Lightning Wines Review
Address: 3111 St. Helena Hwy N St. Helena,California 94574.
Phone Number: 707-681-5002
Tasting Hours: By appt.
Region: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California
Reviewer: Elizabeth Smith
Review Date: 8/25/2016
Reviewer: Elizabeth Smith
A couple of years ago on my own website, I reviewed the movie American Wine Story, a documentary that follows the story of Oregons Brooks family (Brooks Wines) as well as others in the United States who have decided to leave their secure careers to follow their passion for winemaking. Such is the story of former Texas natives and owners, Randy and Brooke Hester, who decided to take their own leap of faith to create Lightning Wines, a brand based in the cabernet sauvignon mecca of California, the Napa Valley, yet focuses on Rhône-style varietal wines sourced from vineyards all over the state. Current production is around 1000 cases. The branding of the winery itself is in transition, as they move from their first label design to a second, more dramatic label designed by artist and photographer, Paul Hadley.
This young venture is not without its challenges: one having a place to make the wines, the other being a place to host tastings, as neither is an inexpensive investment. Lightning Wines currently has a tasting home at Cairdean Estate just north of St. Helena across from Trinchero. PJ Turrentine, herself a transplant from North Carolina, is Lightnings hospitality, sales, and marketing maven. Quite the spitfire, shes truly the brands Renaissance woman, traveling up and down the Napa Valley between tastings and order fulfillment to offer these small-production wines to customers who crave something in lieu of traditional, Bordeaux-style varietals. Because PJ is literally a one-woman show, tastings are by advance appointment only.
As my companions and I arrived for our seated tasting of Lightning Wines ($30 per person, waived with a three-bottle purchase), PJs energy and enthusiasm were contagious. She was clearly excited about meeting us and sharing her story and wines. The room in which we tasted reminded me of a mountain lodge, with a round, wooden table, a bar area, couch seating, and a gas fireplace. However, it was PJ and the wines who stole the show.
We began the tasting with the 2015 CdP Blanc ($81 for three bottles), a mouthwatering, yet textured, blend of grenache blanc, piquepoul blanc, and marsanne. Next was the 2015 Rosé ($66 for three bottles, 165 cases produced), a juicy, fresh, blend of grenache and syrah, usually reserved for wine club members only.
The winerys single-varietal reds include two grenaches, the single-vineyard 2013 Chevalier Family, Mendocino ($114 for three bottles, 96 cases made), and 2013 Fenaughty Ranch, El Dorado ($135 for three bottles, 110 cases made), which offer an intriguing contrast of cooler and warmer climate grenache. Both fermented and aged in neutral oak and delightfully fruity, the former is softer and lighter in style, a bit feminine, if you will, while the latter has a spicier, more powerful presence.
The tasting concluded with the winerys chef-d’oeuvre, the 2013 Cease and Desist, a more traditional GSM (grenache-syrah-mourvèdre) blend, and the 2014 Cease and Desist ($114 for three bottles, 200-300 cases produced), a blend of grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault, counoise, and syrah. The name of this Southern Rhône-style red blend comes from what Lightning describes as a litigious moment in their history. Also aged and fermented in neutral oak, it is ruggedly fruit-forward and rustic.
Because Lightning wines are tasted at another winery, its up to PJ to create an experience that is uniquely Lightning Wines, and that she does well. Her gifted storytelling, coupled with her Southern mannerisms and turns of phrases, were the icing on the cake, leaving us with a comfortable, warm feeling inside. The tasting evoked sitting around a dinner table, with PJ leading us in a lively discussion of the winerys short history, the origin of the name Lightning, and the background of each wine as we tasted it. When you visit, make sure to ask her the story about ‘Mr. Lightning.’