Merryvale Vineyards enjoys a highly visible location next to the train tracks and Highway 29 in the southern part of the St. Helena city limits. Its address is a prominent one (1000 Main Street). This winery has a storied history both in its early days and much later.
The winery was built in 1933 and was one of several Napa Valley wineries built immediately after Prohibition including the nearby Louis Martini Winery. It opened and operated as Sunnyhill Winery for a short time before the name was changed to Sunny St. Helena. Sunny St. Helena Winery was founded by Jack Riorda and partners; we first heard his name when we interviewed Peter Mondavi many years ago. Jack was a prominent individual in St. Helena in the 1930s. Peter and Robert Mondavi’s father, Ceasare Mondavi became partners with Riorda in Sunny St. Helena in 1937 (prior to the Mondavi family taking ownership of Charles Krug Winery). It was here that both Robert and Peter helped make their first wines.
In the mid 1940s the winery was sold and became a cooperative for some time. By 1972 the winery was again sold, this time to Mont La Salle Vineyards (owned by the Christian Brothers) and the building was used for wine storage and wine aging. Enter modern day Merryvale. The first vintage of Merryvale was 1983, a Cabernet Sauvignon based blend. The modern Sunny St. Helena was founded by Bill Harlan and several real estate partners including Peter Stocker and John Montgomery. Founding winemaker Bob Levy would go on to form what would become one of the valley’s most prominent long term winemaking relationships with Bill Harlan for Harlan Estate, BOND, Promontory and The Napa Reserve. Bob made the Sunny St. Helena wines for several years at Rombauer Winery (taking advantage of Rombauer’s custom crush services at the time).
Bob Levy oversaw the construction of Rombauer Winery in 1982; the construction began in June of that year with plans to handle the harvest later that year (today that would never happen in the valley with permitting – everything moves slower). Remarkably they were able to process the first harvest at the winery although they did not yet have power and Bob told us they literally had to drag a large generator onto the property.
By 1986, Bill Harlan and his partners purchased the old Sunny St. Helena winery and grounds. After a two-year restoration project, the production was moved from Rombauer to the newly renovated winery in 1988. Several of the first Harlan Estate wines were produced at Merryvale. By 1991 the winery changed its name from Sunny St. Helena to Merryvale Vineyards. Names of wineries are often chosen based on the owners’ last name – however, some namesakes are way more intriguing.
Merryvale Antiques/Memorabilia/Gaslight Building
Bill Harlan and his partner Peter Stocker founded Pacific Union Land Company in 1975 with an initial focus of selling condominiums and developing condominium projects in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company is still very much active, based in Danville and focuses on land, residential, self-storage and commercial development. From 1980 until 1998, their offices were located in the historic and prominent Gas Light Building, built in 1893 and located at 3636 Buchanan Street in San Francisco.
Merryvale Antiques moved into the Gas Light Building in 1958 and sold a variety of antiques in rooms throughout the building and was operated by Marie Sutcliffe, an avid gardener for a number of years. During their occupancy, the grounds were renovated and the neighboring greenhouse on the south end of the property was built, used for selling plants and other gardening related items. The partners of Pacific Union Land Company used to refer to their office building simply as the Merryvale.
Current owners, the Schlatter family first became involved when Jack Schlatter, an international businessman who over the years has been involved with coffee, cotton, and real estate (including in Texas), among other ventures, became a partner in 1991 and built their export markets in Europe and Asia. Harlan eventually sold his interest as did the original investors and by 1996 Jack and his family became the sole proprietors (natives of Switzerland). Jack’s son René grew up in Switzerland, studied in the U.S. where he has lived since 1987 and joined Merryvale in 1995; today he oversees the winery operations with his wife Laurence who is a 6th generation vintner and whose family owns Cave des Rois on the steep slopes of tiny Villeneuve not far from the shores of Lake Geneva. René and Laurence are not operating the winery from afar, rather they live and work in St. Helena.
For 10+ years, Merryvale did not own vineyards and would purchase grapes from area growers. But after the Schlatter’s took full control of the operations, they began to acquire key pieces of land which would become integral sources for their wines. Jack Schlatter recalls in 1996 he asked winemaker Bob Levy to recommend several of his most desired vineyards; one of the sites was a hillside vineyard in Conn Valley that Merryvale had already been producing wines from (today known as the Profile Vineyard). The Schlatter’s purchased this property from San Francisco Bay Area food and wine personality, Narsai David.
Finding an additional source of water on the property was very important because of the limited production of an existing well; they hired Laurie Wood (long time Napa farmer who died in 2011) who walked the property with his water dowsing forked stick. The first place he told them to drill resulted in a successful well. This is not the first time we have heard of Laurie’s immediate success when visiting vineyard properties. Viticulturist, David Abreu oversaw the expansion and replanting of the vineyard and worked closely with their consulting winemaker at the time, Michel Rolland.
Profile Vineyard is planted to 17 blocks and is also home to 200 olive trees; Merryvale produces a very small amount of olive oil from these trees.
Merryvale also owns several vineyard properties on Mt. Veeder including what was Lampyridae Vineyard (since renamed to Altezia Vineyard with the word Altezia referring to elevation). The Altezia Vineyard site is the second highest vineyard in all of Napa Valley with its uppermost reaches around 2,610 feet, only slightly lower than Napa Valley’s highest vineyard, Blue Ridge Vineyard in the east part of the county, planted to Zinfandel. This Merryvale property is most likely the highest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in all of Napa Valley. Merryvale owns 170 acres among their vineyard properties, of which 42 are planted to vines.
Profile Estate Vineyard
Photos coming soon.
Great care is taken in their wine making – with fruit separated out into a number of small tanks. The reason they have a number of small tanks is that their vineyards are harvested numerous times and each picked block is fermented separately, even down to fermenting specific rows from a vineyard block.
In 2021 Merryvale released a very unique offering for a Napa Valley based winery, a 2019 Merryvale Petite Arvine from Valais A.O.C. Switzerland through a partnership with a friend in Switzerland (this white wine is bottled under the Merryvale label). Petite Arvine originated in part of present-day Italy but is most associated with Switzerland; today less than 400 acres are planted in that country. And Merryvale is growing slightly less than an acre of this variety at their estate in Carneros.
The 2019 Merryvale Petite Arvine is deep yellow in color with very pretty fruit forward aromatics including notes of honeysuckle, citrus blossom, pineapple, banana and papaya along with vanilla. Can we be as bold to say that this smells California and not Switzerland, despite its actual origins?! Let’s see more of this in Napa Valley. The wine is slightly creamy across the palate with flavors of grapefruit, lime and a lively mouthwatering finish. Superbly balanced. Our first thought after tasting this wine is to pair with oysters, Hog Island please.
The 2021 Merryvale Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley was sourced from the LamBentz vineyard in Pope Valley; it was fermented in a combination of both oak barrel and stainless-steel tanks and then aged for several months in neutral oak before bottling. This wine is pale yellow in color; the aromatics are more floral and tropical in nature while the palate tends to show primarily citrus influences. The bouquet is highly enjoyable with aromas of honeysuckle and jasmine. This wine offers flavors of lime, lemon, hints of ginger and gooseberry with a noticeable varietal brightness of acidity which continues to persist. This is a very balanced bottling.
Their flagship Chardonnay is bottled as Silhouette as part of the Profile collection of wines. The 2019 Merryvale Silhouette Chardonnay from Stanly Ranch was whole cluster pressed to stainless steel tanks and then after one day transferred to French oak barrels where it was fermented by indigenous yeast. The wine spent 18 months aging in both new and neutral French oak barrels from a variety of coopers. It went through full malolactic fermentation. The lees were gently stirred during its aging. This wine offers distinctive aromatics including hazelnut, a hint of caramel and vanilla, red apple and citrus blossom. Let it breath, the bouquet will continue to evolve with additional layers of aromas. This wine shines because of its texture, acidity and flavor. The palate features a creaminess from start to finish with flavors of citrus and various stone fruits along with apple. Lingers with a richness of flavor which is complemented nicely by long and satisfying acidity. This wine is built to age; René told us, up to 10 years.
Merryvale has long produced a Chardonnay from the Hyde Vineyard in Carneros (the first vintage we tried of this vineyard from Merryvale was 2005). Larry Hyde is one of the most well-respected growers in Carneros and incidentally is a partner in Napa’s HDV Vineyards with Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of the storied Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in Burgundy. This Chardonnay is whole cluster pressed (they often use triple sorting to ensure they are getting only the highest quality fruit). The 2014 Merryvale Hyde Vineyards Chardonnay shows citrus aromas on the bouquet including nuances of lemon/lime and hints of hazelnut. Rounded but not creamy on the palate, offers depth without being heavy. Features an intense flavor but with a crispness and noticeable liveliness especially on the finish. The wine went through approximately 30% malolactic fermentation and spent 12 months aging in neutral oak; it was racked once and then bottled.
The 2014 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Saint Helena (from their Profile Vineyard) is 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Petit Verdot. This wine is dark ruby in color; the bouquet is elegant with aromas of red fruits, violets, chocolate and hints of tobacco spice. This wine is juicy across the palate with flavors of plum, blackberry and hints of licorice. The tannins are darker and gravelly in their texture. This wine finishes very bright with lively acidity along with both red and darker fruit flavors and a hint of old cedar. This wine was aged for 22 months in 70% new French oak barrels from multiple coopers.
It is worth noting that Merryvale produces several delicious dessert wines including the affordable priced Antigua, Muscat de Frontignan which was originally bottled as a 500ml but now is bottled as 375ml. This is a very unique for Napa wine that has a significant historical and winemaking pedigree. This wine was originally created at Beaulieu Vineyards by winemaker André Tchelistcheff in the 1960s. The wine is always a non-vintage, created using the solera process where the latest release is created from fractional blends from previous vintages and is finished with brandy. Merryvale started producing this wine in the late 1980s after purchasing barrels of wine that André personally made from vintages 1970 to 1983. Merryvale resumed making this wine from 1992 through 1997 and made enough of it that for many years they still had bottles available for sale either in the tasting room or on their website. They continue to offer this wine for sale in the tasting room.
The latest release of Antigua, California Muscat Dessert Wine (tasted in 2021) shows a medium brown color showing through the clear glass of the unique looking bottle. Offers layered aromatics which keep evolving as the wine breathes including caramel, rum soaked raisin, an orange peel zest, brown chocolate, brown sugar and chocolate cake. The bouquet is rich, and one can get ‘full’ just by smelling it. Offers flavors of caramel, black walnut, and orange peel. Sweet and flavorful; these characteristics are balanced very nicely by its acidity. This is a wine definitely worth seeking out by dessert wine enthusiasts.
The 2011 Merryvale Late Harvest Riesling is from the Huichica Vineyard on the Napa side of Carneros. Deep amber in color, we tasted this wine 10 years post vintage date. Offers aromatics of honey, dried apricot, dried orange peel, citronella and brown sugar. This wine has aged remarkably well and it’s a pity we couldn’t hold it another 10 or 20 years before tasting as this has a very long life ahead. It is very flavorful yet shows a nice cadence across the palate without any sharp edges. The sugar is in balance with the bright acidity – carrying its liveliness through to the finish. Shows flavors of candied fruit, ripe citrus and baked pear. During harvest, some of the clusters were picked which were affected by botrytis (noble rot). The wine was aged for two years in barrel before being bottled, 15% of which was in new oak.
40th Anniversary Library Tasting, Profile
On Saturday April 22, 2023, Merryvale Vineyards hosted a 40 year retrospective tasting of Profile and lunch provided by Sonoma’s iconic Girl & the Fig Restaurant with select vintages tasted, ranging from their inaugural bottling in 1983 through 2019. The tasting was led by wine writer Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible and one of the “100 most influential people in wine in the United States”. Her descriptive and eloquent prose about wine gives voice to what Robert Louis Stevenson called, bottled poetry in his book, The Silverado Squatters.
By far the majority of our wine tasting in Napa Valley is of young current release wines; it is a rare treat when we have the opportunity to taste older bottlings. And it refreshingly allows us to use a different set of adjectives and descriptors in our wine notes.
While Merryvale produces several bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon; their top-of-the-line Cabernet Sauvignon is Profile. This was the first wine they ever produced in 1983 and through 2009 was sourced from a variety of some of Napa Valley’s most premium vineyards. Starting in 2010, the Profile wine has been sourced entirely from the Profile Estate Vineyard. These wines are crafted as winemaker Andrew Wright told us, “like driving a golf ball down the middle of the fairway”, referring to the wines as stylistically neither old Napa Valley lower alcohol, less ripe and higher acid nor more contemporary fruit forward, higher alcohol and lower acid bottlings, but rather somewhere in the middle.
The 1983 Merryvale Vineyards Profile was tasted from a 750ml bottling; this wine is 100% varietal from Spottswoode and St. Regis Vineyard. It offers aromas of sweet tobacco spice, nutmeg, clove, some old cedar box notes, old parchment paper and a light note of pepper. As the wine continues to open it offers aromas of mocha and a light milk chocolate. The palate reveals flavors of dried fruits including of cranberry and cherry anchored by a noticeable brightness of acidity. The tannins are powdery, fine and seamless in their textural profile. There is an earthy and or dried rock note to this wine as well, especially on the finish. Most people do not intentionally lick dry rocks; during a visit to Napa Valley with friends in 2022 there was recurring discussion about the flavor of dried rocks. So out of curiosity we decided to find out. Following a tasting at Jarvis Winery we all headed down to a dry creek on the property and several of us began licking dry rocks we pulled from the creek bed. With great certainty, some of us were a bit inebriated. But the flavor is about what one might imagine it to be. For lack of a better description, the taste of the exterior of these rocks was earthy and dusty.
The 1987 Merryvale Vineyards Profile (from a 6L bottle) is 89% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Cabernet Franc from Spottswoode Vineyard, Staglin Family Vineyard, Tilting Rock Vineyard and the historic Frediani Vineyard. It offers darker dessert spices along with chocolate and sweetly fruited aromatics including prune, black licorice and blackberry. As the wine opens further, it offers notes of dried sage. The palate is livelier than perhaps the bouquet would indicate, carried by its acidity. This wine offers flavors of cranberry, red cherry, a sweet tobacco spice and a dried tobacco leaf note that continues to persist for some time on the finish. The tannins are more noticeable than the 1983 bottling and linger with a light grip along with notes of dried herbs. This was the first vintage in which the name Profile appeared on the label.
The 1995 Merryvale Vineyards Profile is 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 39% Merlot and 6% Cabernet Franc. We wrote one word to describe its aromatic and flavor profile: character. This wine has it and holds on to these characteristics even as it fully opens in the glass. There are no additional hidden fruit aromas here. It offers gamey scents, soy sauce, black pepper and plenty of savoriness. Karen spoke of this bottling having a California chaparral quality. On the palate, this wine is rich, darkly fruited and also savory. It offers flavors of black licorice, an herbal note including crushed pink peppercorns and a sweetness most resembling anise lingering on the finish. The tannins show a light to moderate grip, with moderate density and their texture is rounded. A dusty and dry note continues to persist. 23 years post vintage, this wine offers plenty of intrigue.
The 1998 Merryvale Vineyards Profile (from a magnum) is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 3% Cabernet Franc is from a wide diversity of vineyard locations including Beckstoffer Georges III Vineyard, Slawson, Bayview-Zinfandel Lane, Showket, Poe, Thorevilos (now Ecotone) and Caldwell Vineyards. This wine offers a savory bouquet, initially showing aromas of black olive and green olive (the type that is stuffed with red pimentos) and a hint of green bean. This wine needs time to open for the fruit to displace these other aromatics and when it does, it offers scents of sweetly fruited berries including blackberry and mulberry along with licorice, tobacco spice and a cherry flavored hard candy. The palate offers a freshness with flavors of cherry, dried raspberry, tobacco spice and a lingering note of dried tobacco leaf deep in the finish. The tannins are so supple and seamless that one almost doesn’t even notice their fine texture as they linger softly on the finish.
The 2002 Merryvale Vineyards Profile includes more estate fruit than earlier vintages but still contains grapes from a variety of vineyards including some that Karen calls the “Academy Award winners of Napa Valley”, I.E., Beckstoffer Georges III, To Kalon, Las Amigas Vineyard, Oak Creek Vineyard and the Profile Vineyard. This wine is deep ruby with a light brickish color; it offers an herbal freshness on the bouquet along with fruit aromas of red cherry, plum and blueberry. We immediately noted its balance on the palate. And there is plenty of depth there to. Karen calls this wine at the time of the tasting, a “precise wine” where all its characteristics are harmoniously integrated. This wine reminds us of several individuals in their 80s we know who maintain an unwavering zest for life and have an energy that we hope to have even a small percentage of, if and when we reach that age. The tannins are rounded and linger with a persistent texture and dryness on the finish, outlasting the flavors.
The 2003 Merryvale Profile (we tasted this around 2007 and was not part of the 40th anniversary tasting) is a very dark, rich and unfiltered wine. It is a robust Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with grippy long lasting tannins in its youth; this wine has all the hallmarks of being able to age for many years. We remember this particular bottling as being especially tannic and one of the more structured wines that we tasted early on in our work for the Napa Wine Project.
The 2007 Merryvale Vineyards Profile is 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot and 4% Malbec from the Profile Vineyard, Stagecoach Vineyard, To Kalon Vineyard and Las Amigas Vineyard. This wine is deep ruby and opaque; the bouquet is ripe and sweet offering aromas of mulberry and boysenberry preserve. From a fruit perspective, the bouquet is a crowd pleaser. It is still a high octane showing in terms of ripe fruit and texture. It offers flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and mulberry. The tannins are dense and evenly and broadly distributed across the palate and is a step up in terms of textural grip compared to the earlier Profile vintages. This wine has a perception of being sweet but finishes dry along with notes of chocolate and soy sauce.
The 2012 Merryvale Profile (tasted 10 years post vintage date and was not part of the 40th anniversary tasting) is dark ruby in color; initially this bottling shows some meaty aromatics but soon opens to aromas of chocolate brownie, mocha and assorted baking spices with notes of ripe cherry. It is an elegant bouquet with still plenty of fruit showing. The palate offers flavors of plum, and cherry anchored by a noticeable density of chewy and persistent tannins along with notes of dried tobacco leaf. There is a reason why Merryvale maintains a collection of library wines; their wines are built to age and this bottling is a perfect example. It tastes younger than its actual vintage date.
The 2013 Merryvale Vineyards Profile is 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc, all from the Profile Vineyard. The bouquet is immediately appealing and spoke to us due to our strong affinity for Asian cuisine and significant time spent in southeast Asia. It offers aromas of Asian spices including oyster sauce, sweet soy sauce marinade, perhaps a Balsamic reduction and a resulting salty character from these attributes. It is also dark fruited with scents of blackberry and boysenberry. And as the nose evolves it reveals scents of chocolate brownie. One lady across from us commented while tasting this wine, “it is like a dance in my mouth”. It offers flavors of dark cherry and plum. This wine lingers dark with a chewy, layered texture showing a persistent grip of gravelly and pixelated tannins. This wine still has plenty of life ahead of it.
The 2019 Merryvale Vineyards Profile is 99% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc from the Profile Vineyard. This wine is deep ruby and opaque in color and offers aromas of blackberry, currants, dark licorice, chocolate and a cedar and cardamom spice. The spice notes on the bouquet also show up on the palate along with flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and dark plum. The texture is one of this wine’s hallmark characteristics in its youth; the tannins are surprisingly resolved, are almost chalky-like in their textural feel and linger with a light drying, dusty, earthy character. This wine is built to age.
What is one of Napa Valley’s most unique and intriguing bottlings, is the Merryvale Vineyards XXXVI (36), a blend of all 36 vintages of the Profile from 1983 through 2019 with the majority of the bottlings post 2010. Note that Profile was not produced in 2005 and in 2020. No wine already in barrel was used to make this wine, rather it was made from bottled wines. The winemaking team sampled numerous bottles and chose the best and then blended all these vintages together in neutral oak barrels for several months before bottling. Only 300 cases were produced.
The Merryvale Vineyards XXXVI (tasted prior to its official release in September 2023) is deep ruby and opaque in the glass; the bouquet offers sweet dessert spices including cardamom and clove along with primarily darker fruited aromatics. The entry is plush with a noticeable richness of fruit which is simultaneously tempered by bright acidity. This wine offers flavors of plum, dark cherry and is supported by a dark and savory finish with grippy and gravelly textured tannins. To some extent, tasting this wine is like tasting Merryvale’s history.
Visitors should look for a historical photograph taken in 1949 hanging near one of the entrances to the tasting room; it features Robert and Peter Mondavi as well as other pioneer Napa Valley winemakers. One may have a feeling of nostalgia to see this photograph because these are the men that founded & promoted Napa Valley’s wine industry after the severe setback of Prohibition – back when Napa was not well known and only a few wineries were in existence.
The winery and tasting room are housed in a very environmentally friendly building containing large solar panels on the roof and a recycling program for the winery wastes.
Aside from the history of the property and the wines, one of the highlights is the impressive Cask Room; this is open during normal business hours and is well worth visiting. It is the only one of its kind in Napa Valley. This room evokes a time perhaps back to the Middle Ages with its lighted candles, giant aging casks and the impressive table centered in the middle of the room. Two massive redwood tanks have been converted into intimate tasting spaces for guests; one is referred to as Silhouette and the other as Profile. The Cask Room is used for wedding receptions, corporate events and larger group private tastings.
The tasting room can be busy, especially on the weekends as this is a popular winery destination. But there have been plenty of times we have stopped by on a weekday morning and there are very few visitors. Refreshingly, the tasting room also stays open slightly later than most Napa wineries.
In 2018 Merryvale converted part of their grounds to an outside terrace tasting space. While seated here, watch people line up at Gott’s Roadside across the street and or the wine train as it passes by on the tracks. And of course, enjoy wines from Merryvale.
An introduction to the Merryvale wines is their Signature tasting. Reservations are not required but are recommended for this experience, especially on the weekends. This tasting of select current release wines is either at the bar, in the tasting room or outside on the terrace. Guest can also choose a Cabernet Sauvignon only tasting, a Reserve Tasting, focusing on single vineyard and limited production wines, the Profile Library Tasting showcasing some older vintages of the Profile wine, and an Artisanal Wine & Cheese Tasting, a seated tasting pairing Merryvale wines with locally sourced artisan cheeses.
Several tastings include local food experiences, taking advantage of two nearby restaurants. The Burger Butler experience allows guests to avoid the often very long lines at the iconic original Gott’s Roadside across the highway while enjoying some of Gott’s burgers outdoors at Merryvale following a tasting of select Merryvale wines. 48 hours advance reservation minimum is needed for this experience. The minimum group size for this experience is 8 people and 48 hours advance notice is required. The Vino & Pizza experience features a seated tasting outdoors with a flight of single vineyard bottlings of Pinot Noir followed by a delivery of a pre-ordered pizza of your choice from Tra Vigne (across the driveway from Merryvale). From numerous visits to this restaurant over the years, we can highly recommend the Ducati pizza. The minimum group size for this experience is 8 people and 48 hours advance notice is required.
For those wanting an in-depth vineyard experience Merryvale offers a private tasting and visit to their Profile Estate Vineyard. This is the Profile Estate Picnic experience for 2-8 people featuring a flight of Profile Collections wines paired with a selection of lunch options. Once finished wining and dining, guests will take a guided vineyard tour.
Check their website directly for the latest offered experiences and tastings.
Merryvale has a remarkable collection of library wines with available bottlings often up to 15 years old but with select wines from even older vintages. They currently have wines from every vintage produced dating back to 1983. And some older vintages are available for tasting in their tasting room.
Starmont is a completely separate label from Merryvale Winery although it is a part of the Merryvale Family of wines and is also owned by the Schlatter family. Select Starmont wines can also be tasted at Merryvale Winery. The names of the original founders of Merryvale are honored in the name of Starmont. This name was chosen by combining several letters in each of the founders last names – Peter Stocker, Bill Harlan and John Montgomery. For approximately 4 years the wines were available at the Starmont tasting room in Carneros in Stanly Ranch but after Merryvale sold that physical winery in 2019 (but not the Starmont label), the tasting room also closed.
The original Stanly Ranch was founded in 1856 by Edward Stanly – a lawyer from San Francisco. The original size of the ranch was over 2,200 acres. The land was passed on to successive generations. A winery operated on the property until prohibition in 1919; the family continued running the ranch until it started being parceled and sold to outside individuals in the 1930s and 1940s. In addition to being home for some of Napa’s early grapevines the Stanly Ranch was also the site for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clonal trials – conducted by Louis Martini, the Wente Family and UC Davis in the 1950s.
The original Starmont label was originally a Chardonnay label under the Merryvale wine portfolio. Presently, Starmont is primarily made from non-Napa Valley grown grapes and includes a number of varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
In 2012 they started crafting small production wines from the surrounding Stanly Ranch vineyard which are generally in the range of 50 to 500 cases per wine. While the Merryvale wines focus more on Cabernet Sauvignon, the Starmont wines cover a wide range of varieties and are crafted to be food friendly approachable wines upon release. For the short tasting notes below, note that we wrote ‘good acidity’ for all these wines. Across the board these are wines that are versatile and will pair well with a variety of foods.
The 2012 Starmont Viognier shows aromas of melon. Delicate notes of pineapple and red apple show on the palate. This finish is clean and slightly spicy.
The 2012 Starmont Chardonnay initially shows aromas of grapefruit peel with tangerine blossom. Good citrus characteristics. This wine has nice acidity – especially mid to end of the palate. Notes of lemon, lime and red apple show on the palate. Clean and with a long finish.
The 2012 Starmont Pinot Noir Carneros shows some spicy notes aromatically with a white pepper characteristic. This aroma dissipates quickly revealing earthy notes with red and black fruit and finally just a hint of mocha. This spice from the bouquet continues onto palate. Nice fruit shows including raspberry, strawberry and cranberry. High toned fruit rather than darker fruit.
Slightly more than 200 cases were produced of the 2012 Starmont Pinot Noir, Stanly Ranch Estate. The bouquet is rich, ripe and lively; it mirrors the lively finish on the palate. Aromatically it shows expressive layered aromas of strawberry, cranberry intermingled with nuances of white pepper. That palate is rounded and of moderate build (more tannins than perhaps expected of a Pinot Noir). There is a sweet note of fruit on the palate but tempered by a tartness on the finish.
The 2012 Starmont Syrah, Stanly Ranch Estate has to be among the smaller or the smallest production wines of any wines made by Merryvale or Starmont. It was only 50 cases. This wine is dark in glass and our favorite of the several wines we tried. The nose is very inviting with appealing aromas – dark fruit including blackberry. The nose shows bright and lively aromatics. The entry on the palate is plush, soft and rounded. There is good acidity – perhaps not always a characteristic associated with a plush mouth feel. Broad, balanced and fine-grained wood and fruit tannins linger on the finish for a long time with nuances of a chalkiness. This is a very well-balanced wine for being so young.
Typical production of Starmont wines each year is generally between 35,000 and 40,000 cases.
Merryvale has one of the more advanced and extensive winery websites that we have seen; we hope we aren’t too biased in this regard as we provided server space for their website many years ago. Total production of the Merryvale wines is generally between 12,000 and 15,000 cases each year. For more information and to join one of their wine clubs (with numerous benefits including access to their club lounge), visit: www.merryvale.com
Cave des Rois
René’s wife Laurence’s family settled in this part of Switzerland in 1848 to work in the vineyards. Cave des Rois is in the hills above Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) and less than a 5 minute drive from the closest town of Villeneuve. The main building sits right next to a picturesque creek. Because there is no immediate exit off of the highway to access their winery, if driving from the north, visitors must exit further south and then circle back.
Caves des Rois (meaning Cave of the King’s) is run by father/son Marco (formerly a coffee maker) and François Grognuz, the 4th and 5th generation winegrowing family members in the region. François is Laurence’s sister and joined the business in the year 2000. He spent 5 harvests working at wineries in Napa Valley including Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars; Beringer, Cain Vineyards and for Kent Rasmussen.
Cave des Rois produces wines from 17 hectares (originally was only 3 hectares) spread among separate plots located in the vicinity of St-Saphorin, Chardonne, Villeneuve, Fully and Les Evouettes. The vineyards near the winery are incredible steep a times, terraced and offer exceptional and inspirational views of Lake Geneva and the surrounding countryside. Wineries are often located in scenic areas, but these views are extra special.
Cave des Rois bottles a variety of wines (both varietal and several blends) including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Petite Arvine, Pinot Noir, a rosé of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Cornalin and Syrah. François in conjunction with three friends also bottles the summertime sipper, Le Chassel’ice enjoyed over ice or in a cocktail. Their total annual production is around 80,000 bottles (of varying bottle sizes).
We stopped by in late 2023 but due to bad timing we were not able to visit and try the wines. We will return for yet another trip to Europe focusing on Napa Valley winery heritage or ownership connections including a visit here. Tastings are by appointment only; for more information, visit: www.cavedesrois.ch