Patel Cellars. The focus of Patel Cellars is on Bordeaux varieties hand-crafted with a “Napa expression”. Founder, Raj Patel moved to California from India when he was 6 years of age and is currently one of a super tiny percentage of Indian Americans involved in the Napa wine industry. During college (UC Davis) he became enamored with wine and upon graduating took a summer internship doing lab work at Robert Mondavi Winery. It was here he furthered his wine education and developed his palate – as well as became familiar with some of the premium Napa wines at that time.
His background is in finance and besides being the proprietor of Patel Cellars, he is currently a Vice President at Bank of America. It was through the finance world that he met Ken Nicholas, who was his General Manger for several years. A number of years ago he was tasting at a local winery when he was introduced to winemaker, Kian Tavakoli. He explained to Kian his passion for wine and his interest in starting a winery. He then reconnected with Ken a number of years later; Ken has a marketing and sales background, Kian was hired to be the winemaker – and the initial core team of Patel Cellars was formed – although Kian is no longer the winemaker.
Patel Cellars released their first commercial vintage in 2007. Initially they considered producing several wines (they actually produced a Zinfandel early on in the project) but then narrowed down their production to just two wines annually, one simply called “Red Wine” and the other a Cabernet Sauvignon.
While Raj does not live in the Napa Valley he is in very close contact with his winemaking team and is carefully involved in winemaking and all blending decisions. Blending is a critical component of their winemaking. They evaluate each blend on its own merit and often “declassify” a large percentage of their wine. In other words they do not bottle any wine they feel does not meet their approval.
The initial focus of their vineyard sources was in the southern part of Napa Valley – harvesting from select vineyards mostly in the Coombsville region. Coombsville is among the cooler parts of the valley and is a region strongly influenced by the nearby San Pablo Bay. During the summer fog often moves up and down this region like waves in the sand, albeit much slower. At night the fog moves in from the south and tends to cover the entire area but then usually burns off by mid to late morning. There can certainly be heat spikes in the southern part of the valley but on the whole this is a fairly stable growing climate that tends to create long hang times with even ripening conditions. The wines we have tasted from Coombsville, on the whole have great balance.
Over the years they have contracted with additional vineyards in the Napa Valley including Stagecoach, high on the slopes of Atlas Peak and the excellent McGah Vineyard in Rutherford.
Right out of the gate Robert Parker assigned a 95 score to their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. For a new producer, that type of notoriety was extremely helpful. In the years since their first release, their wines have been well validated by a number of prominent wine critics.
The 2010 Patel Red Wine is primarily made from Merlot but also contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and a tiny bit of Petit Verdot. During the initial blending for this wine they created a number of various blends but always kept referring to the blends that contained less than 60% Cabernet Sauvignon. The blends above that produced wines in which the Cabernet became to dominant. This wine is very aromatic in the glass – it shows an elegant bouquet. This wine is easily consumed and daresay, fun to drink. It has a rounded mouth feel, juicy fruit with plenty of flavor and notes of French vanilla and soft tannins that linger delicately.
The 2011 Patel Red Wine (was not yet released at the time of this review) reveals a pretty nose – some holiday spices, an underlying gravelly component – this wine delivers a wide range of flavor. It is a bolder and bigger wine than the 2010 vintage.
The 2009 Patel Cabernet Sauvignon has an elegant nose, mineralities, a hint of cedar – delicate aromas which perhaps might lead one to believe the palate will follow suite. Not so, this is a big wine yet in balance. The flavor of the fruit, (darker in nature) holds up to the robust tannins. Initial spices followed by a neat earthiness show from mid palate towards the finish. Presumably, this wine will age well.
The 2010 Patel Cabernet Sauvignon (also not yet released at the time of our initial visit) is restrained aromatically – this is a wine that needs decanting and some time to breath. There is an appealing subtle bay leaf note on the palate, it is slightly savory; the wine shows plenty of complexity and predominately darker fruit. Good acidity. It has a delicious flavor profile which is anchored by good structure.
In the early years buzz was created through excellent scores and word of mouth. With a limited production annually their wines are very selectively distributed in certain markets and retail outlets in just a handful of states. They sell direct via their website and mailing list. One might also find them pouring at select wine and food events in the Napa Valley such as Flavor Napa Valley – the wines has also been well received at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival.
And locally their wines are available for tasting in two south Napa Valley locations – at the Vintner’s Collective in downtown Napa (tastings are hosted at their wine bar downstairs or by appointment in the private space upstairs) and at the “Green Room” an industrial park winery just south of the city of Napa (with a nicely decorated room next to the winery) used for tasting wines from various producers who make their wine here (also by appointment).
For more information, to join their mailing list to receive notices about allocation releases, visit: www.patelwinery.com