Burgess Cellars offers visitors a chance to experience the rich history of Napa Valley when the California wine region was beginning its coming of age. Founded in 1972 by vintner pioneer Tom Burgess, the operating winery was only one of a couple of dozen that was in existence at that time. The winery and property represent many decades of impassioned wine- growers and winemakers who had one thing in common; they all realized the potential of the mountain fruit from this region of Howell Mountain and were dedicated to producing the most memorable wines from its vineyards.
The acreage itself as a grape producing property dates back to the late 1800’s when it was planted by two Italian brothers Carlo and Fulgenzio Rossini, who sold it soon after to Italian Swiss immigrants Giovanni and Elva Poncetta. The Poncettas built a gravity flow winery in the 1890s, which still stands in operation as the oldest section of Burgess Cellars’ winery.
The west-facing slope of the Burgess Estate is approximately sixty acres, thirty of which comprise the Winery Ranch Vineyard. The vineyard is dedicated to mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, planted at various elevations up to 1000 feet. Another thirty acres of vines (Haymaker Vineyard) are planted on the East slope of the mountain with a higher elevation. Although some Cabernet Sauvignon is grown here, the vineyard’s bounties also produce single vineyard varietals such as Petite Verdot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petite Syrah.
Over the years the grapes produced from these two vineyards gained notoriety at the hands of a few legendary winemakers such as Bill Sorensen, who worked 41 harvests for Tom Burgess, Mike Grgich (of Grgich Cellars fame) and Warren Winiarski (of Stags Leap) who cut their teeth during the late fifties and early sixties during the years between 1943 and 1971 when the winery was owned by Chateau Souverain.
A tasting experience at Burgess is 100% focused on the wine. The no-frills tasting room is an operating small barrel storage cellar with a tasting bar. It is quaintly appointed with photos of the property and Burgess Family over the years, including some aviation photos taken of and from Tom in his early days as a commercial pilot. In the Cellar Tasting guests sample wines which showcase Burgess current vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Bordeaux varietals while being presented a nostalgic overview of the history of the property.
For those interested in bringing their palates into the historical experience, the Mountainside Tasting consists of Burgess Reserve and Library selections of Mountain fruit varietals. Tastings are hosted in a separate room with expansive views overlooking the steep mountain grade and sprawling vineyards below. Tom Burgess had the foresight to hold back 15% of each vintage so future visitors would have the opportunity to taste how beautiful wines can become as they age. As such, winery guests are offered access to some of Napa Valley’s small production, rare vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon dating back to 1979. Most of the vintages are still available for purchase at surprisingly approachable price points.
Tom Burgess passed away in 2017, however his two sons, Steven and James carry on the Burgess legacy managing and operating the winery. In 2013 they hired winemaker Kelly Woods (Sequoia Grove) who has taken the helm producing their first Bordeaux blend, Mountaineer and experimenting with single vineyard varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, Petite Syrah, and Malbec. The elegant touch of Kelly’s winemaking adds smooth structure to their current vintages.
Burgess offers a truly unique opportunity to take a step back in time and access some of Napa Valley’s most blessed heritage. Guests can take in majestic views of the Valley from the high mountain perch, tour the original winery still standing on the property, and have the rare opportunity to taste and acquire some of the Valley’s oldest library vintages produced back in the days when Napa Valley was just beginning its journey to become the prestigious wine region it is today.
Tastings can be reserved by appointment at regularly scheduled times seven days a week.
1108 Deer Park Road
Deer Park, CA
Volker Eisele Family Estate
If one wishes to escape the bustle of the Napa winery scene, the Chiles Valley wine country is a unique and obscure place to plan a diversion. The Chiles Valley AVA is nestled in the Vaca Mountains about four miles above the Northeast side of Napa Valley. Due to its cooler climate and higher elevations, the vines are usually harvested several weeks later than those on the valley floor, causing the fruit to ripen more slowly and consistently. Some of Napa Valley’s most distinctive Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards are grown and produced among a small handful of down to earth, family-owned wineries with rich legacies in the region.
Volker Eisele Family Estate was founded in 1974 by Volker and Liesel Eisele. They fell in love with Napa Valley after they purchased the 400-acre property which was originally owned by German-born Francis Sievers. In the late 1800s,’ Sievers founded the Lomitas Vineyard and built the winery currently preserved on the site. Over the years the Eiseles’ dabbled in making home wine, and in 1991 they released their first commercial vintage. Sixty acres of the property is planted to vines consisting of mostly Bordeaux varietals, Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. One of the vineyards now called the “Triangle Block,” is planted on root-stock from St. George, and are some of the oldest in the region.
A visit to the winery is a family affair. Alexander Eisele (Volker’s son) grew up in the vineyards with his sister Christiane, and today he and his wife Catherine manage the day to day operations, sales and marketing of the winery. Volker passed away in 2015, but his wife Liesel, a landscape architect, continues to play a significant role in the Estate aesthetics and horticultural wellbeing.
A visit to the Estate begins with a greeting by a family member followed by a hands-on, engrossing walk among the various elevations, with a detailed explanation of the history of each vineyard. Volker Eisele was a prominent activist and leader in the preservation of Napa Valley Agricultural community and practiced organic grape growing before it became popular. His colorful legacy, the history of the winery and implementation of his organic growing methods are highlighted, as well as farming techniques used to produce high-quality wine grapes. If there is fruit on the vines, they will take sugar samples, taste the different varietals and discuss how the flavors translate into the wines.
It is recommended visitors arrive with a full battery charge on camera devices, as the vineyard excursion includes spectacular sprawling views of the property and Vaca Mountain terrain.
After the vineyard tour, guests return to taste current release Volker Eisele wines in the preserved winery. The structure was built in 1870 and still contains some of the original wooden tanks and press. It also brandishes a well- tuned old piano which Sievers used to take with him on ships as he traveled around the world. If Alexander is hosting the tour, he could be convinced to play a few bars.
The wines are limited in production with less than 1000 cases accessible for each vintage. Tastings are presented with a light cheese accompaniment and normally include their notorious “Gemini”, a well-rounded, white Bordeaux blend consisting of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc, “Terzetto” (Three Tenors) a co-fermented blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and one or more of their award-winning single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon vintages.
The experience offers unique backroads peek into some of Napa’s legacy family history and winemaking from a diverse and lesser-known corner of Napa. All of the wines produced from this Estate portray the unique personalities and terroir of each vineyard and truly represent Volker’s simple yet exquisite approach to fine winemaking: Exceptional fruit produces exceptional wine.
Visits to the Estate are available to small parties of 2 to 6 through private reservation seven days a week.
Volker Eisele Family Estate
3080 Lower Chiles Valley Road
St. Helena, CA
Spelletich Family Winery
Tucked away in the Industrial area of South Napa, visitors to Napa Valley will uncover the Crusher Wine District, Napa’s only urban wine scene. Named after the iconic statue of the “Crusher Man” on the hill above, the district was formed to support the growth and development of small production working wineries in the Napa region.
Spelletich Family Winery is one of the original founding members of the Crusher Wine District and operates as a working winery where they produce their own label as well as a full wine production & storage facility for other wineries and boutique winemakers. Barb and Tim Spelletich founded the winery in 1994 after spending their early careers in Europe, Tim as a chef in Italy, and Barb, a negociant and winemaker among Cru Classe wineries across France, Italy and Spain. Their learned appreciation for the European lifestyle and the art of food and wine provided the perfect pairing to start a small family run winery operation, with Tim at the helm of operations and Barb using her winemaking talents to create exceptional wines. With minimal intervention, their success relies upon their secret weapon: Barb’s palate. Focusing on three basic, yet critical principals, when to harvest, when to press and when to pull off the oak, the wines they produce are rich, ripe, refreshing and pure. Barb’s focus is the fruit. She wants you to taste real fruit flavors and aromas which represent the integrity of the varietal, the terroir, and clean winemaking practices.
Along with their small label wine production, the Spelletich’s operate a 16,000 square foot production facility at the site, Crush 94, which was established as a homage to their good fortune by offering approachable and affordable production services to other small winemakers.
A tasting experience at Spelletich Family Winery centers on sharing the journey of winemaking—from dirt to glass. Hosted by either Barb or Tim, guests are seated communal style in the bright, funky purple tasting room, where four current Spelletich vintages are explored and tasted. Depending on what’s in the line-up, guests may get to experience the differences between an oaked and an un-oaked Chardonnay, the effects various barrel style and aging can have on Cabernet or Zinfandel, and if you are lucky, you may get to sample Barb’s sanguine Zinfandel Port. At some point during the tasting, guests are escorted back into the bustling production facility to experience what happens behind the scenes from the time the grapes arrive at the facility until the wine is labeled and bottled. Getting a front-line perspective on what happens to wines during the winemaking process is a unique and variable opportunity. Depending on the time of the year and what’s on the production schedule, guests may be able to help punch wine in a fermentation bin, taste grapes freshly juiced from the press or sample wine from barrels during various stages of aging. For dog lovers, the Crush 94 excursion may also include Mollie, the winery Boston terrier who will use her wiles to convince you to play ball.
Barb and Tim offer a new and different off the beaten path destination winery experience on your way in or out of Napa Valley. It’s authentic, educational, and popular with groups as well as locals. The behind the scenes experience varies based on what’s going on that day, and sometimes can be something you didn’t quite expect, but will ultimately always remember.
Tastings and Tours are available by appointment- 7 days a week 9- 5 pm. $25 per person.
(Group & Corporate rates available)
Spelletich Family Winery
2545 Napa Valley Corporate Dr C, Napa, CA
Founder, Virtual Vines DTC Consulting Services www.virtual-vines.com
Virtual Vines provides DTC sales and marketing services & training focused on relationship selling and the intrinsic value of building connections with customers. In this series, we focus on wineries that are connecting with customers through memorable guest experiences.