von Strasser Winery is a small family-owned winery specializing in unique and single vineyard designated wines from Napa vineyards (all their wines are exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon based). von Strasser Winery has essentially gone through two specific periods during its history. The first was when founders Rudy and Rita von Strasser purchased property in 1990 on what is now the Diamond Mountain District in the Mayacamas mountains. They built a winery and eventually planted about 15 acres of vineyards. A prime part of the Napa Valley, their nearby neighbor was Diamond Creek Vineyards. During his time here, Rudy was also instrumental in helping form the Diamond Mountain sub appellation.
Rudy’s old Diamond Mountain property saw some interesting history over the years. It used to be owned by William Bounsall (a Calistoga native who was a chicken farmer and later was involved with vineyard real estate sales in the valley) – who had plans to turn this into a golf course but after being unsuccessful in securing permits, divided up the land and sold part of it to Al Brounstein of neighboring Diamond Creek Vineyard. Bounsall planted his first grapes on the property in 1969 (although the first ever vines on the property were originally planted in the 1880s).
Later Vietnam veteran (in 1969 he became a quadriplegic from hitting his head on a sandbar while diving into the surf in Panama Springs, Florida), Bill Roddis purchased the site and founded Roddis Cellars with André Tchelistcheff providing winemaking expertise. Roddis owned the property and winery from 1977 until 1984. The property was for sale by a subsequent owner when Rudy purchased it in 1990 – he modernized the property starting with the vineyard, changing rootstock, planting more vines, updating the trellising and irrigation and adding a wine cave. And Rudy was involved in the creation of the Diamond Mountain sub appellation.
This history of this property keeps evolving. In 2015 Rudy sold the winery and estate property to CTF International Development (who is painfully slowly developing the property into a high-end resort managed by Rosewood Hotel Group). The sale included the vineyards (but not the von Strasser brand or wines); Rudy then moved his operations along the Silverado Trail just south of the town of Calistoga (see below for more details).
NOTE: As of 2022, von Strasser and this winery and tasting room sold and tastings and visits are no longer hosted here. The sale was made to focus on making wines exclusively for Naked Wines. This might be the end of an era for von Strasser. We will update our notes here accordingly or archive this review once we have more details.
Rudy was raised in New York City; he originally came to Napa Valley to gain wine making skills as his initial interest and work in college was in regard to hard cider (his degree was in pomology at the University of New Hampshire). However, it is not hard to be hooked by the “Napa wine allure” especially considering Napa is not known for its cider production. His first job in the Napa Valley was as a tour guide and ringing up customers in the gift shop at Robert Mondavi Winery.
Rudy was the first American to be selected to intern at the famed First Growth French winery, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. This is a big deal and was a successful internship for Rudy. He in fact “opened the door” for other American interns and this winery now selects one student (from UC Davis) each year for this internship.
After returning from France but before starting von Strasser Winery, Rudy also gained additional experience at Napa wineries including Trefethen and at Newton with plenty of hands-on experience working for winemaker John Kongsgaard.
Von Strasser’s first vintage was in 1990, a Diamond Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon. In an interesting name evolution, Rudy began a second label called Freestone in the late 1990s, a name chosen through his love of fishing. The name refers to a ‘freestone stream’ one that is seasonal generally fed by rain and snow melt. Rudy later sold the trademark right to this name to Joseph Phelps Winery who have produced wines under this brand for years at their Freestone Winery in Sonoma County – even maintaining a tasting room at one point (since closed) in the tiny community of Freestone and building a winery dedicated to the production of these wines. While this label was under Von Strasser’s ownership, the wines produced were Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – under Joseph Phelps, the focus of this label is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
For many years, von Strasser focused on three types of wines; Diamond Mountain grown fruit from their own vineyards in which the blocks are hand selected for only the highest quality fruit, Single Vineyard wines and their Reserve wines which are only made in select years when these wines are of superior quality. When made, this wine always contained the following blend: 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Petit Verdot, and a blend of Cabernet Franc and/or Merlot for the remaining 20%. You won’t find any other Napa wineries with this strict of a regiment in regard to a Reserve wine. Their estate vineyard produced the fruit for their Cabernet Sauvignon while they also source from a number of typically small area vineyards.
And the second incarnation of von Strasser Vineyards occurred in late 2015; Rudy purchased a one-acre property within the city limits of Calistoga including the winery, tasting room and the Lava Vine brand. He has since built a state-of-the-art new barrel storage facility, updated the winemaking equipment including some very modern tanks, installed a full hookup system for electric and water for mobile bottling trucks and remodeled the old tasting room into an appealing contemporary space. During the remodel and rebuild of their parking lot – they created more parking spaces then were in the original parking lot. One side of their parking lot is for smaller vehicles – the other side is for larger vehicles.
All wines moving forward produced under the von Strasser label are Cabernet Sauvignon focused wines. Their unique (for California) Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian variety will now be bottled under the Lava Vine brand. This variety is so rare, that von Strasser was the first California winery to bottle a wine from Gruner Veltliner (he had a small block of this variety planted on his old property). Because both labels are now housed under the same roof – this really helps differentiate the types of wines – and keeps both labels separate from each other.
Rudy still owns one vineyard on Diamond Mountain and has leases on several other vineyards.
Their well-appointed tasting room is located in a small metal building which was in the past was used by Calistoga Roastery, a local coffee company with a store in downtown Calistoga. When you enter, drive around the two-story red building in the front to either of the two parking lots. This red building houses their office and also serves for some wine storage in its basement.
The property is located right next to the “greenway” which contains a bike path that connects to the town of Calistoga and the Solage Resort – which is ideal as Solage includes free use of bicycles with each room. Their property also backs right up to the Sunburst Hotel.
von Strasser maintains a side room next to their tasting counter for private wine and food pairings as well as for larger groups. The tasting room closes at 430pm each day but can be reserved for after hour special appointments on a case-by-case basis.
They are a “kid and dog friendly tasting room”. Picnic tables are located immediately outside the tasting room – this makes for a nice spot to enjoy a relaxing lunch while under the shade of the nearby trees. Since the winery is located right next to the tasting room – during harvest you can often see the operations in action.
Note the old green wagon that sits next to the parking lot. This was an original piece of equipment used in the nearby Oat Hill Mine (the mine was built in 1876 and ran off and on until the mine finally closed in the 1980s). This was a mine of cinnabar (mercury). Today the Oat Hill Mine Trailhead is about a 5-minute walk from their tasting room.
von Strasser has a “futures” program in which you “buy” some of their wine while it is still in barrel. This is one way to make their wines available when you have limited production, and your wines are in great demand! And in a creative use of their parking spaces (the first and only Napa winery we have seen do this), they have each parking curb labeled with a name of a popular grape variety. Not that their parking lot is large, but it makes a conversation starter for when you walk into the tasting room, ie, “I’m parking in the Sauvignon Blanc parking space”.
Original Diamond Mountain Von Strasser (we keep these photographs here for historical reference)