Pellet Estate Review
Address: 2059 Vallejo St St. Helena,California 94574.
Phone Number: 707-363-3281
Tasting Hours: By appt. 10:00 Wed, Fri, Sat
Region: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Review Date: 7/1/2016
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Lately my wife, Sonja, has been pestering me about getting rid of my old Jeep Wrangler. It isnt practical, she says, for a family man, what with the two doors, the convertible top, and the height, still I cant bring myself to part with it. Sure, its a bit cold in the winter and a bit hot in the summer. No, it doesnt get very good mileage with the top down and, yes, its slow to start up once in a while. And, of course, the suspension is, well, Im not entirely sure it has suspension. But I love that 91 Wrangler, now 25 years old, and by rite a true classic. Theres something about the old leather-and-grease smell, the worn, wooden steering wheel, the rigid contours it evokes memories from my childhood as well as more recent recollections. What we love about classics isnt necessarily their practicality but that theyve stood the test of time and remain with us to remind us what the world used to be like.
It was early one June morning, before 9am, when my traveling companion Zach and I drove down a straight, dusty road within the parameters of greater St. Helena in our rental car to a place thats as much a classic as the Jeep Id left back in Nebraska. The sun was coming down on the ancient Pellet Vineyard, the bright green leaves of the vines lighting up in the early morning rays with the Mayacamas cresting majestically in the background. Eric Risch, whom I had met previously at a tasting in Omaha, strode around the corner to greet us, with Lucy the Dalmatian, a rescue named for Lucille Ball, trotting at his heels. Classic.
We chatted casually as we walked back behind the stately house that sits at the edge of the vineyard, the home of owners Greg and Robin Krill, to where an outdoor recreation room doubles as a tasting venue. Eric doesnt see many people on a daily basis, but for those who make the effort to stop by, he makes the experience truly something worthwhile. He filled our glasses with a 100% varietal Cab rose, and we took a casual walk around the vineyards as the sun began to warm them. Lucy would trot side to side, kicking up dust, as Eric, Zach, and I would take a few steps, stop, examine a grapevine, take a few more steps, stop, and talk about the wine. Eric knows every vine in the historic vineyard, almost as if by name, and he is a wealth of knowledge about the history of the Valley and, in particular, the role that this estate played in it.
Henry Pellet had established himself in the Valley as early as 1859, explained Eric, next to his neighbor, Dr. George B. Crane. Today, the nearby Dr. Crane vineyard produces some of the most expensive and sought-after fruit in the entire Napa Valley. A contemporary of Dr. Crane, as well as Charles Krug, H.W. Crabb, and other wine country pioneers, Pellet established the Pellet & Carver winery, one of the very first in the area, and was elected the first secretary of the St. Helena Viticulture Society. Pellet was also among those who helped to bring European grapes, or vinifera, to the Napa Valley, arguably helping to orchestrate the transformation of the region into what it is today.
Once wed taken a casual lap around the Pellet Vineyard, we headed back to the bar in the open room that sits not far from the pool in the back of the Krill residence. There, Zach, Eric, and I continued with the mornings tasting. Available that morning was an impressive assortment of winemaker Tom Rinaldis tremendous body of work, including his highly acclaimed 2013 barrel fermented Chardonnay, a classic wine which Robert Parker awarded 94 points, saying that it comes across like a premier cru or possibly a grand cru from Puligny Montrachet, and a vertical of Cabs running from 2010 to 2012. Rinaldi, who was classmates at UC Davis with the notable likes of Randy Dunn, Tim Mondavi, and Mike Martini, produces only around 750 cases of wine annually for the Pellet Estate, carefully handcrafting every wine, and every vintage. The results are undeniable.
Down to the detail it seems that the legacy of Henry Pellet has been kept intact at the Pellet Estate. While no ancient chateau was ever erected on the property, the spirit of Napas early days thrives in this modern incarnation. Proprietor Greg Krill, who is amongst other things a rare coin collector, selected the artwork for the Pellet Estate label. It is Walter Shirlaws Electricity presenting light to the world, an allegorical image that for one year only in 1896 adorned the United States $5 Silver Certificate, before being replaced because it displayed the bare breast of a woman, or what some today might refer to as tasteful side boob. Regardless, the classic image is strikingly elegant and beautifully complex, commanding the attention and respect of the beholder, very much like the wine inside the bottles it adorns.
As Zach, Eric, and I stood talking, tasting, and looking out over the vineyards, occasionally stooping to give Lucy a gentle pat, a satisfying feeling came over me. Its a special thing to be able to exist in a place like that, if only for a moment, with a view of mountains as old as the earth itself, the same sun beating down that has for a hundred, million years, and a glass of wine in your hand that contains in its very essence the known history of an entire industry. It was the kind of morning that made me want to cancel the rest of the days appointments and just have another glass of wine. It was only reluctantly that Zach and I eventually said goodbye to Eric and climbed back into our rented car.
Sonja didnt get to come with me on my last trip to Napa, and to compound the issue I missed my flight out of San Francisco and was delayed getting home by another 24 hours. I could tell from our last phone call that she was less than entertained by the situation which, admittedly, was my own doing. If youre not experienced in the area of marriage, take it from me: this can be the sort of thing that ends up costing one some serious marital capital; its in moments like this that otherwise respectable man caves wind up converted into crafting rooms and dreams of boats can be forever put on hold. But I was prepared. As I walked in the door upon finally arriving home, I gave Sonja a huge hug and, before she had a chance to say anything, told her I brought you something, removing from my luggage a bottle of Pellet Estates beautiful 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon. I set it on the countertop in front of her, the elegant label commanding both of our attention and admiration. Reluctantly, she smiled at me. It will be a cold day in hell when I get rid of that Jeep.
The classics are invaluable. Contained in them is our history and from that an idea of where we might be going in the future. The Pellet Estate is a Napa Valley classic an ancient vineyard that has been resurrected to help guide an industry into the future. Meticulous attention to detail, the work of gifted artisans, and a vision for what great wine can be, this is a place you need to seek out the next time youre in the Valley.