Most wine regions are known for something specific. Burgundy is best-known for Chablis (Chardonnay) and Pinot Noir, Bordeaux for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Rioja wine region in Spain is best-known for Tempranillo. In Italy’s Tuscany region, Sangiovese is king. If there is a grape that defines Napa Valley, it would be Cabernet Sauvignon, although wine makers here have planted dozens of varietals. “Napa Cab” is a real “thing” and at most wineries in the Valley the signature wine is Cabernet Sauvignon.
In a Valley with more than 450 wineries, though, there is something for everyone, including quite a few small-production wineries that specialize in varietals other than Cab. We started this blog because we wanted to share these “hidden gems” with our followers. This past weekend we visited another gem, one that our friends Inna and Igor have been telling us about since we met them: Vincent Arroyo Winery located a bit off the beaten track just north of Calistoga .
Since Inna and Igor have really good taste, we expected the Vincent Arroyo wines to be very good, which they were. During our visit we realized that we had been missing out on a real cult winery with a strong, loyal following. Unlike many of the Napa Valley trend-followers, Vincent Arroyo is not a “Cab house,” as some of the big Cabernet Sauvignon producers like to call themselves. Instead, Vincent Arroyo is a “Petite Sirah house” – if there is even such a thing! Petite Sirah is their “signature” wine and Vincent Arroyo produces multiple Petite Sirah wines from different estate vineyards. We were fortunate to taste three: the Rattlesnake Acres, made from grapes grown in the vineyards directly in front of the winery building; Greenwood Ranch, another vineyard-designated Petite Sirah from grapes grown behind the winery; and the standard Petite Sirah that is a blend of several estate blocks. Although there are other wineries in Napa Valley that grow Petite Sirah, there are not many that feature the wine as their signature wine, or that have so many separate offerings to choose from. We really enjoyed the Petite Sirah and were surprised how different the three were from each other. There is also a Petite Sirah port that we understand sells out very quickly.
Because overall production is relatively low (about 8,000 cases annually), demand for Vincent Arroyo’s wines often exceeds supply. Like other precious commodities, the Vincent Arroyo wines are sold as futures – they can be reserved by members before they are released or even bottled. The Vincent Arroyo concept of “membership” is very different from that of almost all other Napa Valley wineries. Typically, membership in a wine club requires a commitment to a specific number of bottles per year and can easily exceed $1,000 annually for the more expensive wines.
At Vincent Arroyo, anyone that has purchased wine is entitled to be a Standing Orders member. Let’s say we purchased two bottles of Tempranillo and we wanted to make sure that we were able to taste the next year’s vintage (or another varietal). We would reserve the wine that we wanted (as a “future”), essentially making up our own allocation rather than the winery mandating the “member” allocation. We do not know any other wineries that operate this way but we love the control that it gives to us as wine buyers.
When we pulled up to the winery the first thing we noticed was the winery building, a structure that resembled a farmhouse. It was a stormy day in Napa Valley when we visited but this did not daunt us and we made the most of our visit.
Inside, the tasting room had several tables and stations set up for tasting. Even though the weather was foul, the tasting room was full when we arrived and throughout our visit new tasters continued to stream in until closing time. At Vincent Arroyo appointments are required but tastings are free for 4 or fewer people. Yes, we said free. We are not sure how many other wineries in Napa Valley still offer free tastings, but if we were counting we would only know of one (this one).
Vincent Arroyo grows 9-10 different varietals and makes 15 or 16 different wines from them.
In addition to the Petite Sirah, we also tasted Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet. Typical of the wines that we prefer, all of the Vincent Arroyo wines were nicely balanced and structured – certainly not overly-oaked or manipulated wines.
We were even more drawn to the Vincent Arroyo story when we heard that Mr. Arroyo, like one of the writers of this blog, is the son of a parent from Spain (in his case his father). We have been surprised by the number of wineries run by immigrants from Spain as well as the influx of Spanish wineries in Northern California wine country (Marimar in Sonoma, Artesa and Gloria Ferrer in Carneros). When we heard the rest of his story we were hooked. Vincent Arroyo was working as a mechanical engineer in the 1970’s when a friend brought to his attention an advertisement for land for sale in Calistoga. At that time, Napa Valley did not have the phenomenal global presence that it has today. After driving up from the South Bay to check out the property, Arroyo returned to work, resigned his job, and decided to purchase the 22-acre parcel. Prune orchards have become vineyards and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since our friends our “members” of Vincent Arroyo, we are hoping that we will be invited to join them soon for another tasting or, even better, a winery party. We hear that their events are spectacular and frequently have a giant paella as a featured attraction. We are suckers for paella and great wine!
John & Irene Ingersoll
December 13, 2016