Signorello Estate was founded in 1977 when Ray Signorello Sr purchased property in the hills next to the southern part of the Silverado Trail; his original intent was to own a summer home away from San Francisco Bay area where he lived at the time. Neighbors including Frank Altamura were growing premium vineyards; in 1980 with the help of his son, Ray Sr. planted vineyards on the property. He initially sold the grapes to other wineries including Cakebread, Caymus and William Hill.
Realizing the premium quality of wines being produced from their vineyard, the Signorello’s decided to build their own winery. Their winery permit was approved in 1980. In 1985, due to a larger than normal crop, they kept their grapes for their own use and produced several thousand cases of Chardonnay made at what was Koves-Newlan Winery near Yountville (now the site of Silenus Vintners). This was the the first vintage of Signorello Estate. Ray Sr’s dreams of owning a summer house in Napa, which was never actually built (although Ray Jr later built a home on the property), transitioned into building their physical winery which was completed by 1988.
Ray Sr., (died in 1998) used to work for the San Francisco Chronicle and later was an executive for North Pacific Mines LTD in Vancouver and a mining promoter. He was also involved in several other businesses including in the early 1970s, Gassy’s Joynt in Gastown, Vancouver, a cabaret located at 6 Powell Street known for their live Flamenco music. Gassy’s didn’t last for more than a couple of years, undergoing different ownership and numerous name changes. The building is still standing. And Ray was also involved in California Music Productions, a music promotion business.
Ray Signorello Jr. was born in San Francisco, California but raised in West Vancouver, Canada; Ray is involved in a number of wine ventures including Edge Wines, Fuse wines (Napa Cabernet Sauvignon blended with various red varieties) and Trim wines (Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from select vineyards throughout California). We have seen numerous bottlings from these brands for sale in various wine shops in Vancouver. Ray was also a partner in California Cult Classics, Canada’s first premium-wine club based in Vancouver which is currently owned and operated by winemaker Frank Gigliotti. Ray also founded and operates Evolution Fine Wines; based in Vancouver, their focus is on distributing fine French, Italian and American wines to mostly the western and central Canadian markets. And interesting to note, one of Ray’s immediate vintner neighbors in Napa Valley is James Cole Winery, also owned by a Canadian, James Harder and his wife Colleen.
Building, Evolution Fine Wines, Vancouver BC
The entire Signorello property is 100 acres of which 41 are planted to vine; the only grapes they source are for their Pinot Noir. The property features a west facing and an east facing hillside vineyard. The west facing block is easily seen from the Silverado Trail, while the east facing vineyard is located higher up the slopes and ‘hidden’ from view from the valley floor. Despite each vineyard being so close to each other there are dramatic differences in soil types and even in temperatures.
The temporary hospitality center is located just off of the southern part of Silverado Trail nestled in the foothills of the Vaca mountain range, about a 10-minute drive from downtown Napa. Their driveway is a long one and leads up a hill to both the winery site and their hospitality center. As visitors pull in off of the Silverado Trail be sure to glance to your right-hand side. These vines are among some of the oldest still producing Chardonnay in all of Napa Valley and were originally planted in 1980.
Visitors who were on site before the terrible fire of October 2017 used to see the trademark front of their winery building. One half of the stone façade was covered with perfectly groomed ivy. The winery sat in a stunning location with intimate views of the southern part of the valley below. A gorgeous pool overlooked the vineyards.
The 2006 Signorello Estate Vieilles Vignes Chardonnay is from the section of their vineyard planted in 1980 (located at the entrance and to the right of their driveway). Only a partial malolactic fermentation gives this wine a rounded feel with not much buttery influence that sometimes are found in California styled Chardonnays. Nuances of toasted oak, a slight toasted nut characteristic and honeysuckle intermingle with lovely fruit flavors including pear and apple.
Signorello makes a variety of Pinot Noir, all sourced from select vineyards in the cooler Carneros region to the south including the tasty 2006 Las Amigas Vineyard. Looking for a big juicy ripe Syrah but not one that is overly tannic? Their estate Syrah is a good choice.
It is also intriguing to see how a vintage can really affect a wine. A good example of this is a side-by-side comparison of the 2003 and 2004 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. 2003 was a cooler growing year and this wine has an underlying spiciness and earthiness. In contrast the 2004 was a hotter year and was much more fruit forward. One can tell this as soon as they smell the bouquet. Unlike a number of area wineries who use Cabernet Franc for blending purposes, Signorello makes a 100% varietal of Cabernet Franc.
Padrone is one their most premium wines; it is bottled every year as a dedication to Ray’s father. This red wine blend is sourced from two blocks in their vineyard each of which grows in extremely rocky soil and produces very low yields resulting in an intense flavor.
They currently produce small quantity lots from about 50 to 3000 cases depending on the type of wine for a total annual production of around 6,000 cases.
Signorello has weathered more than its fair share of hardships over the years. In 1990 some of their most valuable bottlings were on a wine services truck which was heisted while parked in San Francisco while the driver was eating. Fifteen years later in 2005, Signorello lost thousands of cases in the now infamous arson wine warehouse fire in Vallejo. We saw the photos of this disaster at the time; it was a significant hardship for numerous Napa wineries especially the new producers who lost their entire production. Fortunately, Signorello was able to recover, like most of the already established wineries affected by this fire. For an in depth look at this warehouse fire, read Frances Dinkelspiel’s Tangled Vines: Greed, Murder, Obsession, and an Arsonist in the Vineyards of California.
And this was not the last time the winery was affected by fire; in October 2017 the hospitality center, house, offices, lab and winery burned down (one of the very few Napa Valley wineries to burn to the ground that year). Signorello Estate was one of the prominent featured wineries in the news coverage of these devastating fires. We know of at least 4 Napa based wineries who suffered total building loss from fires that year including Signorello Estate, Helena View Johnston, Sill Winery and Wing Canyon. Remarkably the fire did not burn their outside fermentation tanks (which still had wine in them at the time). And also, only 4 vines were lost on the entire property when part of a burning fence fell onto the plants.
In July 2018, a temporary 60′ x 12′ modular tasting room was moved onto the property until the winery and hospitality center can be rebuilt. Making do with this temporary space, a reception area contains sofa seating with the seated tasting room next door. Small bites are paired with their current release wines.
As of mid 2022 construction began to rebuild the winery, hospitality center (designed by Taylor Lombardo Architect) including the commercial kitchen and to ultimately add a new feature to the property, a 10,000 square foot cave. And based on the devastating fires in 2017 and 2020 in Napa Valley, wine caves (even short wine caves) were generally a very safe place for wine despite fires raging all around their entrances. This construction project is slated to take several years. Until their winery rebuilt is completed, they continue to produce a small amount of wine on property as well as at another winery offsite.
One of the highlights of visiting Signorello Estate is for their unique food and wine pairings. Two selections are offered, and both include a personalized tour of the part of the property with time taken to walk in the vineyards, enjoy the picturesque views and learn more about their farming practices Antipasti lasts 90 minutes with current release wines paired with a variety of artisan cheeses, dried fruits, nuts and some seasonal fresh fruits. For a more in-depth experience, choose the Enoteca (seasonally offered) which includes a 5-course paired sit down lunch including Wagyu beef – allow up to several hours for this experience.
A full commercial kitchen was on site (it will be rebuilt) and their house chef used to discuss reasons for the pairing as well as provided information about the dishes. Seasonal vegetables and herbs are used in the dishes (grown on the property).
All visitors to the property are toured around part of the estate in one of their customized vehicles “golf carts”. All experiences require advance reservations and during construction are typically only available on the weekends. The Signorello wines and Ray’s other labels are distributed including in Canada. Signorello participates in the Vancouver International Wine Festival held every year, typically in April or May. For more information and or to join their Allocation Membership or to purchase select wines, visit: www.signorelloestate.com
NOTE: this review has been identified as needing a *major update* including tasting notes for current release wines. We will revisit and update this review once the new winery is completed. Potentially by the end of 2023 or into 2024.
Original Hospitality Center/Grounds
(We keep these photographs for historical purposes)