Memento Mori was founded through a stong friendship between Hayes Drumwright, Adriel Lares & Adam Craun. Hayes and Adrial met while in high school when living in Alvin, Texas. Hayes attended Boston University where he met Adam as freshman while both were on the swim team. All three became very close friends. While at college and only 21 years of age, Hayes was diagnosed with an aggressive cancerous tumor. The tumor had grown so fast and so large that it cut off its own blood supply.
Hayes came face to face with his own mortality, survived and realized the importance of ‘now’ following the incredible relief after being given a clean bill of health from his doctor. Inspired, he soon arranged a meeting with Adriel and Adam – they all made an agreement that regardless of life’s direction, they would embrace life to the fullest and pursue their passions.
All have gone on to have extremely successful careers – Hayes founded Trace3, a technology company and is a prolific entrepreneur, Adriel became CFO of 3PAR, a data storage company which was eventually sold to Hewlett Packard and Adam works in It sales and management. In 2020, Hayes wrote a short but cute children’s book (Gross Foods) about two sisters with big ideas of becoming chefs but whose dreams of producing and selling their own foods are dashed by non creative adults. The girls take their ideas to their father who encourages them to follow through with their plans – which results in a food stand simply called, Gross Foods.
Eventually the men began spending time in the Napa Valley drawn to its wines of course but also its beauty and lifestyle. During one of their trips they met vintner, Juan Mercado, then of Realm Cellars. If one is interested in making premium wine in Napa Valley and is of a certain age, Juan was quite commonly sought out as a mentor and someone who could introduce prospective vintners to the ‘right’ people. Inspired by the quality of wines Juan was producing from some of the valley’s best vineyard sites, despite at the time, not actually owning any vineyards – Hayes queried his two friends with, “what are we waiting for”.
Juan made an introduction to grape grower Andy Beckstoffer – a coveted and rare opportunity to make a favorable impression and convince Andy to sell them grapes. Their meeting just happened to be during the time that Adriel was in the middle of negotiations to sell 3Par – during the meeting he had step out to take an important phone call. Fortunately Andy was very much in tune with the potential sale of 3Par and was impressed by the men’s story and interest in producing wine from premium vineyards.
He sold them a small block of grapes from his Georges III vineyard in Rutherford – they made only 150 cases during their inaugural 2010 vintage. Well-regarded winemaker Sam Kaplan (Arkenstone, formerly of Nine Suns) has been their winemaker since day one. This vintage was the only Georges the III wine ever made by Memento Mori – as such it has become somewhat of a collectible wine. As of our latest update to this review, the Memento Mori wines are produced at the state of the art Arkenstone Winery on Howell Mountain (which is where we first met Adam and later followed up with a visit to their tasting salon in the Tannery District, south of downtown Napa).
Later the partners were introduced to Benoit Touquet (winemaker at Realm) who helped them secure fruit from additional premium vineyards including Las Piedras, Dr. Crane and Weitz (a hillside location near Dalla Valle, above the eastern side of Oakville). Presented with wines from each of these vineyards during blending trials, the three men decided they preferred the wine as a blend rather then vineyard designates, completely opposite to producers who typically produce vineyard designate wines from these particular coveted sites.
Memento Mori in Latin translates to, ‘remember that you have to die’ – a name they chose to create homage to their philosophy of living dating back to the brush with mortality Hayes faced when he was diagnosed with cancer.
The 2013 Memento Mori (tasted 8 years post vintage date) is dark ruby in color; offers plenty of darker fruits on the bouquet including blackberry and dark plum. A note of toasted cedar lingers on the edges of the aromatics but does not dominate. This wine smells and tastes younger than its actual age. The hallmark characteristics of this wine at the time of our tasting are: its superb balance and its chalk-like tannins which roll over the palate like soft velvet. Lingers with plenty of fruit, notes of licorice, some minerality nuances and a dusty note. Mouth watering. Simply put, a beautiful and elegant showing with plenty of depth.
The 2015 Memento Mori is a blend of grapes from Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane and Las Piedras Vineyards, Oakville Ranch and Weitz vineyards. Dark ruby color in the glass. The bouquet is inviting and simultaneously powerful with aromas of blackberry, cedar box, darker baking spices, cinnamon, leather, white pepper and dust. Immediately noticeable is the suppleness on the palate, it is seamless from start to finish with a plushness on the mid palate. There are no harsh edges whatsoever even structurally. Finishes like velvet with rounded polished tannins. Good acidity, especially noticeable on the finish.
The 2016 Memento Mori is dark ruby in color with purplish tinges on the rim of the glass; the initial aromatics offer higher toned red fruits, with a slightly minty nuance, dust and much deeper into the aromatics, hints of Graham cracker. The nose is also slightly brambly with some mineralities including the smell of slate rock after the first rainfall. Give this wine time to breath – the aromatics will continue to reveal more fruit. The tannins are fairly supple, although not as chalk-like as the 2013 vintage. The texture shows a noticeable density.
The 2017 Memento Mori is a dark ruby with deep purple color in the glass; this wine offers some slightly savory characteristics on the bouquet, along with aromas of plum, blackberry, cassis, a stony minerality nuance and cedar. Features youthful but ripe tannins with a medium long lasting grip. Lingers with a brightness and freshness of fruit. This wine offers density, depth and plenty of character. And of the vintages tried to date, this wine showed the most presence of oak, both on the bouquet and on the palate.
The 2018 Memento Mori (tasted 3 years post vintage) is dark ruby in color with aromas of ripe blackberry and plum along with some notes of old cedar. Notes of darker desert spices evolve as the wine opens in the glass. Features bright and lively fruit across the palate with still very youthful tannins showcasing a noticeable grip and a dusty slightly drying note on the finish. A hint of cedar also shows on the finish complemented with bright mouth watering fruit. This wine clearly has plenty of life ahead of it.
Continuing to seek fruit from premium vineyards, in 2017 Memento Mori began purchasing fruit from the esteemed Vine Hill Ranch, an introduction that dated back to 2008 when the partners first showed interest in fruit from this remarkable vineyard site.
Each year their signature wine is a singular wine – the best expression of Cabernet Sauvignon from that year’s particular source vineyard sites. But they also produce very limited productions of other select vineyard designate wines including in 2014 beginning to produce extremely limited quantities of Dr. Crane and Las Piedras vineyard designates – (24 cases of each wine).
Memento Mori is certainly not known for producing white wines. Their first white wine was a Sauvignon Blanc produced in 2015 from the Church Vineyard (west of the city of Napa). They continue to produce an extremely limited production wine of Sauvignon Blanc each year.
Tasting Salon, Napa
In 2018 Memento Mori opened a tasting salon in Napa’s Tannery Bend district (just a few minutes drive south of downtown). Prior occupants were Favia Wine; the brick building dates from the 1920s and is located next to the old wooden Sawyer Tannery building dating from the 1880s (once the largest tannery west of the Mississippi and where Nappa Leather originated from). Napa’s leather industry began along this part of the Napa River in 1869 and is in a part of town named after both a bend in the Napa River and the old leather tannery.
Today the Sawyer-Tannery complex is home to several under the radar appointment only tasting rooms for small Napa Valley wine brands. And at least one winery used to produce wine here – years ago we met with Matthiasson Vineyards when they were leasing a space for their production.
Their tasting salon is located very close to the Napa River; the Vine Trail (bike and pedestrian pathway) paralleling the river is located just below the nearby parking lot. One could bike or walk here from just south of downtown Napa. While there is no dock on the river directly in front of the tasting room, the Napa Valley Yacht Club maintains a dock within a short walk of the tasting room and allows guests boats to make a docking request and pay ahead of time via their website. One could visit the tasting room coming from boat on the Napa River. On warm days the nearby saline waters along with the aquatic plant life produce some pretty aromas.
Visits are highly personalized and are for serious wine collectors and enthusiasts.
NOTE: plans call for a new location for hosting visitors up valley in between Calistoga and St. Helena off of Highway 128 by spring 2023. We will revisit and update our notes by spring or summer 2023.
Hayes and his wife Susana founded and run the Vida Valiente Foundation (meaning, valient life, in English); its focus is on supporting first generation born and low-income students in the U.S. by providing leadership opportunities from role models and connecting college students with job opportunities. Hayes and Susana along with winemaker Sam Kaplan and his wife Nancy operate the Napa Valley based wine brand, Vida Valiente Winery with proceeds from the sales of their wines donated to the Vida Valiente Foundation. The first vintage of Vida Valiente was from 2019.
In late 2022, the Vida Valiente Foundation raised more than half a million dollars from their first ever charity auction held at the Montage Los Cabos, in Cabos San Lucas. The proceeds from this auction will support low-income students.
The wine is sold via a mailing list, the wines are released once a year in September, direct to consumer (through the tasting salon) and also are selectively distributed. Locally one can sometimes find the wine at premium wine shops including the K.Laz Collection, V Wine Cellars and Acme Wines. Select vintages are also available at the French Laundry.
Total production has been growing – as of our latest update they produce around 1000 cases per year. A very limited number of older vintages may be available for allocation list members with pricing following the Bordeaux model (varying, depending on the quality of each vintage). For more information and to join the mailing list, visit: www.mmwine.com