Nicholson Jones (not to be confused with Nicholson Vineyards in Santa Cruz or Nicholson Ranch in Sonoma County) is a premium producer of limited production wines founded by Cal Nicholson and his wife Pam. The name combines both his last name as well as Pam’s maiden name. Both Cal and his wife are accomplished individuals; Cal has enjoyed a long career in a variety of marketing positions for companies as diverse as TIME, Kraft and Duracell. Slightly before Cal started Nicholson Jones, he was already involved in wine; he began Trademark Wines, a Missouri based wine and spirits distributor. In 2020, Trademark was sold to Grey Eagle Distributors and is now their wine and spirits division. Grey Eagle is Missouri’s largest beer distributor.
Pam started working at St. Louis based Enterprise out of college as a trainee for a manager position and in 2013 was named CEO of the company (Enterprise Holdings), a role she served through the end of 2019. In the company’s 60+ year history, she was the first ever nonfamily member to assume that role. Enterprise is still a privately owned company with approximately 80,000 employees and nearly 2 million vehicles (Alamo and National are also brands owned by the company). The company was founded in 1957 as Executive Leasing and in 1969, founder Jack Taylor renamed the business to Enterprise in honor of the USS Enterprise, the aircraft carrier he served on in World War II.
Cal met his winemaker Julien Fayard a number of years ago when he hired him, and his wine making expertise to try and save a vintage of wine (2005) that wasn’t doing so well in barrel. Julien successfully saved this particular wine and continues to make wine for Nicholson Jones each year. The first vintage of Nicholson Jones was a 2003 Napa Valley Cuvee.
Julien was born in Saint Etienne in France and has a well-rounded diverse background in wine making. His father grew grapes, and their family was involved in the wine business in France for several generations. Julien made his first wine at age 16 – and continued his education by working in Provence, the Loire Valley and Bordeaux (Lafite Rothschild). He met his then wife Élan in the Loire Valley; she was living and studying wine and the French language at the time. Today she runs Élan Fayard Consulting, a Direct-to-Consumer Sales & Marketing business.
Julien first visited California in 2000, returned to France and then in 2003 came back to the Napa Valley working for a short while at Quintessa. After he and Élan married, they both moved to Napa Valley permanently in 2006 – Élan to be closer to her family and for Julien it was an opportunity to make wine outside of France. Julien worked with noted winemaker Philippe Melka for seven years before branching out on his own where he currently makes wine for a number of clients.
In 2012 Julien and Élan, Cal Nicholson and his wife Pam, and husband wife Dave & Laura Nestor purchased a 12-acre site in Coombsville of which five acres are planted to vine. Julien has been attracted to the wines coming out of Coombsville for some time – he and his partners spent three years looking for property before they located this particular piece – now home of Covert Estate.
The region is located to the east of the city of Napa (while very rural, this part of the valley is only about a 10-minute drive from downtown Napa). Coombsville is characterized as a moderate to cooler growing climate compared to up valley due to its proximity to the flat region and entry to the nearby San Pablo Bay with its cooling morning and afternoon breezes and often fog influence. The region is generally composed of short rolling hills with a diversity of microclimates even within this small region. It tends to be slightly warmer in vineyards that are located towards the edge of the southern part of the Vaca mountain range.
Producers in this AVA tend to be small, and family owned – none of the wineries located here are open to the public by walk-in. Coombsville originally was thought to be too cold to grow Cabernet Sauvignon. Vineyards have proved this thinking wrong and this variety is certainly sought after by a number of premium producers who are looking to make an elegant wine with good varietal characteristics. Most of the Cabernet Sauvignon in this AVA is grown close to the edges of the hills where the microclimates are slightly warmer than other parts of the region.
Part of the Covert Estate property is a knoll that which boasts excellent views overlooking much of Coombsville and to the south including the San Pablo Bay in the distance. This knoll has proved useful in that geographically it created allowed them to drill a cave underneath it. All prior vintages were made at other wineries. The 11,500 square foot cave was completed in time for harvest 2015 and Julien moved his own brand (Fayard Wines) here as well as Nicholson Jones among select others.
Nicholson Jones sources grapes from a wide diversity of vineyards across multiple exposures and micro-climates ranging from south of the city of Napa to just north of St. Helena. As of our last update to this review, they source from 10+ unique vineyard sites.
The 2022 Nicholson Jones Sauvignon Blanc is from the Gamble Vineyard in Yountville, a site that has built a strong reputation around this variety over the decades. This wine is pale yellow in color; the bouquet smells fresh, vibrant and alive. It offers scents of lemon zest, jasmine, pineapple guava, green apple and slightly under ripe pineapple. No stylistically overripe high alcohol Sauvignon Blanc here. Balanced, bright and flavorful, this wine delivers plenty of pleasure. Zesty with immense verve, its bright and balanced acidity complements flavors of mandarin orange, grapefruit, pomelo and green apple. This is the style of Sauvignon Blanc we enjoy the most, a style that took a number of years for Napa Valley producers to figure out. Its not overly green or grassy and not overripe with resulting tropical and stone fruits. This wine was aged on the lees for 7 months prior to bottling perhaps influencing a light but noticeable fleshiness to the mouth feel. The finish is rich, flavorful and persistent. Pair with Thai pla pao (grilled fish) and an accompanying spicy seafood sauce.
The 2020 Nicholson Jones Wooden Dolly Chardonnay Carneros, Napa Valley is from a southwest facing block from Truchard Vineyard. It was fermented and aged in new French oak barrels for 21 months. This wine is medium to deep gold in color; it offers aromas of honeycomb, crème Brule, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, almost over ripe cantaloupe and yellow peach. Rich across the palate both in terms of texture, flavor and acidity, it offers notes of hazelnut, filbert, mango, papaya, warm butter and stone fruits including peach and nectarine. This wine carries some weight with a creamy and lightly viscous mouth feel. The long and intensely flavored finish is complemented nicely by a lively acidity. Their Chardonnay does not go through malolactic fermentation.
The 2016 Nicholson Jones Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard (a large and prominent site located in the hills southeast of the city of Napa) is deep ruby and almost opaque in the glass; the bouquet offers ripe and dark fruit aromatics including of blackberry, and boysenberry jam along with some secondary aromatics of mocha, espresso, cocoa and freshly baked chocolate brownie. This is a hedonistic wine with mouth-filling fruit. One would not be incorrect in referring to its bouquet as opulent. Because the fruit is ripe and intense we noticed a perceived sweetness on the entry followed by flavors of prune, blackberry and boysenberry. The densely packed tannins are dusty, earthy, slightly dry but rounded and are a complementing character on the finish rather than a dominating one. Lingers mouth watering with ripe dark berries and a savory note including spicy oak, dark pepper, pink peppercorn and some dried herbs. From the expressive fruit dominated bouquet, one doesn’t realize how savory the finish will be. This wine is drinking in a sweet spot right now at the time of our tasting, 7 years post vintage. It is 100% varietal; only 119 cases were produced.
The 2016 Nicholson Jones Segassia Vineyard is located at 2,200 feet on Mt. Veeder (the elevation was taken by a phone app on our way to Enchanted Hills Camp – as Segassio Vineyard is one of their neighbors. This wine is deep ruby color. This wine smells elegant, offering scents of rose petals, violets, sage and other dried herbs along with darker fruits including cherry, blackberry, a note of dark licorice and plum jam. It is darkly fruited on the palate with flavors of blackberry, dark plum and chocolate anchored by a savory finish including darker spice note. The grainy but polished tannins are nicely integrated into this wine’s overall character. This is a highly enjoyable wine at the time of our tasting 7 years post vintage. Its comfortable and easy to drink but has plenty of flavor depth and complexities across the palate. The finish lingers with a light drying earthy character. This wine still has lots of life ahead of it.
The 2016 Nicholson Jones Cabernet Sauvignon, Steltzner Vineyard (from the older vines on their property) was sourced from the Stags Leap District. The Stelztners are long time farmers in Napa Valley selling grapes to a select number of premium producers. This wine is deep ruby in color; the bouquet is elegant with aromas of rose petals, black raspberry, dark cherry, blackberry, chocolate and vanilla. This is an enjoyable bouquet – aromatics that one will want to spend some time with. The palate offers flavors of blueberry, blackberry, and boysenberry with some complementary scents of coffee grinds, chocolate, clove and cocoa powder. The finish is bright, showcasing both red and darker fruits along with rounded and highly polished tannins. This wine is showing nicely 7 years post vintage at the time of our tasting.
The 2013 Nicholson Jones Cabernet Sauvignon, Sugarloaf Vineyard is deep ruby and nearly opaque in the glass. This wine offers aromas of boysenberry, Pakistani mulberry, blackberry and dark licorice complemented by a lighter note of cocoa powder. From the bouquet alone, we noted that this wine is aging remarkably well (for reference we tasted this bottling 10 years post vintage). The palate delivers a certain amount of opulence right up front with ripe flavors of dark plum, blackberry, dark cherry, chocolate and a roasted coffee bean nuance which lingers on the finish. The tannins are dense, but rounded and chalk-like in their textural approach. This wine was aged for 19 months in 100% new French oak barrels. Its alcohol is listed s 15.5%.
The 2010 Nicholson Jones Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% varietal from a north facing vineyard high in the Mt. Veeder sub-appellation. The bouquet is big and has depth showing plenty of mountain fruit including both black (darker plum) and red fruit notes. As the wine opens there is slight sage quality (garrigue) and notes of mocha. This bouquet continues to evolve wonderfully as the wine breathes. The palate is packed with flavor and is immediately appealing.
The 2009 Cellars Arts or Nicholson Jones Cuvee is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc. The bouquet immediately fills the glass with appealing fruit aromas including deeper notes of black plum as well as a blue fruit component. This is a very aromatic wine. The tannins are somewhat dusty from the mid palate through to the finish showing more on the sides and back of the palate than the front – there are lingering notes of dark chocolate.
All their wines are produced in small quantities – usually several hundred cases per wine or less. The wines are selectively distributed with much of the distribution occurring in St. Louis Missouri (where Cal & Pam live) and where conveniently Cal runs a wine distributor business.
Serious wine enthusiasts can make a reservation to taste at the estate. The tastings at the estate are private for your party and are held inside the beautifully decorated hospitality room within the cave. Each sit down tasting typically includes the Nicholson Jones wines and an accompanying rosé.
And Maison Fayard opened in downtown Napa in September 2023; this space is partly a bottle shop and partly a tasting room. Somewhat like a collective, the only wines available here are wines produced by Julien Fayard including select bottles of Nicholson Jones (both their white and red wines). See our notes on Julien Fayard Wines for more details and photographs of this space.
Total production each year is around 1,200 cases. The wines are selectivity distributed in certain states including Florida (primarily Naples) and in St. Louis. Nicholson Jones ages their red wines in bottle for longer than most wineries before releasing them. Library wines and large format bottles are also selectively available.
For more information on the wines, to schedule a tasting and to join their mailing list or wine club with its two twice a year membership offerings, visit: www.nicholsonjones.com
Nicholson Jones review starts at 5:50