Neal Family Vineyards is located mere minutes from downtown Angwin in the north eastern hills above Napa Valley in the Howell Mountain Appellation. The winery sits on a beautiful piece of property at approximately 1,800 feet in elevation surrounded by vineyards and hillside pine & oak forests. This estate property is approximately 24 acres of which 12 are planted – entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Neal Family has been growing and managing vineyards in Napa Valley since 1968 making them one of the older continuous family-owned growers in the region. Founder, Mark Neal’s family moved to Rutherford in 1966 and it is here where Mark learned viticulture from his father Jack (died at 65 in 1994). Prior to his career in Napa Valley Jack, a native of Oakland, was a medic in the Korean War and worked for the Oakland Tribune, initially as a paper boy and later driving a paper truck. He spent 25 years working for the Tribune before moving to Napa Valley where he began his vineyard management company. For many years, Jack was also active in the North Coast Grape Growers Association.
After his father died, Mark took over charge of all operations of Jack Neal & Sons Vineyard Management Company at age 35 (he is a graduate of St. Helena High School and also attended Santa Rosa Junior College). Visit: www.jacknealandson.com Their vineyard management company is sizable and over the years has built a good reputation in the valley. All the vineyards they manage or own are certified CCOF and farmed organically. In fact they are the largest organic farming company in Napa Valley.
After many years of running their vineyard management the family decided to produce their own wine in 1997; today all their wine is made at their small cave winery on Howell Mountain. Neal Family’s production is very small and their focus is on Cabernet Sauvignon and several other other red varietals. For a boutique winery, they bottle a variety of Cabernet Sauvignon wines each year. Neal Family produces wines bottled from Howell Mountain, their Rutherford Dust Vineyard, Napa Valley designated and another label called One & Only.
Neal Family Vineyards bottles one of Napa Valley’s very few grown and produced Vermentino wines. This variety is widely planted in Provence, France where it is known as Rolle. The 2021 Neal Family Vineyards Napa Valley Rutherford Dust Vineyards Vermentino is medium gold in color; the aromatics are diverse and well-layered, initially shows tropical fruit forward with notes of papaya, banana, honeysuckle, pineapple and vanilla. Also shows notes of nectarine, butter and citrus blossom. The mouth feel offers a light creamy texture. This wine features intense fruit flavors across the palate including of stone fruit, citrus and pineapple. The rich finish is complemented with bright and long lasting acidity.
We wish there was more Vermentino planted in Napa Valley. The only other two vineyards we know of planted to this variety in Napa Valley are Mahoney and Hudson Vineyards on the Napa side of Carneros.
The 2014 Neil Family Napa Valley Chardonnay went through full secondary fermentation and spent 20 months in barrel, 18 of which the wine was sitting on the lees (stirred once a month). This is a tasting room only wine as typically only about 50 cases are produced. It is a noticeable dark golden in the glass. It shows notes of honeysuckle, caramel, citrus blossom and nutty aromas on the bouquet. The mouth feel displays a pleasing creaminess without being to heavy as it is framed by good acidity. Both lingering fruit and notes of toasted hazelnut show.
In general the 2014 vintage was bigger then normal and the wine making team decided to experiment with a fully organic wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon from one of their Rutherford vineyards. There are numerous vineyards in the Napa Valley farmed and grown organically and or with a CCOF certification but we have not yet been told about a fully organic wine based on both vineyard and wine-making practices until this particular wine. At the time of our tasting it had been aged in larger then normal oak barrels for two years and has received no added SO2. It was uniquely refreshing to taste a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that does not smell or taste like a “typical” Napa Valley Cabernet!
Neal Family makes several vineyard 100% varietal vineyard designate Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Each of these bottles is numbered. And they often have some older vintages available for tasting as well as for sale. Neal Family also produces a very nice Napa Valley Zinfandel blended with a bit of Petite Sirah which provides additional color to the wine as well as increased aromatics. In 2007 they introduced their first ever white wine, a Sauvignon Blanc.
The 2007 Neil Family Howell Mountain Estate offers a bouquet with some noticeable bottle bouquet along with character and depth of aroma. It is somewhat gamey with mushroom and earthy damp forest floor aromas. These aromas carry onto the palate. This is a balanced wine with decent acidity and fairly well integrated and soft tannins (for Howell Mountain fruit).
The Neil Family Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon was from the 2007 vintage but is a dramatically different wine. It hasn’t aged as quickly as the Howell Mountain estate Cabernet Sauvignon and still shows youthful aromas of ripe black fig, blackberry and a sweet note. The bouquet is somewhat briary. The palate is plush and flavorful, with mouth watering acidity. The tannins are seamlessly integrated. The source for this wine is the One Lane Vineyard (named after a geographical reference to the narrow road/bridge) located on the southern part of Mt. Veeder. Unlike some of the highest elevations on Mt. Veeder which are typically above the fog line, this vineyard is much lower (about 500 feet) and is closer to the cooling influences of the San Pablo Bay.
The 2005 Neil Family Napa Valley Cabernet is predominately hillside grown yet is very approachable now. Part of this approach-ability is with the wine making; native yeast fermentation and moderate maceration times help develop a wine without huge tannins and alcohol while still retaining the gorgeous fruit. Blocks within vineyard sites are hand selected for the highest quality fruit.
The 2004 Neil Family Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon was made from the vineyards that surround the winery. Again, the tannins are very well managed for mountain grown fruit and as a result this wine is very approachable now and has a smooth rounded mouth feel. Notes of tobacco, chocolate, spices and hints of toasted oak can be found on the palate.
Visitors to the winery in Spring or Summer will be visually impressed by the beautiful and colorful flowers that grow near the entrance. A tasting and winery tour will typically be with their Director of Wine making or Assistant Winemaker or with Mark Neal. Refreshingly, it has been that way for years – unlike other wineries where turnover can be high, it is not that way here. As with most Howell Mountain based wineries visits are very personalized and are hosted in an intimate setting. Visitors will receive a very informative look at their winery operations and also have the chance to visit the cave and try a barrel sample.
Neal Family owns a bottling line which is somewhat unusual for a winery of this size but it gives them the flexibility to bottle when they want to, not based on a pre-determined mobile bottling schedule. Parts of this machine has even been custom made to meet their more specific needs. Check out the interesting functional metal works of art scattered around including the “grapevine” light + art installation hanging from the ceiling next to the cave entrance.
As this is a small operation, tastings are limited in number and are available only during certain times each day. They are closed on Sundays. For more details, visit: www.nealvineyards.com
Rutherford Dust Vineyards