Prim Family was started by Wayne and Victoria Prim with their first vintage in 2009. Wayne grew up exploring and tasting wines and wine regions from around the world – has a home base in Incline Nevada and has long been familiar with wines from Napa. He actually made wines himself from 2004 to 2008 before deciding to make the jump to commercial production – albeit quite small.
Involved in a number of charity activities, Wayne first met long time Napa winemaker Rudy von Strasser at a charity event on Howell Mountain. They bonded over their shared love of wine making and Wayne then hired Rudy to make and manage his small wine making program. He was attracted to Rudy’s focus on hillside vineyards and his interest in creating age worthy wines. Rudy’s focus of his own winery has been on Diamond Mountain so he was excited about branching out slightly further afield to making wines hillside grown from the other side of the valley.
Rudy takes a hands on approach when it comes to being involved in their source vineyards – helping provide input on how the vineyards are managed and harvest decisions and more of a hands off approach when it comes the wine making inside the winery. With that said wine making is in the details – as a young producer they are trying various types of oak including varying the length of the aging depending on the vineyard and blends.
It is always appealing when we discover some interesting wines made by a Napa based winery that are outside of the “Napa norm” – such is the case with both of their Pinot Noirs – one is from the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County and the other one surprisingly from Howell Mountain.
In all the years of working on this project and tasting up and down the valley we had yet to taste a commercial Howell Mountain grown Pinot Noir. That elusive searched ended with the 2009 Prim Family Napa Valley Pinot Noir. This tiny vineyard (about 1 acre) is located by itself (no immediate surrounding vineyards) at about 1500 feet. For a number of years it was planted to Cabernet Sauvignon – which always had difficulty ripening each year due to a lot of shade in the area from the nearby Grey Pines and various conifers.
A decision was made to bud over the Cabernet Sauvignon to Pinot Noir in 2009 and the 2012 is their first vintage of this varietal. Each year the Prim’s make about 50 cases of this ‘rare’ wine (by Napa standards). The 2012 is showy in the glass revealing a bright and aromatic nose, raspberry, black current, red cherry and cedar, a hint of white pepper along with subtle underlying notes of brown sugar and holiday spice. On the palate, the mouth feel is soft and rounded initially but gains a nice complexity towards the finish. This wine has structure – both oak and wood tannins linger for some time. This is a nicely made wine – and a treat to try a rare Napa mountain style Pinot Noir.
Two of the best areas in the state for growing Pinot Noir in our opinion are the Russian River Valley, parts of the Sonoma Coast in neighboring Sonoma County and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Prim sources Pinot Noir from the Apex vineyard here – a vineyard located fairly high in elevation. During our visit we sampled from barrels as this wine had not yet been bottled.
With Pinot Noir their philosophy is if you release the wine after a month it is a detriment to you and your consumers – 6 months can be rewarding, but after a year you are greatly rewarded.
They also allow their Cabernet Sauvignons to age well before release – both in barrel (up to 30 months – using a combination of both new and used oak). Rudy tends to blend the wines early – letting them age for additional time in barrel. Once bottled – they hold the wine for at least a year before release. As a result current releases at the time of this review are their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon – most wineries are releasing their 2012 red wines.
Their wines are built to age – with good acidity, fruit and structure. Solid fruit and well made wines also show well after several days of being open – such as these vintages.
Some of the wines still in barrel show very young. Take the 2013 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon – this wine has tannins that have yet to be tamed, the wine has a lot of fight on the palate – showing plenty of darker fruit both in color of the wine, on the bouquet and palate. This is an expressive wine young – it is going to be a beautiful wine with a couple years of bottle age.
Despite the 2009 vintage being 5.5 years old at the time of this review the vintage still tastes youthful on the palate – this wine has a lot of life ahead of itself. Darker fruit aromas show, notes of cedar, red currant, red cherry – the bouquet is very appealing. The tannins are still certainly there, linger and are noticeable but are becoming more integrated as the wine ages. Notes of red licorice show on the finish.
The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec and 4% Merlot. Aromatically, this wine shows plenty of fruit. Darker deeper fruit aromas show, black currant, black licorice, dusty earth – the nose is complex and inviting. The palate is well balanced between fruit, acidity and structure.
The 2011 vintage produced some interesting and solid wines from parts of Napa – especially the hillsides from Pritchard Hill up through Howell Mountain. Only 225 cases of this Cabernet Sauvignon were produced. Initially there is a hint of herbalness or pine on the nose but as it breathes it disappears showing a good mix of red and darker fruits with subtle notes of mocha and vanilla. There is very good mouth watering acidity especially on the finish, the wine is lively in the mouth with long lasting tannins.
Not only do the Prim’s purchase fruit for use in their wines but they also own several vineyards in the valley. In 2014 Prim acquired the Diogenes Ridge Vineyard on Howell Mountain – 16 acres, 8 acres of which are already planted to vine.
A special wine was made in anticipation of possibly showing it for Premiere Napa Valley 2014. As it turns out they weren’t able to change their winery license in time so were not able to show this wine at that trade auction. But it has led them on a new path – to make a barrel selection each year of their finest wine from their Howell Mountain estate and bottle that as a reserve – then offering it to their mailing list members.
For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.primfamilyvineyard.com