Storybook Mountain Vineyards (Seps Estate) is about the furthest northern located winery in the Napa Valley. It is away from all the hustle and bustle of the southern part of the valley and its location is very quiet and peaceful. You come to Storybook for its history, and the relaxed informative tastings – but mainly you come for their very high quality Zinfandel. A number of Napa wineries make maybe one or two Zinfandels, but this is one of Napa Valley’s few wineries where Zinfandel is the core of their production.
Storybook is a very historical winery – one of the three famous Napa Valley “Jacobs” originally founded it in the 1880’s, Jacob Grimm, who was later joined by his brother Adam. The other two famous Jacobs were Jacob Schramsberg and Jacob Beringer, both of whom founded famous Napa wineries in their own right. The Grimm’s were from family that has been and still is involved in the wine industry dating back to 1540 (in Germany). During the 1880’s Zinfandel was one of the varietals planted on site. The first vines were planted on the property in 1883. During Prohibition the Grimm Brothers continue the vineyard operations making medicinal and Sacramental wine (for church use). By 1940 the property and winery was no longer in operation.
Decades later, proprietors Jerry and Sigrid Seps purchased the land in 1976, replanted and built a new winery and then released their first Zinfandels in 1983. What is admirable at the time is that Jerry left his job as a tenured college professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills), moved his family with four children to Napa from Los Angeles – and all without a background in growing grapes.
Storybook winery was abandoned by subsequent owners after the big 1964 Hanley Ranch Fire came through the property and burned all the way to Santa Rosa – 20 miles away! Redwoods on the property still show prominent burn marks on their lower bark more then 50 years later. The Seps family remembers the redwoods just starting to grow back when they purchased the land 12 years after this terrible fire.
Thinking the original name of the winery, ‘The Grimm Wine Vault’ was perhaps a bit austere, Jerry and Sigrid decided to honor the original brothers in another way. They chose Storybook, a play on the German Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
The property is 120 acres of which some 43 are planted to vine of which these vineyard acres are organized by 105 unique blocks. Initially the Seps planted the property entirely to Zinfandel but over time they learned that certain parts of the land was more suited to other varietals and today about 20% of their vines are non Zinfandel. In addition they have selectively replanted based on vines that were originally planted on a Phylloxera non-resistant root stock. All farming is done organically without insecticides or pesticides. Their location is somewhat unique due to their relative isolation from the floor of the Napa Valley. The site sits on the eastern hills of the northern Mayacamas mountains which separate Sonoma from Napa County.
As far as the crow fly’s, they are relatively close to the Russian River Valley which brings cooler breezes through on hot summer days and combined with their elevation they are often 10 degrees cooler than the northern part of the Napa Valley in the summer. This all contributes to longer more evening ripening. In addition, for the area, they receive a fairly large amount of rainfall and are able to dry farm most of their mature vines. They produce between 5,000 and 9,000 cases annually.
Jerry is a man of many talents – he is a pioneer in the Zinfandel industry and he was instrumental in starting the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers organization (ZAP). He is also an avid mountain climber.
After a walk in the vineyards visitors will walk into old hand dug caves (dating from 1889) located directly behind the winery. These are among the oldest and largest hand dug caves in the Napa Valley; and are one of only a several from this age in all of Napa. The inside can be fairly humid; very velvety thick black mold that grows on the ceilings and walls (this mold is harmless to touch). Parts of the original cave have reinforced and covered in gunnite but there are still plenty of the original cave walls exposed. It is interesting to note that part of the cave actually contained riddling racks used in the production of sparkling wine.
The tasting is located at the end of one of the caverns – their estate grown Zinfandels are world class and if you are a Zinfandel lover you have a variety of these wines to choose from including a Zin Gris rosé (with both weight and good acidity), the very popular Mayacamas Range Zinfandel, and a proprietary dominatned Zinfandel wine called Antaeus. They also produce a very drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon. Be sure to also try their current vintage of the Reserve Zinfandel. All wine for this is taken from only the best barrel lots and these are typically rich complex wines that are built to age.
Their wines have consistently been top rated and have won many awards; Storybook Winery has been listed by Wine & Spirits as one of the top 100 wineries in the world. The famous Robert Parker has commented on their wine as “representing the pinnacle of wine quality in California.” Not bad! Visit: www.storybookwines.com