Martin Estate is a gem of a winery located in the heart of the Rutherford district near Frog’s Leap Winery. It was originally established in 1887 as H.H. Harris winery, a custom crush facility for other wineries. The famous Georges de Latour (a pioneer in the Napa Valley who started Beaulieu Vineyards) actually made several vintages at this original winery, with the last vintage produced in 1910. The property eventually fell into various stages of disrepair with at one point over 50,000 bats living in the main winery building. In 1996, Greg Martin who owns Greg Martin Auctions in San Francisco purchased the property as a country retreat from city life.
As the story goes his original intent was not to start a winery even though he had prior experience with home winemaking and had lived in Bordeaux for two summers. However after finding and resurrecting an old gate lying in the fields, the county got wind of this and said the gate was improper to use for a private residence because of its height. If this was a commercial operation the height of the gate would be acceptable. Never has a gate figured so prominently in the creation of a Napa winery! In addition, the property is in the well-known Rutherford wine district. Both of these reasons created the impetus to bond this location as a winery. Major renovation and retrofitting occurred, grapes were planted in 1997 in the rich alluvial soil that surrounds the property and their first commercial vintage was in 2001. That means this winery had a 90 year gap between vintages. Approximately 8 acres are planted in 3 clones of Cabernet with a small block of Merlot. Martin’s main focus is on a 100% varietal high end Cabernet Sauvignon although as of press time they do make a delicious unfiltered Rose of Merlot.
A visit is on a very limited basis for the serious wine enthusiast. Tastings are private and are strictly by appointment. The estate is stunning; the owner is a serious collector of antique armaments (guns, cannons, knives, other armor) as well as other historical paintings which are placed throughout the winery. It is like walking into a European museum. Be sure to take in the “great hall” – this is the largest room in the estate and is very well decorated including a knights armor, miniature canons, spears, and old muskets. The winery is downstairs with the residence rooms located upstairs. Great attention to detail is made during their winemaking with the owner involved in all aspects of this process. The fruit is often picked a number of times during the harvest in small lot bins to ensure only ripe fruit is used. Clones are kept separate and are fermented in large custom made French Oak fermentation tanks.
We tried their 2003 Estate Cabernet. This delicious wine has a very soft velvety mouth feel. The fruit is definitely there but it is not an “in your face” wine, rather it is more of an elegant Bordeaux style with flavors of blackberries and plums on the palate. The structured finish is smooth with very well rounded tannins. They also produce a Martin Collectors Reserve Cabernet, as well as their limited production Bacchanal Cabernet. The owner designed the label which is a tribute to his passion for antique arms. Visit: www.martinestate.com