Arietta was founded by long time Napa Valley winemaker John Kongsgaard, his wife Maggy and Fritz & Caren Hatton. Today Fritz and his wife are the sole proprietors as they bought out the Kongsgaard’s ownership in 2005. Fritz told us that he has enjoyed wine since the early 1970s when he was at college. He “grew up” drinking French wine. While earning a degree in Management Arts he found himself working in a wine shop in New York City. Hearing about an opening at Christie’s Auction House for their first wine auction and appreciating “rare wine” – he interviewed and quickly earned the job of cataloging wine. He fondly remembers drinking a number of older vintages including a 47′ Mouton Rothschild. Soon his job was upgraded to “office manager” and then after Christie’s Director of Wine Operations left the company, Fritz took over his position.
Arietta was originally founded by a shared love of music and wine; Fritz plays piano and John along with making wine, truly appreciates classical music. Kongsgaard had a classical piece composed in his honor and oversees Chamber Music in Napa Valley, an organization that dates back to 1980 and hosts a variety of concerts and musicians each year. The word “arietta” is owed to the great classical composer Beethoven. It was part of the original manuscript (the Arietta movement) in Beethoven’s last piano sonata, Opus 111. The label on each bottle depicts a couple of bars from this sonata. Music has always been a passion in Fritz’s life; he even took a sabbatical and studied piano in San Francisco for several years.
Fritz grew up in Michigan; his great-grandfather William Hatton was involved in Detroit’s early automobile industry (certainly not the first Napa Vintner with strong heritage ties to Detroit). And William Hatton Park in Grand Haven, Michigan is named after his great-grandfather.
The first vintage of Arietta was in 1996, a red wine sourced from a small Cabernet Franc block on Hudson Ranch in Carneros (planted with cuttings taken from two iconic vineyards, Eisele and To Kalon) along with Merlot from the same vineyard.
Arietta’s wines are characterized by Fritz’s proclivity for enjoying European styled wines. The select Arietta wines we have enjoyed over the years all showcase wonderful aromatics and have been primarily sourced from premium vineyards within cooler climate locations, currently all in the southern part of Napa Valley. They use blending to create additional complexities and feature bright acidity to showcase harmonious and ‘fresh’ wines – thus ensuring they are food friendly. In addition, the winemaking team uses naturalistic wine-making processes including fermenting with indigenous yeasts. A critical part of their winemaking is both how their vineyards are managed as well as timing on harvesting.
Fritz is a well-known auctioneer of rare wine and was often associated with the annual Napa Wine Auction, founded in 1981 and operated through 2019. Over the years, it raised millions of dollars for local Napa County nonprofits including health care, youth organizations and affordable housing. Fritz was at the helm as its auctioneer since 1992. In 2008 he was the auctioneer that sold 6 bottles of 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon for $500,000 to a Chinese billionaire. Another highlight of his auctioning career was in June 2011 when the Napa Valley Auction hit a milestone of 100 million dollars raised since 1981 and the sparkling wine drenching/celebration that quickly ensued once this magic number was reached. He worked for Christy’s for many years; in 1981 he helped organize Christy’s first U.S. wine auction. He has worked for Zachys Wine Auction since 2002 and also does auctioneer work for a number of domestic charities.
He has lots of stories from his time as auctioneer at various auctions around the world including one time a bidder offered to double a $120,000 bid *if* Fritz made the flight to Asia to be at the auction. Needless to say, Fritz quickly caught a flight to the auction and the bidder went through with his word for a $240,000 bid!
Arietta’s first ever white wine was the 2005 On The White Keys when Fritz started thinking about producing a white wine to complement their portfolio of reds. After tasting many Sauvignon Blancs with his winemaker he decided his favorites were Sauvignon Blanc/Sémillon blends; we agree – our favorite Sauvignon Blancs in Napa Valley typically have been been those always blended with some Sémillon.
The 2020 Arietta On The Keys White (California White Wine) is a blend of 85% hillside grown Sauvignon Blanc on Sonoma Mountain and 15% old-vine Sémillon farmed in Carneros by grower Larry Hyde. This wine is medium yellow in color; the bouquet is expressive and offers aromas of pineapple, melon, lime, orange blossom, passionfruit and chamomile. This wine offers a pleasing creamy and supple texture across the palate; it shows flavors of apple, papaya and light notes of lychee. It is very flavorful with a noticeable richness of fruit which persists for some time along with a citrus-like finish anchored by mouthwatering acidity. This wine was fermented in a combination of both stainless steel, neutral and new French oak barrels. The majority of the wine was prohibited from going through malolactic fermentation. The wine sat on its gross lees for 8 months before it was bottled. We highly recommend slowly drinking this wine while enjoying the beautiful sounds of Beethoven’s last piano sonata, the Arietta melody in C minor no.32 op.111, played entirely on the white keys.
The 2009 Arietta On The White Keys offers bright fruit on the bouquet along with baking spices, a floral note (perhaps sweat pea), and graphite. There is a pleasing weight to the mouthfeel with some mineralities present on the lively finish. The bright acidity makes this wine favorable for pairing with a variety of foods, especially fresh seafood.
The 2008 Arietta Quartet is their Bordeaux blend (the only principal Bordeaux variety missing in this vintage is Malbec). The nose is full of fruit and is deep, dark and inviting with a bit of spice showing up later in the bouquet. This wine is hand crafted to be approachable early on and it certainly is that. Its soft upon entry with a wide range of flavor and is anchored by fine grained tannins lingering on the pleasing and supple finish. And the cute label was designed by Fritz and Caren’s daughter Libby at only eight years old.
A hallmark of Arietta’s wines are their beautiful aromatics; the 2008 Arietta Cabernet Sauvignon showcases these well. It’s a rich, yet elegant bouquet with black cherry, cassis and a hint of sweet vanilla. The palate is complex and expressive throughout; this is a full-bodied wine with dusty tannins anchoring the fairly long finish. The grapes for this wine were sourced from a prominent vineyard in the Coombsville region planted on volcanic soils. This is probably their most age-worthy wine.
The Cabernet Franc is Arietta’s flagship wine. Usually, this wine is blended with Merlot in the style of wines produced from Saint-Émilion in Bordeaux, but in 2008 the Cabernet Franc fruit really stood out by itself in the tasting trials; this was Arietta’s first 100% varietal Cabernet Franc wine. This may be a one-time wine as in 2009 they returned to creating a blend from these two varieties. The fruit for this wine has come from the same small block (H) of Hudson Vineyard in Carneros since their first vintage. The bouquet is somewhat dusty, almost earthy initially but as it breathes a beautiful classic Cabernet Franc nose emerges showing elegant fruit. The wine has nice texture, reasonable tannins and a finish that is extremely well balanced.
A most unique wine is Arietta’s blend of Syrah and Merlot, a “marriage of opposites” as Fritz told us. They have tried a number of different blends of these two varieties over the years but ultimately reached a point where slightly more Syrah is used each year to create the blend. The Variation One 2008 vintage is Arietta’s “biggest” wine – their powerhouse wine if you will. It is a dark wine with dark fruit aromas both black (blackberry) and blue fruit (blueberry). Fritz calls this his “Katharine Hepburn – Spencer Tracy wine”. The finish is dynamic and voluptuous with well-structured tannins and diverse flavors of long-lasting fruit.
Highly sought after Andy Erickson who has worked at prominent Napa Valley wineries including Dalla Valle, Harlan, Screaming Eagle and Staglin, and produces his own wines bottled under Favia with his wife Annie, has been the winemaker for Arietta since the 2005 vintage. Erickson was handpicked by Kongsgaard to succeed after he and Maggy sold their interest in Arietta.
Arietta’s wines are well distributed in California and are available in select states including New York, New Jersey and Texas as well as several countries. We have seen their wines in a number of local wine shops including Oakville Grocery and Gary’s in St. Helena. For many years production was at Chateau Boswell Winery but has since moved to Hudson Vineyards in Carneros. And this is whereby-appointment only tastings are hosted, often with Fritz or Caren.
For more information, to schedule a visit, join their mailing list or to purchase wine, visit: www.ariettawine.com
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