Aum Cellars is owned and operated by Peter Hoffman, a fellow Cal Poly, SLO graduate who also shares the same somewhat esoteric major as us, a Bachelor of Science, Ecology, Systemic Biology. Peter grew up in and around what was at the time one of California’s largest vineyards in Rancho Cucamonga (Southern California). Knowing that he wanted to do something with agriculture he attended Cal Poly which was before they even offered their wine and viticulture program. Today the state-of-the-art J. Lohr sponsored teaching winery is located on campus. During his time in college, he started becoming interested in wine, especially Syrah and made his first wine while at Cal Poly.
While living on the Central Coast, he discovered Alban (makers of fine Central Coast Rhone based wines including Syrah). Peter fell in love with this variety and found himself planting Syrah vineyards for a local vintner. This turned into additional vineyard management work and soon he was managing high end vineyards that were producing fruit for some premium area wineries including Santa Barbara based Sine Qua Non.
As Peter told us, he took a ten-year detour to actually start making commercial wine. However, with prior management of large-scale vineyards, his experience was in demand and was hired to come to Napa to oversee famed grower Beckstoffer’s vineyard holdings. He furthered his vineyard skills while working at Stag’s Leap Cellars as a vineyard manager. Later he taught viticulture classes at Napa Valley College; today he is a Grower Relations Representative for Treasury Wine Estates.
In 2000 Peter started making home wine and released his first commercial vintage in 2003. Today he devotes his time to winemaking as well as consulting for a variety of wine related projects. He bonded his home and makes the wine there. All wine as of our latest review are bottled under the Aum Cellars label (look for the Aum Sanskrit symbol on the label). Peter produces his wines organically and biodynamically and became officially certified in 2010. Due to personal allergies his wines always contain low amounts of sulfites.
Peter takes a minimalist approach to winemaking, rather letting the variety and vineyard characteristics show. His wines are unfined and unfiltered (vegan style according to Peter!) and indigenous yeasts are used for fermentation. The winemaking is as gentle as possible with manual punch-downs and no pump-overs during fermentation. In addition, he has long term leases on vineyards to ensure fruit sources remain fairly consistent. Peter also sources fruit from outside of Napa Valley, for other varieties that tend to grow better in different growing regions.
Aum Cellars used to produce one white wine; this was an interesting blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Muscat and Pinot Blanc. We tried the 2005 Aum Cellars Proprietary White blend. Initially the Muscat dominates the nose producing a nice fruity overtone but as the bouquet opens up more honeysuckle and melon become apparent. The palate has great fruit; think cantaloupe with notes of other citrus, most notably grapefruit. This is a crisp clean easy drinking wine. Today the focus of Aum Cellars is on red wines – with only about 600 cases produced each year.
Peter produces two very distinctly different Cabernet Sauvignons. In our experience tasting in Napa Valley, many vintners produce a certain style of Cabernet Sauvignon, often the rich high alcohol fruit forward California style, but sometimes we discover a lower alcohol higher acidity Bordeaux-style wine. Hoffman Family actually produces both styles of wine. We tried the 2005 Aum Cellars, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from a vineyard in St. Helena. Peter has had extensive experience with specific types of clones and this wine is all clone 7 (good up-front fruit with manageable tannins).
This wine is definitely made in the French style with the alcohol around 13%. Peter likes to keep it at this or even lower. It is rare to find a Napa Valley grown and produced Cabernet these days at these alcohol levels. This is the type of style wine that Peter is passionate about; it is a great food wine. You need the higher acidity to cut through certain types of food and the flavors really come alive with a meal. One sommelier called the nose on this a chocolate cake – there are definitely chocolate aromas with other spices and nuances of pepper. The palate features pretty fruit including flavors of raspberry, plum and red cherry. This wine has a rounded mouth feel with soft delicate tannins. This is a very age worthy wine.
The 2006 Aum Cellars Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of different clones each of which brings a specific contribution to the wine. As Peter says, you want a clone which “brings a hint of corruption to a good Cabernet Sauvignon”! We’ve had some muscular Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon wines with robust tannins, which when consumed by themselves in their youth are almost like a meal. This is not one of these bottlings, rather this wine style features rich fruit forward characteristics without the ‘muscle’. However, this wine will be able to carry itself longer due to its higher acidity. It is decidedly darker than the St. Helena Cabernet and sees more new oak during the aging. Nuances of chocolate on the nose lead to a palate rich in dark fruit including blackberry and blueberry. The structured tannins are well balanced, are soft and delicate.
Aum Cellars also produces a Malbec and a unique Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend.
Oh, and we haven’t yet mentioned these wines have one of the better qualities to value price ratios in the valley!
Interested guests can inquire about booking a several hour wine + food experience, featuring the wines of Aum Cellars while enjoyed cruising around the Napa River on a 50-foot Catamaran Yacht (a minimum of 6 guests, a maximum of 12).
NOTE: this review has been identified as needing a major update.
For more information and or to join the wait list, visit: www.aumcellars.com