Davis Estates – High Tech Innovation & Stylish Architecture Meet Traditional Winemaking

On May 14th 2016, the new Davis Estates tasting room and caves opened for business with three wine experiences, by appointment only.

Two weeks ago while having lunch at SolBar in Calistoga, I decided to try the Davis Estates Reserve Sauvignon Blanc.  It was so good, crisp and refreshing, I immediately thought to email them to get in for a tasting to write a blogpost on the experience. They graciously responded and set me up with the ‘Historic Tour & Tasting’ at the winery located off the Silverado Trail.

The exterior of the new Davis Estates tasting room and wine cave.
The exterior of the new Davis Estates tasting room and wine cave.

Davis Estates, located in Calistoga, California, sits on two parcels totaling 155 acres, with vineyards of Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, most of which were unmaintained for years until Mike Davis bought the property in 2011. All that stood on the land was a one-hundred-year old barn, a 1950’s residence and an old 1890’s shack. Mike Davis sat in his truck, on a hill of rock and unmaintained vineyards looking over the valley and knew it was going to be the spot for Davis Estates Winery.

Prior to opening the new tasting room in May, the winery had been doing tastings out of the old historic barn which had been completely restructured. As beautiful as the barn was,  I was really excited to see the new tasting room designed by Howard Backen, a local acclaimed architect credited with many winery projects around Napa Valley.

Beautiful sitting area in the old historic barn - Pet friendly winery at Davis Estates
Beautiful sitting area in the old historic barn – Pet friendly winery at Davis Estates

When we arrived, we were greeted by Mike Davis, his son and our wine educator, Luba. Everyone was very personable and outgoing. Luba offered us a taste of the 2014 Davis Estates Viognier from Kenefick Ranch which was very floral on the nose and hints of white flower, jasmine and honeysuckle on the palate, a refreshing way to start our tour.

Luba escorted us downstairs in the elevator where we could hear the bustle of harvest in full swing.  The 2016 vintage is the first year that Davis Estates wine is being produced on property, which made everyone very enthusiastic.  Music was piping in the air, via built-in speakers through out the tank rooms and the smell of fermentation was in the air.

Three types of tanks, French oak, stainless steel and concrete - Davis Estates tank rooms
Three types of tanks, French oak, stainless steel and concrete – Davis Estates tank rooms

The tank rooms consist of twelve stainless steel, six French oak from Bordeaux and six concrete tanks, all custom shaped to create a symmetry and balance within the space. All tanks were independently autonomous, with the ability to control temperature and pumps from special software on any portable device, producing about 6000 cases of wine per year.

Mike rejoined us on our tour and took us to the old historic barn which serves as an area for wine club members as well as pet friendly wine tastings. The one-hundred-year old barn had been completely revamped with a steel skeleton and concrete base now supporting the original redwood skin. Mike said the barn was one of the things that made him fall in love with the property and so the extraordinary piece of history was restored.

Eric and I with Mike Davis outside the Historic Barn at Davis Estates.
Eric and I with Mike Davis outside the Historic Barn at Davis Estates.

The cozy space opens up to beautiful sweeping views of the Napa Valley. The winery did its best to keep most of the vines that had been severely neglected while it was in bankruptcy prior to being purchased by Mike and Sandy Davis. Now the property is meticulously maintained and the vineyards are thriving.

Historic barn opens up to sweeping views of the Napa Valley - Davis Estates
Historic barn opens up to sweeping views of the Napa Valley – Davis Estates

We proceeded back to the main building, passing through the tank room where we earlier tried some of the 2-day old Chardonnay juice just about to go into fermentation, it was sweet and fresh, just like on the vine. The harvest crew had just brought in 12 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon and 9 tons of Cabernet Franc so the place was buzzing and we moved on.

We entered the Davis Estates barrel room, where all the primary Davis Estates wines are stored after fermentation. Cary Gott, a veteran winemaker, is in charge of making these wines and enjoys working with startup wineries such as Davis Estates.

The Davis Estates barrel room and entrance to the wine caves and Phase V member's room
The Davis Estates barrel room and entrance to the wine caves and Phase V member’s room

While Cary Gott is primary winemaker, Davis Estates creates two other wines under the Phase V label, by Philippe Melka, who has quite the cult following in Napa Valley. Consulting for several wineries in Napa including Seavy, Vineyard 29 and Skipstone, Philippe Melka is a rising star when it comes to Napa consulting winemakers.

Phase V is two single vineyard wines, about 244 cases of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 100 cases of 100% Petite Syrah. The wine is only available to an exclusive group of members who are usually huge Melka followers. The wines were named after the five phases of restoring the vineyards and building the estate. If you are lucky enough to join this elite wine club, there are special perks.

Entrance to the Phase V member's room complete with vein scanner - Davis Estates
Entrance to the Phase V member’s room complete with vein scanner – Davis Estates

Phase V members get to invite up to seven friends twice a year to enjoy the exclusive Phase V club room. This room is located behind a giant metal door which is only accessible through a infrared vein scanner. Once a member, your hand is scanned for its unique vein pattern and stored in the system. Members can open the doors by placing their hand over the infrared scanner. Once accepted, the doors swing open, the lights and music turn on and access is granted into the temperature controlled, glass enclosed space complete with a monkey pod tree table and custom giant chandelier. Around the glass enclosure are all the vintages of the Phase V wines displayed. This is a must see so I purposely limited the photos of the space.

2012 Phase V magnum displays in the glass enclosed Phase V member's room at Davis Estates
2012 Phase V magnum displayed in the glass enclosed Phase V member’s room at Davis Estates

After being blown away by the beautiful design and innovation of the the Phase V member’s room, we headed back out to the entrance of the tasting room. Hidden behind two metal doors was the last gem, a huge yet oddly cozy space with one of the most spectacular views. The tasting room consisted of a giant lanai style space with rustic beams, high ceilings and a long table that draws your eye straight out over the sea of vineyards that is Napa Valley.

Swinging sofas on the lanai area of the tasting room at Davis Estates
Swinging sofas on the lanai area of the tasting room at Davis Estates

Beautiful hanging sofas flank the patio and let you enjoy the peacefulness of Calistoga while sipping your wine. Even on a hot day, tranquil breezes blow up the vineyards and into the tasting room.  A dazzling, modern kitchen is set up to provide food pairings, specific to the wines. It was one of the most spectacular tasting rooms I have visited.

Custom kitchen for an elevated wine paring experience at Davis Estates
Custom kitchen for an elevated wine paring experience at Davis Estates.

We sat down at the long table and enjoyed five more wines paired with lovely charcuterie as well as local and imported artisan cheeses such as Raschera Raw Cow Cueno, Prima Donna Gouda, Domain du Vallages Triple Cream, Bellwether Farms Cow Carmody and Compo de Montalban.

The Charcuterie comes standard with all three tour/tasting packages. The ‘Terrace Tasting’ is a 60 minute seated tasting with a virtual tour through Davis Estates wines. The ‘Historic Tour & Tasting’ is a 90 minute tour and seated tasting which goes through the history of the property. The last tour is the ‘VIP Tour’, geared toward serious wine collectors and wine lovers. It includes a private VIP tour, a walk through the vineyards and a seated tasting of exclusive Davis’ Estates reserve wines in the VIP Crush Room.

Lovely Chardonnay in the tasting room at Davis Estates.
Lovely Chardonnay in the tasting room at Davis Estates.

We began our seated tasting with the 2014 Davis Estates Chardonnay, which is sourced from Lee Hudson in Carneros, who also provides Chardonnay grapes to Patz & Hall and Kistler. With hints of butterscotch, it had a nice balance and a long finish. I enjoyed it with the Raschera Raw Cow Cueno and the Gouda.

The next wine we tried was the 2012 Davis Estates Merlot, which was big, bold and full of fruit. This fruit comes from the steep hillside on the east side of Atlas Peak and can be aged many years, holding its structure. Most everything on the charcuterie plate went well with this wine.

Davis Estates 2012 Napa Valley Merlot - Wine Tasting Napa Valley
Davis Estates 2012 Napa Valley Merlot – Wine Tasting Napa Valley

Next up was the 2014 Davis Estates Pinot Noir, where the grapes are grown in Carneros by the Truchard family. With mocha, spice and dark fruit on the nose, this wine paired well with the salami and many of the cheeses. All-around, it’s a nicely balanced wine.

The 2013 Davis Estates Zephyr is a Bordeaux blend and Mike Davis’ favorite. It is comprised of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petite Verdot. Big oak on the front and nice lingering finish in this beautiful, dark ruby red blend. This wine paired nicely with the Bellwether Farms and the Campo de Montalban as well as the salami.

Davis Estates Zephyr Private Reserve - Wine tasting in Napa Valley
Davis Estates Zephyr Private Reserve – Wine tasting in Napa Valley

Lastly, we tried the 2012 Phase V made by Philippe Melka which was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, all estate grown. With hints of vanilla and cola on the nose, this cabernet was like a roller coaster on the palate, moving back and forth on the tongue. It was bold, displayed a big bang of fruit and I loved the playfulness.

I enjoyed this tour and tasting as everyone was very personable and enthusiastic about what Davis Estates is doing. I bought several of the wines and am excited to enjoy them at home, although I will miss that incredible view. I definitely recommend doing the ‘Historic Tour & Tasting’ at Davis Estates.

Enjoy… Wine Ho

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Steven says:

    Great photos and text! The Phase V Club is a great idea – worth pursuing.

    1. The Wine Ho says:

      Thanks! Yes they said they will be capping Phase V soon… if you interested. Cheers!

  2. Nicola Chipps says:

    Wonderful blog post, Tina, the best to date! We were so impressed with Mike Davis, Luba and the team. The portfolio of wines quickly persuaded us to become members, and I would venture to say this property is absolutely one of the most beautiful in the valley. We look forward to lots of future visits!

    1. The Wine Ho says:

      Thanks Nicola! Yeah I think the Chardonnay may be my new favorite.

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