Mario Bazan Cellars is owned by the husband wife team of Mario and Gloria Bazan. Mario is originally from Oaxaca and Gloria is from Morelia, Michoacan – Mexico. Mario was working in a restaurant in Mexico City when he decided to immigrate to California for a short time and after a brief stint in Oakland decided the city wasn’t for him. He moved up to Napa in 1973 to work a harvest with the plan of saving some money and returning to Mexico in a few months. Obviously that didn’t happen and the wine industry took hold. He learned everything on the job – and had some good teachers at some good wineries – he spent some time at Joseph Phelps, Robert Mondavi and finally Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, working for Warren Winiarski. He learned from the ground up – driving a tractor, then as a mechanic’s assistant and finally working his way up to foreman (at Mondavi).
His expertise is in the vineyard and in 1997 while still working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, he began Mario Bazan Vineyard Management in 1997. Today his vineyard management is a full time job – along with Mario Bazan Cellars – Mario currently manages several hundred vineyard acres. He made some invaluable connections while working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars including Michael Silacci (now winemaker for Opus One), and Victoria Coleman.
Victoria Coleman made all their vintages until 2013 when winemaker David DeSante was hired. Victoria began working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars as a temporary receptionist! This winery like other small wineries often requires employees to wear multiple hats and soon she was working as a production assistant to Michael both in the vineyard and also in the winery. Mario hired her after asking her one day, “do you want to be my winemaker”. While working at the winery she continued to further her wine-making skills at UC Davis; she graduated in 2008. Keep an eye on this young winemaker – she is going places.
At age 10, David DeSante had an inkling he might want to pursue wine making someday. His introduction to wine started simply enough; in Western Pennsylvania where he was born and raised, Concord grapes are commonly grown. He recalls climbing trees to pick bunches of Concord grapes one summer, carrying them back to his mother’s kitchen and mashing them up until he had enough juice to fill a large glass Coca Cola bottle. His plan was to let the juice ferment but when his mother discovered the ‘mess’ – he quickly informed her he was going to allow it to turn into wine. In such a perfectly cared for kitchen, her son’s Concord grape production and early wine making interests fell on deaf ears; David’s initial interest in wine making suffered a temporary setback.
David has come a long ways since his childhood days of making wine; today he consults and makes wine for several small Napa based producers.
Their wine label represents their story very well – it is modeled after a type of traditional clothing women in Oaxaca wear. This is a tribute to Mario’s “roots” if you will – part of the design also includes feathers. Oaxaca is on the migratory path for southern Mexico and this ties in with both Mario and Gloria’s immigration to the USA. The label’s colors represent the color you see in adobe houses in and around Oaxaca.
Their Cabernet Sauvignon is always 100% varietal. The first few vintages were from a vineyard just east of the city of Napa that Mario managed. Starting in 2008 their Cabernet Sauvignon will be estate grown from their small 1.25 acre vineyard. The Cabernet Sauvignon spends about 20 months in barrel, all French oak of which about 55% is new.
The 2005 is a very clean, balanced wine. The bouquet as it breathes shows more notes of white pepper with an underlying aroma of blackberry and espresso – the flavors are more red and blue fruits including plum and blueberry. With integrated flavors and fine grained tannins anchoring the finish this wine is drinking very well right now.
The 2006 makes a bigger bolder statement than the 2005. Whereas the 2005 shows more pepper on the nose this vintage has an robust bouquet that shows baking spices, cloves, cinnamon (perhaps some tobacco) integrated with dark fruit including blackberry and black cherry. This wine is layered with dark fruit flavors and has solid structure (bigger tannins than the 2005).
In 2009 they introduced their first white wine, a Sauvignon Blanc. This bouquet on this fun wine is very aromatic including passion fruit and honeysuckle. This is not a thin version of this varietal; it has good concentration. The mouth feel is somewhat rounded with flavors of pear and red apple and other tropical nuances. The finish lingers yet is clean.
With extremely limited productions of usually around 250 cases of the Cabernet Sauvignon each year and slightly less of the Sauvignon Blanc their wines are selectively distributed, mostly in California with some in New York. Locally you can find their wines at several restaurants including the Rutherford Grill and Press in St. Helena.
Those interested in tasting this wine can do so at Silenus Vintners located just south of Yountville. This winery plus multi-vintner tasting room is a good venue to taste wines from a number of small producers, all of whom make their wine on site. For more information visit: www.mariobazancellars.com
Note 1: Sometime in late 2018 or into 2019, Mario Bazaan will be opening a tasting room in downtown Napa at 960 Clinton Street in the Wiseman Building (almost across from the Vintner’s Collective and across from the Stonehedge Cellars tasting room). You can be 100% sure that we will visit this tasting room and will a major update to this review once we have word that they are actually open. No ETA yet on opening date. The tasting room looks like it will be on the first floor of this multi-story building.
Note: this review has been identified as needing a *major* update.