J. McClelland Cellars began as a joint project between several members of the longtime wine making family, the Scotto’s and wine industry pioneer John McClelland. The Scotto wine making heritage began in Italy and continued in the United States after Dominic Scotto migrated to Brooklyn. He and his brother founded D. Scotto Wines on Hick’s Street in Brooklyn in 1909. They had to shut the business due to Prohibition. In 1934 Dominic opened D. Scotto Wines (now Scotto’s Wine Cellar and still located at 318 Court Street) in Brooklyn in 1934 and operated this until his death following WWII. The shop was handed down to one of his son’s Leo, whose daughter Grace joined him in 1980. In 1989, Leo decided to retire and the shop was sold to its current owner, James Benedetto. The shop is filled with a selection of wines from both domestic and international producers along with a selection of spirits. Since 2009, Benedetto has collaborated with Harvey Estate Wines to produce proprietary wines sold at Scotto’s Wine Cellar.
In 1948 the family started Villa Armando wines – which remarkably still continues production some 70+ years later (incidentally their first California vintage of Villa Armando was produced at Charles Krug Winery). Leo was one of four brothers: Anthony, Joe, Sal, and Frankie. Anthony moved to California in 1963 (along with their wine operations) and continued to grow what has since become the very successful still family led wine business.
Today the fifth generation of the Scotto Family operates a remarkable number of California based wine businesses and brands (operating under their umbrella brand of Scotto Cellars, and at latest count, more then 50 brands) led by CEO Anthony Scotto III (his grandfather was Anthony Sr.) and his siblings including General Manager and winemaker Paul Scotto. While the majority of their wines are not from Napa Valley several brands are focused on Napa including J. McClelland, 50 Harvests, The Lost Chapters and Napa by N.A.P.A., creatively combining family with Napa Valley wines and using the first initials of each of the siblings first names: Natalie (who also runs J. Woods Beverage Group, a wine and spirits distributor), Anthony III, Paul and Anne.
J. McClelland Cellars is a tribute to John McClelland, who was a close family friend for decades (John died in late 2018). In over 60 years John compiled an impressive resume weighted with numerous significant contributions to the wine industry. His first position in the wine business was working for Robert Mondavi back when Robert was still working with his family at Charles Krug Winery. At various stages in his career, John ultimately became President of both Almaden and Geyser Peak wineries and General Manager of Alderbrook.
The J. Mclelland Cellars wines are made at Steele Canyon Cellars (formerly Moss Creek Winery, founded by George Moskowite) in eastern Napa County (only about a 10 minute drive to the shores of Lake Berryessa). The Scotto family leases this from Moskowite.
In 2014 veteran winemaker Mitch Cosentino was hired in a consulting capacity (Paul Scotto is the primary wine maker). Mitch is the first person we have met born in Gustine, California (a small town south of Modesto). He discovered an interest in wine during college, prior to a career with wine he earned a degree in Broadcast Communications. Finding the job market in this field somewhat challenging in the mid to late 1970s he turned to wine. He signed on with a regional distribution company as their most junior salesman (Stanislaus Distributing Co). Within a year and a half his talents for sales was evident; he soon started managing this small company.
Part of Mitch’s work at the distribution company involved wine maker dinners where he met some of the icons in the industry including Myron Nightingale and Ed Spragia (both Beringer Winery veterans) and John Parducci (Mendocino County wine pioneer). Mitch considers all of these individuals as role models – they are the ones who helped encourage him to become a winemaker – recognizing his excellent sense of smell and taste.
Mitch’s first commercial wine was made in 1980. Moving to the Napa Valley in 1990 he has since been responsible for creating, designing and building nine wineries in the Napa Valley and Lodi including the winery that still carries his name, Cosentino Winery just north of Yountville on Highway 29. Mitch was also the early winemaker for Napa Valley based brands such as Gemstone and Hoopes.
The focus of the J. McClelland brand was initially on three varieties – Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – but their portfolio has since diversified to include additional wines. Each year they produce what they call a “one off” wine – or a surprise wine. In 2012 it was a rare Charbono – in 2013, a Petit Verdot.
All their wines are crafted to be balanced, food friendly and to showcase the varieties rather than results of extended hang-time.
Mitch did not initially work on the first vintages but provided consultation and direction prior to bottling.
The 2013 J. McClelland Chardonnay was fermented in stainless steel and aged in once and twice used oak barrels. This wine sees no malolactic fermentation. Reveals aromas of citrus blossom, orange peel and as it opens a sweetness of vanilla and brown sugar. Texturally, the wine is rounded and creamy; it is layered on the palate showing a rich expression of this variety. A sweetness of fruit shows on the palate with some lingering spice notes. Drinks very well by itself.
Charbono is a rare variety in California with at least half of the total acreage in the United States growing in the northern part of Napa Valley (Calistoga). Inglenook Vineyards used to produce Charbono in the 1960s and 1970s; today there are only a few select producers making this wine each year. Charbono’s genetic history dates to the French Alps of the Savoie region where translated into English it was known as the “Soft Black” grape. Charbono thrives with temperature swings during the growing season and Calistoga certainly has these. The northern part of Napa Valley is the warmest but during the summer nights the temperature can drop 30 and 40 degrees from that day’s high.
J. McClelland is one of the very few Napa producers to make wine from this variety. The 2012 J. McClelland Charbono reveals an elegant nose which initially offers aromas of dried rose petal and as it opens notes of dried herbs (sage) show. There is a savory quality about the bouquet that makes one want to taste this wine. Higher toned fruit shows on the entry; this wine is very balanced with a brightness and liveliness of fruit across the palate. It showcases very good acidity. A red currant/red cherry tartness lingers on the finish for some time. And the tannins are dusty and well-integrated.
As the 2012 J. McClelland Merlot opens, it displays a somewhat spicy bouquet including black pepper interwoven with a darker earthy note. It opens further to aromas of cherry with subtle tinges of vanilla and toasted cedar. A brightness of fruit shows across the palate. The finish lasts for some time with robust tannins interwoven with tartness of fruit. This wine clearly has the components for aging. Allen Balik, wine journalist with the Napa Register (who we met along with Mitch for this review) says this wine reminds him a little of the early Three Palms vineyard Merlots – “opulent fruit wrapped around a dense structure.”
The 2012 J. McClelland Cabernet Sauvignon initially shows a minty, somewhat earthy characteristic with some noticeable smokiness. As the wine opens more red fruit shows, mainly cherry. The smokiness and dustiness continue on to the palate – more noticeable on the finish. Robust somewhat grippy tannins hold your attention on a long finish.
Serafina Cellars, Plymouth
Serafina (meaning fine evening in Italian) Cellars and tasting room is located less then 10 minutes from the town of Plymouth. Owned and operated by Paul Scotto since its founding in 2009, the property is 20 acres of which several are planted to vines (guests pull in past their vineyards as they turn into the winery driveway). The actual cellar is almost garagiste like; it is very small and houses a limited number of barrels.
This winery is known for being a fun, welcoming and relaxing place to hang out and is staffed by employees who truly love their job and enjoy being around people. During normal times, both indoor and outdoor seating are available. During the summer months on select Saturdays they fire up the pizza oven turning out 4 pizzas every 8 minutes for hungry patrons. And a bocce ball court is also located on the grounds.
What is truly refreshing about Paul’s winemaking is his willingness to embrace creativity resulting in a variety of not often seen intriguing products particularly with his infused offerings. One of his more creative offerings is a blueberry jalapeno infused blend; other products include Sweet Sinsation, a wine infused with chocolate (shows a mint chocolate character both on the bouquet and palate) and the very unique Pink Lady. His wines are created in a style to be consumed young and are easy drinking.
The diversity of wines and other alcohol available for tasting or purchase is remarkable and includes sweet wines, sparkling wines, infused wines and a number of very delicious apple-based ciders including our favorite, the 100% Raw Cider (completely dry). The Mango & Muscat is a slightly sweet cider. The ciders are bottled under the brand Pacific Coast and feature an image of Paul wearing his trademark cap tethered to a colorful flying fish. And all of the wines and ciders are very affordably priced.
A couple of standout wines are the Serafina Zinfandel (balanced, easy drinking), the 2015 Serafina Barbera – (a bit more complex than the Zinfandel, and a variety that does especially well in Amador County. Special mention must be made about the V/14 Estate Blend (created with Sangiovese, Primitivo, Barbera and Malbec – all grown on site). The name honors the day May 14th – both when Paul was born and when he planted the vineyard on the property. The 2014 Serafina Cellars V/14 offers a very unique bouquet, including aromas of dried rose petal, juniper berry and cherry notes. It is also a wine with some nice character on the palate. And they also produce a red wine that was age in Bourbon barrels.
Serafina Cellars 2, Sutter Creek
This tasting room originally opened as the Cinque (meaning five in Italian) in early December 2010 to honor the 5 generations of the Scotto family and the 5 siblings of the 5th generation. The first dollar earned from their first sale dates from December 4, 2010, and is framed and hangs inside the tasting room. Later the name was changed to Serafina 2; this is an extension of the hospitality space at Serafina Cellars (about a 15-minute drive to this tasting room).
It is located directly on Main Street in an old house in charming Sutter Creek within walking distance of other tasting rooms and boutique shops. Seating is inside or at the bar or at one small table on the partially covered exterior porch.
Scotto’s Wine & Cider, Lodi
This friendly and hip looking wine and cider house is located on tree lined School Street in downtown Lodi. Plenty of pull in parking is available along both sides of the street. This business is owned and operated by four of the five Scotto siblings, Natalia, Anthony, Paul and Michael. Guests can choose flights curated by and named after the each of the owners. Wines and ciders can also be ordered by the glass or by the bottle. Mostly indoor seating but a small fenced in patio is located in front.
Scotto’s Production Winery, Lodi
Old Tasting Room, Napa
In Fall of 2016, J. McClelland Cellars began tasting their wines in the Wines on First Tasting room in downtown Napa along with pureCru Wines, and Jean Edwards. Unlike most tasting rooms, this tasting room stayed open later in the evening. The tasting room was small but could seat up to 14 people and host up to 40 people for private events. NOTE: in late 2019 J. McClelland moved out of this tasting room and as of our latest update do not currently have a walk-in retail space in Napa Valley for people to try their wines.
We keep these photographs here for historical reference.
Total annual production of J. McClelland is around 1,000 cases. They have some distribution in New York, New Jersey, and Arkansas (among other states) but the focus of this brand is on selling direct to consumer. For more information and or to join one of their wine clubs, visit: www.jmcclellandcellars.com