Rowland Cellars was founded by Gerald (Gerry) Rowland (who we met with for this review) and his wife Linda; his first vintage dates from 1991. Gerry doesn’t own vineyards or a winery but oversees the wine from vineyard to bottle to consumer. Rather than just purchasing grapes from growers, he manages the vineyards he sources fruit from, makes the wine, as well as oversees the majority of his marketing and sales. He began making wine commercially rather early on – since the early 1990s, hundreds of producers have begun making wine in Napa Valley. Rowland Cellars produces between 10,000 to 12,000 cases a year, no small task for a one person owned and operated winery.
Gerry currently produces two separate labels, Ramspect (his family name) which are Napa Valley wines and Cenay (single vineyard wines – his wife’s family name). Ramspeck was the first label introduced followed by Cenay in 1997. Perhaps his family wins an award for the longest gap between vintages. When Gerry restarted his family label in 1991 it was 454 years since his ancestors released their first wine in Germany; at that time they distributed it in parts of Europe under the Ramspect label (in 1537). As Gerry says, “With a family tradition beginning four and a half centuries ago, it adds a little extra weight on your shoulders to do it right.” I’ll say.
Gerry’s father grew grapes in Australia’s Barossa Valley and Gerald earned his viticulture and enology degree at Roseworthy College in South Australia. Arriving in the Napa Valley in 1987 he initially worked at Stags’ Leap Winery and then furthered his studies at UC Davis. He spent a number of years working with hillside grown vineyards at Chappellet Winery and today focuses on his own labels as well as consults for several other producers.
Rowland’s wines tend to come from from the southern part of the Napa Valley including from parts of the Carneros, Oak Knoll, Coombsville and Atlas Peak sub appellations. He typically works with smaller privately owned vineyards.
As Gerry says, a hallmark of his wine is the “delicious factor, rather than the wow factor”. In that regards his wine making style is older world in focus although he certainly combines new world wine making techniques. His wines are generally in the mid 13% alcohol range. Today you don’t find that many wines from Napa in this range. These are not “score grabber” wines but rather are balanced affordable wines meant to be enjoyed with food.
The 2007 Ramspeck Pinot Noir features some very nice weight both in its structure and also on the finish yet retains an elegant feel, especially for such a young wine. Because this was a lower yield year in the valley and the berries were generally smaller the fruit had a lower juice to skin ratio. This is clearly evident in the darker color (for a Pinot Noir) of this vintage. The bouquet is well layered, with floral characteristics including notes of dried rose petals as well as aromas of raspberry and graphite. Because the pH is not high combined with a judicious oak aging program, it does not retain heavy flavors of toasted oak and or vanilla characteristics. Concentrated flavors of red cherry and blueberry show well on the palate – along with just a hint of oak towards the very long and pleasing finish.
The Cenay label allows Rowland to showcase individual vineyards and how their unique terroir differences can influence the wine. These wines are made in an old-world style to showcase varietal flavors and characteristics that are often lost in the showier, “riper” wines. The Blue Tooth Vineyard (not to be confused with another Napa Vineyard called Blue Print or at one point the Blue Hall Vineyard) is located in the Oak Knoll district and is owned by a dentist who says, “Great Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon should stain your teeth blue!” With that in mind, one would almost expect this wine to be fairly dark in the glass, and it is. The 2006 Cenay is 78% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Merlot (both from the same vineyard). This wine has a bouquet of baking spices and dark fruit followed by a palate that shows flavors of plum, dark chocolate and black cherry. The finish is balanced and slightly dusty with a medium tannin structure.
The 2006 RB 90 is sourced from a vineyard in the heart of Rutherford. RB 90 is sometimes mistaken for a Robert Parker score, but RB stands for Rutherford Bench, a part of the Rutherford appellation that has deep well drained soils composed of a good portion of gravel. One might think this is going to be a “big” wine just from the weight of the bottle – yes, it is a normal 750ml bottle, but it feels like twice the weight. This is the premium wine from the Cenay label and the 2006 is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a big wine, but its well-structured and balanced which is why it is so drinkable young. Wonderful berry and mocha aromas rise from the glass leading to a palate full of red cherry and plum flavors. The finish is firm with chewy tannins and just a bit of smokiness lingers on the long finish.
The 2017 Ramspeck Napa Valley Pinot Noir (13.5% alcohol) shows bright and ripe fruit aromatics including cranberry and plum. Somewhat distracted by the oak. Offers plenty of spices along with toasted oak, darker licorice, and freshly baked bread. Soft across the palate with flavors of raspberry and red cherry. The fruit finishes quickly – lingers with a generous helping of toasted oak, mocha, burnt caramel and pepper.
Gerry also makes a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Merlot (a newer addition) under the Ramspeck label.
Every cork under the Cenay label is also printed with “Carpe Caelum” which means “seize the heavens.
And in 2018 Gerry and Linda founded Coit Spirits with the intent to create small-batch handcrafted gins following their motto of, be bold – dare to be rare. All their gins are bottled in Petaluma (neighboring Sonoma County). The Earl Grey Gin is 47% alcohol by volume – and contains 10 botanicals (the recipe took about 18 months to perfect).
This gin smells like juniper berry, lemon zest, limoncello and Earl Grey tea. Smooth on the palate with an intense long finish showing flavors of citrus and tea – the tea notes linger on the palate for quite some time. Vegan friendly – with most gluten removed during distillation. Several recipes for suggested use are on the Coit Spirits website. Packaged nicely in clear glass, with a glass cork. The bottle features an etched outline of Coit Tower on the exterior of the glass – which appears much larger when looking through a full bottle. Visit: www.coitspirits.com
Rowland Cellars does not sell direct to consumer – rather they have a number of distribution channels in various states including California, New York and a number of Southern states. Locally in the valley, one can sometimes find their wines at select wine shops including Backroom Wines in Napa and the small supermarket, CalMart in Calistoga. For more information visit: www.rowlandcellars.com