Thorn Hill Vineyards was founded with their first release in 2007 – this winery was started by the husband wife team of Amy and Jack Thorn. Today they operate two tasting rooms; one near Lancaster in Pennsylvania (where they live) and one in Lower Lake in neighboring Lake County to the north of Napa. They previously operated a third tasting room that was open in St. Helena from late summer of 2014 until closing permanently in late 2018. And their wines are available for tastings in Napa Valley at the tasting room at Silenus Winery where Thornhill Vineyards produces their wines.
Silenus is a “collection of artisan winemakers”, a custom crush facility for a number of small wineries (the number varies depending on the year). What separates Silenus from other area collectives is not only do these wineries taste their wine here but they also make it on site as well. These are wineries that do not own a physical winery.
Besides having the small winery to work in as well as other winemakers to bounce ideas off of, these small wineries have a public face (the tasting room), which is very rare at other area custom crush facilities. In addition, it is refreshing to find varietals poured here not often found at Napa wineries. The reason for this is several of the clients source fruit from outside of Napa for varieties not often grown in the Napa area.
A number of tastings are offered and visitors can specially request wines from Thorn Hill Vineyards; the Vintner’s Tasting includes a mix of white and red wines, the White Only tasting and the Reserve Tasting (featuring a selection of their most premium wines). And one can also opt for the Barrel Ad-on, featuring a barrel sample from two hand-selected barrels chosen by their winemaker.
Tastings are either at the bar, or if weather permitting, seated outside on their tiny terrace. Several private rooms are also available for larger groups (strictly by appointment).
When visiting Silenus Winery to try the Thorn Hill wines, note that Silenus has a coveted permit to allow guests to bring food on site and picnic (provided one does a tasting either before or after lunch). Guests who picnic but do not do a tasting must order at least a bottle of wine. The lower grounds are quiet and a very relaxing space to enjoy part of your day (weather permitting). Several picnic tables are located in this shady grotto next to a bocce ball court.
Two small parking lots are available; the first lot on your right has shade while the other one is mostly in the sun. Look for a winery dog or two sprawled out, possibly in the tasting room. The inside of the tasting room is elegant, modern and chic with a spacious curved tasting bar. The staff is friendly and very knowledgeable.
While the Thorns live in Pennsylvania, they are in Napa from time to time and certainly during the harvest months.
All their wines are made in quantities of several hundred cases with grapes sourced primarily from Napa Valley, Lake County’s Red Hills AVA and parts of Sonoma County. Aside from the several sparkling wines they produce, all their wines are 100% varietal. What is valuable for the consumer, is they produce a wide variety of wines from both whites and reds to sparkling and several dessert wines.
The 2019 Thornhill Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay is medium gold in color; its aromas offer notes of grapefruit, haystack, pear, green apple and light citrus blossom. The bouquet is initially shy and needs some time to evolve in the glass to open fully. This is not an oaky or buttery California styled Chardonnay; its characteristics are on the light side both on the bouquet and the palate. It offers flavors of pineapple, citrus and some minerality nuances, and lingers with subtle notes of popcorn butter and hazelnut.
The 2018 Thornhill Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in color and almost opaque to look at in the glass; a singular aromatic memory stood out as we smelled the bouquet. It reminded us of picking cherries at any one of a number of u-pick cherry farms in Brentwood, California late in the season after the crowds have gone. And only the super ripe and already slightly desiccated fruits are left on the trees, resulting in rich flavors and aromas. This bouquet smells like these late harvested cherries. Also complementing this aromatic are notes of brown chocolate and ripe blackberry. We would like to think we could easily pick this bouquet out of a lineup of other contemporary Napa Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings. The palate offers flavors of mulberry, blackberry and dark cherry. The finish is slightly savory and features medium acidity. This is not a heavy wine on the palate, rather it offers a supple texture with fine-grained and rounded tannins; it is an easy-drinking and comfortable lighter styled Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It is noteworthy for what it lacks: high alcohol, robust tannins and heavy extraction.
The 2010 Thorn Hill Vineyards barrel fermented Chardonnay underwent just a tiny percentage of malo lactic fermentation. This wine shows both tropical and citrus aromas on the bouquet along with notes of oak. The palate is soft and rounded, with decent weight – somewhat buttery but retains nice acidity which is especially noticeable on the finish. The finish is clean and lasts for some time. This is an easy drinking Chardonnay with a pleasing palate that is sure to appeal to a wide variety of taste preferences.
The 2010 Thorn Hill Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from near St. Helena. This wine shows notes of cinnamon along with layers of red fruit on the bouquet including raspberry and lighter blackberry. The mouth feel is soft with well integrated tannins that linger delicately – more in the front of the palate rather than the back. This wine is balanced and has good acidity.
The 2008 Thorn Hill Vineyards Petite Sirah Port styled wine shows ripe aromas with notes of raisin and baked cherry pie. Desert in a glass. The wine is sweet but not viscous or syrupy at all (the ripeness of nose almost leads you to believe that the palate would taste just as ripe). The palate is clean with leaner mouth feel than often shows in Port styled wines. Both fruit and spice show on the palate (nutmeg, cocoa, cinnamon) – it is a delicious wine!
The 2010 Thorn Hill Vineyards Late Harvest “ice” wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon made in a Sauterne style. And yes these grapes actually did freeze on the vine before they were harvested this particular year. The nose is decidedly floral, with plenty of apricot and honey aromas. The mouth feel shows good viscosity and is rounded. The finish is fairly clean but lingers with a touch of oak. The wine is slightly under 14% alcohol. We tasted this wine soon after bottling and then again 12 years post vintage date. It had become more amber in color and still showed plenty of ripe stone fruits including peaches, apricot and nectarine.
Tasting Room & Suites, Lower Lake, CA
Thorn Hill is truly a family owned and run business. Amy is the winemaker, Jack is responsible for overseeing their sales and expansion – their son Jonathan runs their tasting room in Lake County and daughter Amy design labels under their ‘artist’ series of wines and runs their tasting room in Pennsylvania.
Find yourself in Lake County to the north? The family operates the Thorn Hill Villa Suites near Mt. Konocti in the Red Hills appellation right next to Highway 29. Appropriately, each of their suites has a name relating to wine including Champagne, Cabernet and Chardonnay. The suites are clean and comfortable and surround both sides of their tasting room – this certainly is convenient when you want to go wine tasting.
Interestingly the vineyards across the highway are owned by Andy Beckstoffer – a prominent Napa grower.
The Thorn’s opened this tasting room in 2012. The focus of the tasting bar is on their Lake Country produced wines but they also have a few wines represented from Napa Valley. Often quiet on winter weekdays the tasting room is a relaxed and enjoyable place taste a wide variety of wines including their popular Lake County Riesling (off dry) and a Zinfandel from Lake County vines originally planted in 1886. Sometimes popular with tour buses. This Lake County tasting room is approximately an hour drive from their St. Helena tasting room – over often very windy back country roads.
Tasting Room, Lancaster, PA
This is Thornhill Vineyard’s original tasting room, having opened in 2011 in the Foxshire Plaza, a small shopping center. The Thornhill tasting room is located in between an Allstate office and Wild Birds Unlimited. As of our latest update to this review, this remains Pennsylvania’s only wine tasting room to also have a liquor license. The interior is sizable featuring a bar, and several rooms with tables and chairs. And a small outdoor patio area allows for tastings when the weather permits.
A number of paintings hang on the walls and are for sale in a room referred to as the Thorn Gallery. One of the tables was previously used in their St. Helena tasting room. Wines are available by the glass, bottle or by flight. Jack and Amy’s daughter Rachel oversees the space and is usually here during their normal business hours. In addition to tastings, they use the space for a variety of events including Women of Wine (a ladies only event), book club nights, trivia nights, live music, Bird lectures in conjunction with their next door neighbor and of course, release parties.
The tasting room provides a very helpful list of nearby restaurant suggestions. Also worth also visiting is the historic city of Lancaster, located less than 15 minutes from the tasting room and if timing works out, Central Market the country’s oldest continuously operating public farmers’ market, first established in 1730. The brick building that houses more than 60 vendors dates from 1889. And Lancaster County is home to some of the oldest Amish communities in the country.
A storage area is located within the same building but to the rear of the tasting room. Once a year a 53-foot long refrigerated truck makes the drive across the country from California and parks next to the storage space. Up to 22 pallets of Thornhill’s wine are unloaded here. And this space also stores a limited number of library wines which are available for purchase for visitors.
For obvious reasons, based on tasting room locations and where the wines are made – they have good distribution in both Pennsylvania and California. For more information or to join their wine club, visit: www.thornhillvineyards.com
Tasting Room, St. Helena (permanently closed)
We keep our notes and photographs here for historical reference. A visit to their St. Helena tasting room was a personalized one (closed as of November 2018); when they were open-, visitors could either taste at the wine bar, sit down inside or if the weather permitted a small outdoor shaded patio was available.
Wine was ordered by the glass or bottle – and discounts were given for club members. This corner located tasting room (corner of Main and Hunt streets) was spacious with plenty of tables to sit down at rather than standing at the small wine bar.