Olabisi Winery was founded in 2002 and is run by Ted Osborne and his wife Kim. Ted is part of a generation of ambitious winemakers in the Napa Valley (who came here when they were in their twenties from elsewhere) who earned their way towards running their own wineries through a lot of hard work from the ground up. Ted is self-taught having entered the wine industry with a degree in English and no formal training in wine making.
He came to the valley when his wife Kim took a job designing wine labels. After living in the Napa Valley for six months Ted still didn’t have a job but wanted one in the wine industry. He wasn’t sure who to call – so during harvest in 1995 while flipping randomly through a book highlighting wineries of the Napa Valley Ted randomly called Cakebread. To his surprise, he was immediately connected to winemaker Bruce Cakebread who hired him the next day since one of their workers who agreed to work harvest backed out at the last minute. Sometimes timing is everything – this was a ‘foot’ in the door so to speak.
Along with significant cellar time working for Cakebread Ted also worked for one of the most northern located physical wineries in the Napa Valley, Storybook Mountain (excellent Zinfandel producers). And it was at Storybook Mountain where Ted made the first vintage of Olabisi in their historic caves. We first met Ted while he was making his wines at Laird Estate – today he produces his wines at a small winery on Howell Mountain.
Along with other area winemakers Ted has a plethora of international experience ranging from work at Passing Clouds in Australia, Rupert & Rothschild in South Africa, and Chateau du Seuil in Bordeaux.
Ted was more recently head winemaker at the well-regarded Cabernet house in Rutherford (Pina Napa Valley) and continues to consult for select small wineries including Phifer Pavitt. Today he runs Olabisi almost single handedly. It’s always refreshing to find a non-last name, name of a winery and this one is quite unique. The name “Olabisi” is an African girl’s name which means “joy multiplied”. Take that as you may but keep that meaning in the back of your mind as you try his rich, layered yet balanced fruit driven wines.
Ted’s philosophy is to keep a hands-off approach as much as possible to wine making with the thinking that the more you manipulate a wine the more chances for flaws to enter the wine. His vineyard sources change depending on the year and so do the varieties.
Olabisi sources from a variety of vineyards both in the Napa area and from other nearby counties. He uses a barrel aging program of French oak; all the wine is made in Napa. During our first meeting with Ted, we barrel tasted several of his upcoming vintages, some were still in fermentation including the 2007 Beckstoffer sourced Chardonnay from Mendocino County. As a result, this wine was not yet dry but already showed a richness and depth of flavor. Good fruit is good fruit!
The 2019 Olabisi Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is pale to medium yellow in color; offers elegant aromatics which are floral in nature including jasmine, citrus blossom, and honeysuckle. As it evolves in the glass, shows additional aromas of pineapple, pineapple guava and pear. Strikes a very nice aromatic balance between the more citrus driven notes that this variety often produces from cooler climes and aromas more tropical in nature resulting from riper grapes at the time of harvest. Slightly creamy in texture. It is very balanced across the palate; lingers with a noticeable richness of flavor and a lingering note of lemon/lime zest. This wine is produced from a single vineyard site in Oak Knoll District; fermentation occurred in both stainless steel barrels and neutral oak.
The 2017 Olabisi Proprietary Napa Valley Red Wine is a blend of 61% Merlot, 26% Zinfandel and 13% Napa Petite Sirah; the wine is noticeably dark with a deep ruby color. The aromatics are generous and fruit forward offering ripe blackberry, a sweetness of boysenberry, a darker accompanying spice note, toasted cedar, Graham Cracker, vanilla and dark chocolate. Well layered indeed! The ripeness continues onto the palate with flavors of blackberry, plum and old cedar box. The tannins are darker and are somewhat earthy in nature; they are well integrated with a light to medium grip. The ‘aliveness’ of youthful tasting fruit is clearly still evident (we tasted this wine four years post vintage date). Very approachable in its youth
Ted made Syrah and Petite Sirah for a number of years but in more recent years transitioned into focusing on Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. The 2007 Olabisi Syrah shows big aromatics – black licorice, spices and almost a “meaty” component. It is a dark wine, rich in flavor with moderate tannins which complement rather than detract from the finish.
The 2011 was Olabisi’s last vineyard designate Chardonnay – subsequent vintages are labeled, “Napa Valley.” This vintage was sourced from the Ceja Vineyard pn the Napa side of the Carneros region in the southern part of the valley. This wine was 100% barrel fermented on yeasts already present on the grapes and underwent 100% malolactic fermentation. It is rather dark yellow in the glass; it is very aromatic even served at a cold temperature. It shows aromas of honeydew melon, honeysuckle and hints of caramel. It is a crisp wine but with some weight. Pear notes and a hint of baking spice show mid palate. The fruit lingers for quite some time on the finish.
The 2010 Olabisi Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% varietal and was the current release during our most recent visit. The bouquet is nice – showing herbal notes, berry aromas with a noticeable lusciousness on the palate, a “supple mouth feel” as Ted describes of the wine. A darker plum note shows on the palate, with notes of boysenberry and blackberry. The tannins are delicate, framing a wine that has very good acidity.
The 2010 Black Pearl Vineyard is located at the base of Atlas Peak (sold out at the time of this review, a 2011 was not produced, the 2012 vintage was the current release at the time of our tasting). This wine is part of the Infinite Series – several vineyard designated wines that Ted makes of superior quality. 75% new French oak was used during the wine’s aging – all sourced from excellent coopers. The bouquet is very inviting with intriguing aromas that one keeps wanting to revisit. Aromas of desert spices, mocha and fine chocolate are well woven among the fruit aromas. Blackberry, cherry and toffee notes show on the palate. This is a superbly balanced wine with appealing fine-grained tannins anchoring the clean finish.
In July of 2015 Olabisi opened a beautiful tasting room in a stand-alone building just off Lincoln Ave (the main street through Calistoga). The entrance is a short half a block walk down Washington Street. This smart looking building was the prior home of the now closed Wappo Bar and Bistro. The tasting room sits right next to Evangeline Restaurant (French food with a Creole twist) and Olabisi’s wines are on their wine list. Plenty of parking on residential side streets within a short walk of this the tasting room.
Ted tends to age his wines a bit longer than many producers and as a result slightly older vintages are sometimes available at the tasting room.
Tastings are by appointment or by walk-in during the afternoon. Ted lives in Calistoga and is often in the tasting room. Check the website for the latest hours and updates: visit: www.olabisiwines.com