Grassi Wine Company was founded in 2005 and is owned by the Grassi Family, longtime residents of Napa Valley. Mark Grassi (from Walnut Creek in the San Francisco Bay Area) moved to the valley in 1974 and has long held a passion for wine and has been a home winemaker for a number of those years (and also took viticulture and enology courses at Napa Valley College). When he first moved to the valley, he had to decide whether to enter the wine industry or construction, and having friends in the construction industry he chose this field.
In 1989, Mark founded Grassi & Associates – for several decades his firm has built some of the finer custom homes in the valley and has more recently developed high end winery estates. They focus on green building techniques and sustainable spaces. The beautiful Ovid Estate was their first winery project; this led to additional winery projects including building Cade Winery. Grassi has more recently worked on the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in neighboring Sonoma County and Screaming Eagle in Oakville.
Looking to acquire property, in 1999 he and his wife Jami found and purchased 14 acres in the southern part of the valley (off of Soda Canyon Road – not far from the Silverado Trail). Two years later they began Grassi Wine Company.
Their 4-acre vineyard is located along the southern part of the Silverado Trail just south of the Oak Knoll District. This vineyard is not exactly valley floor as its set off the floor a bit – it is rolling bench-land on an old riverbed (good mix of cobble and soil). Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot are planted. Later additional acreage was purchased and cleared – and more vines were planted.
Despite working in construction, with 35+ years in the valley Mark has made some excellent connections in the wine industry; he works with several well-respected individuals for advice. Mary Maher, renowned viticulturist at Harlan Estate and The Reserve took the original soil samples and helped decide upon their variety and clone selections. While their property was not planted to vine at that time they were however surrounded by proven vineyards; nearby neighbors sell fruit to Caymus and Silver Oak Cellars flagship vineyard for their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Soda Canyon Ranch is located nearby. Founding winemaker was Peter Franus.
And in 2010, Mark’s daughter Cassandra (who we originally met with at their vineyard) joined the team and now works full time helping oversee their overall operations. No stranger to the wine industry, she played an instrumental role in helping open the hospitality center for CADE Estate Winery on Howell Mountain. Her husband, Miguel Luna farms their estate vineyard, is a partner is Silverado Farming Company and, in La Pelle Wines, – and in 2020, was named Viticulturist of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
Mark has taken a number of wine related education courses at Napa Valley College and it was in one of his classes that he met Peter. They hit it off from the start as they both had similar palates. Interestingly enough, if they both enjoyed a wine inevitably the rest of the class did not care for that particular wine.
Grassi produced their first vintage of a white wine in 2009. This is not your typical ubiquitous Napa Valley white wine made from Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, rather it is made from Ribolla Gialla, a variety from the northeastern corner of Italy (Friuli) and parts of Slovenia. At the time of our initial visit there was only one known commercial planting in the USA, and it was in Napa County, although Grassi has since planted this variety in their own vineyard. For several vintages, Grassi sourced the fruit from vintner George Vare’s (now deceased) vineyard. George also provided the fruit to a number of small Napa producers including Matthiasson. After George passed, the vineyard changed hands and is now known as the Bengier Vineyard (as of our last update, still in part planted to Ribolla Gialla).
The 2017 Grassi Ribolla Gialla shows great color – medium to deep gold; offers appealing fruit driven aromatics with sweeter notes – including ripe pineapple, papaya and freshly cored Golden Delicious apple (reminds us of the juice dripping off of the apple corer). Also hints of dessert spices including notes of creme Brulé and butter. Very supple in its textural feel across the entire palate but with a counter balancing brightness of acidity, especially noticeable towards the finish. Shows flavors of citrus and a lingering note of popcorn butter. In a blind tasting, perhaps one might mistake this for a Chardonnay.
The 2015 Grassi Sangiovese is medium ruby in color – offers a bouquet with some intriguing character and intensity – including aromas of darker plum, dried tobacco leaf, cracked peppercorn, and perhaps a bit of old leather. Very approachable (we tasted 5 years after the vintage date) the wine is fairly seamless across the palate. Offers a darker fruit profile, juicy with mouthwatering acidity – the finish lingers with both fruit, darker spices and grainy rounded tannins (rather than angular in their textural feel). This will be a fun wine to try 10 or 20 years down the line – with its pedigree now, it certainly has plenty of life ahead of it. Best consumed late afternoon with a pre-dinner cigar and then later paired with a ribeye.
The 2016 Grassi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color; offers aromas of sweaty saddle leather, black licorice, ripe blackberry, black olive, cigar smoke and a hint of darker spices including pepper. Lively across the palate featuring a brightness of fruit and acidity. Flavors of plum, red cherry and currant. A mouthwatering finish. A long grip of astringent and tightly wound tannins continues to linger on the finish. This wine is already beautiful now but also has plenty of long-term aging potential.
The 2006 Grassi Cabernet Sauvignon includes 9% Cabernet Franc and 9% Merlot. The wine has great color – it is dark ruby in the glass. This is a wine that has a powerful, rich always evolving bouquet; a wine that does well with decanting. The nose shows spices including clove and cinnamon, black licorice, anis, sage, vanilla and a perfume-driven note of lavender. The wine is nicely balanced and structured with a soft rounded mouth feel. It has a palate that shows additional notes of black licorice, cassis and deep dark fruits. The finish shows smooth, rounded, and slightly dusty tannins. With its nice acidity and flavor profile, this is an excellent food wine.
In late 2008 the Wine Spectator featured a number of “hot new” Napa based Cabernet Sauvignon producers. Grassi was included in this select list; of note is their wine was the most affordable priced of any of the producers listed in the article.
Grassi donates 1% of their total gross profits to an organization called 1% For The Planet – funds from businesses who participate in this are distributed to organizations protecting the environment worldwide. This organization was formed by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, and his business partner Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies (fishing equipment manufacturer). Grassi is one of the few Napa wineries to participate in this program.
One can sometimes find their wines locally at Backroom Wines in Napa and Wine Country Connection in Yountville. They also have good distribution in New York. Their wines are priced quite reasonably. For more information and to join their mailing list visit: www.grassiwines.com