Vinum Cellars was founded by two winemakers, Richard Bruno and Chris Condos who met when they were both studying at UC Davis, one of several Napa Valley based wineries we know of based on friendships forged during the rigors of classwork at UC Davis. Their first vintage was from 1997 with an original focus on Chenin Blanc and Petite Sirah (they have since branched out to produce wines from additional varieties) including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc among others. Fruit for their wines come from vineyards they have generally locked up in long term contracts. And in addition to Vinum Cellars, they also produce wines under the following brands:
Sierra Del Mar Vineyard (Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir), Spring Street Winery (wines from Paso Robles and other parts of California’s central coast) and Typsetter (Cabernet Sauvignon).
Richard started his career in the food and wine world by working at a restaurant as a waiter and bartender. It was there that he was introduced to wine – he attended UC Davis in the mid 1990s and graduated with a degree in Fermentation Science, Viticulure and Enology in 1997. He has made wine for numerous wineries in both central and northern California over the years including as the Director of Winemaking for Don Sebastiani & Sons. Today he focuses on his consulting career having consulted for Niebaum-Coppola and Michael Pozzan Winery – along being one of the winemakers for Naked Wines.
Chris is from a Greek family where wine was a part of his heritage; his grandfathers’ made wine and his father sold wine. He attended San Francisco State and studied plant ecology and later graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Viticulture and Enology. His first wine job in the Napa Valley was at Pine Ridge in 1995 (where he made Chenin Blanc, a variety he loves working with and still makes today with Vinum Cellars). Chris is also involved in a consulting role for Kathryn Kennedy Winery (San Jose area) and works with his wife Suzanne to oversee their own winery in Sebastopol, Horse & Plow (wines from organic and biodynamically farmed vineyards as well as select ciders).
Many of the Vinum Cellars vineyard sources have remained the same for years. This builds consistency into their wines and has allowed both Chris and Richard to becomes familiar with the nuances of each vineyard. Vinum Cellars often produces wines from varieties not often grown or made by Napa based wineries – nearly all of their vineyard sources are from outside of the Napa Valley except for their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. They source from approximately 10 vineyards in California ranging from Santa Barbara in the south to El Dorado County in the north (Sierra Nevada foothills). This diversity of sources is for a reason. Both Chris and Richard feel that specific teroir best represents particular varieties and the Napa area is not always the best suited region for a number of the varieties that they produce.
They are open to experimenting with different types of yeast and typically use specific strains of yeast known to work well with specific varieties. Their white wines are aged sur lie which help create more texture in the wines and adds additional flavor complexities. They stress skin contact during fermentation – only open top fermentors are used, punch downs are all conducted by hand and the grapes go through extended maceration before the wine is pressed off. Their focus is on the varietal characteristics rather then too much oak; the wines are aged in older French oak barrels.
One of the vineyards they source from in the Napa Valley is located in the far north of the valley near the town of Calistoga. This vineyard supplies the grapes for their delicious Cabernet Sauvignon rosé. This is an affordable easy drinking wine with flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and cherry. It is a soft wine and the finish offers hints of red cherry and various baking spices.
The 2016 Vinum Cellars Napa Valley Longhorn Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Hoffman Block) is from a site in the hills of the Vaca mountain range to the east of the valley floor – on the backside of the Atlas Peak Appellation. Vinum Cellars has produced wine from this site since 2005 from its original 8 acre planting. Spicy, inviting and layered with plenty of fruit aromatics on the bouquet – offers aromas of ripe plum, blackberry, juniper berry, old cedar box and dried tobacco leaf (this last smell reminds us of walking into a dry storage barn for tobacco leaf at a tobacco farm we visited in Cuba several years ago). Juicy with good acidity, shows flavors of red cherry, dark currant, and a darker spice component and a red fruit tartness on the finish. Gravelly tannins are well defined but not harsh. 100% varietal. 700 cases produced.
This is one of the best value to quality single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the Napa Valley.
They continue to produce their wine at Napa Wine Co, located in the heart of the Napa Valley in Oakville. Total production every year is around 30,000 cases. Their wines are reasonably priced, especially considering they are all hand-made and often in fairly low quantities. For many years, the Vinum wines were available for tasting at what was Napa Wine Co’s shared tasting room in Oakville. But as of January 1, 2019 this tasting room stopped representing all vintner and was converted over to a tasting space for Ghostblock Wines.
Vinum Cellars may be planning to open a cafe and tasting room in what is now known as the Vinum-Greenwood Mansion located in the Napa Valley Gateway business park south of the city of Napa (pending county approval). Their offices are located in this building. Originally located across the highway at the intersection of Highway 12 and Highway 29, this home was eventually moved a few minutes to the west, to this site. Its original site is currently The Doctors Company – and the street that encircles this campus is named Greenwood Drive in homage to the original owners.
The mansion is a dramatic contrast compared to the surrounding ‘new’ buildings of the business park. It has a storied history; originally built in the 1880s by Napa Sea Captain John Quincy Greenwood – the house sits on land formerly owned by General Mariano Vallejo. John’s wife Lucinda was unfortunately murdered inside this house by two thugs – they shot John several times in the head during one of their several attacks on the couple – remarkably he survived. The murderers were eventually caught – one had the dubious distinction of being the last public hanging held in the state of California (1897). The original noose for the hanging is in the collection at the tiny museum inside the nearby Napa Police Department building. For more details about this murder, reference Murder and Mayhem in the Napa Valley by Todd L. Shulman, founder of the Napa Police Historical Society.
The house remained under Greenwood family ownership for more then 150 years before ultimately it was sold. Part of the original Greenwood Ranch is the site of the Napa County airport.
Greenwood Road/Doctors Park
Greenwood Murder Noose/Napa Police Department Museum
Note: we originally met Chris and Richard at a tasting many years ago. Of the 1,000+ Napa Valley based unique winery/producer or tasting rooms we have visited with and reviewed on this site, this is the last of 3 reviews originally written based on meeting at a consumer tasting. This review has been identified as needing a major update and we hope to revisit with Chris or Richard in 2020 or in 2021.
Vinum Cellars also operates a keg program – great for restaurants who want to order large volume lots. For more information and or to join their wine club, visit: www.vinumcellars.com
The Tasting Room at Napa Wine Co (no longer open for tasting these wines)
Horse + Plow, Sebastopol