Yates Family Vineyard is located on the slopes of Mt. Veeder; this is one of the southern most vineyards in the Mt. Veeder Appellation. The Yates family has owned this slice of Napa since 1950 making this the oldest continuously owned vineyard & winery property in Mt. Veeder (270+ acres originally purchased by Perry Yates). Perry also owned land in Oakville and Rutherford but sold these parcels in 1973.
A stone winery in this part of Mt. Veeder was originally built by German immigrant George Barth in the 1870s. Unfortunately nothing remains of this winery – any winery from the 1870’s built in the Napa Valley is part of an elite historical category of which there are very few Napa ‘members’. Another stone winery (on their property), originally called Castle Rock Vineyard, dates from the early 1880s; this was one of the earlier wineries built in the hills of Napa County – and this winery is still standing. It was named for a prominent rock formation on the property. In 1902 a larger building was added on to the existing winery.
This winery contains a well-preserved extremely rare Roman Press made of a giant piece of Redwood; it is one of only two that we are aware of still in existence in Napa County – the other being at Nichelini Winery. This press sits above concrete vats – these were used for small lot fermentation when this was a working winery – these are also extremely rare – we are only aware of one other winery using these built in vats (Mayacamas Winery, also on Mt. Veeder). Waling into the old cellar is like walking back in time – old wine making equipment, bottles (still with labels), old tanks and hand pumps among other equipment lay unused – covered in dust some of them, relics from another time.
For the past 60+ years their 34 acre vineyard has been supplying a number of well-known Napa wineries with fruit for their own wines. As with many vineyard managers and growers they made home wine on the side for friends and family; ultimately they produced their first commercial wine in 1999. Their wine makes up a small portion of the overall vineyard – they continue to sell grapes to a number of premium clients.
As a testament to the vineyards and wine making, some of their home made Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc from the cellar is tasting great more than 30 years later. This is a testament to the power of Mt. Veeder’s terroir in regards to producing extremely age-worthy wines.
This part of Mt. Veeder historically was known as the Napa Redwoods, named after a large grove of redwoods similar but smaller in size to the Armstrong Grove in neighboring Sonoma County. In tribute of the redwoods that grow here, they used the name Napa Redwoods Estate for seven years – but for branding and marketing purposes, Yates Family was chosen as the new name.
This is truly a family run affair. Perry’s grandson, Michael Yates is the co-winemaker (self-taught); he has a degree in Agriculture, but for many years ran a construction company. Michael’s daughters Whitney and Mary are also extremely involved in the winery operations; Whitney assists her father in winemaking and helps out in the vineyards while Mary oversees the business side of the operations and is the winery CFO.
Production as of the time of this review is around 700 cases.
The vineyards are in a spectacular location, with most of the blocks very steeply planted ranging in elevation from 900 to about 1,300 feet. On a clear day, a drive to the ridge top above the vineyards reveals 3-bridges in the distance; the Golden Gate Bridge next to San Francisco, the Richmond Bridge and the Bay Bridge. Mt. Diablo can also seen far in the distance.
Their focus is on layered wines without the robust tannins often seen in mountain grown fruit. These are wines that can age but can certainly be consumed young. All their wine is made at a nearby winery (also located in Mt. Veeder). All vintages during our first visit to the property were from 2004, the last year they used the Napa Redwoods Estate label. The only white they produce is a 100% varietal Viogner (the most recent wine addition to their portfolio).
All their wines are rather dark in color and their Cabernet Franc is no different. We spotlight this because it was our favorite of the three wines. The 2004 Yates Family Vineyard Cabernet Franc is a superbly crafted wine. There is lots of fruit on the nose including cherry – the mouth feel is rich, concentrated and smooth followed by an exotic spicy finish, peppers, cloves and more that continue to evolve until the last flavors have run across your palate.
The 2013 Yates Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon shows dark ruby in the glass with elegant notes of bright and aromatic fruit including blackberry and darker cherry framed with tinges of toasted cedar and cocoa powder. As the wine breathes a dry dusty note shows on the bouquet. A tobacco leaf characteristic shows on the palate – the wine is still a bit tight with young grippy tannins showing for quite some time on the finish. With good structure, acidity and fruit, this wine should age well for many years.
St. Helena Wine Merchants Connection
Round Hill and Rutherford Ranch founders, Ernie and Virginia Van Asperen (owners of some 80+ shops around the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s, called Ernie’s Wine & Liquor) opened St. Helena Wine Merchants in 1973, a wine shop that was located just south of St. Helena.
They eventually sold this shop in 1983 to Alden Yates and his son Jeff took over the operations when Alden died in 1989. Jeff is the brother of Yate’s Family Vineyards’s winemaker, Michael. The shop continued under Jeff’s ownership until 2011 (and as expected wines were available from Yates Family Vineyard) when it was sold and today is the tasting room for Vine Cliff Winery.
For Mt. Veeder grown fruit, the wines are priced quite reasonably by Napa standards. The family participates in select consumer tastings throughout the year including the always lovely and annual Mt Veeder Appellation Tasting held at Hess Collection Winery. You can find their wine locally at the St. Helena Wine Merchants in St. Helena. For more information or to join their wine club, visit: www.yatesfamilyvineyard.com
NOTE: This review has been identified as needing an update. We will revisit as time permits.