Calafia Cellars Review
Address: 629 Fulton Lane St. Helena,California 94574.
Phone Number: 707-963-0114
Tasting Hours: By appt.
Region: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Review Date: 1/14/2017
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Randle Johnson is a slender man, appearing to be perhaps in his late 50s, with graying hair, a gentle smile, and a persistent warmth and generosity of spirit that he unknowingly projects with every firm handshake and warm embrace. The senior winemaker for the esteemed Hess Collection, Randle has lived and worked in the Napa Valley since before the valleys name was meaningful outside of California. A native to the state and an insider to the industry, Randle dresses casually, speaks softly, and is part artist, part sage. A graduate of UC Davis, he has a resume as long as his arm, though youd have to look up his many accolades for yourself if you were curious hes far too humble to boast. My wife Sonja and I met up with him on a sunny afternoon in January at his home in Saint Helena. I had met him on prior occasions, but it was the first chance Id had to introduce him to my wife, and he quickly became one of Sonjas favorite people.
Randles beautiful two-story home, which he shares with his wife MaryLee, serves as a tasting room for those who seek him out. From the expansive deck out back where the couple were wed years ago, one can survey the half acre of vines that wrap around the property, from which all 500 cases of Calafias estate wine is produced. Inside, a beautiful kitchen countertop or a more formal dining room table await those whod prefer to taste indoors. Though we almost always prefer fresh air and vineyard views, the bite of winter cold, even in California, was enough to move us into the kitchen that day.
Randle launched the Calafia label in 1979, and has produced a small amount of wine ever since. Randles wines appear on only a few exclusive local wine lists, including some of the best restaurants in the Valley, and are retailed exclusively in California, Oregon, and Sonja and my home state of Nebraska, which is how I came to be familiar with Randle and his Calafia label. Aside from those few select and scattered locations, its all direct-to-consumer, making a visit all the more enticing for the opportunity not only to meet with Randle and taste his wines, but also to obtain them.
The wine derives its name from legend. Christopher Columbus, who discovered nothing yet had an undeniably wild imagination, recorded in his log the story of a queen and her society of amazons. This story was published and popularized by novelist Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo, who named the queen Calafia in his book, published in 1503. A decade later, Hernando Cortez, believing Baja to be an island, named it Calafias land, from which the name California was eventually derived. Because de Montalvos novel featured griffins guarding Queen Calafias enormous trove of wealth, the Calafia label bears a griffin as well, protecting the fruit that vines and land bear.
Himself a wealth of Napa Valley knowledge especially history, Randle has an anecdote to relate to almost everything. His gentle, soft-spoken demeanor and seemingly unparalleled experience in the industry pair perfectly with his wines. He is interested in everything, and while he relentlessly answers questions, he gives as good as he gets and invested personally in Sonja and I, asking about our lives, our son back home, and our hopes for the daughter my wife was carrying inside her. Though Ive always enjoyed his Cabernets a great deal, Ive lately been marveling over his less common offerings, including an exceedingly dark rose from 100% Petite Sirah, and an even rarer treat, an off-dry Verdelho that I simply cant get enough of. As much as I enjoy his wines, however, Ive come to realize that I simply enjoy Randles company the most.
Together, Sonja and I have had many wonderful experiences in the Napa Valley. Some of them take place in million dollar tasting rooms, others on trains, and still others while walking through vineyards. But the chance to sit down with a winemaker in his home and taste his wines is something I find very special; it was an intimate experience, with my glass of Randles Verdelho resting next to the Saint Helena newspaper on his kitchen counter, the sun coming in over the sink and lighting up the room. Randle doesnt have any staff to take your call, so its important to call ahead if youd like to schedule a visit. But for those who enjoy a more personal and intimate experience, I can think of none better than having a glass of Calafia wine in Randle and MaryLee Johnsons kitchen.