Mario Bazán Cellars is owned by husband and wife Mario and Gloria Bazán. Mario is originally from Oaxaca and Gloria is from Morelia, Michoacan – Mexico. Mario was working in a restaurant in Mexico City when he decided to immigrate to California for a short time and after a brief stint in Oakland decided the city wasn’t for him. He moved up to Napa Valley in 1973 to work a harvest with the plan of saving some money and returning to Mexico in a few months. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and the wine industry took hold. He learned everything on the job, supported by some excellent mentors at several premium wineries. We worked at Joseph Phelps, Robert Mondavi and finally Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, for Warren Winiarski. Mario learned from the ground up – driving a tractor, then as a mechanic’s assistant and finally becoming foreman (at Mondavi).
His expertise is in the vineyard and in 1997 while still working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, he began Mario Bazán Vineyard Management. Today his vineyard management is a full-time job, Mario currently manages some two hundred vineyard acres. While Mario oversees vineyards, Gloria oversees Mario Bazán Cellars. She had her own Pediatric Dentistry practice in Mexico before moving to California in 2005. She is also an artist, creating one of a kind colored glass art jewelry pieces which are sold in their tasting room.
Mario made invaluable connections while working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars including befriending Michael Silacci (now winemaker for Opus One) and winemaker Victoria Coleman. Victoria made all their vintages until 2013; she began working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars as a temporary receptionist. That winery like other small wineries often requires employees to wear multiple hats and soon she was working as a production assistant to Michael both in the vineyard and also in the winery. Mario hired her after asking her one day, “do you want to be my winemaker”. While working at the winery she continued to further her wine-making skills at UC Davis; she graduated in 2008. Keep an eye on this talented winemaker.
In 2013 winemaker David DeSante was hired and made their wines for a short while. When we met with David, he told us how he was first introduced to wine. At age 10, he already had an inkling he might want to pursue wine making someday. His introduction to wine started simply enough; in Western Pennsylvania where he was born and raised, Concord grapes are commonly grown. He recalls climbing trees to pick bunches of Concord grapes one summer, carrying them back to his mother’s kitchen and mashing them up until he had enough juice to fill a large glass Coca Cola bottle. His plan was to let the juice ferment but when his mother discovered the ‘mess’ – he quickly informed her he was going to allow it to turn into wine. In such a perfectly cared for kitchen, her son’s Concord grape production and early wine making interests fell on deaf ears; David’s initial interest in wine making suffered a temporary setback. Fast forward several decades and he is now one of Napa Valley’s most talented winemakers. He consults for several small Napa producers.
Currently, Kian Tavakoli is the winemaker for Mario Bazán. In an only in Napa Valley story, the Bazán’s met Tavakoli through their kids who were both on a swim team. Kian has made wine for numerous brands in Napa Valley over the years although perhaps he is often most associated with Crush Pad, a winery that was known for controlling numerous aspects of the wine business from sourcing grapes to production to helping market wine. But Kian’s first winery job in Napa Valley was at Opus One and later he worked at Clos du Val. Today Kian provides consulting winemaking services for several premium producers.
The Mario Bazán wine label represents their story very well; it is modeled after a type of traditional clothing women in Oaxaca wear. This is a tribute to Mario’s “roots” if you will – part of the design also includes feathers. Oaxaca is on the migratory flight path for birds in southern Mexico and this ties in with both Mario and Gloria’s immigration to the USA. The label’s colors represent the color in adobe houses in and around Oaxaca.
The 2022 Mario Bazán Sauvignon Blanc Lake County is pale yellow in color; the nose is initially a bit shy but quickly opens to floral aromas including of honeysuckle and jasmine along with plenty of sweet stone fruits (apricot, nectarine and pear). This wine is easy drinking, with balance and a rich flavor profile. Some of the stone fruit characteristics on the bouquet are echoed on the palate including apricot, nectarine and peach along with notes of Golden Delicious apple. This wine also flirts with some tropical fruit flavors including mango. It lingers with a note of citrus.
The 2021 Mario Bazán Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County is medium gold in color; the bouquet on this fun and ‘crowd friendly’ wine is highly aromatic offering floral scents including honeysuckle and jasmine, along with a lemon/lime zest, pineapple, lychee and baked pear. The palate offers a rounded and supple texture with flavors of pear, peach and white nectarine complemented by a very balanced acidity. This wine drinks very easily. Sauvignon Blanc was Mario Bazán’s first white wine and was introduced in 2009.
The 2022 Mario Bazán Rosé is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Cabernet Franc, primarily sourced from Coombsville. This wine is dark salmon in color; the bouquet offers aromas of raspberry, some floral notes including dried rose petals and other dried flowers, cranberries and tea leaf. Its palate is richly flavors including of strawberry, pomegranate, red cherry, red wild plums and currant – supported by a creamy rounded texture. This wine is enjoyable by itself and goes down quickly and easily.
The 2021 Mario Bazán Gold Coast Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sonoma County) is pale to medium ruby in color; the aromatics are immediately open knitted and highly expressive of both fruit and spices. These include plum, raspberry and cherry with a thread of white pepper running through the bouquet along with hints of chocolate and rose petals. The palate shows a ripeness yet also a balance from its bright acidity. It offers a red cherry tartness, red plum and lingers savory with a darker note of pepper. Mouth watering. And one can also feel its texture with lightly grainy tannins persisting.
The Mario Bazán Cabernet Sauvignon is always 100% varietal. The first few vintages were from a vineyard just east of the city of Napa that Mario managed. However, starting in 2008 much of their Cabernet Sauvignon comes from their estate grown tiny 1.25-acre vineyard located on Monticello Road on the outskirts of the city of Napa. The site is in Napa Valley AVA and is located just across from the northern boundary of Coombsville. It is planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon although Mario enjoys eating table grapes and also grows some of these vines on the property. The Mario Bazán Cabernet Sauvignon typically spends about 20 months in all French oak of which about 50% is new.
The 2017 Mario Bazán Cabernet Sauvignon is deep ruby in color; the aromatics are savory and brambly including scents of plum, old cedar box, a hint of dust, dark licorice and a subtle hint of cocoa powder. The dark and savory characteristics on the bouquet also are found on the palate. It offers flavors of plum and blackberry accompanied by mouth watering acidity. The finish is energetic and still very youthful 6 years post vintage at the time of our tasting. It lingers with dusty and dry tannins along with notes of dried tobacco leaf, old cedar and lightly crushed peppercorn.
The 2014 Mario Bazán Cabernet Sauvignon is blend of two vineyard sources, the Bazán’s home vineyard and another vineyard not far away located near the Atlas Peak appellation. This wine is noticeably dark in the glass; the bouquet reveals powerful aromatics including spicy ripe plum and blackberry. There are plenty of layers in the bouquet. This wine is fairly plush across the palate with an intensity of fruit that lingers without any harsh tannins.
The 2006 Mario Bazán Cabernet Sauvignon makes a bigger bolder statement than the 2005 vintage. Whereas the 2005 vintage shows more pepper on the nose this vintage has a robust bouquet that offers baking spices, cloves, cinnamon (perhaps some tobacco) integrated with dark fruit including blackberry and black cherry. This wine is layered with dark fruit flavors and has robust structure with more grippy tannins than the 2005 bottling.
The 2005 Mario Bazán Cabernet Sauvignon is a very clean, balanced wine. As the bouquet breathes it shows notes of white pepper with underlying aromas of blackberry and espresso. The flavors are more red and blue fruits including plum and blueberry. With integrated flavors and fine-grained tannins anchoring the finish this wine drinks very well in its youth.
Rama in Spanish means a branch or a part of something. Several wines are bottled under this brand including a sparkling wine.
The 2021 Mario Bazán Napa Valley Brut Rama (inaugural vintage) is made with 56% Pinot Noir and 44% Chardonnay. This wine is medium gold in color; the bouquet is highly aromatic with scents of Golden Delicious apple, red apple, some light yeast characteristics and some citrus notes including a lemon zest. Simply put, this wine smells fresh in its youth. The palate is bright and equally as fresh as the bouquet, offering flavors of Gravenstein apple and a persistent citrus note on the finish of lemon/lime.
The 2019 Mario Bazán Rama Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. This wine is medium to deep ruby in color; the aromatics stand out and are character rather than fruit driven. This darker bouquet expresses notes of leather, dried herbs including sage, forest floor and as it evolves in the glass, a hint of mocha is revealed deep in the bouquet. The palate offers flavors of blackberry, raspberry, licorice and currant. It is juicy and mouth watering and very approachable in part due to its supple and seamless texture of tannins. It lingers with a slight tartness, or a freshness, if you will.
The 2016 Mario Bazán Rama Cabernet Sauvignon shows loads of fruit on the bouquet; in our notes we wrote down chocolate paired with blueberry and blackberries. there are some spices also; this is a somewhat aromatic and savory showing. Approachable and easy drinking in its youth, this wine offers excellent acidity, and well-integrated and rounded tannins. It is a very good value for a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
With extremely limited productions of usually around 250 cases of the Cabernet Sauvignon each year and slightly less of the Sauvignon Blanc their wines are selectively distributed, mostly in California with some in New York. Locally one can find their wines at several restaurants including the Rutherford Grill and Press in St. Helena.
In early 2023, Mario Bazán moved their tasting room a few blocks south of their former tasting room to 1000 Main Street, the previous site of the Gabriel Collection and O’Connell Family Wines. This is located across from the Bounty Hunter and next to Backroom Wines. Parking if available, is curbside on surrounding blocks or in the sizable open air West Street Parking lot off of Pearl Street which is within a short walk of the tasting room.
Lining parts of the wall are photographs of Mario working in Napa Valley including photograph taken in the 1980s of Mario helping plant the H-Block at the historic To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville and also planting the early vineyards for Opus One.
As of our latest update to this review, Mario Bazán offers several tastings including the Tradition and the Legend, featuring more limited and slightly older wines. Plans call for a Gourmet tasting (available by appointment) and will feature small Oaxacan inspired bites created by a local chef paired with several wines.
In early April 2019 Mario Bazaan Cellars opened a small tasting room in downtown Napa at 960 Clinton Street on the first floor in the Wiseman Building; the entrance is on Clinton Street. For reference, this building is on the opposite corner, across from Vintner’s Collective tasting room. Simply decorated, the tasting room featured a small bar and several tables. During select weekends in the summer, the space hosted live music. We keep our photographs below for historical reference.
Former tasting room, Wiseman Building – downtown Napa
For more information, to purchase wine, to join their mailing list or to join one of several levels of the Wine Society, their wine club, visit: www.mariobazancellars.com