Bragg Vineyards is a tiny property in Calistoga purchased in 1995 by Bob and Anna Marie Bragg. Bob was a lawyer at the time in San Francisco (where he was born and raised) and wanted a weekend place to enjoy in the country – away from the urban life and stresses of legal matters. He purchased 4.5 acres in 1995 from an Italian couple who already had a small vineyard on site and were at the time, making their own home wine.
For more than 10 years Bob would come up on the weekends to manage his vineyard and as he puts it “feel the stress of his job slipping away as he drove up Highway 29”. Even today after being retired from law, he calls this property his therapy. It is also clearly his passion – something that he gets excited talking about, after 20+ harvests.
For a number of years, he sold fruit to several well-regarded wineries including Chateau Montelena and Von Strasser. He has made wine from the property since 1995; 2008 was his first commercial release (not necessarily an easy year for your first commercial release as he lost 80% of the vineyard production to a terrible frost coupled with a struggling economy.
He maintains two separate vineyard blocks – one named Mario’s Vineyard and the other Padre Vineyard. The dividing line between both vineyards is a wider section between vine rows. The original vines on site were planted in 1983 but Bob has since had these replanted.
The vineyard is in a fairly unique zone – it is slightly northwest of downtown Calistoga – where the residential part of the town starts thinning out and vineyards become more prominent. Remarkably, the site lies between two riparian zones and is surrounded by water on three sides including Cyrus Creek and the Napa River. As a result, the soils are alluvial, deep and very well drained.
Conveniently Bob was able to bond a building next to his home as a commercial winery; he crafts all the wines on site himself. The cellar is small, garagiste if you will, more of a rarity in contemporary Napa Valley where the owners house, the vineyard and the winery are all on the same property. Due to the Williamson Act of 1968, guidelines were set regarding agricultural uses in Napa Valley including dictating a minimum of 10 acres needed to build a new winery. However, this does not apply within the city limits, and Bragg is technically within the city limits of Calistoga.
In what might be the worst trade in the history of trading, right after purchasing the property Bob walked through the cellar with Mario and noticed a revealing visually appealing calendar of either nude or scantily clad women. Bob told Mario that he wanted that calendar to remain hanging in the cellar – a permanent fixture not to be removed. Mario disagreed and said he would be taking the calendar. So, Bob asked Mario if there was something he could buy in return for keeping the calendar. Mario said yes, his tractor. The trade was made; some twenty years later a relative of Mario’s visited the property and noticed the calendar still there. He told Bob that Mario had the exact same calendar hanging in one of his other homes!
In the Napa Valley with around 1,100 producers, Bragg Vineyards is somewhat. Their production is certainly one of the lower ones in the valley (especially for those who have a physical winery) and typically averages only between 100 and 125 cases each year. Bob also ages his wines in barrel 36 months and keeps it in the bottle for another year. So, a typical release is often four years post vintage date which is usually a year or two behind most winery releases.
Prior to retiring from his law practice, Bob wasn’t able to dedicate as much time to bottling, therefore the wine would spend more time in the barrel. Appreciating the results of this extra time in oak, he continued to practice this after becoming a bonded winery.
Other than when needing to prune or harvest, Bob does all the work himself – both out in the vineyard and in the cellar. He has learned the craft himself including taking a few viticulture classes at Napa Valley College. Living in the Napa Valley one is surrounded by numerous winemakers and viticulturists and over the years Bob has asked for advice numerous times.
When picking grapes or hauling barrels he makes use of his trusty and reliable 1960 Ford F-350 flat bed. He makes two wines each year; one from Padre’s Vineyard and from Mario’s Vineyard named after Mario, the previous owner of the property. Bob buys no grapes; all the wines are 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon.
Bob enjoys the types of wine his vineyard produces including higher alcohol (usually in the mid 15s) along with good acidity and well-integrated tempered tannins. He uses about 25% new oak along with the balance being neutral including both French and Hungarian oak. And he racks a number of times each year, so all the wine sees a similar percentage of new versus used barrels.
Padre’s vineyard is named after and dedicated to several people who have been close to Bob and his family including his father, the priest who married he and Anna Marie, and Bruno, the Italian who painted the labels (based off of vines on Bob’s property). For many years Bragg used the same label for both Mario’s Vineyard and Padres’ Vineyard – but later changed to individual labels for each wine.
The 2017 Bragg Padres’ Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is inky dark ruby with purplish tinges on the rim; shows ripe blackberry, dark cherry and a floral note including violets. Also notes of iron and a meatiness. Subtle hints of old cedar. This wine shows a very aromatically appealing bouquet. Offers an initial sweetness of fruit on the entry; it is juicy and well layered across the palate. Fairly supple from the entry through to the mid palate. Showcases more noticeable tannins than the same vintage of Mario’s Vineyard. Features a savory finish with both cedar notes, dust nuances, pepper and a lingering long-lasting medium grip of tannins. Drinking this wine made us think summertime grilling ribs on the BBQ.
The 2017 Bragg Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in color; offers ripe fruit forward aromatics including of juicy blackberry and boysenberry and deeper into the aromatics notes of mocha and vanilla. As the wine breathes further, opens to hints of old cedar box. Shows flavors of dark cherry, blackberry and pepper. Tastes savory, especially on the finish. The tannins are extremely well integrated and slightly dry but without any textural harshness.
The 2010 Bragg Padres’ Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon shows medium to dark ruby color in the glass – with elegant aromas – a sweet core of fruit throughout the bouquet (cherry) with a hint of desert spices, perhaps clove. A rounded and even slightly creamy mid palate leads to a supple finish with velvety fine-grained tannins. The fruit lasts for some time but not necessarily the tannins. A light wood spice also lingers more towards the front of the palate than on the finish.
The 2011 Bragg Padres’ Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon – this was a challenging year to make wine especially from the valley floor. Bob struggled with the aromatics of his initial barrels but then blended other lots from different parts of the vineyard and vintages into this wine and noticed a dramatic improvement in the aromatics. This wine has also benefited from some age (as we have noticed with some other 2011’s from the valley). The bouquet shows darker fruit aromatics – somewhat floral (dried rose petal) with a hint of dried herbs. Excellent acidity. Red cherry, perhaps a bit of red licorice shows on the palate – tending more towards red fruit then darker fruits. Seamless tannins.
In creating the blend for 2011 vintage, Bob sat down with Chateau Montelena vineyard manager at the time, Dave Vella at Bob’s kitchen table. They spent a lot of time trying various blends until finally reaching one that both men realized was the best of what they had created. Bob looked at Dave and asked him if he was taking notes – Dave looked at Bob and said he thought Bob was taking notes. Neither Dave nor Bob had taken any notes to recreate this final blend, so they had to start all over again.
And in 2015 at the Calistoga Winegrowers tasting held at Solage Resort, Bragg Vineyard was the only producer pouring a 2011. All the other producers had already moved on to more recent vintages and perhaps not wanting to revisit this year, which was almost completely discredited by wine critics. In fact, guests enjoyed this wine so much that a line formed in front of their table.
As of 2021, Bob still had three barrels of the 2011 vintage not yet bottled. We know of only one other winery in Napa Valley that held on to this particular vintage this long before releasing it and that was Mayacamas Vineyard who released their 2011 vintage for the first time in 2021.
In 2014 Bob pulled out the vines from Mario’s vineyard and replanted – in 2016 he harvested a small amount of fruit. We barrel sampled this tiny production – despite being so young a wine and from such young vines, this already has the hallmarks some good fruit (good acidity, flavor and very young tannins).
The 2009 Bragg Mario’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (named after and in tribute to the old Italian that Bob purchased the property from) reveals bright aromatics, a sweet core to the bouquet shows including a pleasing cedar box note. Lingering tartness with a more robust finish then the two Padre Vineyard wines we tried. Balanced but bigger. Oak spice, fine-grained but certainly noticeable tannins linger for some time along with a red cherry tartness. Clean tannins.
Those who have been fortunate to have met the Braggs will soon realize these are down to earth people with a passion for wine, zest for life, humor and hard work.
This is a unique opportunity to connect with one of Napa’s smaller producers via their allocation list (limited to only 75 members, two bottles per member per year shipped in March and in November, cooler weather months). For more information and to join this select list, please visit: www.braggvineyards.com