Stanton Vineyards has roots in Napa Valley dating back to 1947 when Jesse Stanton (a San Francisco native) first purchased acreage in the valley (100 acres in Yountville). He kept acquiring land and by the late 1950s owned nearly 220 acres in Napa Valley.
Today the Stanton’s own 75 acres of vineyards including two sites in the St. Helena Appellation: J.B. Ranch and Mills Vineyard and one site in Oakville bordering Highway 29 (on its east side). They do not outsource any of the vineyard management duties, rather they have their own in-house team managing all their vineyards. And a number of their employees have been with them for years and as a result, know their vineyards extremely well.
Today they grow only red varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Petite Sirah and Mourvedre) and sell the fruit to local exemplary wineries such as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Del Dotto among others.
Proprietor of Stanton Wines, Doug Stanton is Jesse’s grandson; Doug’s father John was born in San Francisco but raised in Los Angeles. When he retired in 1971 he was was the chief chemist for the Bureau of Sanitation for the city of Los Angeles. After retiring at a fairly young age, he moved his family to Napa Valley almost immediately following his retirement to take over management of the properties his father had purchased.
After many years of growing and selling grapes (for many years their grapes were sold to what was the Napa Valley Winery Cooperative (where the present day Hall Winery is located) Doug decided to start making wine and released his first vintage in 1999. When one has excellent vineyards and tastes the wines they are producing for other winery clients, it made a lot of sense to produce wines under his own label.
Their production is small, usually around 800 cases divided between two wines, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Petite Sirah. Based on years of experience managing their vineyards they know where the best blocks grow within the vineyards and they harvest only those blocks for their wine. Their Cabernet Sauvignon is actually sourced from the same rows each year. They are only using a small percentage of the fruit they form for their own label – all the rest is sold to other premium producers in the valley.
What typically changes every year is the blending wine used and its variety. This is because every growing season is different and it is the challenge of the winemaker to best use a blending wine that complements the Oakville fruit.
As Doug says, “producing wines has made us better farmers”.
Their winemaker is Dave Phinney (of Orin Swift fame). Dave began his wine career at Robert Mondavi Winery as a temporary harvest intern in 1997 working several hours every day during the graveyard shift in the winery doing punch-downs and pump overs. With Mondavi’s encouragement, in 1997 Dave made a barrel of wine from second crop grapes and the next year produced his first vintage of a label he ultimately became well known for, Orin Swift. He wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the wine, so Dave sold that vintage on the bulk market (Orin Swift is now owned by E & J Gallo Winery). Little did either Mondavi or Phinney know that eventually both would again be linked based on Phinney’s remarkable success with The Prisoner wines.
A gifted blender of both varieties and regions, Dave built his reputation on creating fruit forward (often higher alcohol), approachable blended wines that incorporated multiple varieties and regions. His winemaking has never been constrained by specific varieties or geographical places. To complement his creativity with winemaking – his wines incorporate extremely creative, unique and often eye catching labels. And he is a master marketer – helped by the fact his wines are reasonably priced based on quality.
During our first visit with Doug many years ago, we sampled the 2005 Stanton Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from their Oakville Vineyard. This was already bottled but was not yet released. However it was already drinking very nicely with hints of vanilla and chocolate on the nose. The oak is subtle and does not dominate with pleasing flavors of blackberry and blueberry on the palate.
The 2005 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah is a big wine, yet elegant beginning with a bouquet rich with black cherry aromas. The tannins are well managed and the finish is very long. Many Cabernet Sauvignon lovers will really enjoy this wine because of its structure and rich fruit. The fruit for the Petite Sirah is sourced each year from several select rows of vines growing in their St. Helena vineyard.
The 2016 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah. This wine looks like a scared squid was let loose in the glass. Inky dark and violet-purple the aromatic presentation is fascinating; it is deep, dark and brooding with notes of wet earth, mushroom. It is meaty and savory. Also shows notes of black pepper, coffee grinds, mocha and toasted oak and cedar. Plush and well endowed with flavor on the palate including ripe blackberry, surprisingly this wine does not have the robust structure that one often associates with wines made from this variety. Lovely texture, dusty and fine-grained tannins. An opulent showing.
The challenge with this variety is to get it ripe each year (weather doesn’t always cooperate late in the growing season) as Petite Sirah is a fairly thin skinned grape and doesn’t have a stronger resistance to moisture – as does a Cabernet Sauvignon grape. And Stanton’s style with their Petite Sirah is to ferment it when it is very ripe – this creates a higher alcohol wine but neither vintages we have tried have been overly ripe or revealed jammy characteristics.
The Stanton label has an image of an acorn on the bottle; their vineyards have oak trees growing nearby and these trees were the inspiration for the label. Stanton is also active in several charities by donating large format bottles to auctions. One can sometimes find Stanton’s wines locally at Backroom Wines in the city of Napa, the Oakville Grocery and Brix Restaurant. For more information, to purchase current release wines, or to join their mailing list, visit: www.stantonvineyards.com
NOTE: This review has been identified as needing a *major* update.