J. Moss Wines is a small winery specializing in premium hand crafted red wines, primarily single vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. This winery was started by James Moss with his first vintage in 2001 although James had made home wine the prior year. His wife Janet has her wine making degree and also worked at Domaine Carneros for a number of years. James was the primary winemaker for J. Moss for many years; he and Janet hired a consulting winemaker in 2012. And their son Westley is also involved when he is in town. Prior to his career in Napa Valley, James worked as a wholesaler in the wine industry, beginning his career in Dallas, Texas. James would often take business and educational trips to Napa Valley, and it didn’t take long before he became hooked by the Napa allure.
Eventually he left Texas and moved to Napa Valley; he drove through the southern part of the country on his way to California with all his possessions packed into the back of a U-Haul. He soon volunteered to help his friend at a local winery and initially worked on what would be fairly mundane winery tasks for industry veterans. However, when one is new to wine making one starts with the basics; everything is new, hence interesting and even mundane functions such as manual punch downs, moving hoses and racking can pique one’s interest. Over time he began to pick up more and more of the wine making side of the operations and for several years made “garagiste” home wine for friends and family.
He spent several harvests working at wineries he was already familiar with including Benziger Winery in Sonoma County and Cakebread Cellars. He considers long time winemakers Mark Jessup and Gustavo Brambilia as mentors.
During an early trip to Napa Valley, he and friends enjoyed a tasting and dinner at Domain Carneros. Inquiring about possible nightlight after 9pm, he and his friends were invited to go to the Silverado Country Club to enjoy some live music. Those who live in Napa and or frequently visit will know that there is not much in the way of nightlight after 9pm in the city. It was during his visit here that he first met Janet, who was working at Domain Carneros at the time.
Coming from an industry where James often tasted wine and had many years to build up his palate, he already knew what types of wine he enjoyed. His wines are vineyard specific, and he tends to use the same vineyards for a number of years which builds terroir consistency in the wines. They are richly fruited both on the bouquet and the palate and show a restraint in terms of alcohol percentage; in summary, these are balanced wines which are approachable in their youth but have the characteristics to age well over many years. All wines are fermented in small open top fermentors and the free run juice is kept separate from the pressed juice throughout their aging, until the final blending decisions are made. This is where James’ trained palate really helps. He is looking for integrated texture including resolved tannins, rich flavors and lengthy finishes. The wines are bottled unfiltered for maximum color and flavor.
J. Moss is known for their red wines, but while hosting a number of winemaker dinners, clients would often ask if James produced a white wine. Eventually he did; the 2010 J. Moss Chardonnay was their first white wine. This wine is not made every year. The 2021 J. Moss Chardonnay, Atlas Peak Napa Valley is medium to deep gold in color; the bouquet is sweetly fruited and highly expressive, offering aromas of pineapple, honeysuckle and stone fruits including yellow nectarine and apricot. It is also somewhat tropical including scents of lychee. This wine’s texture is supple and almost creamy accompanied by flavors of Golden Delicious apple, ripe pear, crème Brule and a mandarin/tangerine note, which shows especially on the finish. This is a bright and fruity bottling without any of the overtly oaky and butter characters that this variety is often associated with. This wine offers a long and rich finish along with a light touch of oak.
James creates a very limited production single vineyard estate Merlot; it is usually 2 barrels and is only available for wine club members (allocated to 6 bottles maximum per member). James and Janet made their first Merlot together in their garage – only 1/2 a barrel from grapes that Domaine Carneros CEO at the time, Eileen Crane allowed them to harvest from the Perez Vineyard in Carneros. And it was their Merlot that James and Janet served at their wedding – held at Domaine Carneros of course.
James even planted the hillside part of his backyard with cuttings of Merlot from the Perez Vineyard (about 500 vines). This is one of the first residential subdivision Napa Valley vineyards we visited – but with the backyard space and terroir not far from the cooling influence of the San Pablo Bay, this is an ideal location for a small vineyard. A number of successful Napa wineries own or lease vineyards in this part of the valley, a cooler region well south of the city of Napa. With a vineyard this small James can really micromanage each and every vine.
The 2016 James Moss, Moss Vineyard 100% varietal Merlot initially shows some meaty and savory characteristics but as the bouquet breathes this dissipates – revealing darker fruit aromatics. Noticeable on the palate is the wine’s density yet also its balance. The tannins are felt but well integrated; they feel pleasing on the palate with a rounded and somewhat gravelly textural feel.
The 2015 J. Moss Cabernet Sauvignon Mee Lane Vineyard Rutherford is deep ruby in color; this wine is showing in a sweet spot 8 years post vintage at the time of our tasting. The bouquet is strongly focused on its fruit character and offers aromas of cherry, black raspberry and hints of mocha. This is a texturally driven wine; with appealing complexity and layering on the palate. This wine offers flavors of cherry and blackberry supported by gravelly and gripping textured tannins which continue to persist for quite some time on the dusty finish. This wine still has plenty of life ahead of it with proper cellaring.
The 2015 James Moss Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in 100% new oak, 90% French and 10% American. Offers a floral perfume note on the bouquet, chocolate covered cherries (brown chocolate). The ‘Coombsville freshness’ shows across the palate but with a noticeable intensity of flavor. Mouthwatering acidity. Juicy steak wine?! This is an ideal wine showcasing the power, depth and balance of Coombsville grown fruit (in what is a cooler growing region in the Napa Valley, i.e., this is not the eastern slopes of Oakville).
The James Moss Proprietary Reserve was created based on a wine that James produced for Napa Valley Premiere one year; this wine is a barrel selection of only two barrels from their best Cabernet Sauvignon each year. The 2015 James Moss Proprietary Reserve is a blend of Coombsville and Rutherford grapes. Shows pretty aromas of plum and blackberry on the bouquet – and 5 years after the vintage date, plenty of aromatic freshness and still youthfulness. As the wine breathes shows hints of white pepper and dried tobacco leaf. A hint of mocha. The tannins roll across the palate with some grip – but are rounded in texture. This is a big but a balanced bottling.
During our first visit with James many years ago, we tried a 2004 and also a 2005 vintage James Moss Cabernet Sauvignon from the Spicer Vineyard located in the heart of Stags Leap District. This is prime terroir for Cabernet Sauvignon, nearby vineyards include Shafer and Pine Ridge. James has sourced grapes from this vineyard since his first commercial release in 2001. Both wines show exemplary fruit and continue to change and evolve over time in the glass both in aroma and flavor.
The 2004 James Moss Spicer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon has a sweet fruit-driven elegant nose with aromas of blackberry, earthiness, baking spices and just a faint hint of vanilla. The mouth feel is super soft, yet rich in flavor. It is an explosion of blackberry, black cherry, dark chocolate, cloves and other spices with nuances of toasted oak – the oak is subtle but adds a nice complexity to this rather lengthy finish. The tannins are firm yet delicate. Both wines have excellent acidity and bright fruit.
The 2005 James Moss Spicer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon which we tried just after its initial release, saw a bit more French oak during its aging than the 2004 – it has lively fruit (all-natural acidity), and with an alcohol level at a rather reasonable 14%; it makes for a very enjoyable food wine. These wines are certainly well structured to drink young but have the backbone and acidity to also age for a number of years.
As of our latest update, J. Moss makes three different 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines, all produced in quantities under 200 cases, and all come from some of Napa Valley’s best known Cabernet Sauvignon producing appellations. Their red label wines are made from multiple vineyard sources while the black label wines are from single vineyards. And for those who have a sweet tooth, J. Moss produces a California appellation Moscato.
Total production is around 1,700 cases each year. Most of their distribution is direct – visit their website to join the mailing list. They also produce large format bottles and can create specially packaged wine boxes (which make great presents). J. Moss is selectively distributed in California, Hawaii and Texas. These are states where James and Janet sometimes host winemaker dinners in wine club member homes in which the members provide the food and friends and James and Janet provide the wines. One can sometimes also find select vintages locally at Backroom Wines in downtown Napa.
After a number of years of being a “nomadic” winery, in 2010 James Moss opened a tasting room in the Crusher District, a business and industrial park located just south of the city of Napa. James Moss shares the winery space with several other vintners. A small private tasting room is located in front of the actual winery thoughtfully decorated with old barrel staves and repurposed old redwood. Weather permitting tastings are hosted outdoors in front their tasting room.
Tastings are by appointment and are highly personalized often lasting 90 minutes. If there is enough staff available, visitors have the option for a quick tour inside the winery and barrel room. During our visits over the years, James and Janet are often here assisting and offering insights into their story and wines. For more information, to purchase wine, to schedule a visit or to join their membership allocation (called the Wine Society), visit: www.jmosswines.com