Savoring History in the Glass
Burgess Cellars is one of Napa Valley’s most historic and revered family owned and operated estates.
The vineyards on the estate were originally planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel in the 1880s by Italian brothers Carlo and Fulgenzio Rossini. The Rossini brothers brought their knowledge of planting grapes on the steep hillsides of Italy where they knew them to grow best and established the 600-1000 foot elevation of the thirty-acre vineyard to allow the grapes to mature fully and evenly.
When Tom Burgess acquired the property in 1972, he was able to produce these core wines from the original vineyard plantings. By the 1990s, the focus was only on Cabernet Sauvignon, however, parts of the “1880 Estate Vineyard” have recently been replanted, and the Zinfandel and Petite Sirah were brought back to life. Vineyard manager, James Burgess, and winemaker Kelly Woods now oversee the vineyards and the harvests. “It’s so humbling to be able to work with a vineyard that is one of the oldest in the Valley,” says Woods. “It’s my honor to keep the tradition of excellence in grape growing and winemaking at the 1880 Estate Vineyard going, so it will continue to be known as a premier vineyard for centuries to come.”
The Petite Sirah has been produced on and off since its first planting in the 1880s but was mostly utilized as a blending tool, however, Burgess doubled its plantings in response to its popularity with their customers.
Burgess is proud of this heritage varietal, and fondly refer to it as “the most elegant expression of Petite Sirah around.”
The Zinfandel was replanted in 2017. The combination of the hillside exposure, elevation, and volcanic soils are the perfect combination for Zinfandel’s challenging growing requirements. Burgess expects the first release to be the 2020 vintage in 2023, roughly 140 years since its historical planting. In a wine region where Cabernet Sauvignon is revered as “king,” President Steven Burgess believes in the diversity these heritage varieties bring. In the market, he presents them as “Napa hillside in a bottle.” He says, “While some varietals may go in and out of fashion, the right grape in the right place is manifested here, and the unique hillside terroir brings out their best.”
Burgess Cellars is recognized for their place in history, which they proudly share when guests come to visit. For those desirous of an authentic Napa Valley winery experience, tastings are hosted in the active barrel room where Tom Burgess shared wines and stories since the early 1970s. For a more intimate experience, the “Mountainside Tasting” boasts one of the best views in Napa Valley. Overlooking the western facing 1880 Estate Vineyard, the 90-minute, private tasting features a curated selection of Burgess Cellars’ Estate wines and offers guests a more intimate opportunity to engage in a more relaxed and personal level in a seated setting. The tasting room staff comment that guests sometimes even hug them goodbye!
Over the years the grapes produced from the 1880 Estate Vineyard have gained notoriety at the hands of a few legendary personalities including Mike Grgich and Warren Winiarski in the late fifties and early sixties. Burgess veteran Bill Sorensen worked forty-one harvests for Tom Burgess until current winemaker Kelly Woods joined the team in 2013. Like her predecessors, Woods winemaking style stays true to the mountain’s distinctive terroir. The wines are rich, structured, and brimming with dark fruit. Since coming on board, she has made notable impacts to their wine production, one of which was to identify individual blocks of grapes which stand out, pro- ducing the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Kelly is also the key player for the inaugural launch of Burgess’ first Proprietary Estate blend- Mountaineer. The first vintage is comprised of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot, and complements the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon with a different aroma, palate, and mouthfeel.
Since Tom Burgess founded the winery in 1972, the primary focus has always been about producing the best possible Cabernet Sauvignon and showcasing the rare mountain fruit with authentic style. Tom had the foresight to hold back 5% of each vintage so future visitors would have the opportunity to taste how beautiful and intriguing Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines can become as they age. Tom loved describing how fruity and oaky aromas become “bottle bouquet” with time. Every so often Burgess will open an older vintage to sample for a private tasting, but to this day, collectors can still purchase some of Burgess Cellars original library vintages dating back as early as 1980. Being able to acquire a bottle from a birth year, anniversary, or other important timeline is a treat.
While Burgess Cellars has a rich history, they have also worked toward the future. Tom was a pilot who got into the business for a lifestyle change.
His children were both brought up in the business, studied related courses in school, and are refining the way Burgess farms, produces wines and runs the winery. For example, Steven used much of his Architectural Engineering and Technology background he studied in school to tune the winery’s physical plant. With Kelly’s major contributions, Burgess passed over one hundred points of inspection to become a Napa Green Certified Winery. In 2008, when overseeing the planting of the Petite Verdot and Malbec blocks, Steven’s efforts also were passed by all government agencies overseeing the project. Ever since a child, he has been a caretaker of the estate, now President, and getting to act on his lifetime of knowledge is truly satisfying.
Visits to the winery are available by appointment only.
Article By: Laura Larson