Lewis Cellars was established in 1992 by Randy and Debbie Lewis (unfortunately Debbie passed in early 2017). Randy grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and comes from a prior career of professional car racing – he was a serious racer having competed in a variety of races including the Formula Three in Europe, the Formula 5000 and five Indianapolis 500’s. He’s not the only former racer to own a winery or have a connection to wine making in Napa (Mario Andretti – who coincidentally owns a winery just down the street, The Randy Lynch at Bennett Lane, Gil Nickel (deceased), and Jeff Gordon – all raced in some capacity). It was through racing and his time in Europe that Randy developed a love for wine. And while attending San Jose State he would take advantage of Napa Valley’s proximity to Silicon Valley to drive to ‘wine country’ on the weekends
He moved to California in the 1960s and became a professional auto racer by 1972. However his second career wasn’t solidified until he tore into a wall at 220 mph during a qualifying trial at the Indianapolis 500 in 1991. Fortunately and rather amazingly he walked away from this crash nearly unharmed. The “impact” of this crash was a realization to seriously pursue his passion for wine. And pursue it he did, he self taught himself about wine making – reading plenty of related books and working with another winemaker (Robbie Meyer) along with several prominent consultants including Helen Turley and Paul Hobbs. Joe Cafaro was their first winemaker (who used to run his own lable, Cafaro Cellars).
He was able to take advantage of his time racing in Europe to explore some of that continents’ most prominent wine regions.
Debbie was involved in Randy’s racing days – helping as part of his racing team and organizing events. And later she was an integral part of building the Lewis Cellars brand.
Oracle was one of Randy’s vehicle sponsors and through this sponsorship, he met Bob Miner (co-founder of Oracle) – who coincidentally was starting a winery in the Napa Valley – Oakville Ranch. Interestingly enough, the first few vintages of Lewis Cellars, the “Lewis Select” was made under the Oakville Ranch Label where Randy and Debbie were early investors.
Over the years their wines have earned critical acclaim both in the press and have been served at the White House. In late 2016 Wine Spectator Magazine named the Lewis Cellars 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon as their number one wine of the year. While Randy has a wine-making team in place, he still oversees the wine-making program and he and Debbie’s son Dennis are actively involved in a number of decisions including blending. And in contrast to a number of wineries who ferment their grapes slow and cool, Lewis Cellars tends to ferment warm and quickly, although they do leave the grapes on the skins for several days during a cold soak (pre fermentation).
While they do not own their own vineyards they source from premium sites in the Napa Valley including Calistoga, St. Helena, Rutherford and Oak Knoll. And like a number of premium Napa producers, they source some of their Chardonnay from neighboring Sonoma County in the famed Russian River Valley (cool, often morning fog – ideal climate for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir). Despite not owning their vineyard sources, Lewis Cellars has has significant control over their vineyard sources – ranging from choosing the varieties, clones and rootstocks. Essentially the owners of the vineyard sites plant the vines for Lewis Cellars who then dictate all management and farming decisions.
They tend to pick their grapes later in the season, often among the last to harvest. Their wine style is rich, opulent and full-flavored – showcasing plenty of fruit along with riper tannins.
While Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are the focus varieties of their wine production, Lewis Cellars does produce other wines. The 2013 Lewis Cellars Vin Gris Syrah is their “grape to glass” wine – their quickest to production wine. The fruit is put in the tank – then allowed to sit with the skins for usually no more than 4 hours and then the juice is bled off and fermented in neutral French oak barrels. This is an impressive rosé with both character and depth of flavor. This is not a “thin” rosé. Aromatically it shows watermelon, strawberry and attributes of candied fruit. It is broad in the palate with just a hint of oak spice towards the finish. Remarkably, the finish lingers for quite some time – perhaps a surprise to someone used to drinking ‘thinner’ wines of this style.
Lewis sources fruit from both Napa and Sonoma county. Their Barcaglia Lane Chardonnay is from a specific block planted for their needs in the well regarded Dutton Ranch (Russian River Valley). The 2012 Lewis Cellars Barcaglia Chardonnay shows appealing aromatics somewhat tropical – guava along with floral notes and as it opens, citrus blossom and notes of butterscotch. This wine was fermented mainly in new French oak barrels and aged on the lees. There is some weight on the palate – which carries a wonderful complexity of flavors complemented with just a touch of oak. The mouth feel is somewhat silky – the wine shows a very clean finish.
The 2011 Lewis Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley shows a plethora of fruit on the bouquet. Initial notes show smoke and an underlying herbal quality. As the wine opens both red and dark fruit aromas are revealed including red currant and red cherry; eventually subtle notes of chocolate show. This was a challenging year with rain during harvest and generally cooler conditions. This is a year where there are certainly a number of vintage similarities across Napa – more challenging for a single vineyard perhaps than if you have multiple vineyard ingredients for blending.
The 2011 Lewis Cellars Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is much more restrained aromatically. This is a wine that is built to age, with good acidity, fruit and is well structured. The finish shows robust and expansive tannins and last for some time. This wine is still a baby – bottle age will add additional complexities, 10 years, 15, more?!
And starting in 2018 Lewis Cellars began producing a Sauvignon Blanc each year in honor of Debbie, called Debbie’s Cuvee.
Lewis currently makes ten wines – of which several are typically tasted in their cozy tasting salon adjacent to the winery facility. Select seated tastings are held twice daily by prior appointment. They lease this winery from the Corley Family (owners of nearby Monticello Cellars). As a piece of Napa trivia, Tony Soter, founding winemaker at Etude made several vintages of the Etude wines early on at this winery.
Total production is around 10,000 cases anually. For more information, to schedule an appointment or to join their mailing list, visit: www.lewiscellars.com