Robert Biale Vineyards Review
Address: 4038 Big Ranch Rd. Napa,California 94558.
Phone Number: 707-257-7555
Tasting Hours: By appt.
Region: Napa Valley AVA, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA, California
Reviewer: Elizabeth Smith
Review Date: 9/29/2016
Reviewer: Elizabeth Smith
Not long ago, I had lunch with Maggie Pramuk Mazotti, daughter of the co-founder of Robert Biale Vineyards. Being a recent transplant to Napa, I had heard of Biale, but really did not know their story. After our lunch, I returned to work and suggested we schedule a staff tasting there.
On the morning of the staff tasting, fall was in the air. As I drove to Biale, I felt a little ashamed that I had not yet visited this winery fewer than two miles from where I live, on the same road, in fact. As I turned into the driveway, I noticed how overcast, foggy, and cool it was when I stopped to take a photo of the Biale sign at the entrance. A few trees and some of the grapevines were just beginning to reveal tinges of autumn colors, which made them pop against the gray sky.
I met my co-workers, and we walked towards the main building, a relatively new structure that accommodates both the guest tasting and the winemaking operations, where we were greeted by our host, Pat. He led us to the patio overlooking the vineyards, where he spoke a bit about this history of Biale, and the story of Black Chicken, as he poured us tastes of the 2014 Black Chicken ($46). For around 50 years, starting in the 1940s, Aldo Biale produced and sold wine under the radar, using the code name, Black Chicken. Today, the legal winery, founded in 1991 by partners Robert Biale and Dave Pramuk, is located in the Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley. Todays Black Chicken, primarily zinfandel, but actually a field blend, has become the winerys signature offering, with its rich, dark berry and baking spice aromas and flavors.
However, there is more to the Biale story than Black Chicken, as Pat shared with us during our tasting of seven wines. The winery is focused on crafting single-vineyard, small-production zinfandels (fourteen of them!), petite sirah, barbera, sangiovese, and red blends from heritage vineyards in the Napa Valley and Sonoma, including the original home vineyard, Aldos Vineyard. When most people think of zinfandel, they think jammy and often overripe, but Biale’s wines are the exact opposite of that stereotype. Pat jokingly described the wines as NOT the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) of zinfandel, as in they are not over the top in style. He explained that Biales winemaking team treats zinfandel as if it is pinot noir. Production includes open-top fermentation and punch downs. The resulting wines are elegant, structured, and balanced.
On the patio, we tasted the 2014 Varozza Vineyard Zinfandel ($50), the 2014 Stagecoach Vineyard Zinfandel ($52), the 2014 Monte Rosso Vineyard Zinfandel ($62, Moon Mountain, Sonoma County), before heading out for a tour of the vineyards and production facilities. En route, Pat shared that Biale considers itself to be a house of preservation by keeping alive old-vine vineyards by sourcing grapes from historic vineyard owners and making wines from traditional, Napa Valley and Sonoma grape varieties.
After our tour, we returned to taste three special wines, the 2014 Gaudi Carli Vineyard Barbera ($40, Calistoga), the 2013 Rocky Ridge Vineyard Zinfandel ($53, the last vintage of zinfandel coming from that vineyard), and the 2011 Thomann Station Vineyard Petite Sirah ($52), sadly the last vintage from that vineyard as the owners decided to replace the old-vine petite sirah with cabernet sauvignon. This saddened my heart to hear, as this wine was stunningly beautiful.
At the conclusion of my tasting, I had to make the tough decision of what to buy. I decided on the 2014 Varozza Vineyard Zinfandel ($50, St. Helena), sourced from a three-acre vineyard in St. Helena. Showcasing layers of black fruit and dusty tannins, this wines earthiness and rusticity spoke to my palate on that cool, autumn morning. However, rest assured; I will be back for more wines from Biale, my new, favorite neighborhood winery just down the street.