Gabrielle Collection taste +. Proprietors, husband and wife Gabrielle Leonhard & Wayne O’Connell both share a family history woven around food and wine. Gabrielle was born in Germany; her mother’s European upbringing and interest in using locally grown products made a lasting impression. Her grandfather was a food & wine critic and writer and her mother was a chemist in wine labs in France (and also studied cooking).
Wayne’s grandfather was a respected farmer in what is now the Silicon Valley – raising cattle and growing grapes (when this slice of the state was actually planted to agricultural crops rather then buildings and freeways). Today Wayne is involved in several real estate projects in Napa and is also the owner of the parking lot across the street from Copia and the adjacent gardens.
In 1988 Gabrielle and Wayne purchased 14 acres of land including their home in what would later become the Oak Knoll sub appellation. Realizing some of their neighboring vineyards were providing grapes to some of Napa’s most well recognized wineries, ultimately they decided to plant their own vines (the initial planting was done in 2000). Today their vineyard is divided into five distinctive blocks – predominantly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, but they also have Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Merlot. The vineyard was certified organic in 2000 and the entire estate is farmed organically and sustainable. Gabrielle is the winemaker and well-respected industry veteran, Mitch Cosentino is their consulting winemaker. Their first vintage dates from 2003.
Wine is not the end of the story here. Their estate certified organic ‘farm’ produces a wide diversity of products which they have categorized according to: culinary, spa, home, and pooch. Four primary wine labels are produced, the O’Connell Family Vineyards (estate wines), the Gabrielle Collection (Cabernet Sauvignon focused wines), Pietro Family Cellars (well-priced wines from the Napa Valley and neighboring Sonoma and Lake Counties), named after Wayne’s grandfather and CE Cellars, wines overseen by their son Preston O’Connell and his wife Casan.
In early 2017 they opened a storefront and food + wine tasting salon in downtown Napa (next to the riverfront with an auspicious address of 1000 Main Street). When one stops in you are greeted warmly; you may soon notice this is a somewhat atypical tasting room. Downtown Napa is filled with plenty of wine tasting and culinary options but the experience here is significantly different to warrant attention.
A visit here is not only about the wine but as equally important are the variety of culinary options offered with each tasting. Guests can choose from several flights, all of which are prepared with a rich representation of their estate’s products. The recipes for the pairings are created in-house and change seasonally.
A tasting is a highly personalized experience that lasts a minimum of 90 minutes – and can go 2 hours (although you are certainly welcome to pop in and do some shopping). Gabrielle is often here to meet guests. Each wine poured is specially paired with small hand-crafted bites that were created from in-house recipes. And some of these recipes are quite memorable; for instance the Velvety Butternut soup shot contains sage sea salt and estate rosemary. They admitted that creating this recipe was challenging to perfect the flavors – but the final result is delicious.
The 2012 Equilateral is 100% estate Cabernet Sauvignon – while it is 100% varietal was created by blending various vineyard blocks together for additional complexity. On the bouquet cedar box aromas show and as the wine breathes the bouquet becomes spicier. It is a pretty nose. Drinks very well – good acidity with a red cherry tartness towards the finish and lingering well-integrated tannins along with a spice/pepper nuance. The triangles within the triangle on the label represents the balance they strive for every vintage of this wine. This was also the first wine they produced in 2003.
At a food and wine event Gabrielle quickly noticed a chef was pairing chocolate with the Gabrielle Cask 321. This contrasted dramatically with her belief that this wine should not be paired with something sweet. After she questioned him about his pairing decision, he simply told her to try it. So she did. And if this was any indication of her change in preference, now they make their own chocolate to pair specifically with this wine!
The 2012 Cask 21 is 75% Cabernet Sauvignon (estate) and 25% Cabernet Franc (Oak Knoll). This wine shows a somewhat earthy nose that is well layered – tobacco, darker fruits, sage perhaps. The palate is well-balanced, very flavorful with good acidity. The tannins linger somewhat – but are not harsh. Put some of their chocolate and salt with this wine – and you will certainly find yourself reaching for another taste.
And they produce several white wines found under their Pietro Family Cellars including the flavorful My Angelina White (Sauvignon blanc with Sémillon). This is named after Wayne’s grandmother Angelina who remarkably lived to be 109 years old.
In addition to several small bites, tastings are also paired with a variety of their herb seasoned salts, several of their distinctively flavored olive oils and a charcuterie plate which includes their house-cured olives.
Gabrielle has a strong affinity for olives and related products. She is a certified olive oil taster having completed the UC Davis Olive Oil Taster certification curriculum. The olive trees on their estate were propagated by Gabrielle from the last known original Mission Olive Grove (dates to 1797) near Santa Barbara – she discovered these old trees through personal research on olive oil history in the state of California. And she founded the Olive Oil Culinary Guild- (focusing on training chefs on how to evaluate olive oils – and also of MOPREP- an organization dedicated to preserving olive trees in California.
The tasting room space is filled with many of the organically produced products from their estate (prepared at a kitchen they rent in Berkeley) including bath salts, various hand and body washes, & other spa products, olive oils, olives, dips, herb infused salts, rubs, honey, dog cookies & sprays, natural cleaning sprays for your home and of course plenty of wine.
The tasting room also utilizes the nearby outdoor space and uses this for select events and tastings. Parking can be curbside on adjacent streets or in the open-air lot located off of nearby Pearl Street (a short walk to the tasting room).
Refreshingly, older vintages are available for purchase. Their food and wine club, the Decanter Society allows you access to exclusive wines, provides special pricing and includes invites to wine dinners (held in select US cities).
Reservations are preferred (due to some food preparation with their tiny kitchen on site) but walk-ins are also welcome, subject to availability. A smaller private side room is available for more intimate tastings. The wines are selectively distributed in Georgie, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas. For more information visit: www.oconnellfamilywines.com