Robinson Family Vineyards. The roots of this small family-owned winery date back to 1967 when Norman ‘Bud’ & Helen Robinson purchased 78 acres of land (below the prominent rock outcroppings in this part of the Vaca mountain range known as the Stags Leap cliffs) and at that time ran cattle and horses. Bud was a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army; prior to moving to Napa Valley, he was stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. His introduction to Napa Valley was through a family member already living here at the time.
Bud knew little about wine, did not drink wine but fortunately several prominent area vineyard growers convinced the family to plant part of their land to wine grapes including Nathan Fay (namesake of the Fay Vineyard which is owned by Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars) and Tom Turnbull, a local Episcopalian priest. Some of their non-commercial wine was made with the name Robinson, Fay and Turnbull; the family still owns a number of these older bottles, and several are on display next to their tasting room.
Very much a small family owned and operated winery, Bud and Helen’s daughter Suzie oversees hospitality and her husband Tom (who we originally met with) is the winemaker (along with a consulting winemaker) and in charge of most everything else relating to the property. His background in construction often comes in handy. Their three daughters (who grew up on the property) help with hospitality including twins Kim and Robin and their older sister Carrie.
The property is three separate parcels of which only 7 acres are planted to vines. The family still maintains a small herd of cattle on one of their parcels. The winery is located east of the Silverado Trail in the heart of the Stags Leap District. A number of their vineyard neighbors are small producers – Robinson Family Vineyards owns the only physical winery along this access road. Their property borders the property of Stags’ Leap Winery; Suzie and Tom fondly remember visiting the Stags’ Leap Manor when it was completely abandoned prior to 1971 when vintner, Carl Doumani purchased that property.
This gracious family works extremely hard, loves what they do and have fun doing so. Most crush pads in the Napa Valley are strictly for wine making uses (although we have visited several that dual as skateboard areas during downtime). The Robinsons have built perhaps the only bar/hangout area directly next to a crush pad in the valley. The old adage in the wine industry is that it takes a lot of beer to make good wine (and perhaps other types of alcohol). During harvest (typically parts of September and October), family and friends often help Tom with the wine making; this is a fun and memorable time to visit the winery.
The family’s first commercial release under the Robinson Family label was the 1998 vintage. While the family produces a number of wines, typically their overall production is usually between 800 and 1,500 cases annually. Each wine is produced with no more than a maximum of 300 cases with several only a barrel or two. Their small production wines are typically only released to wine club members or sold on site.
Their distribution is so tiny that the wines are primarily sold direct through visits, wine club memberships and online sales. They simply do not have enough wine to distribute on a large scale. The limited distribution they have is to places that the family likes to frequent locally including the nearby Soda Canyon Store and Cole’s Chop House and Allegria Restaurant in the city of Napa. Several of their wine club members are in the wine retail business and small amounts are sent to Texas and New Mexico.
A visit is a bit like driving back in time; as one pulls off of the Silverado Trail, one quickly leaves the often-congested traffic that has become so bad in the afternoons in recent years. Wandering east on a small road visitor with appointments pull into the winery and will be warmly greeted by one of the Robinson family members. Visits typically begin in the tasting room and refreshingly, are always hosted by a family member. The tasting room is intimate and features a tiny bar and a long table next to a window overlooking the vineyard to the south of their property.
The original wine library created by Bud and Helen is located next to their aging cellar; older vintages are now covered in dust, and some are from well-known wineries in France. Bud passed away in 1998 and the family has left his collection as it is. An old wooden hand crank press is located outside the cellar building; today it is used for growing pretty flowers but from 1971 through 1997 it was used for making the family home wine.
Tastings feature select current release wines; weather permitting guests will take a short walk up to the winery (one of the smaller physical wineries in all of Napa Valley) with a stop on a small lawn overlooking part of their property. On a clear warm day, with glass of wine in hand – this is a tasting experience that many to the valley for the first time imagine but perhaps don’t always find at some of the larger more visited Napa Valley based wineries.
The family has an intriguing sense of humor – an acronym on one of their old home-wine labels spells F.A.R.T. using the last names of local residents including Fay and Turnbull. One of their other old labels, the Octopus is bottled with an intriguing shape.
The 2021 Robinson Family Vineyards Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon (estate) is medium salmon in color with some pink hues; offers aromas of jolly rancher watermelon, wild strawberries, citrus blossom, pineapple guava and notes of lemon lime. This bouquet is highly aromatic. Features a rounded and creamy texture with flavors of lemon drop candy, strawberry, watermelon and crunchy red apple picked right from the tree. This is not a lighter styled rosé. Features an intense and long flavor filled finish with just the right amount of acid tartness to keep one salivating for more. Very well done.
The 2017 Robinson Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc is highly aromatic and reveals engaging floral driven aromas including citrus blossom, jasmine and passion fruit. There are also notes of white pineapple, freshly cut grass, a lemon-lime zest and a slate-like mineral nuance on the bouquet. Balanced with a nice approach on the palate offering both a sweetness along with a tartness of fruit. Supple and slightly creamy across the palate with good acid, this wine is mouthwatering but not overtly tart. Offers flavors of red and green apple, mandarin and a lime zest. The finish is very clean. Over the years, we have tasted and smelled several different vintages of this wine, sometimes from the aromatics alone, we think it’s a Viognier.
Stags Leap District is one of Napa Valley’s best known red wine sub-appellations. As a result, their focus is on several estate-grown red varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon and some rarer limited production 100% varietal bottlings of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec.
The 2018 Robinson Family Vineyards Petit Verdot Oakville is 100% varietal; it is dark ruby with purplish tinges on the rim and noticeably opaque in the glass. The bouquet offers plenty of fruit aromatics including dark ripe plum with the skins almost bursting as if the fruit was picked directly from the tree, dark cherry, blackberry jam, mocha, Graham cracker, vanilla and some darker baking spices. Two words quickly come to mind describing this wine: delicious and balanced. But we can use a few more accompanying words – offers flavors of blackberry and espresso. The plush and rounded tannins complement the opulent fruit and are seamlessly integrated into the smooth satisfying finish. This wine is very much ready to drink in its youth.
The 2013 Robinson Family Vineyards Merlot offers a pretty bouquet with some bottle bouquet already showing from its 6 years of age (at the time of our tasting). Notes of blackberry and old cedar box. On the palate very approachable and very balanced – rich in flavor but without heavy tannins. Structurally the wine finishes with a supple note – with fine-grained well-integrated tannins along with a darker dessert spice nuance. An attractive and a lingering finish.
The 2015 Robinson Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon features an elegant bouquet with aromas of dried rose petal, tobacco leaf, Asian spices and black licorice. Bright aromatics. Slightly savory in its aromatic presentation. Sublime in its texture – this wine is finely balanced between fruit, acidity and tannins. Flavors of cherry, blackberry and chocolate with a polished finish. This is a premium, well-priced to quality ratio Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon made in an approachable style that is quite enjoyable on its own.
Wine leaving residue that slides down the glass is often referred to as the “tears” or “legs” – and there are varying opinions in the industry as to the relevance of ‘legs’. Most Napa winemakers we have met with are indifferent to the term legs when referring to wine. One can take the Robinson’s second label called Great Legs at face value or perhaps there is more to the story. Regardless, this wine was created by Carrie, Kim and Robin. This bottling may differ in which varieties are included; in the past it has featured a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and a Cabernet Franc but may also be 100% varietal. The Great Legs bottlings are priced affordable and styled to be approachable in their youth, I.E., easy drinking, to be opened any day of the week without worrying about the price.
The 2018 Robinson Family Vineyards Great Legs, Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville is dark ruby in color; this wine is 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Offers aromas of ripe blackberry, mocha, cocoa powder, espresso and vanilla; if hedonism was a smell, this bouquet would be that smell. Or simply put, it smells like desert in the glass. Offers plenty of flavor across the palate without any youthful textural aggravation, in other words features smooth and rounded tannins. Lingers with a slight bitter chocolate note. This is a wine that is ready to drink young and should be.
Compared to other sub-appellations there are relatively few physical wineries in the Stags Leap District. The few make up for a lack of numbers with a strong community – especially among the several small family-owned wineries who while focusing on their own brands also strongly support their fellow neighbors. Case in point is annual Vineyard to Vintner (V2V) event every April featuring access to Stags Leap District based wineries and producers (some of whom are not open to the public).
Robinson Family Vineyards is a member of the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association. Select vintages of library wines are available for purchase on site during visits. For more information, to schedule an appointment or to join their wine club (two shipments a year), visit: www.robinsonfamilyvineyards.com
Tom in the cellar doing some Spring blending and moving wines around!
Posted by Robinson Family Vineyards on Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Even during this crazy time, the work never stops!
Posted by Robinson Family Vineyards on Friday, June 5, 2020
Putting the final touches on our first ever Rose of Merlot with Kristof and Tom and I!
Posted by Robinson Family Vineyards on Tuesday, March 24, 2020
susan stephens says
We visited your winery several years ago from Louisiana. At the time Mamie Breard was working there. We purchased several bottles and are now down to our very last…..a 2006 Estate Malbec. Would you recommend we drink it now….or is it passed it’s prime….or shall we wait…..
Do you have any more of these available?
Looking forward to a trip back soon in our future travels. Susan Stephens
The only Mamie I know in the valley used to work at T Vine and most recently is at Seavey Vineyards. I see her there every once in a while and recently saw her at the Napa Wine Library tasting at Silerado Resort. At 10 years post vintage date, I would drink that Malbec now 🙂
Stephen Robinson says
Celebrating our 10th anniversary. We had dinner at Cole’s Chop House, and we chose a bottle of your Cabernet with our meal. The wine made the night! We would love to stop by and thank you in person, and bring a six pack of Dr. Pepper!
Michelle and Stephen Robinson