Pope Valley Winery is really located off the typical Napa Valley “beaten path” – allow about 30 minutes to get here from the Silverado Trail. As the name indicates, this winery is in Pope Valley which is a relatively unpopulated area of Napa County on the backside (east) of the town of Angwin. Pope Valley actually is home to a number of small mostly private wineries so it is unusual to find a winery here that you can actually visit, especially without an appointment. The roads are narrow and windy, and typically there is much less traffic than you find on the Napa Valley floor. This is not the “Napa wine strip”!
This is a quieter part of Napa Valley that few first-time tourists to the region ever see – a part of the county that is certainly worth seeking out. It is rural with few wineries and a nice balance of natural landscape and vineyards. It is more likely you will hear birds rather than the noises of passing vehicles.
The winery dates from 1897, founded by Ed & Bertha Haus as the Burgundy Winery & Olive Oil Factory. Tunneling into the hill and construction took about 9 years before the winery was completed. The Haus’s moved to Pope Valley in 1882 and Sam began working as a blacksmith. Remarkably his old barn still stands with his old blacksmiths tools mostly hanging on the walls. An article from the November 4, 1892, issue of the St. Helena Star references Ed building a new blacksmith shop that year. His shop is located within a short walk from the tasting room and guests to the property are welcome to walk inside and look around.
This was one of the few Napa County wineries to stay “open” during part of Prohibition. The typical story of such wineries is that they produced Sacramental wine during Prohibition for church use. Not the Sam Haus Winery – through their connections they sold wine to a network in Chicago who then supplied the wine to Al Capone’s speakeasies and brothels. The winery stopped selling wine after Capone became more and more lawless, but to outside sources it appeared the winery was closed during Prohibition. However, immediately following the repeal of Prohibition the winery opened again in 1933. And Ed and Bertha’s children, Sam and Lillian operated the winery until 1959.
Current owners, the Eakle Family purchased the winery and property in 1997 and have preserved its history very well. The Eakle and the Haus family’s already knew each other. Brother and sister and Napa natives (3rd generation Pope Valley and 5th generation from Napa County), David Eakle and Diana Hawkins currently oversea the winery operations. Their father Sam runs Eakle Construction & Trucking, a company their family founded in 1974 and currently services the tri counties (Lake, Napa and Sonoma). As part of Eakle Family Vineyard Management, they offer a variety of services including vineyard development and vineyard removal; one can often see their vineyard management signs throughout Pope Valley.
David and Diana’s grandparents, Lee and Betty Eakle started what was called Eakle’s Valley Market in the 1940s with Spanish immigrant Litto Damonte, the Hubcap King, known for collecting hundreds of hubcaps at what is still the family owned Hubcap Ranch. The market specialized in selling groceries, meats and general merchandise. Betty served as Pope Valley’s postmaster for 30 years.
The once thriving nearby township of Aetna Springs (we have been told nearly 3,000 people lived here at one point) was built around quicksilver (cinnabar ore) mines. The first cinnabar mine established in Napa County was the Phoenix Mine in 1861. Ultimately 21 miles of tunnels were drilled into the hillsides. For some 40 years between the 1860s and early 20th century, Napa County was once one of the most prominent quicksilver regions in the state. Quicksilver from Napa County was an integral part of California’s gold mining heritage – as quicksilver transported from Napa County to the Sierra Nevada gold fields was used for extracting gold and silver from the ore bearing rock.
In a convenient use of nearby labor, quicksilver miners were brought in to dig out the cellars (which took 9+ years by hand) – located on and under the adjoining hillside backing up up against the winery. The impressive wooden timbers within the cellar were taken from Napa’s Oat Hill Quicksilver Mine via horse drawn wagons.
The cellar was built over the small Haus Creek (appropriately named after Ed Haus). During the rainy season, this little creek still flows. Walking in here is like walking back in time – the original timbers holding up the winery are still in place, the original sign from the late 1890s, “Burgundy Winery” hangs inside, and wine barrels are stacked in the dimly lit light.
If it is not too busy in the tasting room, ask one of of the staff to give you a quick tour of their historic winery and cellar/cave. And be sure to ring the bell embedded in the old oak tree for good luck (the tree grows directly in front of the cellar entrance).
The property encompasses 36 acres of which 5 acres are planted to vine – approximately 4 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon and an acre to Zinfandel. Their wines are made from grapes grown both on the estate as well as from nearby family-owned vineyards in Pope Valley.
Guests pull in on the short gravel road; the small tasting room is to your left. The staff is very friendly; you will find a totally relaxed atmosphere and a diversity of wines available for both tasting and purchase inside the tasting room. All wines are aged in their hand dug cellar which dates from 1909. Many of their wines have won top medals in statewide competitions. Some of the vines on their estate vineyard date back to the 1940s (extremely rare in the Napa Valley to have vines this old). Their wine selection is somewhat atypical of Napa wineries which is not a bad thing and is uniquely refreshing to have the opportunity to taste wines other than the ubiquitous Cabernet Sauvignon. Their wines are reasonably priced by Napa standards.
The 2020 Pope Valley Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc is pale to medium gold in color; the bouquet is pretty and immediately engaging with floral notes including of honeysuckle and jasmine along with freshly mowed grass. Driving back over Howell Mountain, the bouquet on this wine reminded us of passing by the ball fields in Angwin next to Howell Mountain Road when workers are out cutting the grass. Also notes of citrus blossom and a minerality nuance. Bright, lively and crisp the palate shows flavors of lemon and lime along with notes of lemongrass. The mouth feel offers a very supple almost creamy like texture. The palate is not tart, nor grassy but very balanced and refreshing, especially on the finish.
The 2018 Pope Valley Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot is a blend of 81% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Malbec; the wine is dark ruby in the glass; features generous aromatics – we smelled it immediately upon opening with fruit forward notes of blackberry and boysenberry along with a darker note deeper into the bouquet, perhaps old leather and dark licorice. We love the how the fruit is so expressive on the nose and is complemented rather than dominated by oak. On the palate, shows ripe blackberry along with a savory component, more towards the end. Also offers notes of pepper, dust and tobacco leaf. Features earthy tannins with a moderate and noticeable grip, complemented by a persistent brightness on the finish.
The 2018 Pope Valley Vineyards Napa Valley Sangiovese is 100% varietal; the wine is medium ruby color. It offers distinctive aromatics of currants, mushroom, damp forest floor in the redwoods, tar and toasted cedar. As the bouquet evolves, more fruit comes forward. The bouquet is certainly savory. A lighter style food friendly showing with great acid across the palate. Mouthwatering with flavors of red cherry, red currant and cranberry. Not as spicy as some Napa Valley Sangiovese wines we have tried over the years. Offers a light to medium grip of tannins with lingering notes of dried tobacco leaf and dust. Not sure why, but we immediately thought of pairing this wine with our family’s hand rolled Italian ravioli recipe. Will have to do so!
The 2017 Pope Valley Vineyards Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in the glass with aromatics of ripe Santa Rosa Plum, blackberry, and cherry. Also, a hint of dried tobacco leaf. The cherry notes remind us of being perched on a tall metal ladder in the heart of the Brentwood U-pick cherry orchards in late May or early June, feasting on ripe cherries while trying to simultaneously fill a bucket. Offers plenty of flavor across the palate with still tightly wound and slightly drying dusty tannins (we tasted 4 years post vintage date). And like on the bouquet, the dried tobacco leaf note lingers on the finish. Like the other wines we have tried from Pope Valley Winery, this one also showcases excellent acidity. This wine was aged for 26 months in French oak barrels of which 40% were new.
According to the 2017 Napa County crop report, only 7 acres of Chenin Blanc are planted in all of the Napa Valley. And until more recently, Pope Valley Winery would have had the oldest of these vines – dating back to 1945 (however these vines have since been removed). The 2016 Chenin Blanc shows straw yellow in the glass with aromas of lemon zest, citrus blossom and green apple. Fairly rounded on the palate, with intense fruit flavors and a minerality nuance towards the finish. This is a balanced wine with good acidity. This may be the last vintage of Chenin Blanc produced by Pope Valley Vineyards.
Pope Valley Winery used to produce a late harvest wine from Chenin Blanc. The only one we have tried to date is the 2001 Pope Valley Vineyards Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. We tasted this wine 22 years post vintage. It is deep amber in color; the bouquet shows a pronounced honeyed note, ripe apricot, candied apple, stewed prunes, orange marmalade, baked pineapple upside down cake, pear, brown sugar, walnut, a very subtle note of herbs and an orange peel zest. This wine offers an initial burst and richness of flavor which carries through the front and mid palate, but subsides quickly on the finish. This includes apricot, honeycomb, nectarine, yellow peach, brown sugar, yellow raisons and dried figs. This is not an overly sweet showing, but still, its sweetness outshines its acidity. We found the bouquet more interesting than the palate. It was only $16 retail when it was released.
Be sure to inquire about the backyard events held at the winery which include music events, and BBQ’s, especially their popular Spring BBQ usually held at the end of May, which features good food, barrel tastings, a tour, lots of wine and tons of fun!
Guests are welcome to bring a picnic and enjoy following or before a tasting – several picnic tables are located in the shade of their oak trees. Or the tasting room provides a variety of wine friendly snacks including cheeses, a charcuterie board and a few extra nibbles. And if in the mood, a bocce court is available near the tasting room. Very family and dog friendly.
Total production each year is around 5,000 cases. For more information and or to join one of their wine clubs, visit: www.popevalleywinery.com
Other + Label shots
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