Larkmead Vineyards is a winery you don’t often hear about even though the wines are excellent and they have a long history of producing wine in Napa Valley. In fact before prohibition they were considered one of the four great wineries in Napa Valley along with Beaulieu (BV), Inglenook (now Rubicon Estate) and Beringer. To understand Larkmead a little history is in order. It was named Larkmead by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, the original winery owner. The famous Coit Tower in San Francisco has the honor of being named after her as she left the city of San Francisco a considerable amount of money when she died in the late 1920’s and Coit Tower was the city’s tribute to her. The tower is in the shape of a fire hose nozzle.
Her life was touched by several fires including at a hotel and a house in which she was rescued just before the roof caved in. As a result she bonded with firefighters and became the country’s first female volunteer fire fighter; in addition with her socialite connections she helped raise funds and awareness for firefighters. The site of her original Larkmead Estate is now home to the 3-palms vineyard, a fairly well known northern Napa Vineyard. If you walk around the back of the tasting room you will see three small palms that Larkmead has planted in tribute to this original “3 palms” vineyard.
They produce affordable high quality award-winning wines – wines that are often lower-priced then similar caliber wines on the market. It is somewhat rare to find a Napa winery that only uses fruit from their own vineyards and Larkmead sources from their 120 acres of planted vineyards. This winery dates back to the 1890’s (the current family has had ownership for over 60 years). They are all about their final product, the wine. Their wines are made in limited supply and they concentrate their efforts on a select number of wine varietals. Their tasting room (finished in early 2006) does not contain a gift shop, music, or food. You can either taste at the counter or in their adjoining windowed wine salon. Ask to see some of their older vintage bottles – one on display dates from 1915 and still contains the original label.
This is a Bordeaux style winery in that most of their wines are blends and specific wines may be made only for one vintage. How many Napa wineries make a Tocai Friulano from Napa vineyards…only 2 or 3 wineries out of 800+ visited so far. This varietal is originally from northern Italy and a small part of their estate planted to this contains very old vines. You might almost think this is Sauvignon Blanc as some style Sauvignon Blancs are similar. The 2007 vintage is only their second release, but with a wine this nice and rare to Napa lets hope it becomes an ongoing production. It has nice floral notes followed by pear and citrus on the palate with a nice balance between fruit and viscosity.
The other white they make is a Sauvignon Blanc and the 2006 vintage has already been highly rated. Our favorite red is their 2005 “Firebelle” Merlot/Cabernet blend. This has a very elegant nose, with delicious flavors of cherry and mocha on the palate. This wine is very smooth with an elegant softness that contains just a slight smokiness on the finish.
The 2003 60/40 Blend is also drinking very nicely as of the time of this review. This wine is made in the style of Pinot Noir – no pump overs, just punch downs during the fermentation process as a result, less maceration, and finishes its barrel aging in neutral oak like their other reds. It is a light to medium bodied wine with great fruit flavors, especially cherry and also notes of cinnamon. Note that often their wines are highly allocated and each wine is typically produced in very limited productions. Their wine club is called the Larkmead Firebelle Society, named after the aforementioned Lillie Hitchcock Coit.
A visit here needs to be by appointment and is usually for those who intentionally seek out wineries “off the beaten path”.
Of note is in 2008 a time capsule was buried next to the vineyards in front of the winery commemorating Larkmead’s 125th anniversary. This capsule will be dug up and opened in 2028. Photos, maps some “future” predictions and of course wine bottles were buried. Visit: www.larkmead.com