Stråla Vineyards was founded in 2014 by husband wife Jason and Laura Ray. Laura was born in Chicago and raised most of her life in Wisconsin. Taking a job in medical sales after college she eventually moved to San Francisco. She recalls her first trip to the Napa Valley was with her sister – sometime in 2004. She remembers driving up the Silverado Trail and visiting Darioush soon after they had opened – and stopping across the highway in front of the prominent now red colored barn with the words Bluetooth Vineyard painted on one side and taking photographs. She remembers telling her sister, “I want to live here at some point”. Remarkably, a decade plus later her wedding reception was held at a vineyard next to the Bluetooth Vineyard – and today she and Jason source fruit from this adjoining vineyard.
Random events can often change the course of ones life. Such is the case with Laura’s path into the wine industry. During a blind tasting hosted by master sommelier Andrea Robinson in 2011 at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Laura found herself pitted against a number of wine professionals including master sommeliers. When the final results were announced, despite not having a wine background or related education, Laura ending up winning the contest.
After winning this blind tasting challenge – word got around the valley and a few days later she received a call from the team at Tonnellerie Ô Cooperage with an offer to join their sales team selling barrels to various vintners. Laura accepted the offer and through this position met numerous winemakers in the valley including Massimo Monticello (who eventually introduced her to her now husband Jason).
Jason grew up on California’s Central Coast with no agricultural background. But he was attracted to agriculture – and earned a degree in Fruit Science and Viticulture from California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo. After graduating he took at job with Kendall Jackson working with some of their vineyards.
In 2005 he started his own vineyard management company, Napa Select Vineyard Services – working with some of the same people he met while at Kendall Jackson. In what has been a rather remarkable trajectory, Napa Select manages over 1,100 vineyard acres – mostly in Napa but with select vineyards in neighboring Sonoma County. Through the vineyard management company he has been introduced to numerous vineyard sites throughout the valley and today works with some of the best local winemakers in the business including Thomas Rivers Brown and Philippe Melka. And he also manages vineyards for iconic Napa vintners including Warren Winiarski and Mike Grgich.
While Laura and Jason do not yet own their own vineyards, they have access to numerous premium vineyard sites and can selectively choose which vineyards to work with each year. In addition, Jason’s team has planted a number of vineyards from which they have first rights to the fruit including a premium site in the Fort Ross Seaview appellation in Sonoma County (where they will eventually source their Pinot Noir).
The first release of Stråla Vineyards was in 2014, a soft release to friends and family. David Brown, winemaker for Brown Estate produced this first vintage. Massimo Monticello has crafted their subsequent vintages. Their primary inaugural release was in 2015 – under 1000 cases but later vintages have grown since then. While Jason focuses on managing their source vineyards and isn’t involved in the winemaking – Laura works with Massimo to some extent on the winemaking decisions including on types of oak used and related toast levels.
The 2015 Stråla Vineyards Proprietary Red Blend is a unique blend of Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Malbec. Laura calls this their “workhorse wine” – an approachable wine in its youth with an equally approachable price point. Shows ripe and opulent fruit on the palate including aromas of blackberry and dark cherry along with hints of dessert spices and milk chocolate. This is a pretty wine, mouth filling with sweet fruit across the palate – seamless on the finish between fruit and structure with very supple tannins. Drinks very well by itself and in its youth.
The 2015 Stråla Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon reveals a showy bouquet with both red and darker fruits – raspberry, bright red cherry and blackberry. Also a noticeable sweet thread runs through the aromatics with aromas of mocha and vanilla. Plush, yet juicy with nice acidity this wine has great length – not necessarily with structure but more about the long lasting fruit flavors. Textured smoothly with fine-grained tannins these complement rather then grip the finish. Plenty of flavor in this beauty.
And in a somewhat unusual offering for a new and small producer, Stråla Vineyards produces a refreshing sparkling wine – a Brut Rosé made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We sampled the 2015. One’s attention is immediately captivated by the color alone of this wine – it is a dark orange salmon color. Great acidity and a lively finish make this an excellent choice for a premium celebratory wine.
When deciding upon a name for their wines, Laura spent a year trying to come up with a creative descriptor (focusing on a single word). Thinking outside of the box she chose the name Stråla, borrowing from her Swedish heritage and second language. Growing up, her stepmother (born in Sweden) would speak Swedish around their home. Stråla means radiant light or shining brightly – referring to the sun’s light. And of course, this ties in nicely with their last name of Ray.
Private tastings can be arranged with Laura at the members only culinary club, Kitchen Collective – located in downtown Napa. Kitchen Collective focuses on unique culinary experiences and social events (with members having access to a state of the art kitchen and the culinary team). It is located in the building that used to house Cuvee Restaurant next to the River Terrace Inn (just north of the Wine Train Depot and the Oxbow Public Market).
Locally one can find select wines at ACME Wine shop in St. Helena. For more information and or to join their wine club, visit: www.stralavineyards.com