produces wine under the Serene Cellars label and is located on a hillside not far from the northern most arm of Lake Hennessy. The winery is about a 10 minute drive from the Silverado Trail all on narrow windy roads. There are several other small vintners in the area and a visit here is always pleasant and is as far from the heavily touristic winery experience you often find along parts of Highway 29. This winery is owned by Marin Artukovich whose route to becoming a vintner has taken an interesting path. He helped run a pipe and other underground line contracting company in Los Angeles for many years with his father before retiring to Hawaii for the appealing surf and unique Island life this state offers. After several years of the surf life and his father hinting that he was too young to retire Marin purchased a coffee plantation high in the Kona Coffee belt at about 2500 feet. There are more than a few similarities between growing high end coffee and grapes and Marin is not the only coffee farmer we have met with in Napa who also runs a winery. His coffee company, called Koa Coffee was founded in 1997 and in only a few short years was voted the best coffee in America by Forbes Magazine in their “50 America’s Best” issue. Koa Coffee also won the prestigious Gevalia Kona Coffee Cupping Competition. As with Coffee and vineyards, terroir is very important. Koa’s home plantation is higher than many of the other area coffee farms and as a result the fruit ripens unevenly but slowly. Instead of picking everything at once, harvest is drawn out with only parts of the plantation picked at certain times, only when the fruit is fully ripe.
Marin’s family originally comes from Croatia and he grew up with his relatives making wine and having a wine cellar and barrels in his own home. Even today his family in Croatia continues to make wine. Looking to get into the wine industry he started searching for a unique Napa winery and vineyard. Not owning a winery for several years but slipping into the wine business Marin sourced fruit from several Napa Vineyards for his first few vintages. This was a smart way to get his brand out there while not actually yet owning a winery. After looking for just the right property, he found the original home of Judd’s Hill and the actual winery from which Judd’s Hill takes its name. This winery truly is perched on a hillside and as a result flat land is at a premium. At the time of our visit a new 5000 square foot cave was getting very close to completion. Using the dirt spoils left over from the drilling of this cave he built a parking lot on the side of the winery where steep slopes used to be. The winery is small but very functional – one shaft of the cave actually comes right out into the original barrel room. There are 12 planted acres on site, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard has already proven itself based on Judd’s Hill’s success; MJA Vineyards first estate release will be from 2008.
A visit here is by appointment only and for serious wine enthusiasts who want a very personalized intimate experience. Tastings are either inside the elegantly furnished main room with its interesting mix of Hawaiian and Croatian art influences, or outside on the deck with beautiful views overlooking their vineyards and the native vegetation covering the nearby hills. MJA Vineyards plans to start taking appointments sometime in November 2008. The winery has been completely remodeled in the style of an old world Italian or Croatian looking building. There is nice stone and woodwork inside with a kitchen for wine and food pairings. Note the wood table that is the centerpiece of the main room – a metal compass is embedded into the wood; this compass originally sat in the floor of the Royal Academy in London. Coffee lovers take note – Marin has moved in several roasting machines from his Coffee business and in addition to the wine, plans on serving fresh high end coffee as well. How many Napa wineries have the ability to serve up high end fresh coffee!
After visiting the vineyards and standing out on his deck one word comes to mind, “serene” and is in fact how Marin chose the name for his wines. We started our tasting with a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc. This is a very golden Sauvignon Blanc. Marin wanted a leaner crisper style and has been successful with this in this vintage. With his Hawaiian background it is almost no surprise that the bouquet on this wine is very aromatic and somewhat tropical in nature. The palate has good phenolic grip or weight and shows some pineapple and kiwi with a smooth finish that hints of citrus. The 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with Cabernet Franc and is from several area vineyards. This wine has a very fruit forward nose with subtle spices and hints of oak – either decant this wine or let it open further and the nose will change nicely and evolve over time. The palate is full of plum and black cherry with well integrated oak nuances. The finish is extremely smooth. In the future, also look for a second label called DaVine Cellars – a Cabernet Sauvignon.
NOTE: This review has been archived.
REASON: Moved out of Napa County to Santa Cruz. No longer a Napa winery
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