Chiron Wines. Extremely focused on both site locations and style of winemaking, Chiron Wines is one of numerous small producers in Napa Valley that deserve special attention. Founded with their first vintage in 2015 by father and son, Mark McCoy and Bobby Moy (the winemaker), their partnership is a strong one. Bobby locates all vineyard sources for their wines and makes the wine, while Mark (who is retired from a career in health care and pharmaceuticals) oversees the marketing, sales and distribution.
Chiron was originally pronounced like “kai ron” when Mark and Bobby founded the brand, but after several years of hearing it pronounced this way, Bobby decided to change not the spelling, but its pronunciation. Today it is pronounced as “shir-RONE“, a more elegant way of saying the name. The name Chiron refers to a centaur in Greek mythology. This mythical half man and half horse creature appeals to Bobby in that the horse stands for the natural part of winegrowing (nature’s contributions and challenges) and the man represents the science and art of winemaking.
Bobby grew up in Napa Valley and has worked in a diversity of wine related jobs including as the wine buyer for the SidewaysWineClub (owned by a company who purchased the rights to the name from Fox Searchlight Pictures following the popularity and increased interest in the Santa Barbara wine country after the release of the Sideways film). While living on California’s Central Coast he began pursuing sommelier training, consulting for local restaurants and also working several harvests.
Moving back to Napa Valley he found it was difficult to find sommelier related work; so he pursued his passion for Pinot Noir and moved to Corvallis Oregon and enrolled at Oregon State University in their food science program. After graduating he worked a few months for winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown in Calistoga. He continued to make wine; through a professor he met while at Oregon State he took a job at BlueBird Hill Cellars in the Willamette Valley – and then later moved back to California and worked a short time at Virginia Dare Winery in Sonoma County.
Inherent to the Chiron wines are several important details. Bobby’s source vineyards focus on hillside sites, but not just any hillside location. Rather he prefers sites with morning exposure; his vineyard sources tend to be from north and north eastern facing cooler sites. He is attracted to not only the views from elevated sites but also the diversity in topography and lack of soils in many cases – the vine development is slowed by the shallow soils and rocky sites producing an intensity of fruit that he favors but not an over ripeness.
Additionally, the vineyards he works with are often small and under the radar – and the resulting Chiron wines are vineyard designates. Chiron Cellars primarily creates wines that are 100% varietal. Through Bobby’s wine making network he has access to select sites in Napa and Sonoma but also in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. And whenever Bobby works with a new vineyard site he seeks out the advice of winemakers who have worked with the site previously- and also makes a point to try finished wines from the site.
While Chiron Cellars produces a number of wines, each bottling is usually from only 1-2 tons, very small lots resulting in typically 50 cases per wine. Every wine features a proprietary name which relates to highly personal stories.
And Bobby takes a gentle approach in the winery – choosing barrels that are seasoned up to 48 months and generally selecting light to medium toast levels. He wants the oak to give the wines lift rather than make a significant imprint. In the same grain, it is this gentle approach to winemaking that defines his style; he recognizes that “the true wisdom of a winemaker is in knowing what not to do”, rather than manipulating the essence of terroir and of the variety.
With a love for Grenache, despite the challenges of growing this variety, it is no surprise that Chiron produces several Grenache wines. Bobby chooses cooler weather sites that feature longer hang times and are typically harvested later in the season. Sugars in Grenache can easily spike especially as one waits for phenolic ripeness to occur including tannin development. Harvest decisions are critical. This variety also inherently produces higher yields so he works with sites where the crop loads are thinned to about 2 to 2.5 tons/ acre.
Grenache tends to struggle to produce color and simultaneously can produce intense tannins. Bobby cold soaks this variety for an extended period of time (often up to 20 days before fermentation starts) and then post fermentation continues a period of maceration. His maceration times tend to be extended, especially for this Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Malolactic fermentation occurs over a period of three to six months in oak puncheons; once completed the wine is racked off including the gross lees to neutral oak barrels for its aging.
The 2017 Chiron Emergent Truth Grenache (100%) varietal was sourced from both Slide Hill Vineyard (35%) in Edna Valley (San Luis Obispo County) and the Antinori Vineyard (65%) on Atlas Peak in Napa Valley. Grapes from both vineyards were harvested on the same day; 50% of the grapes from Slide Hill Vineyard went through whole cluster fermentation while the grapes from Antinori Vineyard were not whole cluster fermented. This wine is medium ruby in color; the aromatics are spicy and earthy, with notes of black raspberry, peppercorn harvested directly from the tree and then immediately cracked, mushroom, parchment paper, old leather and tobacco smoke. Offers plenty of aromatic depth and intrigue, especially as the wine is allowed to evolve in the glass. Continue to give it time, the fruit also becomes more expressive as the wine breathes. Shows flavors of red cherry, currant, licorice, rhubarb and rose stems. Lingers with bright acidity, dried tobacco leaf and gamey tannins sporting a moderate but nicely integrated grip.
The 2017 Chiron Unfamiliar Truth Grenache (100% varietal) is from the Slide Hill Vineyard in Edna Valley (San Luis Obispo County); this is Bobby’s Reserve Grenache bottling. This wine is medium ruby in color; offers aromas of cherry cola, raspberry, red licorice wrapped around old cedar wood, walnut, thyme, various dried herbs and soy sauce. Gives this wine time to evolve in the glass – its aromatic depth is one of its hallmarks. Eventually the bouquet shows more fruit as it continues to open. Simply beautiful across the entire palate, offers flavors of cherry, raspberry and dried tea leaves. The tannins are defined but do not display any harsh edges, rather they show some intriguing density along with being well integrated. Lingers with notes of black pepper and a pretty nuance of dried tobacco leaf. This is a very balanced showing highly worth seeking out.
The 2016 Chiron Cellars Russian River “Aid and Succor” Grenache (Sonoma County) is stylistically meant to be approachable in its youth. No stems are included during fermentation – this wine is blended with 8% Petite Sirah. Noticeably savory (but pretty) aromatics with meaty nuances including darker spices on the bouquet. A diversity of fruit shows on the palate including plum, black cherry, strawberry and raspberry. Broadly distributed firm tannins, earthy and long lasting. Mouth watering acidity.
The 2015 Chiron Cellars “Unfamiliar Truth” Napa Valley Grenache was sourced from the Paras Vineyard on Mt. Veeder at an elevation of about 900 feet. The wine was fermented 30% whole cluster and spent 28 days on the skins. And 6 months in a new French oak puncheon, then racked into a once used puncheon. Offers a ripeness of fruit on the bouquet with a sweet aromatic thread that lingers throughout – along with a diversity of baking spices including vanilla and hints of old cedar and cardamom. On the palate shows some weight or tension as Bobby describes it. Finishes with a grip of firm yet finely woven tannins. These persist for some time on the long finish. Need a break from Napa Cabernet Sauvignon? This wine has character; it is well worth seeking out.
The 2016 Chiron Cellars “Virtue & Vice” Red Blend is meant to be enjoyed in its youth and is created each year from barrel selection – this wine is 57% Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 38% Howell Mountain Merlot and 5% Petite Sirah. The wine spent 30 months aging, 20% in new French oak. Along with plum, shows hints of tobacco leaf and black currant. Very approachable, the wine shows darker spices on the finish and espresso along with light-weighted gravelly tannins – the finishing texture is fairly supple in feel. Also mouth watering acidity.
The 2016 Chiron Cellars “Paint of Moonlight” Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in 100% new French Oak. Sourced from a site above Knights Valley in neighboring Sonoma County on the western slopes between an elevation of 1100 and 1400 feet. Noticeably dark in color, features highly appealing aromatics including black fruits with hints of tobacco smoke, cedar box, earth notes and vanilla. Also somewhat floral. Deftly balanced shows both red and darker fruit flavors on the palate including blackberry. The texture is highly appealing with dry slightly dusty tannins – not heavy but with a noticeable weight on the finish.
The 2016 Chiron Spring Mountain District, “Spring Theory” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep garnet color; offers a bouquet with mountain character and diversity of aroma – initially noticeable are its spicy nuances including pepper and a floral nuance – but the fruit is the core of the wine’s bouquet featuring blackberry and plum. As the wine breathes, additional notes of chocolate, mocha and old cedar box show. An abundance of fruit drives the palate including currant and plum along with perhaps a kiss of sage. This wine features a firm grip of tannins – not coarse in feel but certainly noticeable. Plenty of life ahead of this beautiful Spring Mountain showing.
Finding success in attending small niche consumer tastings has been one of their primary outlets – including San Francisco Vintners Market and CABFEST San Francisco.
Napa Winery/Tasting Room
In 2021 Chiron Wine moved into their first ever dedicated winery and hospitality space located in an industrial zone a few minutes drive south of downtown Napa. This area is known as the ‘Crusher District”, named for numerous wineries who typically do not own vineyards but make their wine in this part of town and often have associated tasting rooms.
This space was previously used by Y. Rousseau Wines. Since Chiron moved in, the tasting space has been completely renovated and features an intimate room for guests to enjoy the wines, directly next to the entrance to the barrel room and winery. Several large pieces of art hang on the walls; these are original paintings by Bobby’s wife.
For a short while in 2020 and early 2021, Chiron Wines was one of up to sixteen vintners featured in the The Studio by Feast it Forward (opened in June 2018) in downtown Napa. However, with the opening of the Chiron Winery and tasting room, the Chiron wines are no longer represented at The Studio by Feast it Forward.
The wines are also selectively available for tasting and purchase at The Wine Thief, located across from the Oxbow Public Market, near downtown Napa.
For more information, to schedule a tasting either at the winery or a separate in-depth look at one of their source vineyards in western hills above Knights Valley in Sonoma County (north of Napa Valley), or to join the mailing list or one of the wine clubs, visit: www.chironwines.com