Signorello Estate was founded in the mid 1970’s by Ray Signorello Sr. – his original intent was to have a summer home away from the San Francisco Bay area where he lived. Neighbors were growing premium vineyards and eventually Ray put in his own vineyards and sold the fruit to other wineries.
This is often how vintners start in the wine industry who don’t have a background in wine. However when you have top notch fruit – it makes sense to hold back some of your production for your own wines. The Signorello’s discovered this in 1985 when a larger than normal crop allowed them to keep some of their own fruit for themselves. Realizing the quality of their first wines inspired the Signorello’s to build a winery. Ray dream of owning a summer house in Napa (never built) transitioned into building the winery. This is Napa – or rather the “Napa Allure” which brings so many people to this incredible part of California from different backgrounds who often become vintners.
Today Ray Jr. is the owner and co winemaker along with their full time winemaker, Pierre Birebent (who has been with them since 1998). The entire property is 100 acres of which 42 are planted to vine; the only grapes they source from are for their Pinot Noir. The property features a west facing and an east facing hillside vineyard. The west facing block is easily seen from the Silverado Trail – whereas the east facing vineyard is located higher up the slopes and ‘hidden’ from view from the valley floor. Despite each vineyard being so close to each other there are dramatic differences in soil types and even in temperatures.
The winery building sits just off of the Silverado Trail against the eastern Napa Valley Hills. Their driveway is a long one – leading up the hill to both the winery and their hospitality center. As you pull in off of the Silverado Trail – glance to your right hand side. These vines are among some of the oldest still producing Chardonnay in all of the Napa Valley. They were planted in 1980.
When you reach the parking lot at the top of the hill, look for the trademark front of their winery building. One half of the stone facade is covered with perfectly groomed ivy. The winery sits in a stunning location with intimate views of the southern part of the valley below. A gorgeous pool overlooks the vineyards.
The 2006 Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay is from the previously mentioned original Chardonnay vineyard block planted on site. Only a partial malolactic fermentation gives this wine a rounded feel with not much buttery influence that sometimes are found in California styled Chardonnays. Nuances of toasted oak, a slight toasted nut characteristic and honeysuckle intermingle with pleasing fruit flavors including pear and apple.
Signorello makes a variety of Pinot noirs all sourced from different vineyards in the cooler Carneros region to the south including the tasty 2006 Las Amigas Vineyard. Looking for a big juicy ripe Syrah but not overly tannic? The 2005 Estate Syrah is a good choice.
It is also intriguing to see how a vintage can really affect a wine. A good example of this is a side by side comparison of the 2003 and 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. 2003 was a cooler growing year and this wine has an underlying spiciness and earthiness. In contrast the 2004 was a hotter year and is much more fruit forward. You can tell this as soon as you smell the bouquet. Unlike a number of area wineries who use Cabernet Franc for blending purposes, Signorello makes a 100% varietal of Cabernet Franc. One of their premium wines, Padrone is very popular and is a dedication to Ray senior. This is a red wine blend sourced from two blocks in their vineyard each of which grows in extremely rocky soil and produces very low yields resulting in an intense flavors.
As they say at Signorello, “Italian name, French winemaker, California fruit” – the best of all worlds!
Signorello lost a sizable amount of wine (as in thousands of cases) in the now infamous arson wine warehouse fire in Vallejo in 2005. We saw the photos of this disaster – at the time it directly effected numerous Napa wineries. Fortunately they were able to recover like most already established wineries affected by this fire.
Unfortunately, this was not the last time the winery was effected by fire – in October 2017 the hospitality center, house, offices, lab and winery burned down (one of the very few Napa wineries to burn to the ground). Remarkably the fire did not burn their outside fermentation tanks (which still had wine in them at the time). As of mid 2018 plans are underway to rebuild the winery, hospitality center including the commercial kitchen and add a new feature to the property, an 8,000 square foot cave.
Today, they produce small quantity lots from about 50 to 3000 cases depending on the type of wine for a total annual production of around 6,000 cases.
One of the highlights of visiting Signorello Estate is for their unique food and wine pairings. Two selections are offered and both include a personalized tour of the part of the property with time taken to walk in the vineyards, enjoy the picturesque views and learn more about their farming practices Antipasti lasts 90 minutes with current release wines paired with a variety of artisan cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and some seasonal fresh fruits. For a more in depth experience, choose the Enoteca (seasonally offered) which includes a 5-course paired sit down lunch including Wagyu beef – allow up to 3 hours for this experience.
A full commercial kitchen is on site and their house chef will discuss the reasons for the pairing as well as provide information about the dishes. Seasonal vegetables and herbs are used in the dishes (grown on the property).
All visitor’s to the property are toured around part of the estate in one of their customized vehicles “golf carts”. All experiences require advance reservations. Visit: www.signorelloestate.com