Pope Valley Winery is really located off the typical Napa Valley “beaten path” – allow about 30 minutes to get here from the Silverado Trail. As the name indicates, this winery is in Pope Valley which is a relatively unpopulated area of Napa County on the backside (east) of the town of Angwin. Pope Valley actually is home to a number of small mostly private wineries so it is unusual to find a winery here that you can actually visit, especially without an appointment. The roads are narrow and windy, and typically there is much less traffic than you find on the Napa Valley floor. This is not the “Napa wine strip”!
This is a quieter part of the Napa Valley that few first time tourists to the region ever see – a part of the county that is certainly worth seeking out. It is rural with few wineries and a nice balance of natural landscape and vineyards. It is more likely you will hear birds rather then the noises of passing vehicles.
The winery dates from 1897, founded as the Burgundy Winery & Olive Oil Factory. This was one of the few Napa county wineries to stay “open” during part of prohibition. The typical story of such wineries is that they produced Sacramental wine during prohibition for church use. Not Pope Valley Winery – through their connections they sold wine to a network in Chicago who then supplied the wine to Al Capone’s speakeasies and brothels. The winery stopped selling wine after Capone became more and more lawless, but to outside sources it appeared the winery was closed during prohibition. Current owners, the Eakle Family purchased the winery and property in 1997 and have preserved its history very well . Brother and sister and Napa natives (3rd generation Pope Valley and 9th from Napa County), David and Diana currently oversea the winery operations.
The once thriving nearby township of Aetna Springs (we have been told nearly 3,000 people lived here at one point) was built around quicksilver (cinnabar ore) mines. The first cinnabar mine established in Napa County was the Phoenix Mine in 1861. Ultimately 21 miles of tunnels were drilled into the hillsides. For some 40 years between the 1860’s and early 20th century, Napa County was once one of the most prominent quicksilver regions in the state. Quicksilver from Napa County was an integral part of California’s gold mining heritage – as quicksilver transported from Napa County to the Sierra Nevada gold fields was used for extracting gold and silver from the ore bearing rock.
In a convenient use of nearby labor, quicksilver miners were brought in to dig out the cellars (which took 9+ years by hand) – located on and under the adjoining hillside backing up up against the winery. The impressive wooden timbers within the cellar were taken from Napa’s Oat Hill Quicksilver Mine via horse drawn wagons.
The cellar was built over the small Haus Creek (named after the founder of the winery, Ed Haus). During the rainy season, this little creek still flows. Walking in here is like walking back in time – the original timbers holding up the winery are still in place, the original sign from the late 1890’s, “Burgundy Winery” hangs inside and wine barrels are stacked in the dimly lit light.
If it is not to busy in the tasting room ask one of of the staff to give you a quick tour of their historic winery and cellar/cave. And be sure to ring the bell embedded in the old oak tree for good luck (the tree grows directly in front of the cellar entrance).
The property encompasses 36 acres of which 5 acres are planted to vine – approximately 4 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon and an acre to Zinfandel. Their wines are made from grapes grown both on the estate as well as from nearby family owned vineyards in Pope Valley.
Guests pull in on the short gravel road; the small tasting room is to your left. The staff is very friendly; you will find a totally relaxed atmosphere and a large selection of wines greet you at the tasting bar. All wines are aged in their hand dug cellar which dates from 1909. Many of their wines have won top medals in statewide competitions. Some of the vines on their estate vineyard date back to the 1940’s (extremely rare in the Napa Valley to have vines this old). Their wine selection is somewhat atypical of Napa wineries which is not a bad thing and is uniquely refreshing to have the opportunity to taste wines other then the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon.
Look for old vine and Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (usually only an acre is reserved for this late harvest gem) as well as a yummy Sangiovese Bella Rosa, a light rosé made by the saignée method of bleeding off the juice, a Merlot, and their very smooth well-balanced Zinfandel port-style wine. Most of their wines are extremely reasonably priced by Napa standards.
According to the 2017 Napa County crop report, only 7 acres of Chenin Blanc are planted in all of the Napa Valley. And until more recently, Pope Valley Winery would have had the oldest of these vines – dating back to 1945 (however these vines have since been removed). The 2016 Chenin Blanc shows straw yellow in the glass with aromas of lemon zest, citrus blossom and green apple. Fairly rounded on the palate, with intense fruit flavors and a minerality nuance towards the finish. This is a balanced wine with good acidity.
Be sure to inquire about the backyard events held at the winery which include music events, and BBQ’s, especially their popular Spring BBQ usually held at the end of May, which features good food, barrel tastings, a tour, lots of wine and tons of fun!
Guests are welcome to bring a picnic and enjoy following or before a tasting – several picnic tables are located in the shade of their oak trees. And if in the mood, a bocce court is available near the tasting room. Very family and dog friendly.
Total production each year is around 5,000 cases. For more information and or to join one of their wine clubs, visit: www.popevalleywinery.com