Maldonado Vineyards is a family owned and operated winery – located in the far northern reaches of the Napa Valley. We spend much of our time in the southern part of the Napa Valley – based on numbers as this is where most of the producers are located. There are really very few physical wineries in and around Calistoga. As a result it is a treat when we discover a new winery in this appellation.
Maldonado’s Napa story begins when Lupe Maldonado came to the Napa Valley in 1962 at the age of 19 from the small farming community of Atacheo, in Michoacán, Mexico. Only 9 wineries who were producing wine commercially in 1962 are still in production today. There certainly was a much smaller pool of wineries who were hiring then versus today. Sterling Vineyards wasn’t even in existence yet – but it was at Sterling and Newton Vineyard where Lupe would spend 30 years of his wine career. When founder Peter Newton sold Sterling and decided to start Newton Vineyards it was Lupe who came with him and was instrumental in developing all their new vineyards. Son Hugo, a UC Davis graduate with a degree in Enology & Viticulture succeeded him in 1999 as Newton’s Vineyard Manager.
Land for either vineyards or winery use in the Napa Valley is at a premium and certainly not inexpensive. After locating and purchasing a 12 acre piece of property (came with an existing winery permit) just outside of Calistoga (off of the Old Lawley Toll Road), Hugo submitted his request to build a cave to several drilling companies. After seeing the rather pricey bids that came back he took matters into his own hands and decided to drill it out himself!
He spoke with a number of drilling company employees to find out more about the process and after securing all the necessary permits started digging. They hooked up a drilling wheel to a backhoe and started work. After a few days of making quick progress they thought it was going to be a surprisingly easy job. Not so – they ran into solid bedrock and it took 2-3 weeks just to excavate 1 foot deeper. The entire cave drilling/excavation took about 2 years and the final cave is about 3600 square feet. A fairly unique feature in Napa wine caves is their remarkably tall ceiling.
Today Maldonado Family operates their own vineyard management company – overseeing their own vineyards as well as select premium vineyards (mostly in Napa but some vineyards in Sonoma as well).
This is one of the few wineries in the Napa Valley (that we know of) where you cannot actually see any vineyards – rather, from the winery entrance you look out over the gorgeous, rugged, remote looking landscape including the rocky outcrops that form the steep Palisades. The property is mainly hillside (ideal location for their cave) but they do have about a 1/2 acre planted to hillside Cabernet Sauvignon. Their first vintage of this wine was in 2012 – it is worth seeking this wine out if you can find it – they typically only make less then 100 cases of their estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
While their wine is made in one of the furthest points north in Napa their vineyards are some of the most southern. They are located in the Jamieson canyon region (south east of the city of Napa). Carneros is Napa’s well-known “cool” region but Jamieson canyon is as cool if not cooler. Their 10-acre vineyard is planted to Chardonnay and Syrah.
Maldonado’s first vintage was from 2002 – after making their wine at several other local wineries they were finally able to hold their first crush in 2010 at their own winery. Hugo is the primary winemaker. His wines are food friendly each with great natural acidity. Their flagship wine is a Chardonnay; today they produce two Chardonnay’s one of which is their most produced wine.
The 2008 Los Olivos Chardonnay was fermented using natural yeast, 100% barrel fermented and aged in mostly neutral French Oak on the lees. This is a bigger styled Chardonnay but with good acid balance. Elegant citrus blossom show on the bouquet – it is very clean aromatically. The palate has good viscosity and a rounded mouth feel with rich flavors. A lingering hint of citrus based flavors show towards the finish. Maldonado’s second Chardonnay (their most produced wine) is from a vineyard they manage in neighboring Sonoma County. It is made in a similar style to their Napa Chardonnay.
The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from several premium regions in the valley – Soda Canyon and Spring Mountain (Newton). Hugo said the Soda Canyon fruit helps tame the bigger tannins from the Spring Mountain fruit. The fruit is hand sorted several times – and fermentation occurs in barrel. The nose is somewhat floral, high toned fruit, great acidity, and lingering dusty tannins show for some time.
The 2008 Napa Valley Proprietary Red Wine is an approachable and affordable wine. It is somewhat floral on the bouquet – with its mouth watering natural acidity, this wine will show best with some food.
The 2006 Syrah as Hugo admits – is his favorite wine. This is a cool weather Sryah from their vineyard in south Napa. This wine really shines and shows well after it has been exposed to some air and has had time to open up. It is dark and inky with a pleasing bouquet showing ripe black fruit including blackberry, plum and black cherry as well as dark chocolate. While the aromas are certainly fruit driven and ripe, its cool climate location perhaps has tempered the ripeness and given the bouquet an elegant component. Dark fruit shows on a supple palate with textured medium structured tannins. The finish is lively, long and shows just a bit of black pepper with lingering notes of toasted oak. This wine should age very well, with its great acidity and reasonable structure.
The 2008 Late Harvest White Wine is a 50/50 Sauternes style blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit was picked in late November and Botrytis was naturally allowed to form on the grapes before they were harvested. This is a beautiful expression of this type of wine. The nose has sweet aromatics yet is elegant at the same time; it has notes of orange peel, kumquat, and pineapple. The palate is rounded and silky smooth with highlights of apricot and honey. We are always sensitive to the coarseness of oak that you often find in these types of wines on the finish; it is refreshingly absent in this wine.
A number of Mexican Napa vintners were invited down to Morelia Mexico for a wine tasting (including Maldonado) and the absence of a Mexican-American Vintner association was discussed. Upon returning stateside a number of mostly Napa owned vintners formed the Napa Valley Mexican-American Vintners Association. Maldonado Vineyards is one of the charter members. For more information visit: www.nvmava.org
Visits to the winery are for serious wine enthusiasts and are usually held with one of the family. For more information, visit: www.maldonadovineyards.com
Note: Maldonado Vineyards offers tastings to the public in their downtown Calistoga tasting room at 1307A Lincoln Avenue. They are open daily from 11:00 am to 6pm. Calistoga tasting room phone: 942-1376
Calistoga Tasting room
Video by Cellar Angels