Robert Craig Winery is perched at an elevation of almost 2300 feet high up on Howell Mountain on the north east side of Napa Valley. With an elevation such as this, they do see some snow in the winter and are among some of Napa’s highest vineyards. This location is a bit tough to get to for the average person and their permit at the actual winery limits them to an extremely small number of visitors, as well as only several events per year at the actual winery, so they maintain a tasting room in the city of Napa. Serious Robert Craig wine enthusiasts should check with the winery as to which days they may be open at the physical winery. We have been to both the winery and tasting room.
This winery was started by Robert Craig in 1992; he has been involved in the wine industry for many years, most notably at The Hess Collection as their General Manager. In addition he helped develop 300 vineyard acres on Mt. Veeder and was instrumental in forming a sub appellation for the Mt. Veeder area. Bob has been focused on hillside vineyards since he became interested in wine in the 1960’s. While now retired, over the years Robert spent a significant amount of time in some of the major hillside producing regions of Napa including Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and Diamond Mountain.
Robert Craig Winery owns the majority of their vineyard sources (they do buy fruit from select vineyards). They work with Napa Valley based hillside vineyards generally 1,600 feet or higher.
Have you been scared off by big bold mountain grown wines that you have to lay down for years before they are reasonable to the palate? Not so with Robert Craig’s wines. They tend to show the fruit extremely well, the tannins are not in your face, and balance and integration of all the components in the wine plays a key role in their winemaking style. However, with that said – Robert Craig’s wines tend to develop complex nuances in flavor and aroma if you can resist drinking them upon purchase and put them down to age for a few years.
The tasting room is just minutes driving north of downtown Napa and is located in an area you don’t typically associate with a winery tasting room. Thats not a bad thing however; prior to their tasting room their offices were here and it made sense to combine both the office space and tasting facilities. The tasting room is located just off Soscol Ave behind the big Central Valley Builders supply building.
The tasting room is elegant and includes both counter and sit down table seating. Looks are deceiving and it is wineries such as these that are fun to seek out. The inside tasting room has been tastefully restored from its previous industrial uses yet feels highly modern. Robert Craig is appointment only and is setup to take only small groups. Typically tastings will be for your party only. The tasting is not rushed; it is very personal and informative; their staff is extremely knowledgeable about the wines and their vineyards.
While their focus is on Cabernet Sauvignon they do make one white, a Chardonnay sourced from the Durell vineyard in Sonoma County. It is a vineyard that remains moderated by cooling breezes throughout the day due to its proximity to the bay. This wine has wonderful stone fruit aromas including pear and peach with a floral characteristic – mainly honeysuckle. The palate is rich with some of the fruit aroma characteristics continuing into the flavors (2007 vintage).
Their wines are very balanced so not one aspect jumps out and dominates your palate. They are soft on the tannin structure and very easily drinkable now. Their Affinity Cabernet is like drinking liquid velvet – we’ve had several vintages of this wine over the past few years and despite the variation of blending percentages and varieties each year, the quality and taste profile is consistent year in and year out. The 2007 Robert Craig Affinity showcases memorable aromatics which continue to evolve and develop in the glass as this wine opens…cedar box notes, cassis, chocolate with smooth velvety tannins anchoring the finish.
Two other must try wines are their Howell Mountain and Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. The Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon was in fact their first wine produced as they did not yet own their Howell Mountain property (the site of their existing winery). The 2005 Howell Mountain Cabernet is one of our favorite Robert Craig wines. It is unfined and unfiltered for maximum flavor and color. There is a mix of blackberry and white pepper on the palate with some subtle spices towards the finish (cloves, more pepper and even some anis). The 2005 was certainly one of our favorite wines until we tried the 2006 vintage. One word can be best used to describe that wine, awesome!
Their Zinfandel is a fairly new addition to their wine portfolio. Bob had his eye on a particular vineyard high on Howell Mountain for 6 years before fruit became available. This is a wine they now produce every year. The 2007 Zinfandel shows nice baking spices with hints of black pepper both on the nose and the palate. This wine shows concentrated flavors but hangs out on the more “refined” side rather than the “jammy” side.
Robert Craig Winery participates in select consumer tastings throughout the year including the highly recommended Taste of Howell Mountain every June – held on the grounds of Charles Krug Winery. As of our latest update to this review, they produce around 9,000 cases annually. About 50% of their wine is sold direct to consumer (mostly through their tasting room) with the other half sold through distribution. The wines are or have been on a number of wine lists at premium restaurants in the valley including The Restaurant at Meadowood (3-star Michelin rated) and at Charter Oak. For more information or to join their wine club, visit their website: www.robertcraigwine.com