J. Moss Wines is a small winery specializing in high-end hand crafted single vineyard Napa 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 the Napa Valley, James worked as a wholesaler in the wine industry, getting his start in Dallas, Texas. James would often take business and educational trips to the Napa Valley and it didn’t take long before the Napa allure kicked in.
He pulled up roots from Texas and moved out to the Napa Valley – crossing the southern part of the country on his way to Napa with all his possessions packed in to the back of a U-Haul. He soon found himself volunteering to help his friend at a local winery and initially was put to work doing what would be fairly mundane winery tasks for industry veterans. However, when you are new to wine making you need to start at the bottom, everything is new, hence interesting – and even mundane functions such as manual punch downs, moving hoses, and rackings can pique ones interest for a while. 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 the 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. 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’s repertoire, he 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 high in fruit flavor, not over the top with alcohol but rather balanced from start to finish. 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 smooth mouth feels, delicate tannins, rich flavors with fairly long finishes. The wines are bottled unfiltered for maximum color and flavor.
James creates a very limited production single vineyard estate Merlot – usually only 2 barrels and is available for wine club members only (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 a perfect location for a small vineyard. Just ask any of the successful Napa wineries who have vineyards planted in this area (well south of the town of Napa). With a vineyard this small James can really micro manage 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 nice on the palate and are rounded somewhat gravelly in their textural feel.
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. Mouth watering 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 wine 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’s best known Cabernet Sauvignon producing appellations. Their red label wines are made from multiple vineyard sources – the black label wines are from single vineyards.
And based on hosting a number of winemaker dinners – clients would often ask if James produced a white wine. In 2010 James Moss produced his first Chardonnay – although note that this wine is not made every year.
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 make large format bottles and can put together specially packaged wine boxes (which make great presents by the way). J. Moss has good distribution in California, Hawaii and Texas (these are states where James and Janet sometimes host winemaker dinners in wine club member homes – 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.
Tastings are by appointment and are highly personalized often lasting 90 minutes. For more information, to schedule a visit or to join their membership allocation (called the Wine Society), visit: www.jmosswines.com
Note: this review is currently undergoing a major update. Check back by the end of November 2020.