August Briggs Winery is a small family owned and operated long time Napa/Sonoma producer with a tasting room located in downtown Calistoga. Founder and winemaker, Joe Briggs graduated from Fresno State in 1984 where he studied winemaking. He began producing his own wine in 1995 under the August Briggs label after consulting for several wineries for a number of years. August is Joe’s real first name while Joe is his middle name. In 2003 he built a physical winery; this opened in 2004 on the northern part of the Silverado Trail within the Calistoga city limits. In 2011 he and his wife Sally (who we originally met with) sold both the physical winery and property to another Napa Valley producer as well as the August Briggs label to several long-time employees. The winery was a family affair; Joe’s parents Bob and Betty Briggs used to work in the tasting room as did his nephews Aaron and Jesse Inman.
Today Joe’s former employees, Colette Milliman who grew up in Occidental in neighboring Sonoma County and Matthew Gacso (previously worked at Bouchaine Winery) are the co-owners of August Brigs Winery. The original August Briggs Winery is now home to Brian Arden Winery and guests who visited this space while it was August Briggs would no longer recognize the changes and updates the current owners made. After the physical winery was sold, production was moved to and still is located in Santa Rosa in neighboring Sonoma County.
Colette and Matthew operate a small tasting room in downtown Calistoga; when they opened this space, they were among a number of relatively new tasting rooms to open within the city limits. Currently there are more than 10 stand-alone tasting rooms within the city limits of Calistoga. Often either Colette or Matthew will be inside greeting visitors. The tasting room is divided into two tasting counters, one for walk-in visitors and one for their mailing list customers. Several tasting options are offered including wine by the glass or bottle. And weather permitting, an outdoor patio with several tables can also be used for tastings; this is a relaxing space along the banks of the overgrown Napa River.
Parking can be an issue in the tiny downtown of Calistoga but not so here – along with another vintner in the same building they share a parking lot for guests. During the weekend when the nearby bank closes additional parking is available in the same lot.
Jesse Inman’s was the winemaker for August Briggs during our most recent visit; his childhood is a story that sounds right out of California’s mining lore. He grew up in the small town of Yreka in northern California in a cabin with his family (no electricity or flush toilets). His father mined for gold in the area on his mining claim. His story is an appealing one to us; we used to have a 10 acre mining claim in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. During our time maintaining this claim, we discovered over a pound and a half of gold including one beauty which weighed about 6 ounces (a gold in quartz specimen).
Jesse’s uncle is Joe Briggs. Jesse first joined August Briggs in 2006 as an assistant winemaker and became head winemaker since 2011.
August Briggs is noted for their diversity of wines especially from historical vineyards, primarily in Calistoga but also in neighboring Sonoma County. As of our latest update to this review, they produce 16 different wines. Some of their most historical source vineyards in Napa Valley include Luvisi Vineyard dating back to 1908 and the Canard Vineyard in Calistoga. According to the Vineyard Historical Society the Canard Vineyard is one of the two oldest planted still producing vineyards in all of Napa Valley – the other one being just south of St. Helena and providing grapes for the Crane Assembly. August Briggs also sources from the Frediani Vineyard (also in Calistoga) planted in the 1950s, and the Monte Rosso Vineyard in Sonoma County which dates back to the 1880s.
Of note is their Zinfandel sourced from old vines; the 2013 August Briggs Zinfandel is similar in style to previous vintages we have tried on earlier visits; it is very food friendly and balanced. This wine was sourced from two of the oldest Zinfandel Vineyards in Napa Valley including the younger Luvisi Vineyard and the ‘ancient’ vineyard, Canard, with its original vines dating back to the 1880s. Refreshingly, this is not a super ripe, jammy, feel the burn alcohol wine, that this variety is often known for. The bouquet offers plenty of fruit including red cherry and raspberry complemented nicely with dessert spices including clove. Balanced across the palate, this wine offers mouthwatering acidity, especially on the finish with a slightly lingering tartness (red cherry and cranberry).
The 2009 August Briggs Zinfandel is not jammy or heavy rather it is medium bodied with good balance and shows excellent fruit (notes of cherry pie). Zinfandel at times can overpower food; not so with this one.
The 2013 August Briggs Petite Sirah was sourced from Calistoga from vines that date from the 1950s; dark crimson in the glass is offers appealing aromatics include chocolate (especially as the wine has to breathe) along with a subtle dried rose petal nuance. But mostly the bouquet is about the fruit – showing darker fruit aromas including plum and boysenberry. Big but with restraint the palate shows plenty of red fruit flavors including cranberry. Bright acidity.
August Briggs produces several Cabernet Sauvignon wines including a wine from the historic and well-known Monte Rosso Vineyard located at about 1000 feet in the Mayacamas mountains in Sonoma County. Production was lower in 2008 due to weather related issues and this vintage is concentrated and displays a very aromatic bouquet. More red fruit shows than dark fruit. This wine has good natural mouthwatering acidity.
Enjoy Pinot Noir? Joe certainly does. He worked with this variety in Oregon as well as cooler growing regions in Northern California including the Russian River, Sonoma Coast and Carneros. His passion for this variety transferred to his nephew; Jesse continues to craft numerous bottlings of Pinot Noir. Note that none of the grapes for their Pinot Noir bottlings were ever planted on their former Calistoga estate as it is to warm here for growing premium wines of this variety. Rather, they produce Pinot Noir from neighboring vineyards, primarily in Sonoma County including from the Russian River Valley.
The 2009 August Briggs Russian River Pinot Noir shows notes of melon and lemon twist on the bouquet with citrus on the palate and a zesty mid palate to finish. The mid palate has some nice weight and viscosity. The finish is clean and shows hints of mineralities.
The 2008 August Briggs Dijon Clone Napa Valley Pinot Noir is beautiful wine. The fruit is sourced from a vineyard south of Carneros. This is a very fruit driven Pinot Noir both on the nose and on the palate. Delicious, concentrated flavors show including cherry and strawberry with some clove and white pepper spice that show up on the mid palate.
One wine you rarely see available from Napa Valley wineries is the Italian variety Charbono; the reason being is there are less than 100 acres of this varietal planted in the entire state. There are several vineyards of this variety planted in the Calistoga appellation. August Briggs produces a 100% varietal Charbono from Calistoga each year.
Another variety that in our Napa Valley tasting experience is quite rare is Pinot Meunier which is a close relative of the Pinot Noir grape. Pinot Meunier is normally grown in a select part of France and used as a sparkling wine varietal, but it grows well in the southern/cooler part of Napa Valley and makes a nice still wine. Until 2013 August Briggs was sourcing this varietal from a vineyard in Calistoga (not a part of the valley known for this varietal due to the warmer conditions here). When the vineyard was replanted, August Briggs began sourcing Pinot Meunier from neighboring Sonoma County.
In the past the winemaking team at August Briggs also produced wine for NASCAR Driver Jeff Gordon called the Jeff Gordon Collection but that these wines produced under the Jeff Gordon label were discontinued in early 2018.
Today production is around 3,500 to 4,000 cases annually mostly sold direct through the tasting room or their wine club. Sometimes some of their smaller production wines will be sold out. For more information, to purchase wine and or to join one of their two wine clubs, visit: www.augustbriggswines.com