Mueller Family Vineyards inaugural release dates from the 2007 vintage; but this first vintage is not the beginning of their story. Frank and Angela Mueller (both are originally from Minnesota) settled in the Napa Valley in 1979 where Frank established a career in medicine. He is a well-respected family physician and Angela is a nurse. While living in Calistoga they decided that because of their wine country location they would learn about the wine industry and ultimately make wine.
Surrounded by vineyards and winemakers it is rather easy to meet those already working in the wine industry. They met Vincent Arroyo (who founded Vincent Arroyo Winery and Otra Vez Winery) and he told them about a piece of property in what is now the Diamond Mountain appellation, just south of Calistoga. Frank remembers visiting the property for the first time and having a difficult time reaching the end of the dirt rutted road which was nearly overgrown and hardly passable. As he says, “I bought the land because I wasn’t able to turn around on the narrow overgrown dirt road before reaching the end of the road!”
Their 10-acre property is classic Diamond Mountain land, steep, rugged, brushy, rocky, and east facing. The Mayacamas mountain range in this region, of which the Diamond Mountain appellation is part of, is similar to the Sierra Nevada mountains on a much smaller scale in that the western side of the range has a more gentle elevation gain while the eastern side drops off rather dramatically. You can experience this on any of the steep narrow roads that climb out of the Napa Valley floor crossing over the Mayacamas.
Flat land is at a premium and only 1.4 acres of vines are growing; today the site is planted with several clones of Cabernet Sauvignon and a very small block of Petit Verdot. Visually, Diamond Mountain has some of the most stunning views in the valley especially from the mid to upper reaches of the appellation. Their small vineyard overlooks these gorgeous vistas. When one sees the vineyard one is also struck by how rocky it is. It had to be “ripped” several times before the vines could actually be planted.
The Muellers have been making home wine in the Napa Valley for 35+ years. Upon purchasing this property they had no plans to develop a vineyard. However, Frank had provided medical care to a woman named Cora for many years – the sister of longtime Napa vineyard manager, Jess Madrigal (Madrigal Family Winery). Jess built a long career in the Napa Valley managing numerous vineyards in the region – with access to a number of premium sites. Frank casually asked Jess one day what he would estimate the cost of planting grapevines would be.
Not long after that conversation Frank and Angela discovered 250 vines planted around their home. Imagine their surprise! Jess told them this was his gift for taking care of his sister for so many years. The vines got them thinking about expanding to a larger vineyard with the intent to produce wine commercially. Jess took some soil samples and gave the ok on expanding the vineyard.
And after bidding and winning an auction item held at a local school (the item covered the entire cost of planting a vineyard up to an acre – an only in wine country item, right?!) they decided to plant more vines. The vineyard is located at an elevation of about 1,100 feet and despite its diminutive size (4,000 vines), is divided into 5 distinctive blocks – with four of the blocks named after family members. The majority of their Cabernet Sauvignon is a Spottswoode selection – sourced from the well-regarded Spottswoode Winery in St. Helena.
This is a special microclimate – it can be warmer here during the winter than the valley floor and opposite in the summer. They have no frost protection – often there will be frost at lower elevations and higher elevations but not on their property. And the Muellers have taken full advantage of this ‘banana belt’ – growing numerous citrus trees.
Their production is usually around 150 cases per year, of the single Cabernet Sauvignon – making them one of the smaller producers within all of the Napa Valley.
The 2007 Mueller Cabernet Sauvignon shows a complex bouquet which continues to develop additional nuances as it breathes. Initially it is loaded with fruit, showing black cherry and other dark fruits but then it reveals notes of mocha, cocoa and even baking spices. The palate offers a nice balance between fruit, acidity and structure. This wine is not too fruit forward nor is it a lean wine either. Elegant flavors run the length of the palate with pleasing fairly supple tannins completing the finish.
The 2008 Mueller Cabernet Sauvignon has certainly followed up their inaugural vintage well. No sophomore slump here. This wine is well balanced for being so young at the time of our tasting. The bouquet is floral, with a mix of both red and darker fruit. The fruit aromas remain constant as this wine breathes. The entry is soft and gains complexity by the mid palate. This wine shows a bit more dustiness, earthiness and structure than the 2007, especially towards the finish. Also notes of cedar and dark spice. This is a wine that will age well.
Prior to releasing any wine, the Muellers made a special trip to visit with graphics designer, Steven Sorman (a Minnesota based artist) – with the intent to mutually come up with a potential label. Steven is an accomplished artist with works in select museum collections around the world – he also has deigned a number of wine labels including for Imagery Estate Winery located in neighboring Sonoma County.
The Muellers ended spending several days with Steven (mostly eating and drinking according to Frank) but never even discussed potential label designs. After they returned from their trip, they received a proposed label design in the mail. Fortunately this was a design they were immediately attracted to – with four colored dots comprising part of the design – each color representing Frank, Angie and their two daughters, Nicolette and Claire.
Despite the small production the wine has some distribution throughout the Napa Valley. One can find the wine locally at several premium local restaurants as well as sometimes at wine shops including Backroom Wines in the city of Napa, V Wine Cellars in Yountville, St. Helena Wine Merchants in St. Helena and Cal Mart in Calistoga. And Mueller offers older vintages – some of which can be purchased directly via their website. For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.muellerfamilyvineyards.com