On day five of my recent week-long trip to Napa Valley, I had the good fortune of touring and tasting wines at Somerston Estate with Jack Edwards, vice president of sales for Somerston Wines.
I first met Jack and his wife at a Didier Loustau dinner on a previous Napa Valley trip. As usual between business folks, we exchanged cards and became friends through social media channels. I learned that Jack had only recently joined the Somerston Wine group after spending many years with the Miner Family Winery organization.
I quickly discovered that Jack knew the wine business inside and out and was willing to share his knowledge. Over the next year, I followed Jack through social media as he traveled about the globe presenting Somerston Estate Wines.
As I planned my next trip to Napa, I knew that one of my visits should be to Somerston. With a few emails and messages through Facebook, we arranged the visit.
I am still very much a rookie in getting around the valley and hills of Napa. On Thursday morning, with GPS in hand, I headed up into the hills to the Somerston Estate. The property is located on Sage Canyon Road, about a 30-minute drive northeast of Napa (about eight miles due east of Rutherford.)
The estate encompasses some 1,628 acres including what was formerly known as Soda Valley (Priest Ranch) and Elder Valley (Lynch Vineyards.) The Priest family obtained the original plot of land through a land grant in 1869. The Priests sold off some of the land over the years and sold the final acreage in 1969. To reach its current size, several large parcels had to be acquired over the years. The estate contains one of the highest peaks on Saga Canyon Road, which reaches a height of 2,400 feet. The winery is at an elevation of 880 feet.
When I arrived at the winery, one of the first things Jack asked was if I would like to take a tour of the property. Of course, the answer was, “Yes!” On most winery tours, you never get the opportunity to tour the entire property. You spend most of your time in the tasting room and the winery. We hopped into an ATV, and for the next hour or so, drove around the entire 1,628 acres…including going to the top of the highest peaks on the estate.
Here are some interesting facts about the estate:
- There are currently 220 acres of vineyards containing 100 individual blocks (or areas).
- Thirty additional acres are under development.
- Over the next 10 years, 60 acres are to be redeveloped with 100 to 150 new plantings. A new barrel building and additional office space are also in the planning stages.
Today Somerston produces roughly 12,000 cases of wine a year. Those cases are comprised of 10 different wines: five from the Priest vineyards, three from the Somerston vineyards, one sparkling wine and one port. Currently there are about 60 employees, with roughly 32 of them working in the vineyard’s department. Oh yes…and there are also currently 600 sheep, one sheepherder and a couple dogs on the property as well.
I asked Jack about the sheep, thinking that we might be in for a delightful lunch. He explained that fires are prevalent in the area, and they use the sheep for fire control. They eat the grass on the property to keep it trimmed, so if there is a fire, the grass will be low and burn quicker. The quicker it burns the less likely it is to catch the trees on fire and cause more damage. The sheep are also used as part of the estate’s farm-to-table concept. They are harvested and sold locally.
The estate also contains gardens that produce fruit and vegetables used in the Somerston tasting rooms and at a grocery in their Yountville Tasting Facility. Honey and olive oil are also produced.
About 1,000 tons of grapes a year are harvested. Approximately half of those are sold to other wineries, such as Hall Wines, Hess Wines and Prisoner Wines, to name a few. Today Somerston Estate wines are distributed in 25 states and eight foreign countries.
After the tour, we headed for the tasting room and the services of Ben Brenner, brand ambassador at Somerston Wines. Ben had an excellent lineup of wines for us to taste. What follows are the wines we tasted in the order we tasted them, with a few of my comments and those of the winemaker.
2013 Priest Ranch Sauvignon Blanc
This wine had a typical sauvignon blanc nose…very refreshing aromas of fresh fruit and spring flowers. On the palate there is a lot of acidity with hints of pear and apple. The wine is crisp, refreshing and balanced. It was pleasant to drink. There were 3,260 cases produced, and it sells through the winery at $22 per 750 milliliter bottle.
2013 Priest Ranch Grenach Blanc
Over the past year or so, I have come to enjoy both red and white grenache wines a lot. This wine was very tasty, and much like a sauvignon blanc, this grenache blanc is fun to drink. It is fresh and was crisp, with hints of melons and flowers on the nose. On the palate the wine is balanced with good acidity and tastes of fruit and had a tiny hint of oak. There were 1,150 cases produced and it sells for $22 per 750 milliliter bottle.
2012 Priest Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon
The 2012 is the sixth release of this cabernet. On the nose it had the typical cabernet aromas of dark cherries, along with dark fruits and some chocolate. On the palate I again found the flavors of dark fruit and the taste of chocolate. The wine was balanced and had a finish with a touch of spice and mild tannins. There were 2,513 cases produced and this wine sells at $48 per 750 milliliter bottle.
2009 Priest Ranch Coachgun Cabernet Sauvignon
This was a blended cabernet consisting of 74 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot and 13 percent petite verdot. On the nose this wine again had aromas of dark red fruit, with a hint of spice. On the palate the wine was full-bodied, well-balanced with tastes of dark fruit and mild spice. This cabernet had a nice finish and mouth feel. It was a nice, pleasant-drinking cabernet. Wine Advocate scored this wine at 93 points. There were only 347 cases produced. The wine sells for $75 per 750 milliliter bottle.
2012 Somerston Stornoway Red Wine
This too was a blended wine comprised of 85 percent merlot, 10 percent cabernet franc and 5 percent petite verdot. On the nose I got hints of spice, coffee and mild fruit. On the palate I found the wine tastes of dark fruit, like blackberries, blueberries, etc. The finish was nice, with a little spice and some tannins. There were 318 cases produced and the wine sells for $90 per 750 milliliter bottle.
2011 Somerston Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine was 100 percent cabernet sauvignon. The grapes come from two different vineyard blocks on the estate. This was the fourth release of this cabernet. The aromas were dark fruit, spices and cedar. On the palate the dark fruit was prevalent and had a touch of herbs. The wine was full-bodied and well-balanced with a lingering finish. This wine will drink well over the next 15 to 20 years. There were only 165 cases of this wine made. It sells for $120 per 750 milliliter bottle.
2009 Somerston Everest Port
This was a blended port with four varietals in it: tinta cao, touriga nacional, tinta roñz (tempranillo) and souzao. The wine tasted like a vintage port. On the nose the aromas were full of red fruit. On the palate the wine was balanced with sweetness and acidity, and tastes of sweet cherries and plums. There were a total of 100 cases produced. The bottles are 375 milliliters and sell for $32 per bottle.
I really enjoyed the wines. So much so that I purchased a case each of the 2013 Priest Ranch Grenache Blanc, the 2009 Priest Ranch Coachgun Cabernet and the 2009 Somerston Everest Port. The wine arrived and is stored in my cellar. I will be trying them again soon.
The entire time at Somerston Estate was very enjoyable and rewarding. Spending time with a person as knowledgeable on wine as Jack Edwards was really interesting and informative. I got to tour much of the estate, and from the hilltops, you get to see some breathtaking views of the area, the vineyards and winery below. It was quite beautiful.
On your next trip to Napa, I highly recommend spending some time at the Somerston Estate. You will need to make advanced arrangements by contacting the staff well in advance. Here is the contact information:
3450 Sage Canyon Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
In addition to a visit, I would recommend you join the estate’s mailing lists. It is producing some good wine, and its prices are reasonable. You can do that by going to the estate’s website. Click “Wine Club” on the menu bar, and you will see Somerston’s many options.
What an enjoyable morning. The tour of the estate while riding around in the ATV listening to Jack explain the history of the land, the ownership, the vineyards, all the various types of grapes and what the future holds at Somerston…very interesting stuff. I appreciated the opportunity to taste the wines with Jack, as they were good wines. All in all, it was a great visit.
Until next week, cheers.