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 Napa Valley was sometime in 2004 with her sister. 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 (owned by Napa dentist, Sam Gittings) and today she and Jason source fruit from this adjoining vineyard.
Random events can often change the course of one’s life. Such is the case with Laura’s path into the wine industry. During a blind tasting hosted by master sommelier and Napa Valley local, 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 a job with Kendall Jackson working with some of their vineyards.
In 2005 he started his own vineyard management company, Napa Select Vineyard Services and works 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 crafted subsequent vintages but is no longer their winemaker. 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.
And Strala owns 10 acres in Carneros, near Hyde Vineyards and the Carneros Inn and planted a vineyard soon after their purchase. Plans eventually call for a tasting room to be located on site.
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. There is also a noticeable sweet thread running 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 than 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.
And in 2019 Stråla Vineyards produced their first Chardonnay.
Note: this review has been identified as needing a major update including current vintage tasting notes.
Since early 2021, visits and tastings are hosted at Brasswood Estate, located a short drive north of St. Helena. This is a very unique Napa property. It is approximately 50 acres and straddles two sub appellations including Spring Mountain and St. Helena. While no grapes are currently planted on the property for commercial use, they have up to 20 acres to develop in the future. The property also comes with a variety of valuable permits – one being the extremely rare Napa permit to allow weddings on site.
This “campus” if you will, features four tasting rooms including the main tasting room where most walk-in visitors will taste wines), The Winemaker’s Den, an appointment only room across from the main tasting room, the Vintner’s Den just outside of the wine cave and one within the winery.
The property allows a number of their custom crush wineries to host visitors. Guests interested in tasting the Stråla wines can reserve several visit options including a sit-down tasting or a longer experience in which their wines are paired with a several course lunch from Brasswood Bar + Kitchen.
Food is an integral part of the property. Brasswood Bar + Kitchen is a Gastro Pub; the large window behind the bar looks north towards the actual winery facility; you can watch harvest activities on the crush pad during September and October from your bar-stool seat! Their founding chef has Michelin three-star experience; he joined them previously from The Restaurant at Meadowood, also located in St. Helena. The sizable commercial kitchen easily has enough space to accommodate both the restaurant and the cafe’s needs. Weather permitting, guests can eat outside on the patio overlooking the grounds, a great place to see and be seen, inside in the booths or at the bar.
Some of the fresh ingredients used by chef are sourced directly from the property – from a culinary garden growing on the south side of the property.
This experience typically lasts a minimum of 90 minutes up to 2.5 hours for a more leisurely lunch and occurs outside on the Brasswood patio (weather permitting) or inside the restaurant. Stråla wines are poured in between each course.
We always recommend guests coming to Brasswood Estate to arrive early to spend some time browsing the grounds including The Shop at Brasswood + Mercantile. This small store offers a collection of hand selected products from around the globe – it is a unique shopping experience for this part of Napa Valley. Both men and women’s fashion, home décor, artisan jewelry, culinary tools, fine textiles, ceramics, hand-blown glass, specialty cosmetics and even a few electronics are available.
And this shop also contains wines from Brasswood wine partners as well as products from Brasswood Spirits, American whiskey, gin and vodka.
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.
Locally one can find select bottles of Stråla at ACME Wine shop in St. Helena. For more information and or to join their wine club, visit: www.stralavineyards.com