Amizetta Estate Winery is located in the eastern hills of St. Helena about a 18-20 minute drive from the Silverado Trail. Look for their blue winery sign at the junction of Silverado Trail and Howell Mountain Road. All visits are by appointment. Allow ample time to drive here as the roads are narrow and speed limits low. This secluded winery sits at an elevation of about 1,000 feet and has great views of Lake Hennessy in the distance which you can also see from Greenfield road leading down from their property.
Founder Spencer Clark (who we originally met with years ago during our first visit to the property) is a guitarist for a Rock and Roll Band called Noble Rott which tours nationally. He continues to perform, compose and record music. The winery is named for Spencer’s wife Amizetta. Her signature is used for the front label on their wine bottles. Some of Amizetta’s early custmers may remembers an image of three wild turkeys on their bottles; in homage to when wild turkeys would start visiting the vineyard later in the season it meant the grapes were starting to become ripe.
Both Spencer and Amizetta were raised by farming families in Texas, Amizetta in Beaumont on a cattle ranch and Spencer rice farming. They originally met in Houston. As with music, Spencer was attracted to the artistic side of wine making – especially the renewal that happens seasonally in the vineyards and the chance to craft something new every year based on that particular vintage.
Spencer and Amizetta purchased the property in 1979 and soon planted vines on these steep hillsides (sometimes referred to as the Hennessey Hills), in part from cuttings taken from Napa Valley’s well-known Martha’s Vineyard. Following the vineyard development, a small winery was constructed with the advice of family friend, Justin Meyer (founder of Silver Oak Cellars). Their first commercial release was in 1983 and the winery was built in 1985. The family still owns the original tall wooden vat that Spencer produced their first wines in.
There is a saying that Spencer told us which might be attributed to vintner Georges De LaTour, the founder of Beaulieu Vineyard. The three ways you could lose money were: through slow horses, fast women and owning hillside vineyards. We don’t know about the first two but how times have changed in regard to hillside vineyards. They are still costly to manage and maintain and are among some of Napa Valley’s most expensive vineyard real estate – but there is a reason for that. And it’s not only about the views, although that certainly doesn’t hurt.
As with other hillside vineyards in Napa Valley, production is extremely small – usually in the range of 1 to 2 tons per acre. The berries are small in size and very concentrated in flavor due to the higher skin to juice ratio. Despite the already low natural vigor of the vines, vineyard workers usually cut off some of the grape clusters during summer with the idea to bring only the ripest most concentrated grapes into the winery. A cut out of the hillside directly behind the winery provides the perfect visual of the “soils” these grapes struggle to grow in. There is very little topsoil and beneath this are layers and layers of rock.
Today Spencer and Amizetta continue to be involved with the winery they founded but have since stepped back from the day-to-day operations. Sometimes it can be difficult to pass a winery from the first generation to the second generation, especially so when you have four children. Fortunately, three of their children have formal education in wine making and are actively involved in the business. And this is an ideal arrangement as each brother handles each of what are probably the three most important duties in running a winery: vineyard management, wine making and business operations. Edward is the winemaker; Patrick is the President and Spencer Jr. manages the vineyards. Their daughter, Amizetta is a doctor in Napa Valley.
When you stand in the vineyards and look at the view in front of you, it can be difficult to believe you are close to the heart of Napa Valley. It takes a bit of effort to spot homes in the distance as in all directions this landscape is either vineyards, Lake Hennessy or the natural forested slopes. Views from their terrace are a bottle it up type of beauty, especially on an early summer’s late afternoon day with gentle breezes bringing up cooler air from Lake Hennessy. It’s a place one doesn’t want to leave, especially when combined with good friends, family and a bottle of Amizetta Cab in your glass.
The location and slope of these vineyards are extremely rare in contemporary Napa Valley; their property predates Napa County’s soil erosion ordinances which require an Erosion Control Plan permit for general earth moving activities on slopes over 5%. Incredibly some of their vineyards are on slopes approaching 70 degrees. These vineyards are heavily terraced with steep slopes and a significant distance between each of the rows.
When the family was determining what vehicle to purchase to be able to drive some of these slopes; they were presented with an “extreme” golf cart – the seller indicated quite a few wineries had already purchased this vehicle for their steep slopes and he didn’t’ anticipate any problem with this vehicle tackling Amizetta’s vineyards. They test drove it on the steepest slopes of the property and the seller said something like, “I’ve never seen this happen before” after the vehicle proved inadequate for climbing the vineyards. They purchased the vehicle anyways and now sometimes use it to show visitors the “safer” vineyard terrain.
The property is 40 acres of which 30 acres are planted to vine. Because of the terracing, the number of vines here are much less per square acre than what it would be on similar sized land on the valley floor.
A small 800 square foot cave was tunneled into the hillside near the winery building; during the drilling the original plans for the cave called for a U shape. But they soon hit an abundance of water while drilling and were unable to drill further. As Spencer told us during our first visit “when you want water for a winery you cannot find it – when you don’t it is everywhere!”. Until 2023, this was one of the smaller wine caves in Napa Valley.
In 2023 drilling began to expand the cave significantly; a much larger portion was tunneled into the mountain resulting in a cave which is now approximately 6,500 square feet. This larger cave will have a wine club members lounge with a patio area in front of one of the entrance portals, taking full advantage of the panoramic vistas. The cave spoils were used in part to create a new wide driveway with access to a much-needed parking lot. As a result, parking was finally relocated from the front of Spencer and Amizetta’s home. Additional improvements to the winery are being made including, renovating the tank room, building out a commercial kitchen and adding another tasting room. We will keep a close eye on their progress and update our notes once the projects are completed.
The winery is also small, but it does not need to be large. Custom square 8-ton tanks line one side of the wall. The tops of these tanks can be removed during fermentation as they prefer to break up the cap manually. This is done instead of pumping over juice which as the cap dries out; they noticed over time the pump overs seemed to only moisten part of the cap. Each tank is equipped with its own pump – this saves quite a bit of manual labor and allows them to remotely control each tank at any time for pump overs via an app. They have found that because they can set pump overs to run anytime shorter pump overs set to run more often work best for their wine making style.
For a number of years, Amizetta sold some of their grapes to other local wineries and their own production was much lower. However today they use all the grapes for themselves. While the majority of their wine used to be distributed – today the wines are sold direct to consumer. The exception to this is a second wine bottled under the Tradition label. At the time of this review, total production of Amizetta wines are about 5,000 to 6,000 cases annually.
A visit and tasting here are certainly one of the more intimate experiences you will have in Napa Valley, not to mention combining excellent wine with the remarkable views. If the weather does not allow for a tasting outside tastings will be hosted in a small tasting room connecting directly to the winery. Note the elevated wooden counter inside the tasting room; with the three brothers ranging in height from 6’3″ to 6’8″, their elevated bar seating might make one feel a bit short.
We first met with Spencer at the property in June of 2007; this was most likely the very first small Napa Valley producer we met with for the Napa Wine Project. It has been exciting to witness all the changes to the property including major upgrades and improvements, the evolution of the brand, additional vineyard property purchases and the development of Tradition – a second brand. The efforts of the second generation have taken the operations to the next level – built upon vision, strong ties to the land, perseverance and timing.
Amizetta also owns a 100+ acre property next to Wragg Canyon Road in eastern Napa County. Wragg Canyon Road leads to the Pleasure Cove Marina along one of Lake Berryessa’s shorelines. This part of Napa Valley is lightly planted to vineyards and the only winery located in this part of the county is M.S. Torun. We last visited this vineyard site in mid 2023 and observed soils were already being prepared for future plantings of vines.
The 2020 Amizetta Complexity Red Blend is composed of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot. This wine was aged in 70% new French oak barrels for 18 months. It is deep ruby in color; the bouquet offers sweetly fruited aromatics of strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and boysenberry along with a note of red vine licorice. The darker fruits including a blackberry jam note reminded us of our days in college in San Luis Obispo when we used to sometimes frequent the Apple Farm Restaurant for breakfast, enjoying their delicious blackberry jam. The palate doesn’t show quite as ripe as the bouquet. It offers flavors of strawberry, cherry, blueberry and pomegranate, accompanied by gentle fine-grained tannins and bright acidity. And at Amizetta they sometimes refer to this bottling as the, “dad’s wine” a reference to the style of wine that Spencer favors.
The 2020 Amizetta Reserve Blend is 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 14% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot. The wine is deep ruby in color and opaque in the glass; the appealing aromatics are focused on its fruit rather than any overt influences from its barrel aging. It offers scents of blackberry, blueberry and a cigar spice. The palate somewhat mirrors the bouquet and includes flavors of blackberry and boysenberry. This wine displays both a simultaneous freshness and a ripeness (two words we don’t often join together to describe bottlings). The grainy tannins linger with notes of dried herbs, pepper and an overall savory character. This wine was aged for 22 months in new French oak barrels.
The 2020 Amizetta Cabernet Sauvignon was aged for 20 Months in 80% New French oak barrels. Its color is deep ruby with a purplish/garnet rim; the bouquet offers aromas of violets and raspberry. There is a perceived sweetness of fruit on the palate and is richly layered including flavors of raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry and mulberry. The tannins are gravelly, grainy and pixelated in their textural feel. A drying character persists for some time on the finish including a note of dried tobacco leaf, vanilla and clove.
The 2020 Amizetta Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% varietal and spent 22 months aging in 100% new French oak barrels. This wine is deep ruby with an immediately expressive and diverse bouquet including scents of cherry, raspberry, chocolate, brown sugar, licorice and a nuance of mint. The one word which immediately came to mind as we were tasting this bottling was, decadent. The palate offers flavors of plum, cherry, blackberry and chocolate. The finish shows some notes of toasted oak but is in no way, ‘oaky’ and lingers with some darker baking spices including tobacco, cloves and cardamom. If you sit with this wine for some time on the palate before swallowing, the texture shows as somewhat creamy. The tannins are gravelly with plenty of textural long lasting grip. Richly flavored. Well-worth seeking out.
The 2013 Amizetta Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is inky dark in the glass; it shows a powerful nose with ripe blackberry, mocha and a bitter dark chocolate component. The palate is all about the fruit – rich, generous and ripe. For a young wine the tannins are already very well integrated with notes of cocoa powder on the finish. This wine drinks well young and by itself.
Only 192 cases of the 2013 Amizetta Reserve were produced; this wine represents the pinnacle of their wine making and vineyard. The grapes are sourced from the highest part of their vineyard at about 1,100 feet and this wine sees all new French oak. This vintage is dark in color with a weighty viscosity in the glass. It offers bright and lively aromas on the bouquet. A noticeable sweetness of fruit shows along with notes of vanilla, cassis and as the wine breathes a coffee/mocha note. The bouquet is powerful; so, to is the palate. Dense, and layered this wine reveals noticeable somewhat chalky and chewy tannins which anchor a very long finish accompanied by loads of fruit and notes of toasted caramel.
Perry and Eddie are partners in Tradition, a Napa Valley based wine brand which sources grapes from various parts of the valley including their own 10-acre property in Carneros off of Duhig Road. In late 2023 the county approved plans to for the Clarke’s to build a winery on this property. We will keep a close eye on their progress and will visit once the winery is fully open.
The 2021 Tradition Chardonnay, Carneros is medium gold; the bouquet offers a medium intensity revealing both citrusy aromas and as the wine evolves, also some tropical influences. These include initial notes of grapefruit and lemon along with pear, honeysuckle, passion fruit and pineapple. Deeper layers include vanilla, caramel and a light note of warm butter. We are tasting this in fall, but its scents are absolutely making us crave spring. This wine’s texture is noteworthy; its creamy with a gentle and supple softness which runs the length of the palate. A refreshing but not overly bright acidity complements flavors of honeydew melon, hazelnut, and light popcorn butter. There is enough varietal character here to recognize this as a Chardonnay but it never even comes close to crossing the line into oaky and buttery territory. 14.9% alcohol.
Napa Valley Rentals
If you are looking for equally intimate places to stay during your time in the valley, Amizetta offers several rental properties including the gorgeous Amizetta One Oak Farmhouse located about two miles north of Yountville and within an easy walk of next door Cosentino Winery and Mustard’s Grill.
The much smaller Amizetta Church Street location features four bedrooms and four bathrooms. It is within a short walk of Main Street in downtown St. Helena and its resulting shops, restaurants and tasting rooms. This house is appropriately planted with a tiny front yard vineyard and is located several houses away from the first house that iconic winemaker Mike Grgich purchased after he moved to Napa Valley.
The Amizetta Vineyard Cottage is located on the estate property.
Amizetta Farmhouse, Yountville + Church Street Home, St. Helena
Patrick Clark is one of several partners in Napa Yard, located in downtown Napa across from The Culinary Institute of America at Copia. Napa Yard opened in 2022 and is scheduled to operate for 3 years. This space features an outdoor restaurant among gardens (showcasing a farm to table approach). It also features a beer garden, a wine tasting area and is used as an event space accommodating groups up to 2,000 people. The space usually hosts live music on the weekends. The shipping containers on site have been repurposed and we were originally in the parking lot at Oracle Park in San Francisco. The overflow Oxbow Public Market parking lot is located directly next to Napa Yard.
For more information, to schedule a visit, to purchase wine or to join their wine club, visit: www.amizetta.com