Carter Cellars (not to be confused with Carter Estate Winery and Resort in Temecula, CA) was founded in 1998 by Mark Carter, a longtime resident of Eureka, California. Today Mark divides his time between Eureka, Napa Valley and Kentucky. During harvest especially he helps oversee winemaking operations at Envy Cellars which is where Carter Cellars is produced. Envy Winery is co-owned by Mark and winemaker Nils Venge.
Long time industry veterans, Nils and Mark have built strong relationships with growers over the years and source grapes from some of the valley’s most premiere vineyards. Some of these sites (all Napa) include vineyards with instant name recognition, IE., the Beckstoffer managed To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville and Las Piedras in St. Helena.
This is a unique opportunity to taste extremely low production and very highly regarded red wines from a Napa producer who doesn’t require interested parties to be on a wait list to eventually get on the allocation list to have a chance to buy wines if those ahead of you have not purchased all of their allocation. Carter Cellar wines are often awarded some of the top scores in the valley from respected wine writers).
Tastings are by appointment and are hosted at Envy Winery, one of the few wineries located north of Calistoga. The winery is on Tubbs Lane – the same street as Chateau Montelena and just to the west of a local natural geyser (Old Faithful Geyser); if timing is right, it will be spewing white spray high into the air. This geyser was mentioned once in an article in National Geographic. There are also excellent views of the nearby Vaca mountain range including the tallest mountain in the vicinity, Mt. St. Helena which is sometimes capped with snow on its upper reaches during the winter months.
As of our latest update to this review, all of Carter Cellar’s wines are produced in quantities of less than 350 cases with a total production of merely 1200 cases. All their bottles are individually numbered, and half bottle sizes are available for most of the wines.
For a boutique producer Carter Cellars produces a wide variety of various wines some showcasing specific vineyards or varieties. We spotlight a few of our favorites from a private tasting held with both Nils and Mark at Envy Winery.
The 2006 Carter Cellars Merlot was sourced from the Truchard Vineyard in the southern part of Napa; this is a much cooler growing region as compared to Calistoga. The 2006 vintage is an intriguing wine – it is 100% Merlot and is noticeably dark in the glass. The bouquet is fruit and floral driven with pleasing aromas of blackberry and cherry leading to a palate that is lush and mouth filling. The entry is soft but leads to flavors of concentrated fruit throughout with a beautiful mid palate. A noticeable earthiness and a minerality nuance show on the finish.
The 2006 Carter Cellars Hossfeld Coliseum Block Red is named for a vineyard site on Atlas Peak which is roughly planted in the shape of a Coliseum based on the topography of the site; it is a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. This wine offers notes of cedar, toast and earthiness on the bouquet. Big fruits show on the opulent palate including flavors of blackberry, dark cherry and blueberry. Good acidity. The finish shows great structure yet is balanced. While tasting this wine young, we enjoyed the robust structure and its exceedingly long finish.
The 2006 Carter Cellars Revilo Vineyard; Revilo is Oliver spelled backwards in honor of the vineyard owner Reg Oliver – see our review of El Molino Winery for more details. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon but showcases an elegant side…but also with some structure. Cocoa powder, vanilla, raspberry and red cherry show on the bouquet. Well integrated layered flavors showing more red fruit rather than dark fruit, make this a good wine to pair with food.
Fruit from the Coliseum block was used in the first vintage of Carter Cellars and is still being used in current releases. The 2007 Carter Cellars 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon is a very dark concentrated wine displaying some dark chocolate on the nose. Winemaker Nils Venge brought over some roast beef during our tasting and that was exactly what this wine needed to be paired with at such a young age. “Big fruit and big structure” (with mouth filling tannins) is the hallmark of this wine!
The 2007 Carter Cellars To Kalon 100% Cabernet Sauvignon was released in November 2009, but we had a sneak preview. This wine offers an elegant bouquet with aromas of plum with notes of chocolate and cocoa. It shows sweet and sour cherry in the mouth; the palate offers more of a lean mouth feel compared to some of the much bigger juicier Carter Cellars wines. However, this wine is still well-structured, featuring broadly grained tannins on the finish. While this wine was incredibly youthful at the time of our tasting, give it some time – age will certainly integrate the flavors and should become a well-balanced example of the long-term benefits of aging wine, especially from To Kalon Vineyard.
OTHER CARTER OWNED PROPERTIES/PRODUCTS
Carter House, Eureka
Mark founded the romantic Carter House Inns in Eureka; the original Carter House in the Carter House Inns collection is a beautiful Victorian mansion designed after plans that Mark found in a thrift store in Eureka. The plans were for a home known as the Murphy House which was built in San Francisco but was destroyed in 1906 by the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires.
Mark built the Carter House from scratch based on these plans and completed the home in 1982. A number of stately and colorful wooden mansions are also located in this same neighborhood including the grandest dame of them all, the Carson Mansion (which incidentally was designed by the Newsom Brothers, Samuel & Joseph – the same designers of the original Murphy House and architects of the Napa Valley Opera House). Unlike in parts of San Francisco where large mansions are lined up next to each other block after block, here the mansions stand out because they are surrounded by smaller less prominent homes and there is more space between the homes.
Carter Inns is composed of 5 Victorians (all within a block of each other) including the Hotel Carter, the Carter House, the Carter Cottage, the Bell Cottage, and Annie’s House. The inn features 33 rooms.
Restaurant 301 is located on the ground floor of the Carter House; it features farm to table and locally sourced ingredients as well as seafood caught offshore. Restaurant 301 has won the much-coveted Wine Spectator Grand award for many years. And for those wanting to enjoy a drink prior to meal – an elevated tiny bar across from the restaurant is the ideal place to do so. This space features a happy hour with select very reasonably priced drinks. During our meal we enjoyed excellent food and exceptional service.
While purchasing wines for his restaurant Mark was introduced to a number of Napa’s top labels, vineyards and winemakers during the 1980s and into the 1990s. One of those vintners was Nils Venge; for many years Nils crafted the wines for Carter Cellars beginning with their first vintage in 1998 (however, he is no longer their winemaker).
Old Carter Whisky Co
Mark and his wife Sherri are also founders of the Old Carter Whiskey Co – focusing on hand crafted small batch straight rye and bourbon whiskies. Batch 1 was released in early 2018. Already in high demand several of the outlets that we visited in Lexington, Kentucky that carry Old Carter Whisky including Justin’s House of Bourbon – told us they sell out within several days once the product goes on their shelves although we did spot some at the nearby Dudley’s on Short restaurant (excellent food by the way and service).
The roots of Old Carter Whiskey began when Mark and Sherri partnered with a friend Dixon Dedmond to resurrect an old bourbon brand Kentucky Owl – their first release was in 2014 – the Kentucky Owl Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch 1. They sold that brand in 2017. The Old Carter whisky is produced at several locations within Kentucky. Until more recently all their release batches have been released in Kentucky only. Releases range from merely approximately 40 bottles to around 1500 bottles at a time.
Sherri is a prolific creator with a primary focus on horse related works of art. She grew up around horses and was influenced by them from a young age; today she operates Blue Horse Studios, Hide Bag Co (whiskey totes), wrote a book called Daily Decadence (based on a number of journals she kept over the years and includes primarily recipes but also personal stories and her notes on life), and created the branding for Old Carter Whiskey and is directly involved in their social media and marketing efforts.
Old Carter Whiskey, Louisville Lounge
Old Carter Whiskey maintains a cozy small lounge in downtown Louisville at 105 West Market St in a building owned by Mark and Sherri. In mid 2022, Old Carter Whiskey opened the Old Carter Social Club space, a much larger space located above their original lounge.
Note: this review has been identified as needing a major update including updated tasting notes for Carter Cellars and a visit to their Louisville lounge by 2023 or 2024. We will update our notes and photographs accordingly.
And Mark is a partner with winemaker Mike Smith in Ancillary Cellars, a limited production premium brand that focuses on cooler climate wines from neighboring premium vineyard sites in Sonoma County (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir).