Varozza Vineyards is a small production winery located mere minutes from downtown St. Helena. The property is approximately 37 acres planted to a number of varietals which are separated into 17 blocks. All fruit for their wines comes from the vineyard on site. Their vineyard sits at the junction of Napa River and York Creek which gives them rich alluvial soils with good drainage.
One feature which separates this small producing winery from other wineries aside from the fact they own their own land, is there is an old stone ghost winery located on site. It was built in 1885 and has been completely restored and retrofitted by the owners (Jack and Dianna Varozza, both Napa born and raised). This was quite a project as the lime mortar between the stones had mostly crumbled to dust and had to be replaced. The winery was originally a dirt floor but is now concrete. All the stone for this winery was quarried from the hills in nearby Deer Park. It was one of the last ghost wineries in all of the Napa Valley to be restored (although we are still aware of at least three other non-restored ghost wineries, two of which are in greater St. Helena). The original redwood tanks and basket press are still located on site.
Another rarity in Napa is the age of their vines. The Sauvignon Blanc vines are up to 60 years old, the Petite Sirah vines are over 60 years old and some of their Zinfandel vines are 90+ years old. Their Cabernet Sauvignon vines are among the oldest still producing vines of this varietal in all Napa Valley (along with the few old Cabernet Sauvignon vines at Scarecrow Vineyard and also MacDonald Vineyard) For reference, supposedly the oldest still producing Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the world were planted in 1888 in the Barossa Valley (Penfolds). Varozza’s older vines are head pruned, rather then being trained on a trellis system. Jack oversees the entire vineyard management – all their vines are dry farmed.
Varozza began offering tastings by appointment inside the old winery towards the end of 2008. A visit here is very low key and is always with either Dianne or Jack or both. Weather permitting you will taste wine outside close to the actual vineyards with some cheese and crackers. A recommended walk is to the their pond on the far side of the property. From here you will have good overviews of their entire vineyards as well as both the Mayacamas and Vaca mountains which form the West and the East, north south boundaries of the Napa Valley.
Jack’s great great grandfather James first arrived in the Napa Valley in 1870 (originally from Switzerland). James leased a vineyard and used the old Summit Winery on top of Spring Mountain and made some kosher wine here for several years for a client. Only parts of the stone walls of Summit Winery still stand – today it is located on property owned by Pride Mountain Vineyards. Interestingly, James was also the last foreman at the old Bale Grist Mill (between St. Helena and Calistoga).
The winery has been under Varozza family ownership since 1913 when Jack’s grandfather Joseph sold his 600 acre property on Langry Road on Spring Mountain, (his day job was on property now owned by Spring Mountain Winery) and purchased this St. Helena property. Varozza has records that show grapes were first planted on site in the early 1860’s. Jack grew up on this property and has manged the vines for many years. They exclusively sold grapes until Jack approached his father with the idea that they should make their own wine. Their first vintage was in 2000 (a Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by their first Petite Sirah in 2001). Prior to this, the last wine made here was from 1946. Today they continue to sell the majority of their fruit to a number of premium wineries in the valley but hold back a small amount for their own wines each year.
Their total production is under 1000 cases. Each year they produce a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Petite Syrah. Their refreshing philosophy is that wine is meant to be consumed upon purchase (because it has already been aged by the winery) and be affordable to the majority of the population. As a result their wines are reasonably priced by Napa standards.
In addition, Varozza has a longer aging program than many small wineries – with about 36 months in Oak and then another year in bottle for their red wines. We tried their first vintage ever which is the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a very elegant nose with some blueberries on the palate and hints of vanilla from the type of oak used. The tannins are soft with a pleasing long finish. It is interesting to taste two vintages side by side which were from dramatically different growing seasons – this would be the 2010 and the 2011 vintage. The grapes were from the same part of their vineyard with similar wine making – the difference is in how the weather affected each vintage.
The 2011 was a much colder year then 2010 – Jack wanted to let these grapes hang longer to get riper but their winemaker made the decision to pick earlier.This was the best decision they made in 2011 – as immediately after they picked the fruit, the rains set in and did not let up. Jack left 6 rows of Cabernet Sauvignon but ultimately these grapes did not improve in quality; after all the moisture, mold eventually set in. Their Cabernet Sauvignons are 100% varietal – the 2011 shows a distinctive bouquet – it is earthy, with notes of truffles, forest floor, mushrooms and coffee nuances along with some wood spice. Darker fruit shows on the palate with an ‘earthiness’ along with coarse tannins – nice acidity shows especially on the finish. This wine should have excellent aging potential.
The 2010 in contrast shows intense aromatics focusing on riper fruit aromas – it is a voluptuous immediately appealing bouquet with a sweetness of fruit combined with a sweetness of oak (blackberry and ripe plum intertwined with mocha). There is almost an imperceptible underlying sage note on the bouquet. Flavors of plum continue with a hint of pepper – the finish is very long, supple and features seamless tannins.
The 2002 Petite Sirah is a wonderful big wine that is very dark and inky in appearance with aromas of ground pepper and lots of dark blackberry flavors on the palate. Its ready to drink now but you can certainly lay this wine down for the next 8 to 10 years. The 2010 Petite Sirah is also very dark (dark reddish/black with purplish tinges on the rim). This wine shows intensely flavored fruit mid palate with long lasting, muscular and somewhat chewy tannins.
The produce a small amount of Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel each year. In 2013 they made a one time delicious late harvest Chardonnay, the 100th anniversary of their ownership of the property. Their premium wine is called Bloodline and is always a blend of both Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. These varietal percentages vary depending on the vintage.
You can find their wine locally at Sunshine market in St. Helena; it is selectively distributed in Texas. To join their mailing list and for more information, visit: www.varozzavineyards.com