Spire Collection features the most premium wines bottled by Jackson Family Wines from wineries under their ownership; i.e. local, regional and international producers. The various Jackson Family Wines properties, wineries or brands are incredibly geographically diverse and are located on parts of five continents. As of our latest update to this review, their total count of wineries or brands is nearly 40 with most being located in Sonoma County but also with a presence in Oregon and Washington. For reference, in addition to the Spire Collection property, their Napa Valley owned wineries or brands are the following: Caladan, Cardinale, Freemark Abbey, Galerie, La Jota Vineyard Co, Lokoya and Mt. Brave.
This is an extremely rare tasting in Napa Valley featuring both their Napa Valley bottlings but also numerous non-Napa Valley produced wines including wines from their most premium properties around the world.
Guests of the Spire Collection taste wines at the Spire Collection Estate located near Calistoga in the far northern reaches of Napa Valley. The long-established winery on the property is in a bucolic location completely surrounded by vineyards located slightly north of Tubbs Lane near Old Faithful Geyser. The winery here was founded by long time Napa vintner Robert Pecota and is who we met with years ago when he owned this property. An imprint of his hands is still embedded in the concrete. He sold the winery and vineyards to Jackson Family Wines in 2006; it was then operated as Atalon Winery for several years. Other than a single small tank to keep the Atalon Winery bond active, this winery is no longer being used to produce Atalon’s wines and all production has been moved to the wine making facilities at Cardinale Winery in Oakville.
Tastings at this private estate are conducted in an elegant room overlooking the vineyards planted on the property. The stunning backdrop is of Mt. St. Helena in the background, the tallest mountain in or near Napa Valley at 4,341 feet. Weather permitting, during a tasting, a glass door can slide open; this creates a nice ambiance between the indoor space and the outdoors. An outdoor fire pit and Adirondack type chairs complete the setting.
As a result of its location this is one of the most northerly based Napa wineries. We always enjoy visiting this part of the valley as there are less people, less traffic, and the wineries are much more spread out. On some of the smaller roads north of Calistoga one has a greater chance of seeing bicycles rather than cars and along with Carneros in the south, is a very bicycle friendly part of Napa Valley.
This estate is well under the radar of nearly all visitors to Napa Valley and perhaps it is purposely kept that way. Visits are for serious wine enthusiasts and collectors and are often initiated through word of mouth or referrals (rather than any advertising). With such a diversity of properties both domestically and internationally tastings can really be hand curated based on your interests in regions, types of wines or varieties. For example, one can enjoy a Napa and Sonoma focused Cabernet Sauvignon tasting or focus on Pinot Noir. Usually at least one wine from their international brands will be a part of a tasting.
Several of their Napa Valley grown and produced wines are a part of the Spire Collection and are available for tastings here. La Jota is a historical property that encompasses two vineyards on Howell Mountain; La Jota Estate Vineyard and W.S. Keyes Vineyard. Each of these vineyards were established separate from each other in the late 1800s and both produced award-winning wines in the Paris Exposition of 1900. The La Jota property features a beautiful stone winery built in 1898 (still being used for wine making).
Mt. Brave features wines from the Mt. Veeder appellation with vines growing on rugged steep hillsides. The name is in tribute to the Wappo Indians who lived in these mountains and later to the pioneering settlers of the region. Their vineyard is located on slopes ranging from 1,400 to 1,800 feet in elevation. This site was originally purchased in 1841.
And Captûre and Galerie are brands that incorporate parts of Napa Valley in their wine making program (along with neighboring regions outside of Napa Valley). These wines are available in distribution at select restaurants but are primarily sold direct to consumer.
Well regarded winemaker Chris Carpenter makes the wine for both La Jota and Mt. Brave. Chris was originally a bar tender from Chicago and remarkably for many years found time to bar-tend most Friday evenings at the Rutherford Grill along highway 29 in Rutherford. Over the years, we sent a number of clients to the Rutherford Grill on Fridays just to say hi to Chris!
An extremely unusual planting for Howell Mountain is Chardonnay; this AVA is primarily known for its mountain grown red wines. The 2020 La Jota Vineyard Co. W.S. Keyes Chardonnay (Howell Mountain) is deep gold in color; the bouquet is highly appealing and offers a diversity of aromatics including of white peach, nectarine, honeysuckle, jasmine and a hint of apricot and warm butter. The bouquet becomes a bit more sweetly fruited as it has time to open; it also shows some citrus scents including lemon and lime. The palate is mineral driven and features crisp acidity and flavors of mandarin and apple. A very subtle hint of vanilla lingers on the finish. This rare Napa Valley mountain grown Chardonnay is highly worth seeking out.
The 2021 Captûre Rosé of Sangiovese was sourced from two blocks from the Spire Collection’s Field Stone Vineyard in Alexander Valley. One of the blocks dates from 1998 and the other from 1968. This wine is salmon color in the glass; its aromatics are bright and refreshing just like its flavor and acid profile. The bouquet offers scents of citrus blossom, an orange peel zest and slightly under ripe raspberry. This bottling is mineral driven on the palate with a noticeable brightness persisting on the finish. But there is also a complementary textural roundedness or creaminess. The younger vines perhaps contribute more of the brightness to this wine while the older vines contribute the texture and richness of flavor. This was one of the nicer rosé wines we have tried from either Napa or Sonoma in 2023.
The 2018 Caladan Proprietary Red Wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. This wine is deep ruby in color with a slightly purplish rim; it immediately makes itself known as having some aromatic character. It offers darker and savory scents including a gamey type of meatiness, damp earth with decomposing leaves, tar, mushroom, farmyard, old cedar box, pipe tobacco, dried sage and sweaty baseball mitt leather after use on a hot summer day. The fruit is dark and it is there – it just needs some time to evolve and properly express itself (blackberry, bramble and dark plum). We love aromatic depth in wine, which leads to more written descriptors in our notes which almost always translates to more interesting wines. Its brightness, savory notes and youthfulness is immediately evident on the palate in terms of flavor, acidity and structure. For reference we tasted 5 years post vintage. It reveals flavors of dark plum, crushed peppercorn, dust (yes we have licked rocks from a dry river bed before although we don’t make a habit of doing so) and dried tobacco leaf. This bottling lingers with grainy, granular, pixelated and never-ending tannins which show a light astringency and plenty of persistent dryness. This wine speaks volumes now, but is clearly built with cellaring in mind.
The 2017 Legacy Petite Sirah Alexander Valley is 88% Petite Sirah and 12% Syrah. This wine was created from the oldest vines growing at their Field Stone Vineyard and were planted in 1894. This bottling is dark ruby with purple notes; the bouquet is sweetly fruited with aromas of plum, boysenberry, blackberry and blackberry jam and dark licorice. The intensity of aromas carries over to the palate showcasing ripe dark fruit including of plum and blackberry. The tannins are robust and long lasting and linger dark and with notes of dried tobacco.
Winemaker Pierre Seillan planted Tannat in Alexander Valley, unbeknownst to owner Jackson Family Wines proprietor and Chairwoman, Barbara Banke. He had her sample the 2009 vintage of this wine in a blind tasting. She really enjoyed its character and asked him what the variety was. He told her Tannat. She replied, “we don’t have any Tannat planted.” The secret had to be let out of the bag at that point. And he told her he had been making wine from this variety. She told him, “We have to bottle this.” Subsequently, it was bottled under the label Le Coeur; the 2009-2011 vintages were released as a three-year vertical in 2022 and in 2023, vintages 2012-2014 were also released as a three-year vertical.
The 2013 Le Coeur Tannat, Alexander Valley is dark and inky in the glass and is the definition of opaque. The aromatics feature ripe blackberry and boysenberry. We described its scents in our notes as somewhat briary. This is a big mouth-filling wine that is somewhat gamey on the palate. It features robust and long lasting grippy tannins along with a juicy and mouthwatering finish. Lingers dry and with notes of cigar paper. We had finished eating several cheeses immediately prior to trying this wine and the tannins still showed as muscular and memorable.
Anakota produces two single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines each year from their estate vineyard high up on the slopes of Mt. St. Helena in Knights Valley in Sonoma County. These two wines, while sourced from very close to each other have different personalities. These wines are also known for their age worthiness. We tasted the following two bottlings 10 years post their vintage date as part of a library re-release.
The 2013 Anakota Helena Dakota Vineyard is dark ruby in color; this is the more approachable of the two wines. But at 10 years post vintage, it has reached a very nice place. The bouquet shows an elegance of ripe fruits including blackberry and ripe cherry with some tertiary aromatics creeping in. It is a little briary. It also offers hints of mocha and cacao and as it breathes further, some nuances of chocolate brownie. The palate is the definition of seamless; it lingers slightly juicy with supple tannins, a chalk-like texture and a dusty note.
The 2013 Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard is dark ruby and nearly opaque in the glass; the beautiful dark fruited bouquet offers aromas of blackberry, boysenberry and ripe plum. A touch of old cedar box also shows. The palate mirrors the darkness of the bouquet; it is juicy and features a density of both fruit and structure. This wine lingers savory with flavors of cedar, dried tobacco, a woodsy note and earthy/dusty dense, but rounded tannins.
The 2008 La Jota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a beautiful wine. Shows blackberry, chocolate, an earthy quality and as it breathes a floral note is revealed (rose petals). There is a balance that probably has been helped by time in the bottle between a richness of flavor and power of structure. It offers lingering sweetness of fruit, long lasting tannins and very good acidity. This bottling is available at a reasonable price to quality ratio.
The 2012 La Jota Vineyard Merlot initially shows sweet dessert spice aromatics including notes of browned sugar and burnt toffee. Given time, beautiful fruit aromatics start showing including plum along with lesser aromas of toasted cedar plank. A tartness of fruit lingers along with a moderate grip of tannins on the finish. The vines that produce the grapes for this wine are over 40 years old.
The Mt. Brave Malbec from Mt. Veeder is usually 100% varietal but in 2012 it was blended with a kiss of Cabernet Sauvignon (2%). It is rare to find a 100% varietal Malbec in Napa Valley, much less from Mt. Veeder. We are aware of only one other producer who made a 100% Malbec from Mt. Veeder (Godspeed Vineyards who has since sold his vineyard to Alpha Omega Winery). The 2012 Mt. Brave Malbec vintage shows a depth of aroma and flavor. The bouquet offers darker fruit including notes of blackberry and as it breathes it reveals a sweetness of both fruit and dessert spices. Texturally it feels soft but with great depth of flavor. Mouthwatering and juicy this wine has excellent acidity.
The 2013 Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon combines several elements to make this a standout, showy and muscular wine. The variety and the hillside location certainly contribute to this but the vintage itself was a “powerful” one in Napa Valley. This bottling shows dark ruby in the glass with a savory note on the bouquet including hints of dried sage. Predominately notes of blueberry show both aromatically and on the palate; this wine has great length in terms of both flavor and structure. It needs some time to be ‘tamed’ so to speak with some bottle age.
Another Jackson Family Wines owned winery to be familiar with, especially if you enjoy Cabernet Franc, is the Arcanum bottling, produced by Tenuta di Arceno, based in Tuscany, Italy.
The Spire Collection Alexander Valley
In addition to the Calistoga location, Spire Collection also offers a second space for tastings at Field Stone Vineyard in Alexander Valley just north of Healdsburg in neighboring Sonoma County. This property is about a 20-minute drive from the Spire Collection in Calistoga, in part through Knights Valley on beautiful California Highway 128. And several other Jackson Family Wines properties are located within a short drive of Field Stone Vineyard including Stonestreet and Verite.
Field Stone Winery was founded in 1977 and was sold to Jackson Family Wines in 2016. The property is slightly more than 30 acres of which approximately 27 acres are planted to grapevines. The oldest vines on the property are Sangiovese and some Zinfandel, with these original vines dating back to 1894. Also, of historical interest are blocks of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon vines dating back to 1969 with the Cabernet Sauvignon planted from cuttings from Martha’s Vineyard in Napa Valley.
We first drove into Field Stone Winery immediately following the Kincade Fire in October 2019 (the largest fire in Sonoma County’s history). Unfortunately, the physical winery burned down in this fire, leaving the charred trunks of two nearby giant redwoods as a reminder of its incendiary path. Plans are underway to rebuild the winery in roughly the same location.
Tastings are hosted inside or weather permitting outside of their small hospitality house overlooking the oldest vines on the property. Because this part of the property is slightly raised above the valley floor, on clear days there are stunning views especially to the south and west including of Mt. St. Helena in the background. Visits are unscripted, educational and fun. Like at the Spire Collection in Calistoga, hosts have a wide variety of both domestic and international wines to present to visitors. With such a diversity of properties and wines produced under the Jackson Family Wines ownership, tastings can be highly customized to include wines from particular varieties, regions of the world or even older vintages.
And during the tasting, one wine might be tasted blind – for fun and educational purposes. And an empty glass might be on the table, saved for the final tasting after the host ascertains what types of wines the guests most enjoyed. And then this glass will be filled with something similar from a wine from one of their other brands.
Jackson Family Wines
The remarkable success story of Jackson Family Wines began with Jess Jackson; San Francisco raised, he founded a law firm in the city in the 1950s focusing on real estate and land rights issues. Later, with his first wife Jane in 1974, he bought an old 80-acre pear and walnut orchard near Lakeport, Lake County. They converted this to Chardonnay and began selling the grapes to local wineries. Eventually the market for grapes softened and Jackson had more grapes than he could sell.
He decided to make Chardonnay – the fermentation on one of the lots ended up not fully completing leaving the resulting wine with a little bit of residual sugar. With the help of Napa Valley vintner, Ric Forman they created the first Chardonnay from a blend of multiple lots from various vineyard sources. The 1982 vintage was the first wine from Jackson Family Wines and was called Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. Priced reasonably, not to cheap and not too expensive, this was a premium made fruit-forward Chardonnay, soon made in large quantities with a flavor profile that appealed to many people.
With the popularity of the Chardonnay, Jackson began expanding to other parts of California and eventually outside of the state including international properties. The Kendall-Jackson Winery and tasting room is located in tiny Fulton, just north of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. The company headquarters is located in Santa Rosa. Kendall was the maiden name of Jackson’s first wife.
In 2003 Jess became involved with professional horse racing including purchasing horses (some went on to stand-out careers) and establishing Stonestreet Farm (Stonestreet is Jackson’s middle name); this horse farm and racing stables is based just outside of the small town of Versailles in Kentucky. This is prime ‘horse’ country’ with numerous thoroughbred horse farms in the region. Stonestreet is also the name of their winery in Alexander Valley (not far from Field Stone Winery). And it should be no surprise that the horse stables are named after grape varieties.
In 2009 Jess was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame. He died in 2011; today his wife Barbara Banke oversees the growing company and its operations.
Stonestreet Farms, Kentucky
Three Spire Collection membership levels are offered including an upper tier membership which gives members VIP access and special pricing to various member events and dinners. For more information about the wines represented under the Spire Collection, to arrange an appointment, to become a member or to join their mailing list, please visit: www.membershipbyspire.com