Levendi Winery is owned by the Gianulias family; they have a centuries long tradition of making wine in Greece. We first reached out to them many years ago and met at Laird Family Winery where they were making their wine at that time. James Gianulias has built a lengthy and very successful career in property development. G Companies, still family run, with roots from 1949 was originally known as Hester Development and then later known as Cameo Homes. Today G Companies is based in Newport Beach, California and develops single and multi-family real estate (under the Silver Oaks Communities division of the company) while also serving as a property management company (Mesa Management). Their contributions to southern California and parts of the southwestern United States are significant; over the years they have built over 60,000 homes and 7,000 apartments in these locations. The company has also developed commercial/retail/office buildings, ranch properties, golf courses and wineries. The company is overseen by James Gianulias and his son David.
The company is also invested in a variety of other assets including owning the 18-hole semi-private golf Chardonnay Golf Club & Vineyards located at Jameson Canyon along Highway 12 about a 20-minute drive southeast of the city of Napa. This site is also planted to surrounding vineyards including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot – also owned by the Gianulias family. The family uses some of the grapes on site for their own wines. And on the big island of Hawaii, they own the 221-acre Kona Coffee Farm located directly above the town of Kailua-Kona at an elevation ranging from about 1,500 to 2,000 feet.
James, David and family friend Todd Rustman are founders of Levendi Winery; today David is primarily involved in the management of Levendi’s operations.
The name “Levendi” in Greek is a toast referring to a toast to “celebrate life” and wine’s memorable moments or in Greek, yasou, a word people say when wishing one good health.
Levendi’s winemaker Alison Doran was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and began her career in winemaking in 1973 as a harvest intern working at Simi Winery in Sonoma County which her father had purchased in 1969. André Tchelistcheff was hired as a consultant for Simi Winery; Alison spent time working with and learning from him. She has a degree in winemaking from UC Davis and later worked in Alsace, France and at several wineries in California’s Central Coast. She has been a winemaker for more than 45 years, is Levendi’s founding winemaker and has crafted every one of their wines since their inaugural vintage in 2000.
Levendi sources grapes from several premium vineyards throughout the valley including the very well-regarded Stagecoach Vineyard high on the slopes of Atlas Peak. Levendi focuses on producing 100% varietal wines, primarily Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. They have produced a number of Chardonnays over the years including from the Red Hen Vineyard in the Oak Knoll sub-appellation and from the Cold Creek Vineyard on the Sonoma side of Carneros sub-appellation.
The 2021 Levendi Rosé of Pinot Noir Nicolleta is named after James’ mother. She had four boys; during our visit to their tasting room, one of the hosts told us, “A woman who gives birth to and raises four boys will have a special place in heaven”! Regardless, the family has honored her nicely with this beauty. This is one of the finest Rosé wines from 2021 that we tried from a Napa Valley producer. This wine is pale salmon/copper colored in the glass; it offers an elegant bouquet with aromas of wild strawberry, fresh rose petals, crushed rock, some minerality notes and red apple. This wine is rounded with a noticeable but lighter texture across the palate; it features bright acidity, balance and engaging fruit flavors. Very nicely done. This is a food friendly bottling; we immediately thought of pairing it with sea bass or halibut.
The 2020 Levendi Napa Valley Chardonnay is medium golden in color; the bouquet reveals aromas of butter, Golden Delicious apple, honeycomb, citrus blossom, tropical fruit notes and some lighter dessert spices. It is creamy and rounded across the palate but not oaky nor buttery. Offers flavors of lemon, kiwi, apple, other citrus notes, mineralities and a slight crushed rock nuance. Those who have never favored Chardonnay would do well to try this bottling! This wine is deftly balanced across the palate and lingers with a bright finish.
The 2016 Levendi Napa Valley Estate Chardonnay. Lemon peel yellow color in the glass, offers an elegant bouquet with aromas of butterscotch, mango, banana, a baking spice sweetness including brown sugar, nutmeg and butter. This is an olfactory dessert in the glass. The wine is rounded, supple and creamy, but not viscous across the palate, shows some textural density without being heavy. Very flavorful, it offers notes of pineapple and ripe golden delicious apple. Lingers with notes of baking spices, butter and a kiss of vanilla. This wine drinks very nicely by itself.
Sweetwater Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon was the first wine produced by Levendi in 2001; their first retail outlet was Antonello Restaurant in Orange County (see our notes below). The name of the wine was taken from the same name of the vineyard in Oak Knoll (owned and farmed by the Laird family). The Levendi’s produced this wine from this site for many years but no longer do so. However, they kept the Sweetwater name but dropped the word ‘ranch’. The 2018 Levendi Sweetwater Cabernet Sauvignon is medium to dark ruby in color; the bouquet is elegant with aromas of sandalwood, cherry, licorice and some darker wood notes including cedar. Some dessert and darker spices show, but more in the background on the bouquet including clove, cardamom and hints of white pepper. Still tightly woven tannins show a moderate grip on the juicy flavor filled finish, along with some darker notes including dried tobacco leaf.
The 2018 Levendi Legacy Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in color; offers some sweeter aromatics on the bouquet including of licorice, dark cherry. As the bouquet continues to open shows notes of old cedar box. Features lots of layers across the palate including more darker fruits than red (dark cherry and plum). Also shows notes of cassis and dark chocolate. The finish is bright and juicy anchored by noticeable but fairly well integrated tannins. The finish is very long. This wine is balanced and quite approachable in its youth (we tasted not quite 4 years post vintage date).
Two of our favorite red wines from Levendi are the Symphonia and Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Both are elegant wines which come from grapes that are grown entirely in different areas of the valley. Symphonia is wine made from valley fruit contrasted while the Stagecoach Vineyard is located at an elevation of about 1500 feet, high on the slopes of Atlas Peak (a vineyard that was founded by Jan Krupp but is now owned by E & J Gallo Winery).
The 2016 Levendi Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in color; offers aromas of dried herbs, hints of peppers, sage and higher-toned fruits including red cherry. Let the bouquet breathe for some time; it will open to more fruit aromatics along with hints of mocha. Also, some subtle notes of dried tobacco leaf. The palate is bright and youthful with a fresh acidity from start to finish. Offers flavors of red cherry and currant and lingers with a juicy, lively finish anchored by persistent and chewy tannins (but not course in texture).
For some years, the wines were available for tasting at the Tasting Room at Napa Wine Company in Oakville (where Levendi currently produces their wines). However, in early 2019, this tasting room was converted to showcase wines from Ghost Block and all other clients, including Levendi, no longer taste their wines here.
Tasting Room, Downtown Napa
In early April 2022, Levendi Winery opened a tasting room in downtown Napa at 1465 1st Street in the space that formerly was used as a bank, then for Gordon Heuther’s downtown Napa art gallery (one of Gordon’s sculptures still stands at the entrance to the corridor leading off from 1st Street), followed by Studio M (a high-end wine salon) and more recently, Cornerstone Cellars. Gordon’s version of the Napa River, inlayed into the floor has fortunately survived the transition throughout all the occupants, since he vacated the building years ago.
This is the heart of downtown with numerous tasting rooms and restaurants located within a short walking distance.
The space is about 2,000 square feet and encompasses the corner building between 1st street and the tiny alley across the street from the Andaz Hotel and next to Oenotri Restaurant. Archer Hotel is only several blocks walk away. This tasting room offers both indoor and limited outdoor seating (although no tasting is currently permitted outside), small bites including charcuterie and wines by the flight, glass or by the bottle. As of our latest update to this review, Levendi sources their small bites from Oxbow Wine & Cheese Merchant located in the nearby Oxbow Public Market. Because they do not have a commercial kitchen on site, all reservations requesting small bites must be made at least a day in advance and are not available to walk-in customers. St. Helena based Pane Vino provides the delicious breadsticks which are available for enjoying between sips of Levendi wines.
The interior was renovated over a span of nearly 6 months including the addition of reclaimed wood from an old barn and the installation of live oak wood shelving behind the bar created by Steve Mensinger. Steve is a long-time executive who has worked with the Gianulias family for many years and was also a former mayor of the city of Costa Mesa in Orange County. During our visit, the staff had all worked with the Gianulias family for years and were extremely knowledgeable about the Levendi wines.
Antonello Ristorante and Enoteca Lounge
The Levendi wines are featured in Antonello Ristorante and Enoteca Lounge located in the immense South Coast Plaza in Orange County. Antonello Ristorante showcases the Levendi Room – a private room upstairs which can comfortably seat up to 14 people. A number of Levendi wines and vintages are contained on site in a temperature-controlled space. In a world of an always changing culinary scene (especially so in Los Angeles and Orange County) it is rare when one finds a restaurant this old; founded in 1979, they are still going strong and are arguably Orange County’s most decorated and well-regarded Italian culinary space. During a recent visit, many of the patrons seemed to be good friends with the wait staff and employees and many had obviously eaten here numerous times.
The cuisine focuses on home-made Italian food including excellent salads, pasta and meat dishes (the Ossobuco is delicious, complete with a small fork stuck in the bone to retrieve the delicious marrow). The restaurant also features an extensive wine list from not only domestic producers but plenty of Italian producers as well. The Levendi Room is one of several private rooms that can be reserved for private parties. A very well stocked and happening bar is located on the first floor. We have eaten here several times and have always found the wait staff to be highly attentive and personable.
Chardonnay Golf Club & Vineyards
is owned by the Gianulias family and is located off of Jameson Canyon Road; the main entrance is almost directly across the highway from Laird owned Sunrise Ranch Winery. This 18-hole semi-private golf course is located among 150 acres of wine grapes including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot. Somewhat unusual is the fact that the course is not lined with homes – but has a feel of being wide open with plenty of open space.
Because there are grapes growing near the course and parts of the property are designated as wildlife preserves, they only use organic fertilizers on the greens and water use is restricted to re-claimed water from the Napa Sanitation department.
A small golf shop is on site as is The View Bar And Grill (offering both breakfast and lunch 7-days a week) with a full bar service and both indoor and outdoor seating with views overlooking the greens. Very friendly and helpful staff. And naturally several of the Levendi wines are served here.
The wines are fairly well distributed in select markets throughout the United States. For more information, to purchase wine and or to join the Levendi Cellar Club, visit: www.levendiwinery.com
Winemaking at Napa Wine Co. (current winemaking site)
Winemaking at Laird (original winemaking site)
Kona Coffee Farm
Photos coming soon!