AJ Pearce Wines is a partnership between Jarred Pearce and Andrew James Renda – two individuals who followed their respective passions and interest in learning more about wine to Napa Valley. The name AJ Pearce comes from the first initials of Andrew’s first and middle names combined with Jerrod’s last name.
Andrew was introduced to wine while working in restaurants in the Boston area. He eventually worked at wine shops before he and his girlfriend (now his wife) – sold mostly everything they owned, quite their respective jobs and drove across country to Napa Valley (without any jobs lined up). Within several weeks Andrew had secured a position at Vintner’s Collective as Director of Sales. While working there he was introduced to numerous small mostly Napa producers including Jarred who was his first hire in the tasting room. Andrew later co-founded The Find, a premium wine tasting space in Danville before closing it in 2022.
Jarred came to Napa (from Modesto in California’s Central Valley – about 2 hours from the city of Napa) at the young age of 21 specifically with the desire to further his education about wine. His first job was selling wine at Oakville Grocery. He was so interested in getting his foot in the door he agreed to a lower salary than what he was originally offered.
Through this job he met a number of Napa winemakers – often representing small producers who would stop by to chat and make arrangements to have their wine sold in the retail shop here. One such vintner was Richard Mansfield, the proprietor of Mansfield Winery. As Jarred got to know Richard, Richard encouraged him to start learning more about wine by taking classes and actually work a harvest. Richard told him three things; wine is art, wine is science and wine is agriculture. All three of these appealed to Jarred.
Soon he was enrolled at Napa Valley College taking as many wine-related courses as he could handle including wine business, wine making and viticulture courses. He then worked at Piña Cellars in Rutherford and eventually decided to get some international wine making experience; he worked several harvests at the well-regarded Anthonij Rupert winery in South Africa. Additional experience came from two of Napa’s most prominent winemakers while at Fantesca – Heidi Barrett and Philippe Melka. Jarred was Cellar master at Fantesca and as a result worked on a number of small brands that both Heidi and Philippe consult for.
The early focus of their wine making efforts were on Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon – sourcing from select single vineyards in Napa’s Coombsville region. Their first vintage was a 2007 Syrah from the Pierret Vineyard. Interestingly enough, the owner of this vineyard sold and then bought a new vineyard which he renamed the Pierret Vineyard. AJ Pearce is now sourcing fruit from this same named vineyard but a new vineyard source.
Jarred is the winemaker; he and Andrew were drawn to the Coombsville region for the high quality of fruit, the cooler climate then up valley and fruit that produces wines with excellent acidity. Their barrel aging program is significant – up to 42 months in some cases with 30+ months being the norm. Neutral oak comprises a majority of their barrel program of which usually about a third is new French oak. Their first release was merely 150 cases; with demand they have grown and are now up to approximately 1,000 cases per year.
The 2019 AJ Pearce Sauvignon Blanc, Kick Ranch Vineyard Fountaingrove District, Sonoma is produced from the musqué clone. This wine is medium yellow in color; the bouquet is well-layered, highly aromatic and immediately appealing showing aromas of pineapple, white peach, ripe orange mango and a sweet underbelly of tropical floral notes including honeysuckle and jasmine. This wine is intensely flavored, and it doesn’t stop, showcasing a rich lingering fruit filled finish. It offers flavors of melon, kiwi, passion fruit and finishes with flavors of grapefruit. This is a very balanced bottling. It was aged sur lie in a combination of neutral 400-liter oak barrels and stainless-steel drums.
Tempranillo is native to Spain and despite its minimal plantings in Napa Valley is one of the most planted varieties worldwide and the number one most planted grape in Spain (the primary grape in the Rioja region). It is also an early ripening variety – hence the root name temprano which in Spanish means early.
Only 30 bearing acres of Tempranillo were listed in the 2018 Napa County Crop Report as compared to nearly 22,000 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley’s most planted variety. As of our latest update to this review, a rough guesstimate of the number of Napa Valley based producers making wine from Napa Valley grown Tempranillo is just a handful of wineries – and a 100% Napa Valley varietal, such as the AJ Pearce Tempranillo is even rarer. The Napa Valley vintner who perhaps works the most closely with this variety is Steve Ventrello.
The 2018 AJ Pearce Tempranillo was sourced from Stagecoach Vineyard on Atlas Peak, a volcanic hillside vineyard most associated with Cabernet Sauvignon. It is rare when we have an opportunity to taste a 100% varietal Tempranillo. And instead of using French oak for their Tempranillo, Jarred elected to try Spanish oak from the Pyrenees mountains assembled by Tonelleria Murua. This wine is dark ruby in color; the bouquet offers dark fruit aromatics including dark plum and blackberry along with plenty of baking spices and dessert notes including cardamom, dark chocolate, molasses, mocha and Graham cracker. The opulent palate offers flavors of dark plum, chocolate and blackberry. The mouth feel is supple and plush with ripe and very rounded soft almost chalk-like tannins anchoring a flavor filled finish. This wine shows medium acidity and is very approachable in its youth.
The 2019 AJ Pearce Syrah Toro Block Coombsville Napa Valley is very dark ruby in the glass, almost opaque in its appearance. The bouquet shows dark aromatics including of dark ripe plum, black currant, a sanguine/rusted iron note, chocolate and violets. Allowed to fully open the bouquet eventually reveals some gamey nuances. The palate is layered with flavors of primarily darker fruits along with notes of old cedar box and some darker spices including light tones of crushed pepper and dust. The earthy tannins are soft, slightly silty in their texture, and well-integrated in the long finish. This wine has no sharp textural edges.
The 2018 AJ Pearce Angell-Stephan Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (100% varietal from Coombsville) is dark ruby; the aromas are brambly, dusty and include darker fruit aromas including blackberry and darker spices including pipe tobacco deeper in the aromatics. This wine showed as very youthful still 4 years post vintage date at the time of our tasting. Offered broad flavors of darker and layered fruit including both spicy plum and blackberry. The dark fruit filled finish features earthy, dusty (dry) and chewy tannins which persist for quite some time. This wine has years of life ahead of it.
The 2008 AJ Pearce Las Cerezas Vineyard Syrah was a wine that was never supposed to be released under their brand; instead, it was made specifically for a group from China. When this company went bankrupt AJ Pearce was left with the wine. The wine has not been hurt by its extra bottle age. The bouquet is pretty with forward lively aromas of ripe fruit, baking spice, chocolate and mocha. Notes of black fig in the bouquet also carry onto the palate along with black currant. The dusty tightly grained tannins start mid palate and linger for some time. This is a well-balanced wine with good acidity that is tasting very well with 7 years of age. Remnants of the potential sale to the group from China linger on the back of the bottle – a now meaningless UPC code that they originally placed by hand on every bottle.
The 2009 AJ Pearce Maxwell’s Cabernet Sauvignon was named after Andrew’s son who was born this same year. This wine was created due to an ‘accident’ in the winery. A Syrah was inadvertently blended with a Cabernet Sauvignon due to an oversight in not reading the labels already on each barrel. They did what any winemaker would do – tasted the new blend. Liking the results, they decided to keep it and bottle it as 80% Cabernet Sauvignon with 20% Syrah. The wine is dark in the glass. The bouquet shows sweet perfume driven aromas with a plethora of spices including cardamom and loads of red fruit (raspberry and red cherry). The palate is somewhat juicy, balanced and mouthwatering – causing a lingering salivation. The tannins are somewhat earthy but not overly robust in texture. This wine saw 34 months in oak.
The 2010 AJ Pearce Pierret Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon remarkably spent 42 months in oak. During its aging, the wine was racked once a year and sat on the gross lees. It smells pretty in the glass but surprisingly, despite the extended oak aging, the oak is not a big part of the aroma. It shows a sweet note including cherry liqueur on the bouquet with a dry mocha dustiness. The palate is rich, layered and shows plenty of darker fruit flavors. The tannins are somewhat gritty and dusty, although presumably are somewhat rounded by age. Nuances of toasted oak show on the finish.
Not satisfied with the quality of their 2011 wines based on challenging weather conditions at inopportune times during the growing season – they decided not to bottle any of these wines and did not release this vintage.
As of July 2015 AJ Pearce offers their wines in a tasting room called The Wine Thief which features small production Napa based vintners. This tasting room is located on the highly visible corner of First and McKinstry Streets directly across from Gott’s Roadside Hamburgers and the Oxbow Public Market. Several other tasting rooms are located on this block and or within a short walking distance and one can easily spend a couple of hours exploring this part of downtown Napa. Parking is curbside (difficult to find on weekend afternoons) or in the overflow Oxbow Market parking lot located within a short walk of the The Wine Thief.
Wines are available for tasting by walk-in at the tasting counter or at one of several tables in the main room. Appointments can also be made to try current releases of the AJ Pearce wines in one of two private rooms on site with either Jarred or Andy. And for the private tastings, cheese and charcuterie are served from The Fatted Calf, located at the nearby Oxbow Public Market. For more information, visit: www.ajpearcewines.com