Romeo Vineyards & Cellars is owned and operated by Frank Romeo – his wife, Eugenia tragically passed away from brain cancer in 2017. Both were born in San Francisco; in 1996 they purchased approximately 45 acres in the northern part of the Napa Valley just south of Calistoga (initially as a weekend getaway). Their inaugural vintage was from 1997 – a Cabernet Sauvignon from existing vines. The property features a balance of natural surroundings with vineyards – approximately 25 are planted to vines. The property is somewhat unique as it is located on & near one of the very few knolls/tiny hills rising directly from the valley floor. The vineyard is named “Blue Heron” in tribute to a Blue Heron that was killed by a poacher when they were in negotiations to purchase the property. A pair of blue herons now live on the property as well as a bunch of other wildlife.
Eugenia (Gena) was the face of the brand, hosting public tastings (where we first met her many years ago) and learning wine making later in life (taking classes at UC Davis). Alison Green-Doran (a wine industry veteran who worked with Napa pioneer, André Tchelistcheff as a harvest intern in the early 1970s) has made every vintage of Romeo Cellars since 1997.
Frank’s family runs a successful business near Half Moon Bay that services nurseries and landscaping industries. Known for a variety of organic fertilizers, they also have become a leading manufacturer and distributor of paper plant sleeves and decorative foils (a huge business considering all the retail outlets for purchasing plants across the country).
Romeo Cellars produces wines bottled under the brand, Sempre Vive, Latin for “Always Alive”. This is a tribute to the grape even when it has been converted to wine and is in the bottle – an homage to the constant changes that wines undergo during their life. Wine is not static; they constantly change with color, aroma, flavor and texture. Sempre Vive can also be construed as being a tribute to the land that supports these vineyards as well as the variety of plants and animals which live on this particular property (especially on the wooded knoll). Fruit from the vineyards was used by nearby Chateau Montelena for many years and when the Romeo’s purchased the property in 1997 they slowly phased out growing contracts and began using the grapes for their own wine. All their red varieties are sourced from this estate property and the white varieties (Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay) are purchased from various premium vineyards.
The oldest block in their Calistoga vineyard dates to 1971 and is an unidentified clone of Cabernet Sauvignon. This clone produces excellent fruit so they have cultured and propagated additional vines and named it after their son. Today they still produce wine from these old vines and appropriately call it “old vine Cabernet”. Unlike select other wine regions there are very few old vines per vine capita in the Napa Valley – especially of Cabernet Sauvignon. Vines in general in the Napa Valley do not last much beyond 20 to 25 years. Often they are removed because of lowered yields or due to various disease.
Some of the oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in all of the Napa Valley are a small section of surviving vines in Scarecrow’s vineyard in Rutherford dating from the 1940s, the Monastery Block in Robert Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard and a small block of Cabernet Sauvignon vines dating from the early to mid 1950s from the MacDonald Vineyard (historically a part of To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville).
We tried an older Eugenia Cabernet Sauvignon that was blended with 8% Petit Verdot. This wine has delicate aromas of cherry and some cedar which follows through stronger in the palate. The finish is long and smooth. The 2002 Romeo Cellars Miscella (an Italian verb for blending) is a clonal Cabernet Sauvignon blend which also includes 15% Petit Verdot. Merlot lovers often think this wine has characteristics of Merlot even though there is no Merlot juice here! The rich fruit flavors of blackberry carry through the entire palate.
Looking for a 100% Petit Verdot wine? You will have a hard time finding this variety from Napa Valley based producers as the dominant variety in a wine, but Romeo makes a very nice version. Not to be missed is their Siempre Vive Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been nicknamed “Candy” by Romeo’s customers and even in competitions sometimes gets called out as judges believe there might be some residual sugar in this wine. Not so, it is bone dry but with concentrated fruit flavors and juicy tannins it can often be mistaken for “candy”!
In 2008 Frank and Eugenia purchased an old carriage house (dates from 1885) on Lincoln Ave in downtown Calistoga. After a number of years of remodeling, Romeo Cellars opened their tasting room in early 2014. Not only is the tasting room located on this property but also serves as a small weekend house for the Romeos. In addition, unlike most urban tasting rooms, this space has plenty of outdoor seating available and with lush landscaping surrounding, its hard to tell you are actually on main street in downtown Calistoga. A full commercial kitchen is on site; events can be catered with advance notice. A pizza oven and a portable bar are located outside of the tasting room – on select days, seasonally, Romeo Cellars offers their “perfect pizza pairing” experience.
One literally has numerous choices of tasting rooms located in the central business districts of Napa Valley’s primary towns (Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga) but few offer the outdoor space that this one has. In the shade outdoors on their patio on a warm summers afternoon this space is quiet and calming – an ideal place to enjoy their wines and good conversation under the giant 100+ year old redwoods.
A unique feature that sets Romeo Cellars apart from other tasting rooms is their extensive and diverse library collection of wines – these are wines that can be purchased on site – including as of our latest update (wines dating back to their first few vintages in the 1990s). One of the tasting room staff told us that at the time of our visit, he has over 100 separate wines to pour and or sell to visitors.
Visitors to the tasting room often have several tasting options to choose from including a White Wine only tasting, a Cabernet Sauvignon only tasting, a Library wine only tasting, and a Bordeaux varieties only tasting. First timers to the valley are welcome here – especially if you don’t know a lot about wine. The staff is always interested in sharing their tasting knowledge.
Romeo often has older vintages available for sale online and at the tasting room. They have kept their prices extremely reasonable over the years, even for their older vintages. Their total production is around 5000 cases. For more information or to join their wine club, visit: www.romeovineyards.com
Exterior & Grounds