling and can also provide labeling services.
Clients can be quite involved in the wine and decision making process down to processing fruit, de-stemming, barrel selection, blending and more. This is probably the most affordable hands off or hands on way (depending on how much involvement you want to have) to produce your own small label using Napa sourced fruit. Over the years they have produced wines for numerous clients; the impressive lineup of empty bottles along the shelf in their tasting room is a testament to the popularity of their services.
The sit down tasting room is small and elegantly furnished with windows overlooking parts of the vineyard. Their total production is about 3000 cases; for a winery of this size they produce diverse wines – often from varietals not usually offered by Napa based wineries (Grenache, Charbono & a GSM blend) and some of these wines are only available for purchase at the winery or on their website (no distribution). A typical tasting will include 5 or 6 wines. At the time of our latest visit, their fruit is sourced from both their estate vineyard and other areas in the Napa Valley and outside of the county. A number of years ago they were still sourcing fruit from their old property at the original Judd’s Hill Winery.
One of their more popular offerings, the Wine & Food Seminar is hosted by a professional wine educator. Built to give guests confidence to pair wines with food this 90 minute educational tasting seminar will also provide the necessary skills needed to identify how various ingredients used in the kitchen will change the flavor and texture of wine. This seminar is held daily and seats up to 12 people (reservations required).
Their Pinot Noir is fairly light in color but rich in flavor. A couple of other wines we really enjoyed are their 2005 Old Vine Zinfandel made from fruit from 75+ year old grapevines. This wine features high alcohol but does not dominate. What stands out is the fruit; it is a well-balanced wine with good acidity.
One of our favorite Judd’s Hill wines has been the 2003 Petite Sirah. This is a big wine nearly as robust as some of the Cabernet Sauvignons based wines we recently have been drinking. It has a fantastic nose full of earthy and forest floor type aromas. Despite being well-structured wine it is drinkable young (unlike other young wines of this varietal we have tried over the years). Features a very long finish.
Creativity is the spice of life and Judd has been sprinkled with this more liberally then most people. Check out his highly eclectic Enormous Wine Show by visiting: www.juddsenormouswineshow.com. This series was created by Judd and Rudy McClain (the director/writer/producer of the feature film Merlove who we originally randomly met at Châteauneuf-du-Pott on Mt. Veeder). This show features a wide range of wine-related content – from humorous scenarios and on-air interviews to updates on wines and winery activities. As Judd says, “we wanted to share our lively, frenetic lives at the winery with the world out there. We also wanted to get creative and make people laugh and have a good time, so we’re pushing the boundaries of blogging and video content online.” Sometimes its best not to take wine too seriously!
Those in the know should consider asking for a taste of wine from the bottle they keep hidden in the “tiki” statue next to the tasting table. Also ask to see their Library Wine list, unlike many wineries in the area you can actually purchase wines up to 10 or 11 years old. Judd is a man of many talents, not only is he a magician, but he plays the ukulele for old-time Hawaiian music in his Maikai Gents band.
For more information, to signup for their mailing list, join the wine club or make an appointment, visit: www.juddshill.com
Judd’s Hill Introduction: