Pestoni Family Estate Winery, formerly Rutherford Grove, traces its Napa roots back to Albino Pestoni, an immigrant who came to the Napa Valley in 1882 from Monte Carasso in Switzerland, just north of Lugano near the Italian border. Ten years later in 1892 he planted a vineyard and built a stone winery off of what is now Crystal Springs Road east of the town of St. Helena. Remarkably the original stone winery still stands in Bell Canyon (near the Bell Canyon Reservoir) on property owned by the city of St. Helena.
Albino’s son Henry married into another Napa wine growing family, the Domingos (he married Lena Domingo). Perhaps one of the early ‘vineyard management companies’ in a valley now dominated by vineyard management companies, they built a crew of employees and managed a number of vineyards in the northern part of the Napa Valley. In 1923 they purchased property on nearby Whitehall Lane (today home to their estate Sauvignon Blanc vineyard).
And in another piece of Napa winery history, Lena’s brothers (including Alfred Domingos) owned what is now Ehler’s Estate in St. Helena – running that from 1923 (bootlegging during the rest of the Prohibition years) until 1959 – after Prohibition naming it the Old Mill Winery. We have seen an old label that Greg Pestoni forwarded to us, a California Zinfandel, one gallon with an appropriate image of the old wooden Bale Grist Mill on the label.
The modern day Pestoni Family opened Rutherford Grove Winery in 1994 with the purchase of the old Rutherford Vintners Winery (a winery that was built in 1977, founded by French born World War II veteran Bernard Skoda and his wife Evelyn – with the surrounding vineyard at that time planted to Riesling). The inaugural vintage of Rutherford Grove was from 1993. On January 1, 2017 they changed their name to Pestoni Family Winery – a welcome relief which will better honor their heritage and certainly create less confusion for the Pestoni Family and for the remaining two Rutherford named wineries (Rutherford Ranch and Rutherford Hill). Wines from the 2016 vintage and newer are all labeled Pestoni Family.
The Pestoni’s also run Upper Valley Disposal and Recycling Center located behind and to the west of the winery (one can see some of their operations from their back lawn if you look to the west). This center is accessible via Whitehall Lane off of Highway 29 just north of the their winery. The Pestonis created their recycling business in 1963 and were one of the early local pioneers in recycling winery waste materials. Today they continue to recycle winery waste materials including composting grape pomace. The Pestoni’s also own and operate the sizable Clover Flat Landfill off of the Silverado Trail about 4 miles south of Calistoga.
This family owned and operated winery is currently overseen by Andy Pestoni, the winemaker is a 4th generation family member (he also founded and operates Jelly Jar Wines). The winery is located off of the west side of Highway 29 just north of Provenance Winery and is surrounded by their own estate vineyards. They own nearly 60 acres of vines, in both the Napa Valley (Rutherford, St. Helena and on Howell Mountain) plus a mountain vineyard in Lake County to the north. They use estate grown grapes in all their wines.
The Pestoni’s manage their own vineyards which is actually becoming more and more rare in today’s climate of wineries using professional vineyard management companies. Their total production is under 10,000 cases a year which by winery standards for those who have tasting rooms along Highway 29, is not large. The tasting room atmosphere is relaxed and friendly although as with other nearby wineries during busy days, the tasting room can become quite crowded especially on the weekends. This is a good tasting room to meet other wine enthusiasts; the several times we have dropped by on the weekends the crowd has always been welcoming.
When you walk into the tasting room note their creative use of recycled materials from the old ranch – the lights are covered with old chicken brooders (used for raising and keeping small chickens warm) and the oak bar used to be part of a huge fermentation tank. A window behind the tasting counter opens into their barrel room and winery. Because this winery is small and family owned sometimes you might find a family member helping out behind the bar.
Several tasting options are offered, both focus on red wines – including the Heritage Tasting (more affordable priced wines and larger production) and the Legacy Tasting focusing on their high-end more limited production wines. This is predominantly a ‘red house’ including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah & the unusual for Rutherford Italian variety, Sangiovese.
A major perk to tasting here is the complimentary use of the large picnic grounds in the back of the winery as well as the bocce ball court. This is especially nice when the tasting room is crowded – simply take your glass of wine outside to one of the numerous picnic tables (either in the shade or sun) and then return to the tasting room for your next tasting when your glass is empty. And the grounds are beautiful, especially in mid Spring to late summer with a variety of plants and flowers complemented by a short walking path. Because of the size of the grounds and all the seating available, this is often a lunch stop for larger van and bus tours.
Throughout the year, the winery holds club member gatherings and dinners as well as special events including wine and cheese pairings and a rare (held 1x/year) barrel tasting with their winemaker. Parking is plentiful with an additional overflow lot in the back
About 50% of their production is their popular Sauvignon Blanc which is the only white wine they make. The 2017 vintage was entirely aged in stainless steel (no oak). As a result it is fairly crisp and clean with true varietal characteristics represented both in aroma and on the palate. Shows notes of lemon/lime and an orange peel zest on the bouquet – along with being floral (both citrus blossom and honeysuckle). Rounded on the palate, seamless from start to finish, the wine shows notes of graphite and red apple. Smells and tastes like a Sauvignon Blanc should but with an influence of Napa sunshine.
The 2016 Sangiovese is from their Rutherford vineyards – immediately reveals pleasing spices including tobacco and white pepper along with aromas of raspberry. Also slightly floral (dried rose petals). Extremely aromatic. Soft on the entry, offers mostly red fruit on the palate including cranberry and red cherry; this wine has a savory feel helped in part by the good acidity. The finish lingers with slightly rough tannins along with subtle hints of cedar. 100% varietal.
The 2005 Howell Mountain Estate Reserve Cabernet is a beautiful wine (blended with 25% Merlot which helps soften the wine). The vineyard itself grows on thin rocky soils, stressing the vines and in part producing small berries that contain concentrated flavors. For a mountain grown wine, the tannin management has been conducted very successfully as this is a wine that can easily be consumed young, yet at the same time has the structure and acidity for long term aging. Pleasing smoky cigar type aromas interwoven with ripe blackberry dominate the nose followed by the palate which is rich in flavor yet very smooth. Just a kiss of vanilla shows on the finish.
Also note the Pestoni Family used to own and operate a small Bed & Breakfast in Calistoga called Hotel d’Amici – but as of our last update to this review, has since closed. It used to have only four rooms, all were very tastefully decorated.
A number of wine related souvenirs are available in their tasting room. For more information and to join one of their membership clubs, visit: www.pestonifamily.com
Original Pestoni Bonded Winery No. 935
A visit to the original winery is like going back in time 120+ years to when Albino Pestoni built his stone winery into the side of a hillside in Bell Canyon above the nearby creek that drains off the slopes of the Howell Mountain AVA. Standing at this old winery one can hear no noises other then the wind whistling through the trees and the occasional chirping of birds. There are no homes visible from here, only forested landscape as far as the eye can see.
It must have looked similar to this when Albino moved his family here. And life must not have been easy living in what still feels like a remote and undiscovered part of the Napa Valley. The road leading to this old stone cellar is still dirt and certainly must have been challenging to carve its footprint out of the very rocky and steep slopes.
Remarkably, this is only one of just several remaining un-restored ‘ghost’ wineries in the Napa Valley. Ideally this entire stone winery would be moved to the grounds of the existing Pestoni Family Winery where visitors could enjoy its historical value – but the costs and challenges to do so may simply be insurmountable. On the other hand, perhaps it would be best to leave it where it is – honoring its original heritage.
Clover Flat Landfill