Shypoke Vineyards is located just south of Calistoga. The name Shypoke comes from an old family folk name that refers to Blue Herons; these birds still nest in the riparian zone next to their vineyards. The winery was founded by Peter Heitz (today he and his wife Meg oversee all the operations of this tiny brand). Peter has family ties dating back to 1896 in the Napa Valley which makes his family among the oldest of the winemaking families in the Napa area. In fact, their old stone ghost winery still exists just west of their main vineyard.
Peter is 4th generation grape grower/winemaker and was born and raised in Carneros in the Napa Valley. After graduating from the University of Santa Cruz with a degree in Biology he took a position at Beringer Vineyards as an associate winemaker where he worked for 11 years. Immediately following Beringer he became head winemaker at Turnbull Cellars.
Before wine became as popular as it is today, Napa Valley had two Co-Ops, one just south of St. Helena and one located in Calistoga. Vintners would sell their grapes to this Co-Op and take turns being the winemaker. Peter’s grandfather was the head winemaker at the Co-op during the 1950’s and 60’s. Today Shypoke farms 10 acres of grapes and focuses on producing 4 wines, Sangiovese, Charbono, Petite Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon and produces about 1000 cases each year).
Peter works with vineyard sites that often come with the intrigue of history – whether it is the age of the vines themselves or the heritage of the personalities that farm the sites. He makes wines from grapes growing in the northern part of the Napa Valley (Calistoga) and outside of the county – including in Mendocino County (to the north of the Napa Valley).
All wines we initially tried with Peter were from the 2005 vintage. The 2005 Shypoke Vineyards Sangiovese is 100% varietal. This is a pleasing light summer wine featuring raspberry and strawberry flavors with just a touch of vanilla on the finish. Shypoke is most known for the rather obscure variety, Charbono. There are approximately 50-60 acres of this French variety planted in the world and at least 30 of these acres are planted in the northern Napa Valley near Calistoga. Based on these numbers, Shypoke has approximately 13% of the world’s planted Charbono.
It is a somewhat difficult variety to grow as bud break comes very early in the season, typically before the frost season is over. This grape really thrives in the Calistoga area as during the summer there are easily 30-40 degree swings in temperature between day and night. We’ve had a number of Charbonos in the area and theirs is one of the nicest. This variety produces wines that are very low in acid as well as in alcohol. However, contrary to belief these factors do not diminish the fruit flavors whatsoever. Their version is a very full bodied wine with a nice mouth feel and some spiciness that will pair very well with food.
The 2015 Le Corbeau (5 barrel production) is 100% varietal Charbono and means ‘the crow’ in French. Dark garnet in the glass immediately offers powerful fruit driven aromatics focusing more on darker fruits including plum and blackberry along with black licorice and dark chocolate. Slightly savory and also noticeable are hints of sage and dried rosemary. Mouth filling fruit, seductive and a bit opulent – big but balanced across the palate with supple lighter style tannins. The finish lingers with notes of plum, a slight tartness (red cherry) and a kiss of mocha and baking spices. A fine showing – fairly polished and doesn’t show any of the rustic qualities we have noticed in some of the older Charbono wines from the Napa Valley. 14.1% alcohol.
The Shypoke Petite Sirah is not a big bold Petite Sirah we have been having lately in the Napa area. The 2005 Shypoke Petit Sirah is a more elegant wine offering aromas of ripe plums and dark cherries in the nose, blueberries on the palate with a nice not overly tannic finish. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is the only blend of its kind that we have tried in Napa. Being true to their primary variety, Charbono, naturally they blend Charbono in their Cabernet Sauvignon. In the case of 2005 the Charbono is about 10% of the blend. This is a delightful wine – the Charbono rounds out this wine especially in the mid palate and provides structure to the finish. The finish is slightly smoky & very long.
The Cabernet Sauvignon is clone 337 which as Peter says, “if you were starving in the desert and you had a choice between the 337 clone and nothing to eat, its a toss up whether you would select the 337”! This particular clone produces extremely small berries which as a result provide very rich concentrated flavors due to the high skin to juice ratio.
Shypoke designs their wines to be consumed at a young age, i.e. now. Compared to typical Napa wine pricing their pricing is very reasonable. Shypoke is one of the very few Napa wineries to donate 1% of their total gross profits to an organization called 1% For The Planet – funds from businesses who participate in this are distributed to organizations protecting the environment worldwide.
Locally select Shypoke wines can be found at Backroom Wines in the city of Napa. For more information and or to join their mailing list, visit: www.shypoke.com
NOTE: this review has been identified as needing a *major* update.