Outpost Winery is located on top of Summit Lake Drive at an elevation of 2200 feet – about 10 minutes outside of the small town of Angwin. This road should almost be called Zinfandel Drive as several other premium Zinfandel producers are located within minutes of Outpost off of this same road. This is in northern Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain appellation. As a result of the elevation the property is above the Napa Valley fog and experiences light snowfall in the winter.
Outpost was founded in 1998 by Terry and Juli Pringle; their first wine was from that year, 400 cases of Zinfandel. This first vintage established what would become a long-term winemaker relationship with this site; Ehren Jordan (of Failla Wines) produced this first Outpost wine at Turley Wine Cellars where Thomas Rivers Brown was his assistant winemaker. Thomas has been associated with the Outpost wines since this first vintage.
During the Pringle ownership the winery was built. The second owners – husband wife at the time, Kathy and Frank Dotzler purchased it in 2003. Frank is a native Chicagoan who ran a successful computer company that produced computer cases and cables and Kathy spent some time living in Belgium and Texas. They honeymooned in Napa Valley in 1997 having both shared a passion for wine.
Most couples on their honeymoon go someplace and then leave with fond memories; the Dotzlers “put down roots” so to speak and purchased a twenty-acre site on Howell Mountain which they ultimately planted to vines and named True Vineyard. True Vineyard is nine acres planted entirely to Bordeaux varieties; these wines were released for the first time in 2008. Kathy told us about thinking “small” at the time – perhaps having a vineyard and land that they would use as a vacation home.
But they started meeting vintners and others in the wine industry and the “community” took them under their wing helping them decide what varieties to plant, finding a vineyard manager and a winemaker. Kathy and Frank started drawing up plans for a winery to be built on the True Vineyard but then realized at the time (in the early 2000s) it was cheaper to purchase an existing winery. As it turns out, the Outpost site was almost one of the True Vineyard’s neighbors.
They reached out to Jean Phillips (founder of Screaming Eagle) and Ren and Marilyn Harris (founders of Paradigm Winery); all are Napa Valley vintners who were involved in real estate. Ren was retired from real estate at the time and told the Dotzlers he would only come out of retirement if the transaction would be an easy one and would involve one phone call, that of connecting the Dotzlers with the sellers. Incidentally this was his 76th and final real estate transaction.
In July of 2018 the winery was sold to the third owners, France based AXA Millesimes – a company that owns wineries in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Portugal and Hungary. The sale included both the winery, the brand, all existing inventory and both planted and non-planted acreage on site as well as the nearby True Vineyard. AXA’s vision for Outpost is a long term one which has included expanding their vineyard footprint and continuing to retain long time employees.
The name Outpost was derived over a random conversation over dinner Bouchon Restaurant in Yountville one night. As Terry and Juli Pringle began to walk out after dinner, their server wished them well on their drive back to their ‘outpost’. It would certainly be nice to track down and identify that particular server.
From this ridge top location, the views are memorable; one can just make out a tiny part of Napa Valley floor far below. Outpost’s vineyards range in elevation from approximately 1,800 feet to 2,200 feet. Grapes were originally planted here in the 1880s; more recent plantings were in the 1970s by the Lamborn Family (another area vintner neighbor) who sold part of their vineyards to Outpost (See nearby Lamborn Vineyards), although much of the current planting’s date from when this winery was founded in 1998.
Winemaker Thomas Brown continues to oversee production of the Outpost Wines, but he also makes the wine for a number of other premium labels. And using the winery for select custom crush clients is another aspect of their operations.
Outpost is primarily known for their organically farmed Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon on the 42-acre estate (28 acres are planted to grapevines). Nearly all their wines are 100% varietal. Howell Mountain is a noted Zinfandel growing region in Napa Valley and a number of small ‘neighboring’ wineries also produce wines from this variety. Contributing to concentrated and rich wines are the property’s high elevation and its rocky and iron-rich soils. Because of the elevation and exposure, harvest dates are typically very late in the season – often into early November. To provide some perspective on this, during our first visit to the property, much of their Zinfandel was still completely green whereas the Zinfandel we saw on the valley floor had already well passed through veraison.
Several years after AXA Millésimes purchased Outpost, they acquired the Henry Brothers’ Ranch (a short drive from the winery). This site is located high on the red soil slopes of Howell Mountain (with an uppermost elevation of just under 2,000 feet). This property is 36 acres of which 18 are planted to vines. It was previously owned by the Henry family; brothers Ric and Bryan Henry’s parents purchased this land in 1975 for $150,000; at the time it was forested along with manzanita and as Ric recalls a small prune orchard. Over the years, Bryan and his two sons developed the vineyard site and grew nearly all red varieties including mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with a tiny block of Petite Sirah and a 1/4 acre of Sauvignon Blanc (the only white varietal that grew on site). The grapes were highly sought after with a number of mostly smaller producers purchasing fruit each year.
After the sale of the vineyard to AXA Millésimes grapes from the 2021 vintage were produced and then the vineyard was completely replanted by mid 2022, overseen by Matt Hardin and Josh Clark of Hardin Clark Vineyard Management. The site was replanted to primarily Cabernet Sauvignon but also with smaller blocks of Merlot and Cabernet Franc.
And in July 2022, AXA Millésimes purchased the 275-acre Platt Vineyard in neighboring Sonoma County. The site is planted to nearly 40 acres of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; its fruit has been sold to a number of premium producers over the years including Amulet Estate, Fayard Wines and Ramey among others. The winemaking team at Outpost will oversee all production from this vineyard. And eventually all the grapes from the property will be used in-house and its vineyard footprint will increase to around 50 acres.
Outpost has sourced grapes for their Chardonnay from several vineyard sources over the years since no Chardonnay is planted on their Howell Mountain properties. The 2018 Outpost La Blonde Chardonnay was sourced from Riddle and Lucky Well vineyards near the town of Occidental in west Sonoma County. This wine was fermented and aged in barrel. It is medium to deep gold in color; the aromatics are expressive, warm and inviting and include popcorn butter, caramel, vanilla, melon, honeysuckle, honeycomb and a nuance of lightly toasted oak. As the aromatics evolve, the bouquet offers some riper fruit notes including of apricot and yellow peach. Its texture is immediately attractive with a creamy and supple feel across the palate. This wine shows plenty of depth and richness of flavor but also a simultaneous freshness. Flavors include pineapple, mandarin and melon and it finishes with some stone fruit nuances.
The 2018 Outpost Zinfandel is dark ruby and almost opaque in the glass: this bottling smells like the variety with a union of sweeter fruits, darker spices including pepper, clove and old cedar box. The spices on the bouquet continue onto the palate along with flavors of red plum, blackberry and blueberry. The tannins are nicely integrated, dusty and linger with a persistent brightness of acidity. Jammy, overripe? Not this bottling.
The Outpost Cabernet Sauvignon typically spends 3-5 days cold soaking before being allowed to begin fermentation and is often put into barrel with a slight residual sugar left to finish its fermentation. Aging is in French oak barrels, of which typically 70% to 80% are new.
The 2017 Outpost Cabernet Sauvignon. This was a warm year on Howell Mountain and the resulting grapes were harvested slightly earlier than normal. This wine is dark ruby in color; the aromatics show notes of dust, leather, old cedar box, dried fruits and ripe blackberry. The bouquet also shows a slight savory component. A liveliness is especially evident on this vintage with a vibrant finish anchored by gravelly, dusty and still pronounced tannins along with a hint of lingering tobacco and dark pepper spice. This wine has plenty of life ahead of it (we tasted 5 years post vintage).
The 2018 Outpost Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in color and almost opaque; it shows slightly riper than the 2017 vintage both on the bouquet and the palate. The bouquet offers a pleasing union of both primary and secondary aromatics including blackberry and boysenberry along with saddle leather and a hint of tobacco spice. As the wine opens further additional aromas of mocha and dark chocolate are revealed. We love the density of everything about this wine including its depth of flavor and chalky textural profile.
The 2019 Outpost Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in color with purplish tinges on the rim of the glass; this is a powerful yet restrained bottling that is highly energetic in its youth (we tasted 3 years post vintage). The bouquet is elegant, attractive and diverse showing scents of violets, dried herbs including sage, a fruit sweetness and old cedar box. Found deeper in the aromatics are notes of clove and some other darker dessert spices. This wine is lively across the palate, mouthwatering and juicy with flavors of blackberry and dark plums. The texture of the tannins are somewhat gravelly. This is a big but already balanced wine with lots of life ahead of it.
Outpost makes an exceptional and rare Napa Valley grown Grenache. The origins of this variety on the property are with Thomas Brown who initially encouraged its planting. The Outpost Grenache is produced in extremely small quantities and is coveted by a loyal following.
And what was unfortunately a common story in Napa Valley in 2020, Outpost like many other wineries in the region did not produce wines from this vintage due to the proximity and heavy smoke resulting from the Glass Fire.
Because of their somewhat remote location, an “outpost” if you will, and small hospitality team, a limited number of visitors are hosted daily for tastings. As a result, tastings are always very personal; a visit to Outpost is for serious wine enthusiasts. Several inside spaces are used for hosting visitors for tastings including one room containing a large wooden table in front of a sizable window overlooking some of their vineyards and hills below.
While Outpost retains some very select distribution including in New York, the majority of their wines are sold direct to consumer. Total production varies each year but is usually around 3,000 cases. In 2016 the decision was made to hold back a small number of wines each vintage creating a limited number of library wines. For more information about Outpost, to schedule a visit or to join their wine club, visit: www.outpostwines.com
Outpost Winery & Property
Note: this review has been identified as needing a major update including visits to the remainder of the AXA Millesimes owned winery properties.
OTHER AXA MILLESIMES OWNED PROPERTIES
Château Pichon-Baron, Bordeaux
This is one of the most visually impressive chateaus in Pauillac – its stunning architecture often attracting tour buses and other tourists who enjoy walking around its picturesque profile among the surrounding gardens. And this was our experiences during our first visit while on a river cruise.
Located in a coveted vineyard neighborhood, one of its close neighbors to the east is the First Growth, Château Latour. The estate was founded in 1694 and the chateau dates from 1851. Heirs of Pichon de Longueville owned the property until 1933. This was the first winery property that AXA Millesimes purchased – in 1987. Of note: AXA Millesimes owns several other Bordeaux based estates including Château Piblan but the wines for this particular chateau are actually made at Château Pichon-Baron.
Château Suduiraut, Sauternes
One of approximately 300 chateaus in Sauternes, Château Suduiraut owns 200 hectares of land of which 92 are planted to vines, some 90% Sémillon and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. The chateau is a Premier Cru Classé – dating back to the original Bordeaux Wine Classification of 1855. The property took its name in 1580 from its owner at the the time, Léonard de Suduiraut and has changed hands several times over the years; AXA Millesimes purchased the estate in 1992.
The picturesque chateau is surrounded by gardens originally designed by André Le Nôtre, a landscape architect beset known for designing the park at the Palace of Versailles. Today the chateau is selectively rented out for conferences (often not wine related) but is also used for AXA Millesimes events.
The vineyards are planted in rounded river washed sand and gravel that is 10-12 meters in depth before hitting a limestone layer. The oldest vines on the property date back to 1937. The property is around 50 meters above sea level – with their prominent next door neighbor Château d’Yquem only slighter higher in elevation.
Primary fermentation is conducted in barrel – a previous winemaking team helped develop their own proprietary temperature control system for the barrels using two stainless steel rods, one metal rod hooks up to a water pipe system that was built alongside all of their barrels – and cool water is pumped into the rods helping regulate each barrels’ temperature during fermentation. No secondary fermentation is conducted on the sweet wines. Of approximately 1,000 barrels used each year (9 different coopers 19 different toast levels), approximately 25-30 percent are new French oak .
Today they produce three sweet wines and two dry wines. The flagship wine is named after the estate; the 2000 Château Suduiraut mirrors the estate planting percentages and is a blend of 90% Sémillon and 10% Sauvignon Blanc. Shows more of an amber color then the younger vintages we tried with a diversity of aromatic depth including notes of candied pears, apricot, peach, marmalade, hard candy caramel and the smell of an orange peel zest reminiscent of the fine mist that often appears when one peels a fresh orange.
This wine is superbly balanced across the palate between fruit, secondary flavors that have developed due to its age, sugar, acid and mouth feel. Supple in texture, but not overly dense or viscous – shows flavors of toffee, coffee, orange peel and baking spices along with brown sugar on the finish. The finish is persistent and continues to linger for some time. A beautiful showing where sweetness is tempered by excellent acidity – a hallmark of excellent wines of this style.
These type of these wines age remarkably well; the oldest vintage at the time of our visit in their private collection dates from 1885 while vintages dating from the 1970s can sometimes be found in distribution. All tastings to the estate can be arranged by appointment.
Chateau Pibran, Bordeaux
Purchased in 1989. Notes & photos coming at some point
Purchased in 1992. Notes & photos coming at some point
Domaine de l’Arlot, Côte de Nuits
Purchased in 1987. Notes & photos coming at some point
Quinta do Noval, Portugal
Purchased in 1993. Notes & photos coming at some point
Château Petit-Village NOTE: this winery was sold in 2020 to Château Beauregard, not long after we visited the property.
Located in Pomerol, almost straddling the border with Saint-Émilion this is some of France’s most exclusive vineyard neighborhoods. Nearby neighbors include Château Petrus and the tiny Château Le Pin. One can see the prominent Monolithic Church of St. Emilion in the distance through the vineyards. The winery sits at the highest part of the Pomerol plateau (35 to 38 meters above sea level) in approximately the center of the 10.5 hectare triangular shaped property. The vineyard is planted to 75% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. The size and shape of the property remarkably has not changed since 1705. Visually the soils are covered in tiny river washed gravel – but in their vineyard this typically only extends about a meter below the surface giving way to all clay.
The oldest vines on the property date from 1948 and 1950. Because of their spacing, horses are still used to manage these particular plots including plowing the soil and helping during harvest. The vineyard is High Environmental Value certified (HVE) certified, a system of certification overseen by the French Ministry of Agriculture – promoting organic farming. Château Petit-Village does not use any herbicides, insecticides or pesticides in their farming. Farming is done by hand – no tractors are used on site.
The winemaking is as meticulously handled as their farming – specific sized tanks were designed to correspond to each plot within the vineyard – grapes are picked section by section and fermented separately until final blending occurs. Pump overs are only conducted at the beginning and end of fermentation while the cap is punched down (pigeage) for most of the fermentation.
The focus of their winemaking is on two wines each year, the Grand vin Château Petit-Village, and a second wine, Le Jardin de Petit-Village. The Grand vin in particular are very impressive wines and typically are 75% Merlot with 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, although the percentages can vary year to year. During a visit we tasted through both current releases and older vintages – each vintage with its own defining character but all with a thread of intriguing fruit, balance and acidity that connects the vintages.
AXA Millesimes purchased the estate in 1989 and sold in 2020. Incidentally the oldest bottle in their private collection from the property is from 1928. All tastings can be arranged by appointment.