St. Barthelemy Cellars is a very unique winery, not only in the Napa Valley but in California. Their entire production is focused on producing high quality port. Other than Prager Portworks who focus their production entirely on port, and 2 or 3 other wineries in Napa County who produce mostly port, the rest of the wineries who produce a port usually produce merely 1 vintage or produce it as an after thought. As of press time St. Barthelemy produces 7 different varietal ports with future plans to produce a white port. Their actual wine is made at a winery in eastern Napa County.
Winemaker and owner Bart Barthelemy has always enjoyed port and if you know Napa wines at all you will know there is an abundance of Cabernet Sauvignon so he decided to try something unique. His style of winemaking is different than the typical Portuguese style of Ports. Sourcing fruit from his own vineyards near Lake Berryessa as well as from other growers, he works only with area grown fruit. California fruit has different characteristics than Portuguese fruit so his Ports are all about keeping the unique fruit flavors from each varietal used rather than trying to copy Portuguese Port styled wines.
Before becoming a winemaker, Bart spent 35 years flying for the US Airforce and Trans World Airlines. During this time he was exposed to wine from around the world which helped develop his palate. He eventually moved to Napa and totally immersed himself in the local wine culture and also became formally educated in winemaking at Napa Valley College.
His ports are not as high in sugar as you may find from other producers. Refreshingly, he does not overly oak the fruit during its aging. In addition most wineries who are not concentrating on Port use Everclear or Grappa as a base to fortify their ports. Brandy is an extremely important part of good ports and there are only several high end Brandy providers in California. Barthelemy uses a double distilled brandy which is considerably more pricey then the brandy the common ports contain. However this commitment to quality really shows in their wines. We tried several barrel samples including a 2006 Barbera, Merlot, Petite Sirah and a 2005 Zinfandel. These wines are all amazing in their own way. The 2006 barrel samples were still quite young and keep in mind that the flavors will come together and become more complex with additional aging.
The Barbera is very light colored and a bit jammy, the Merlot & Petite Sirah’s are dark red wines with lots of fruit flavors and the Zinfandel is… well, just amazing! It seems like the most common produced Port in Napa County is the Zinfandel varietal and it is very refreshing to find other high-quality Port varietals available. The best place to purchase St. Barthelemy wine locally is the St. Helena Wine Center in downtown St. Helena. St. Barthelemy has plans to join a collective tasting room open to the public in the Yountville area and we will provide details if this comes to fruition. Visit: www.stbartwine.com