Moone-Tsai Wine is a partnership between husband and wife Larry and MaryAnne Tsai; their first vintage was released in 2006. More recently Larry and MaryAnne bought out the other founding partner, Mike Moone. Mike Moone built an enviable career with over 40 years in the food and wine industry. He was President of Beringer Wine Estates – ultimately turning the winery into a powerhouse by significantly improving quality and increasing sales. He also founded Luna Vineyards as well as Silverado Properties which currently farms over 5000 vineyard acres in northern California.
Old timers from Napa Valley’s wine industry always seem to keep one foot in the business even after they ‘retire’. Mike later purchased property near Atlas Peak, planted several red varieties and in 2012 produced his first wine from this site bottled under One Thousand Vines. He eventually sold the land after the devastating fires in 2017. After the sale of the property and Mike’s subsequent move to La Quinta in southern California, his original winemaker for one Thousand Vines, Shawna Miller took over the brand and continues to make wines from this property.
In the late 1980s Mike invited MaryAnn to come to Napa Valley; she joined him at Beringer and then after Luna Vineyards was founded became their president in 2001. She spent some 20+ years at Beringer. Her husband Larry was most recently managing the Napa Valley Opera House and today is Moone-Tsai’s General Manager.
The focus of Moone-Tsai has always been on Cabernet Sauvignon. Cor Leonis is their primary Cabernet Sauvignon. They also produce a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, a red hillside blend and a Chardonnay. The label is of a lion for several reasons. In Greek and Roman mythology, the lion is the valiant protector of the wine god Bacchus, and it shows strength, elegance and endurance – all qualities they strive for in their wines.
Philippe Melka makes the wines; with a degree in Geology and in winemaking, 25+ years working in Napa Valley and an exceptional palate, his services are much in demand in the region and beyond. With Mike and MaryAnn’s experience in Napa Valley, and the vineyard expertise and connections of Philippe it is not surprising that their vineyard sources are from some of the most sought-after vineyards in the valley including To Kalon in Oakville, select vineyards on Pritchard Hill and in Coombsville.
They are careful how they manage structure in their wines, creating wines that are powerful yet have elegance and finesse. This requires a precise balance; they focus on each vineyard and preserving the purity of the grapes to accomplish this goal. Moone-Tsai ultimately wants to create wines that will continue to evolve and reveal complexities over time.
The 2009 Moone-Tsai Napa Valley Chardonnay was sourced from a vineyard high on Mt. Veeder at about 1600 feet. This is a unique wine because it is the first Chardonnay that Philippe Melka has made for a Napa Valley based winery and he has made a lot of very highly regarded wines for a number of Napa producers during his career in the valley. This is Moone-Tsai’s first release of a white wine. The bouquet shows a fullness that foreshadows the palate. Inviting aromas of crème Brule, caramel undertones and honey are offered on the bouquet. The palate is soft upon entry with a creamy and rounded mouth feel. The complexity and concentration of flavor show around the mid palate and continue through the lingering finish.
Often white wine is thought of as best consumed during warmer months – however this is the perfect wine to have during holidays and the colder winter months; it is not a delicate Chardonnay and delivers both structure and flavor.
One of their most coveted wines is the Black List XXVIII proprietary red blend led by Cabernet Sauvignon. Each year less than four barrels of this wine is produced with the resulting bottles being available exclusively to their Black List members. Their first vintage of this wine was in 2010. The 2018 Moone-Tsai Black List XXVIII is dark ruby in color; the aromatics are immediately somewhat savory and meaty including of dark fruits, bacon fat and dark olive. However, give this wine time to evolve in the glass; it deserves it. And when it does the savory notes dissipate and make way for darker fruits. The dark character on the bouquet is also found on the palate with flavors of plum and blackberry. This is a robust well-layered and memorable bottling featuring a savory, dark spice, woodsy and fruit-filled finish. The densely packed and chewy tannins are still somewhat tightly wound (tasted 5 years post vintage). This wine should be on the shortlist of serious Napa collectors.
Balance is a word that is used to describe fine wines or wines that have become “fine” after cellaring. It’s not always used to describe the bouquet, but the 2008 Moone-Tsai Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon shows a certain type of aromatic balance. By this we mean, it is not an explosive nose with overly ripe fruit, and it’s not muted either. Black fruit, berry and black cherry show and as the wine opens the bouquet reveals a little pepper and dark chocolate. The palate offers mouthwatering natural acidity with a core of delicious red fruit. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon for this wine was sourced from the cooler Coombsville region (south valley) and the Merlot comes from a site about 2,100 feet on Howell Mountain.
Note: this review has been identified as needing a major update including current release tasting notes.
Philippe is a surfer; Larry makes a comparison between surfing and wine. When you’re on the board, every wave is different – just like every vineyard and wine is different. The wave changes as it rolls onto shore and crests and so does wine as it matures, peaks and then begins its decline. It is up to the surfer to ride each unique wave into shore as it is up to the winemaker to craft a wine based on each unique vineyard.
The Tsai’s are not looking to turn this into a large winery – MaryAnn already has experience with much larger productions and the continued challenges of selling such inventory. Less than 200 cases were released from their first vintage (2003); they have grown every year since; today they make just under 4000 cases per year. The wines are prized by collectors locally as well as overseas; most of the wine is distributed via a mailing list. Locally one can find the wine at select restaurants including Morimoto, La Toque, and Ad hoc.
Tastings have been hosted at several places over the years based on where the wines were made or connections the owners had to specific wineries – including at the former Luna Vineyards (where we first met up with Larry and MaryAnne) and at Caldwell Vineyards. Today tastings are hosted in one of the tasting rooms at Brasswood Winery located about 5-7 minutes driving north of the town of St. Helena and is where the Moone-Tsai wines are made. This is a very unique Napa property. It is approximately 50 acres and straddles two sub appellations including Spring Mountain and St. Helena. While no grapes are currently planted on the property for commercial use, they have up to 20 acres to develop in the future. The property also comes with a variety of valuable permits – one being the extremely rare Napa permit to allow weddings on site.
This “campus” if you will, features four tasting rooms including the main tasting room where most walk-in visitors will taste wines), The Winemaker’s Den, an appointment only room across from the main tasting room, the Vintner’s Den just outside of the wine cave and one within the winery.
The property allows a number of their custom crush wineries to host visitors. Guests interested in tasting the Moone-Tsai wines can reserve several visit options including a sit-down tasting or a longer experience in which their wines are paired with a multi-course lunch from Brasswood Bar + Kitchen.
Food is an integral part of the property. Brasswood Bar + Kitchen is a Gastro Pub; the large window behind the bar looks north towards the actual winery facility; you can watch harvest activities on the crush pad during September and October from your bar-stool seat! Their founding chef has Michelin three-star experience; he joined them previously from The Restaurant at Meadowood, also located in St. Helena. The sizable commercial kitchen easily has enough space to accommodate both the restaurant and the cafe’s needs. Weather permitting, guests can eat outside on the patio overlooking the grounds, a great place to see and be seen, inside in the booths or at the bar.
Some of the fresh ingredients used by chef are sourced directly from the property – from a culinary garden growing on the south side of the property.
This experience typically lasts a minimum of 90 minutes up to 2.5 hours for a more leisurely lunch and occurs outside on the Brasswood patio (weather permitting) or inside the restaurant. Moone-Tsai wines are poured in between each course. Visits are for serious wine enthusiasts and are by appointment only.
We always recommend guests coming to Brasswood Estate to arrive early to spend some time browsing the grounds including The Shop at Brasswood + Mercantile. This small store offers a collection of hand selected products from around the globe – it is a unique shopping experience for this part of Napa Valley. Both men and women’s fashion, home décor, artisan jewelry, culinary tools, fine textiles, ceramics, hand-blown glass, specialty cosmetics and even a few electronics are available.
And this shop also contains wines from Brasswood wine partners as well as products from Brasswood Spirits, American whiskey, gin and vodka.
For more information, to book an experience and or to join their mailing list, visit: www.moonetsai.com