Lava Vine opened a new tasting room in December of 2008 on the northern Silverado Trail just north of the Solage Resort and next door to the Calistoga Beverage Company. They are located just south of the town of Calistoga. There are a proliferation of tasting rooms in downtown Napa and Yountville but very few open to the public by walk in tasting rooms in and around Calistoga and its always a treat to find a new tasting room in this area. Lava Vine winery is owned by the husband wife team of Joseph and Jill Cabral. Joe has worked in construction for a number of years in the valley and in 2000 he and Jill purchased 5 vineyard acres north of the Napa Valley just over the Sonoma County line. The tallest mountain in the Napa Valley, Mt. St. Helena dominates in the near distance. Today this vineyard produces fruit for several of their wines and in addition, they source fruit from various vineyards in the area as well as from Calistoga in the Napa Valley. Joe is the grape grower and handles all the vineyard management on their property while his partner Nile is the winemaker. Today the property is mainly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.
Their vineyard is situated on steep rocky slopes and it is this vineyard that is the reason for the name Lava Vine. The slopes are up to 45 degrees and the soils are mainly composed of volcanic ash, rock and petrified wood – the soils are volcanic in nature in part from ancient lava flows. The vines are planted very close to one another and along with the steepness of the property dictates that all farming is done by hand. They farm this vineyard organically with two sheep providing the weed control and a dose of fertilizer as well! Currently they custom crush at a nearby winery but in the future may build a crush pad and winery on site.
Their well appointed tasting room is located in a small metal building which was in the past was used by Calistoga Roastery, a local coffee company with a store in downtown Calistoga. Drive around the two story light grey building in the front to the small parking lot in the back. This facility is located right next to a proposed “greenway” which will contain a bike path that once completed will connect to the town of Calistoga and the Solage Resort – which is ideal as Solage includes free use of bicycles with each room. Lava Vine has a side room next to their tasting counter which is for private wine and food pairings as well as can handle larger crowds. The tasting room closes at 5pm each day but can be reserved for after hour special appointments on a case by case basis.
Joe started making home wine from the Portuguese varietals that were already growing on the property and initially produced a port wine. Enjoying this wine so much and in talking to his friend, winemaker Nile Zacherle – they decided to start a label and bottle the wine commercially. The first Lava Vine vintage is from 2006. This is artisan wine at its best – family owned, and each wine is produced in quantities of several hundred cases at the most. Several of their wines are produced in quantities of under 100 cases; as a result the best way to acquire these is in person at the tasting room. In addition, their prices are not going to make you suffer for weeks! This is a rare situation in Napa where you have an artisan winery with very limited productions with an open to the public by walk-in tasting room. Many of the artisan wineries in Napa Valley do not have a public presence within the valley, instead selling their wine through select mailing lists or through distributors.
We tried the 2007 Chardonnay which is from a vineyard on the eastern side of the Silverado Trail just south from their tasting room. This wine saw neutral oak during the aging and only 50% malolactic fermentation. This wine has a nice golden yellow hue in the glass with a nose that shows aromas of baking spices, nutmeg and pear. It is certainly not over oaked and creamy/buttery – but nuances of oak and creaminess show through in just the right balance. The palate is rich and concentrated with layers of fruit flavor completed by a finish that is decidedly tropical in nature. The 2006 “dry” Viognier is a winner – the nose is extremely fruit driven and the mouth feel is rounded and slightly viscous. Along with their Chardonnay this wine is built to be consumed now but can also be aged for several years. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is also from the same vineyard in Calistoga as the Chardonnay. The color is ruby red in the glass with a nose that contains notes of earth and crushed rocks as well as a floral characteristics. The palate follows with red fruit, red cherry and red currant with a spicy crushed black pepper finish. This is a wine that begs for food.
As the owners say, they are a “kid and dog friendly tasting room”! There is even a framed sign above the tasting counter that says “dogs are always good”. Nice! Also note that Lava Vine
donates $1 from every case to the Lung Cancer Alliance. For more information visit: www.lavavine.com