Wallis Estate is located in the hills of the Diamond Mountain AVA. Founder Edward Wallis grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and moved to the Napa Valley right after college. He purchased this property in 1975 and raised his family here. He remembers the valley being a sleepy place at the time – with only a few wineries producing commercially compared to the hundreds today. However, he did not catch the wine bug early on – rather he built his career in the real estate world.
In 1997 he planted vineyards with the sole intent to sell the fruit. And he did – to a number of premium producers including Duckhorn, Lokoya and Ramey Wine Cellars. Upon tasting some of the wines that were being made with his fruit and seeing the well regarded reviews being given by wine writers he decided to make his own wine and the first Wallis Estate wine is from the 2006 vintage.
Plans for the property continue to evolve – the vineyards they have been using for each vintage was sold – and plans call for planting several more acres in a different part of the property. Despite selling the vineyard portion, the new owners will continue to lease the vines to Wallis Estate so they can continue to make wine from the same vines until their new vineyard comes into production.
The thirteen acres of vines are divided into eight unique blocks predominately of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Each year two wines are made – a wine predominately Cabernet Sauvignon with small blends of other varietals )called the “little sister”) and then their primary wine, a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The exception year to the two wines was 2011 – a challenging year where they just did not have enough fruit for both wines and only the “little sister” was made.
The location has certainly proved itself from a vineyard standpoint; Diamond Creek Vineyards are their immediate neighbor with both properties touching each other. Nearby wineries also include Von Strasser and Reverie.
Classic Diamond Mountain land is steep, rugged, brushy, rocky, and east facing. This property has some gentle slopes but is surrounded by steep hillside land, especially to the east. Historical photos of the Wallis Estate property showed much of the surrounding hillside land clear cut – when trees were harvested in the area. The Mayacamas mountain range in this region, of which the Diamond Mountain appellation is part of, is similar to California’s Sierra Nevadas on a much smaller scale in that the western side of the range has a more gentle elevation gain while the Eastern side drops off rather dramatically. You can experience this on any of the steep narrow roads that climb out of the Napa Valley floor crossing over the Mayacamas. Flat land is at a premium here.
The entire appellation is over 400 feet – the Wallis Estate vineyards range from 600 to 800 feet. Because of its northern location and elevation most of the appellation is above the fog line. The soils are porous and volcanic in nature, often containing black glass (obsidian). The first vines (Cabernet Sauvignon) were planted in this region in the early 1860′s by wine pioneer Jacob Schram (Schramsberg Vineyards). The upper most border of the appellation reaches the ridge line of the Mayacamus mountains and the Sonoma County line but does not cross over.
Along with several other vineyard properties in the AVA, this property is also historic with the two primary buildings on site listed in the Napa County Landmarks preservation society. The carriage house used to house wagons; today it is beautifully restored. The stone “castle” was built in 1906 and looks like an old stone “ghost” winery, but it never served that purpose. Rather it is a historical glimpse into a time period over 100 years old – the inside is wonderfully furnished – even the original iron stove remains in the kitchen and still functions.
The 2010 “little sister” is dark garnet in the glass with black fruit aromas, black currant, blackberry and black cherry. Given time to breath, this wine shows a very elegant bouquet. Earth notes also show. Refreshingly, like the other vintages and wines we tried, this wine is in the 13 percent alcohol range (13.7%). With its dark color, a bouquet that shows dark fruit aromas one would think the palate would be about the dark fruit as well. Rather it shows a pleasing balance of both red and dark fruit. The palate is initially dusty on the entry with a finish that is arguably bigger in structure than the 2011. Good acidity.
The 2011 “little sister” take some time to open and breath to reveal the fruit in the glass. But when it does, ultimately it develops a brighter bouquet then the prior vintage – the nose is elegant with nice perfume notes and more red fruit (red licorice, red cherry) rather than dark as it breathes. There is a tiny bit of baking type spice and also a fairly subtle note of vanilla.
The palate becomes more rounded as this wine breathes – with fine grained tannins lingering softly after the fruit (more on the front of the palate rather than the back) on a pleasing fairly quick finish. This is a well made wine in what was a difficult year for a number of vintners in the valley based on rain all the way into June, a cool summer and early rain during harvest. Based on the wines we have tried in the valley, this was a vintage in Napa where in general, hillside vineyards fared best (13.5% alcohol).
The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon like their other vintages is dark in the glass. Notes of ripe blackberry, cedar and hints of brown chocolate show on the bouquet. This wine exhibits a richness of flavor and good acidity on the palate. Structurally it is a robust wine yet still retains a pleasing balance. The finish shows dusty broad based tannins that linger for quite some time.
A rather new wine for the estate is the Seraphim – a barrel select of the best barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wallis Estate produces usually in the range of 500 cases a year – which is selectively distributed in premium wine shops and restaurants in a number of states including California, Texas and Florida among others. For more information and to join their mailing list, please visit: www.wallisestate.com