Seven Stones Winery (not to be confused with the Seven Stones Winery in British Columbia, Canada) is owned by Ron and Anita Wornick. Ron has a passion for both the arts and sciences and winemaking satisfies both of these avocations. During college he earned extra money as a professional trumpet player. After college he joined the army and continued to play trumpet for the Army band. While in the Army he also experimented with food science and testing a number of techniques for freeze drying food. Then later as a graduate student at MIT he worked for United Fruit Company (predecessor to Chiquita Fruit) and it is there that he helped create the packaged food that every combat military person knows, the MRE or Meal Ready to Eat food rations (also used in the US Space Program).
The Seven Stones estate is located on one of the truly remarkable sites within the Napa Valley. Overlooking much of the northern part of the valley with its tremendous views the estate, winery and vineyards sit on a steep hillside in the eastern Vaca Mountains just above Meadowood Resort. This property was part of the original ownership of Meadowood and then changed owners several times before the Wornick’s purchased it in 1995.
We have talked to a number of property owners during this project who moved to the valley without having any intentions of planting a vineyard much less making wine. The Wornick’s original intent was the same, to move to the valley in their retirement and build a retirement home for themselves, their children and grandchildren. However an even smaller number of these owners fortuitously purchased property in some of Napa’s best terroir. Case in point are the vineyards of Seven Stones. This is a prestigious vineyard neighborhood with Harlan’s Napa Valley Reserve at the bottom of the hill, the Herb Lamb Vineyard behind their property, David & Ric Forman’s Thorevilos Vineyard not much further away as well as Foreman’s own vineyards and winery.
The initial major problem with this property in establishing any sort of vineyard or winery was the lack of and difficulty in procuring water for the site. The previous owners were never able to establish any sort of permanent water source. The site sits about 700 feet above the valley floor. In order to get a reasonable amount of water to the vineyards a well had to be drilled over 850 feet down! That’s even 150 feet below the valley floor.
The existing winery is small by Napa standards and was actually built with the intent of just making home wine. Before producing commercial wine this was probably the finest “home winery” in all of Napa County! Aaron Pott is the winemaker; he graduated with a degree in enology from UC Davis and a degree in viticulture from the Universite de Bourgogne in Dijon, France. He also spent a number of years in France winemaking including a year at Chateau Troplong Mondot and as head winemaker for Chateau La Tour Figeac in Saint-Emillion. Previous Napa winemaking positions included at Beringer where much of his work was overseas, St. Clement and at Quintessa. Needless to say he has significant experience in a number of “wine worlds” including the “old world” as well as in Napa. Aaron is also an accomplished author and for several years wrote the “In the Vineyard” columns for the Atlantic magazine.
The Wornick’s have collected art for a number of years and have amassed one of the largest private craft collections in the world – Ron has long been a woodworker and has focused on collecting this specific type of art. The majority of this collection was given to the Boston Museum of Fine Art in 2007. The centerpiece of the estate is a huge piece of artwork; 7 massive granite stones collected from near Yosemite are interwoven together, situated on a small hill overlooking much of the central and northern part of the Napa Valley. This entire piece weighs in at over 100,000 pounds and is the inspiration for the name of their winery. The artist behind this unique work is Richard Deutsch, a well regarded sculpturist from Southern California who often creates large sized stone works of art. His commissioned works can be found in a wide variety of places from Stanford University, to Oakland to Wyoming to the East Coast. Visit: www.richarddeutsch.com
We had the opportunity to walk the vineyards with assistant winemaker at the time, Roy Piper. Everything about the vineyard part of the property was developed on a small scale and as a result is very much managed by hand. Despite the small vineyards the soil types change remarkably even within the same block. There might be a wide range of colors from reddish to white to brown including an ash-like soil, to soils that contain huge boulders similar to icebergs in that the majority of the rock is underground. Due to the elevation (higher than the valley floor, but not too high) they do receive the moderating effects of the fog which typically burns off in the summer by mid to late morning.
At the time of this review there are merely 2 hillside acres planted to several Bordeaux varietals with plans and the space to plant one more acre. The vineyards are then separated into small unique blocks some of which contain just a limited number of vines. The property is composed of volcanic based soils most of which are extremely rocky. The topsoil is merely 6-12 inches and underneath that lies fractured rock. Huge D7 tractors had to initially “rip” the vineyard to break up the rock enough to allow the roots of the vines to penetrate deeper into the rock/soil.
Because of the soils or lack thereof, production is already low, however up to 40% of the existing fruit is also removed (depending on the vintage) leaving just the highest quality fruit to be used in the fermentation. Much thought went into the vineyards including the row orientation. Based on the vineyard’s exposure to the sun angles during the summer heat spells, much of the fruit is shaded from the hottest part of the day thus avoiding any sort of sunburn.
Seven Stones focuses on a single wine each year, typically no more than 400 cases – each year’s production consists of merely 10 or less barrels. With the winery located on site their grapes can be at the winery within minutes of being harvested. Their focus is on using only the highest quality berries and by the time the grapes reach the stage where they can begin their fermentation they have been sorted 4 times (including once in the vineyard just before picking).
The 2006 vintage (316 cases) is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. This wine is dark ruby in the glass. The bouquet shows notes of graphite, mineralities and a crushed rock component along with elegant fruit. The wine is soft and smooth on entry and is focused and balanced from start to finish. Part of this balance stems from how well the oak integrates with the fruit. This is a wine that walks a nice line between the riper fruit forward wines and those that are more restrained. More red fruit shows than dark fruit (although there are nice notes of blackberry); the wine is velvety throughout with a pleasing long finish anchored by fine grained tannins. There is a softness yet at the same time a richness to the palate, which is part of what makes this wine so intriguing.
Because of their small distribution most of the wine is distributed via their mailing list although you can find it at Meadowood. This winery is private and does not see visitors. They have plans to distribute to several specific restaurants in the Napa area. For more information and to join the waiting list visit: