Buehler Vineyards is one of only several physical wineries including Aonair and Amizetta Vineyards on this particular part of the long and windy Greenfield Road, almost 6 miles from the Napa Valley floor. Encompassing 300 acres of land, the property was purchased in 1971 by John & Helen Buehler (both deceased, coincidentally each dying on June 1 but in different years). Their first production was in 1978 making this among the older wineries in Napa Valley. For reference, there are approximately 70 wineries in Napa Valley who were producing wines in 1979 or prior who are still producing wines today. But today there are more than 1,000 commercial wine producers in Napa Valley. John was a West Point graduate and World War II veteran (a Colonel in the US Army) – and then spent many years as an executive at Bechtel Corporation. Starting Buehler Vineyards was how he was going to spend his retirement. His first commercial release was in 1978 when he crushed by hand enough grapes to produce 700 cases.
Production increased over the next few years and then in 1982 he hired a young winemaker named Heidi Barrett who no one outside of the local Napa wine industry had heard of. That of course soon changed, and she helped put Buehler on the Napa Valley wine map so to speak. She made their wines through the 1988 vintage.
John’s son (also John) was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and would visit Napa Valley during some of his holidays. Later he worked at Charles Krug for one summer. He oversees the winery with his son Jonathan; other family members are also actively involved. Many of their employees have been with the winery several decades or more including their winemaker, David Cronin.
The property features several vineyard blocks planted to two varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon and a dry-farmed Zinfandel section. In 2023 about 8 acres of the older vines were replanted as tonnage had dropped to only about 1.5 tons per acre. It is too warm here to grow Chardonnay (in the summer afternoons, the property is often 5 degrees warmer than St. Helena) and as a result they source their Chardonnay from the Russian River area of neighboring Sonoma County (same source since 1995).
The vineyards are surrounded by native vegetation; young vines are quite tasty for deer. Over the years they had to install a tall deer proof fence as these animals were getting into the vineyard and eating significant parts of the young shoots including causing a dramatic loss of crop one year.
Buehler is somewhat of an anomaly in Napa Valley due to its isolation and very reasonable wine pricing. Typically, those two facets do not go hand in hand as we have found that normally in Napa Valley, the more isolated the winery the more costly the wines. Simply reference the ‘cult’ wineries and other premium producers located in the hills above the valley floor – they are numerous. Buehler produces some of Napa Valley’s better price to quality ratio wines.
Napa Valley is home to hundreds of boutique producers (under 2,000 cases per year) with many making less than 1,000 cases annually. There are also several larger wineries in the valley producing well above 100,000 cases annually. However, there aren’t that many Napa wineries “in the production middle” like Buehler; as of our latest update to this review, they currently produce approximately 60,000 cases each year.
Visitors should allow at least 20 minutes to reach the winery from the Highway 128 and Silverado Trail junction on the valley floor. Look for the old ghost winery on their property at the entrance to their driveway. It hasn’t been restored to an active winery; its main use is for housing several horses and other equipment. The Buehler’s have researched some of the history surrounding this stone winery and found it dates back to around 1880 and was once owned by a member of the Salmina family who used to own Larkmead Vineyards. Wine has not been made in this old stone cellar since before Prohibition.
When one approaches their gate and reaches their narrow driveway, one wouldn’t think a winery of this size would be located here – but the winery and related buildings are sizable. Their driveway is long and windy and ends at the physical winery where you most likely will be met by one of the family members. On our first visit to the winery many years ago, John showed us around for an hour with a detailed look at their production operations including separate production facilities for red and white wines, a barrel and bottling rooms (they have their own bottling line). John has a good sense of humor and enjoys visitors. During our first visit, a porn star who has her own wine label had toured just before we arrived, and as a result we heard some good stories about her visit. A tour is given upon request or visitors can elect to do a tasting only.
Buehler produces a white Zinfandel which is extremely rare to find from a Napa Valley based producer, despite Sutter Home and Beringer’s own large productions of this wine. Buehler used to produce their white Zinfandel from Napa Valley grown grapes but have since transitioned to purchasing fruit from outside of Napa Valley. In 1985 the White House served the Buehler Vineyards 1984 White Zinfandel at a luncheon honoring the spouses of the governors of the states and territories. Beuhler Vineyards has been producing White Zinfandel since 1983.
The 2022 Buehler Vineyards White Zinfandel is not very white at all but rather a dark and beautiful deep pink in color; the bouquet offers an aromatic union of fruitiness including watermelon (reminded us of the smell of ‘watermelon algae’ that we often come across growing in snowbanks when hiking above timberline in the Sierra Nevada mountains in late summer), raspberries, cranberries, and strawberries. This wine is slightly sweet but not overtly so and features a pleasant sweetness to acidity balance. Some of the aromas are echoed as flavors on the palate including watermelon, raspberry and an additional note of red cherry. Tasting this wine also remind us of various cran-apple beverages. The flavors continue to persist for some time on the finish. It is easy drinking and goes down quickly. It is not a complicated wine and it is not designed to be. When enjoying this bottling, keep it simple; pair with a warm summer afternoon breeze, a pool, an ice bucket and a good book and hopefully these ‘ingredients’ will put you in a very relaxed place emotionally and physically. Only 10.5% alcohol.
The Buehler’s philosophy on making Chardonnay is to treat it in the cellar with minimal intervention. The wine is aged sur-lie with lees stirring and goes through full secondary fermentation. Their Chardonnay is fermented in stainless steel tanks and sees a limited amount of oak during its aging. Buehler’s first Chardonnay was produced in 1993. This is one of Napa Valley’s best quality to price ratio wines of this variety.
The 2019 Buehler Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay is deep gold in color; we immediately wrote melted butter to describe our initial impression of the bouquet but there are many more layers here including scents of crème Brule, vanilla extract, caramel, butterscotch, toasted coconut, honeysuckle, ripe yellow peach and apricot, almost overripe papaya and pineapple. The palate offers intense and rich flavors which are complemented nicely by a balanced acidity and an accompanying light creamy texture. This wine shows flavors of butter, hazelnut, ripe pear, red apple, yellow peach and pineapple. It lingers with baking spice notes, plenty of persistent fruit and a grapefruit-like pith character. This wine is a blend of two vineyards; Wood Vineyard on River Road (named because much of its distance parallels the Russian River) and River Vineyard on East Side Road.
The 2014 Buehler Vineyards Russian River Chardonnay offers a pretty bouquet which is somewhat floral with honeysuckle notes complemented by yellow pineapple and citrus blossom. For such a young wine at the time of our most recent tasting here, it is extremely well balanced focused on the fruit rather than wine-making manipulations. This wine features a crisp finish.
The 2020 Buehler Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley is medium to deep ruby in color; the bouquet shows a darker personality than some of the more sweetly fruited and ripe expressions of this variety. But it is still loaded with plenty of fruit including bramble, dark cherries, boysenberries, Himalayan mulberries still more pink than dark, red plums, red licorice and an accompanying thread of white pepper. This wine offers flavors of dark raspberry, plums and lingers with a light dusty note, dried herbs and a darker lingering savory spice including crushed peppercorn. Shows a light warmth of alcohol on the finish. This wine was aged for 12 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels, 20% of which were new.
The 2015 Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Zinfandel offers a bright and fruit forward assemblage of pretty aromas including plum, red cherry, raspberry, currants and red licorice. As it breathes, secondary characteristics come forward including notes of toasted oak, a white pepper spice and espresso. Still, the bouquet is about the fruit for the most part. This wine is balanced from entry to finish with nicely integrated tannins (slightly earthy), decent acidity and a slight hint of mocha complementing the finish.
The 2013 Buehler Vineyards Estate Zinfandel reveals a subtle spice note most closely resembling white pepper complemented with various baking spices on the bouquet. Refreshingly this is a restrained Zinfandel and is not jammy, nor super high in alcohol. As a result, you can drink this with some food. It is also noteworthy that the tannins are very well integrated and linger delicately on the finish.
The 2019 Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in the glass with some purplish tinges along the rim; the bouquet is ripe, opulent and showcases plenty of fruit including blackberry and boysenberries complemented with dark chocolate, mocha, espresso and toffee and some darker savory spice notes. But it is the fruit that outpaces these other aromatics. Bright across the palate this wine features both red and darker fruited flavors including of plum, blackberry and cherry. It lingers savory, with some gamey characteristics, along with dark pepper and a persistent woodsy spice. The tannins are light to moderate in structure and linger with a light dryness. After tasting this wine we thought of pairing it with a rare steak lightly cooked on the BBQ and a fourth of July spent with family and friends.
The 2019 Buehler Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color; the bouquet is savory and diverse, offering aromas of bramble, leather, dark pepper, plum, blackberry, dark cherries, assorted baking spices including cloves and chocolate and a subtle herbal note including of sage and perhaps a very light jalapeno. The savoriness of the bouquet continues onto the palate with dark spices including crushed peppercorn, dried tobacco leaf and a lasting tannin induced dryness. Other flavors include dark plum skin, blackberries and dark currants. This wine also shows some toasted oak towards the end of the palate. Like the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon of the same vintage, this bottling would pair ideally with a well-marbled steak from the BBQ.
The 2013 Buehler Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon shows a slight herbal note initially on the bouquet but then opens to reveal darker fruit. The palate offers a light dustiness framed by robust and long lasting tannins perhaps more a character of the vintage rather than a consistency year to year. The 2013 Buehler Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon sports more dark fruit than red fruits on the bouquet including black cherry with some toasted oak nuances. The palate features chewy long-lasting tannins.
The 2019 Buehler Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Papa’s Knoll is deep ruby in color and nearly opaque to look at in the glass; the bouquet offers a noticeable depth of primarily darker fruits including blackberry, plum and boysenberry along with a layer of mocha and chocolate. There is also an underlying consistent herbal note including of sage, jalapeno and various dried herbs. Of the aromatics on all their red wines we have tried, this is perhaps our favorite expression. The palate reveals primarily darker fruit flavors including of plum and blackberry. The light gravelly but rounded tannins continue to persist beyond the fruit on the dried tobacco leaf and dark spice-filled savory finish. This 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested from a three acre dry farmed block of Cabernet Sauvignon that was planted in 1971. It was aged in French oak barrels of which 45% were new. The first vintage of Papa’s Knoll was in 2004. This wine has plenty of life ahead of it with proper cellaring and is clearly one of Napa Valley’s better price point to quality Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings.
A limited number of tastings are offered Monday through Friday by appointment only. A tasting and tour is a highly personalized, relaxed, and educational and well worth the drive out here (by prior appointment) and is often hosted by John or Jonathan. For more information, to schedule a visit to the property or to join the Buehler by the Bottle wine club, visit: www.buehlervineyards.com