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 very small percentage of Indian Americans involved in the Napa Valley wine industry. He and his wife Shilta oversee the brand. During college (UC Davis) Raj 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 (a marketing and sales background), 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. 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 for several years, one simply called “Red Wine” and the other a Cabernet Sauvignon. Today they produce several red wines and also a Sauvignon Blanc.
While Raj does not live in 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 exacting approval.
The initial focus of their vineyard sources was focused on the southern part of Napa Valley – harvesting from select vineyards primarily 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 which 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 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 2018 Patel Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc was sourced from the McGah Family Vineyard in Rutherford. This appellation is well-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon and other red varieties, but those who know Napa Sauvignon Blanc realized that some of the best vineyard sites in the valley are in Rutherford. And perhaps there isn’t as much planted as could be due to the much better economics of growing Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine offers an elegant bouquet including of honeysuckle, honeycomb, apricot, yellow peach and Crane Melon (a local favorite in the fall in neighboring Sonoma County). The aromas are somewhat tropical. This bottling features a beautiful palate layered with a creamy texture and balanced by its still fresh acidity like an orange zest (we tasted this wine 5 years post vintage). The acidity is mouth watering but not bracing. There is no quick drop off on the finish, rather this wine lingers for quite some time with a noticeable richness. It was aged 14 months in 100% French oak.
The 2018 Patel Napa Valley Red Wine is a Merlot led blend along with some Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is dark ruby in color; the nose quickly opens its lovely fruit core to notes of blackberry, dark raspberry and black cherry. There is a noticeable ripeness to the sweetly fruited bouquet but not an over ripeness. It also shows scents of raspberry jam and Graham cracker, mocha and chocolate. It smells like dessert. This wine drinks very comfortably 5 years post vintage at the time of our tasting. The palate offers flavors of ripe blackberry and plum and lingers with darker dessert spices. The finish lingers with notes of cigar and cedar. The tannins are well-integrated and show a supple light silty textural feel.
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. Any blends with Cabernet Sauvignon as a higher percentage became too Cabernet Sauvignon centric. This wine is very aromatic in the glass; it shows an elegant bouquet. It is easily consumed and dare we say, fun to drink. It has a rounded mouth feel, juicy fruit with plenty of flavor including notes of French vanilla; it’s soft tannins linger delicately.
The 2016 Patel Malbec Stagecoach Vineyard is 100% varietal. This wine is noticeably dark in the glass, both ruby and purplish in color. The bouquet is pretty with cassis, blueberry, blackberry jelly and a floral component including violets. This wine is briary and brambly with both red and darker fruits including blackberry and dark plum. In 7 years post vintage, we noticed the fruit has started to mature nicely while the tannins are still somewhat youthful and have not yet rounded out. The finish is savory with flavors of crushed dark pepper, gravelly, long-lasting and still drying tannins. One can feel the terroir or earthiness in the finish. This bottling spent 20 Months in new French oak barrels.
The 2018 Patel Coombsville Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby; the bouquet is all about the fruit rather than too much influence from its barrel aging. The pretty aromatics offer notes of dark licorice, blackberry and lavender along with a hint of chocolate. For a wine that is listed as 15.2% alcohol it shows a remarkable amount of freshness and one doesn’t notice the alcohol. The palate has flavors of cherry and plum and lingers with a light juicy note on the finish. Pair with a BBQ or a variety of cheeses to soften the noticeable and lingering grip of tannins.
The 2016 Patel Cabernet Sauvignon was created from grapes sourced from Beckstoffer’s Georges III Vineyard in Rutherford and from cooler Coombsville. This wine is dark ruby and opaque; the bouquet is elegant with some initial light herbal notes showing including aromas similar to a mint thin, but give it time to evolve in the glass and this makes way for more fruit. It reveals flavors of red licorice, red cherry, cranberry and spicy plum skin – there is a noticeable freshness and juicy component especially on the finish. For Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, this wine shows more on the bright and fresh side of the varietal spectrum. The tannins are dark, earthy and linger with a light drying note and white pepper. This wine was aged 20 months in new French oak barrels.
The 2009 Patel Cabernet Sauvignon offers an elegant nose, mineralities and a hint of cedar; these are 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 an intriguing earthiness show from mid palate towards the finish. Presumably, this wine will age well.
The 2010 Patel Cabernet Sauvignon (was 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 and is anchored by a firm 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 Napa Valley such as Flavor Napa Valley; the wines has also been well received at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival.
Tastings, Vintner’s Collective
Patel is part of a coveted collection of vintners represented at Vintner’s Collective, the city of Napa’s oldest collective tasting room. Vintner’s Collective showcases wines from a select group of mostly Napa Valley based producers – most of which do not have their own tasting rooms. And it’s not easy to have one’s wines represented here. Vintner’s Collective has an in-depth vetting process to make sure the wines match what their customers are interested in, including varieties, price points and wine styles.
When Raj first presented his first wines here to potentially become part of the collective, owner Garret Murphy informed him that he always tastes and evaluates wines privately by himself or with his team. But Raj then said he prefers to be part of the tasting. Garret told him that is not how they operate, but Raj insisted. Garret told him that he can be extremely harsh in his criticism. Raj said he would be open to hearing and would appreciate any feedback.
So he sat in on the tasting and when they were finished he asked Garret what he thought of his wines. Garret was extremely direct and told him he needed to change his entire packaging. The label needed to be redesigned, he recommended heavier glass and said Patel needed to source from better vineyards. In essence, restart the entire brand again. Raj patiently listed and took Garret’s advice to heart. And he hired a new winemaker. When Raj returned to showcase his wines much later, Garret was pleasantly surprised to discover that his advice had actually been followed. Garret told us that winemakers often bring their products to him but most of the time their bottlings are not a fit for his existing represented brands and its even rarer when a vintner follows his advice. Impressed with all the changes and the quality of the wines, he approved Patel for inclusion into Vintner’s Collective.
The tasting flights differ everyday which is certainly part of the appeal for visitors. Unless one is acutely tuned into the world of boutique Napa Valley producers, one probably will never have heard of any of the labels that are being poured, and that is not a bad thing. These wines represented are typically from producers who have a maximum production of 1000 cases. A number of tasting flights are offered – geared towards all levels of wine interest and prior knowledge.
Walk-in customers are generally welcome if space allows but appointments can also be requested including for more private tastings hosted upstairs.
In early 2019 The Green Room opened in an industrial park located just south of the city of Napa. This tasting space was formerly occupied by Holman Cellars and with a few updates, is now used for by appointment-only tastings focusing on wines produced by Julien Fayard (including wines from some of his clients).
The idea behind the name is two-fold, Green Room is generally referred to as a room where actors or others about to go on live television or other performances take time to relax and calm the nerves and it is also a surfing slang, referring to barreling a wave or getting time inside the hollow of a wave as it curls over before cresting. Appropriately named, the room is a calm space, intimate in size and is located just outside the winery but close enough so visitors can watch the action through the adjoining windows. And the name ties into one of Julien’s other passions, surfing. The ceiling of the winery is lined with surfboards.
Visits are always private for your party and each sit-down tasting includes several current release Patel wines.
And some of Julien’s other brands can also be tasted here by appointment including Le Pich and Purlieu Wines. In a unique offering by a Napa winemaker, Purlieu offers a brandy produced from Napa Valley grown grapes; their first release came in early 2021.
For more information, to join their mailing list to receive notices about allocation releases, visit: www.patelwinery.com