Not far from downtown St. Helena lies the less traveled path of Spring Mountain Road, encompassing off the beaten path wineries like Fantesca Estate.
Only a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of Highway 29 lies Fantesca Estate & Winery. Feeling a world away from the tour buses and crowds fighting for a space at a tasting bar, Fantesca focuses on a more personable experience for their guests. By limiting their tastings to a maximum of six appointments a day, the estate feels more like a getaway than a tourist hot spot.
Entering through the gates and traveling along the meandering drive, you get a sense of being secluded in the vineyards. The only sense of urgency were the workers, toiling around the clock, processing the many tons of harvest fruit.
My friend Kim from Elyse Winery had set up our tour with the Marketing & Social Media Manager, Jenna Sanders and Assistant Winemaker, Nick Diaz. Kim and I were joined by my husband Eric, our friend, Stephen and ‘Blue’, Kim’s current foster dog from Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch.
Jenna and Nick came out to greet us and escorted down to the sitting area overlooking the estate vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Verdot. Because it was a rainy day, we enjoyed the safari tent accompanied by a taste of the Chardonnay while we learned more about the history of Fantesca and the intertwining of strong female heritage involved in the property.
In the 1860’s Caroline Bale married Charles Krug and this land was part of her dowry. It stayed with the Krug’s until the late 1800’s when it was sold to John and Hannah Weinberger. After Hannah’s husband was shot in 1882, she took over the Weinberger Winery and became the first successful woman winemaker in Napa Valley, where she ran it until it closed due to prohibition in 1920. Hannah was also honored with a silver medal from the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, France. A first for a California woman winemaker.
Susan and Duane Hoff bought the 54-acre property in 2004 where they named it Fantesca Estate & Winery, after the Italian Actress in Commedia dell’arte. Commedia dell’arte was the inspiration for Cirque du Soleil so keeping with the female history and their passion for Cirque, they decided it would be the perfect identity for the winery, “Sexy, smart and unpretentious” being Fantesca’s tagline.
While we listened to the fantastic history of the property, we enjoyed the 2014 Fantesca Chardonnay, the only Chardonnay Heidi Barrett, the world-class winemaker, produces. With a golden color and aromas of honeycomb and creme brulee, the well-balanced Chardonnay shared just a kiss of oak and a lovely Meyer lemon curd on the finish.
The Chardonnay comes from grapes sourced from the Russian River Valley, spends 9 months in 15-20% new French oak and uses no ML or malolactic fermentation. Instead, the barrels enjoy a weekly bâtonnage or stirring of the lees to create more of a creaminess, instead of the typical butter bomb that is very common in Napa Valley. It had a beautiful balance and a wide spectrum of flavors, from rich to tart to sweet.
We traveled back up to the main facility where we headed into the cave to enjoy some Pinot Noir. Prior to the Hoff’s purchasing the property, it was owned by a dot-comer who carved out some 6600 square feet of underground caves, 270 feet at the longest point. He enjoyed the idea of making wine but never really cared about selling it so when it was purchased, there were many cases of Cabernet Sauvignon needing to be sold. Duane learned the business and eventually sold all the previous owners wine, much to his surprise his top purchaser was his father-in-law, Richard. Since Richard didn’t really drink Cabernet and was just helping his daughter and son-in-law, the Hoff’s decided to make a wine in honor of him and in a varietal he enjoyed drinking, hence the King Richard Pinot Noir.
The King Richard’s Reserve Pinot Noir started in 2006 with only two barrels, approximately 50 cases. Now, the current vintage, has a production of 1000 cases, one of the largest at Fantesca. The 2014 King Richard’s Reserve Pinot has undertones of dried fruit, boysenberry and baking spice, reminiscent of a freshly baked blackberry pie. Its full body and velvety texture are accompanied with fresh fruit, tobacco and a long finish.
We headed through the production facility, upstairs into one of two indoor tasting areas, an intimate room with a warm, lodge-like feel that was cozy on a rainy day. There sat the 2012 Fantesca All Great Things inspired by the Winston Churchill quote, “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”
Every vintage is named after one of these virtues, 2012 being called “Duty”. A collection of Bordeaux-style grapes, its predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot added. It’s nicknamed ‘the blank check wine’, Heidi Barrett selects all the best fruit she can find in the Napa Valley, mostly in the Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak AVA’s. Hints of dried fruit and dried herbs like lavender and violet complemented pepper and briny elements. This was my favorite of the bunch.
Heidi Barrett, “The Queen of Cult Cabernet”, is world renown for her winemaking. With five 100 point wines under her belt, including Screaming Eagle and Dalla Valle, it’s always a privilege to try wines like hers. She came to Fantesca in 2008 where she has always been very hands on at the winery. She also makes Au Sommet an Amuse Bouche on property, is co-winemaker of Barrett & Barrett with husband Bo, CEO of Chateau Montelena and consults at wineries like Paradigm, Lamborn, Kenzo Estate and Vin Perdu.
The 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is her only Spring Mountain Cabernet. Beautiful in color, this deep garnet wine is chalked full of fresh fruit, ripe cherries and blackberries. The long lengthy journey over the palate ends with soft silky tannins that aren’t overpowering, yet this Cabernet can hold up to age for many years. Being the smallest production of all the wines, the Cabernet Sauvignon is a rare gem.
It was a nice relaxing tour and even though the sun did not grace us with its presence, the foggy day was a peaceful accompaniment to the tranquillity of our winery experience. I think ‘Blue’ enjoyed his visit as he got to pose with the distinguished Fantesca Cabernet on the winery grounds.
If you’re looking to escape the tourist rat race and power drinking that is October in Napa Valley, make an appointment to Fantesca Estates & Winery on beautiful Spring Mountain, and enjoy your experience without interruption or distractions.
Enjoy… Wine Ho