Salvestrin Estate Vineyard & Winery Review
Address: 397 Main Street St. Helena,California 94574.
Phone Number: 707-963-5105
Tasting Hours: By appt. Wed-Mon 10:00-5:00
Region: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Review Date: 1/15/2017
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
A heavy fog lay draped across an historic block of vineyard, dividing the world into two at eye level and serving as a curtain to partially shield the world and the vines — from the bright and rising sun. I took in this scene, idyllic, serene, and indistinguishable in time, from my second story vantage point, the window beside my bed providing a beautiful view of the landscape below, and beyond them, Napas valley floor.
I looked over at my wife, who had stealthily turned herself into a tightly wrapped burrito after I had exited the bed but moments earlier. She snored gently, then looked up at me and yawned. I smiled. It was 7:30 in the morning. I rinsed my mouth out with tap water from the sink, refusing to taint my palate with toothpaste or mouthwash while tasting wine, an exercise that the burrito beside me abhors passionately yet tolerates periodically as just another of my many quirks. She had already gone back to sleep. I offered no protest, reasoning that it was her vacation as well and slipped outside the bedroom door to descend the grand wooden staircase on my own.
The living area of the historic G.B. Crane mansion where we were lodged was adorned in all manner of antique furniture the sort of things that even someone like me knows inherently not to sit upon. I passed through the living room, through the dining area, and into the kitchen, where an old man sat eating eggs at a small side table, reading a newspaper. He smiled at me, still chewing, and I nodded and smiled back before exiting the room.
Eddie Moore and I had exchanged a long series of emails prior to my visiting, and he had personally concerned himself with making sure we got everywhere we needed to and on time. Simply put, Eddie, who prior to coming to Salvestrin had managed an upscale restaurant in St. Helena, is one of the kindest and most genuine souls Ive ever encountered. He stands out in a place where I generally tend to find the people amiable and kind, and to me that says something pretty powerful. When I finally got to meet him face to face, his broad smile and firm handshake were more than enough to confirm the identity of the man with whom Id been communicating for the past month. In truth, it felt more like a reunion than an introduction, at least to me.
Together, Eddie and I made the short walk from the historic residence to the lofted tasting room, adjacent to the house but tucked back farther from the vineyards. We climbed the wooden staircase and stepped into an immaculate and equally tiny tasting space, which was comfortable and afforded us a brilliant view of the fog-covered vines below. There, Eddie told me stories of the Salvestrin family, whom he had both known and deeply admired for many years. He told me about the patriarch, John, and gestured toward an old black and white picture hanging on the wall. I love to talk about this winery, and how family-centric it is, he told me, pouring a splash of crisp, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc into my glass.
The wine that Rich Salvestrin is making is as good as anything being produced in the Valley in my estimation. From his Sauvignon Blanc laced in beautiful citrus and tropical fruit notes to a Super-Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc entitled Retaggio which translates to Legacy, each wine was not only interesting and well made, but also seemed to have a meaningful story or symbolism behind it. Of greatest interest to me, personally, as an unabashed lover of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, was the 3 Ds 2012. Crafted of fruits from the historic Crane Vineyard that could easily draw two to three times the relatively modest asking price of this wine, it was an intense yet approachable, full-bodied wonder that rivals the very best Cabernets Ive ever had. Limited to 350 cases and named in tribute to Rich and his wife Shannons three daughters, this 100% varietal Cabernet spends 35 months on oak and receives such care and attention as to render it nearly perfect. After tasting it, I didnt want to taste any other wine. I wanted to let the finish linger on my palate for as long as it was willing.
Upon completing our tasting, Eddie and I suspended our conversation to return to the Crane house, now the Salvestrin house I suppose, and met Sonja in the formal dining room for breakfast. Susanne, who I had seen but briefly that morning, had laid out an incredible spread of food that included fresh fruit and juices, coffee, as well as scones and cake which were as delicious as they were gluten-free, a rare treat for Sonja who, for medical reasons, often must skip the pastry part of breakfast. As we enjoyed the lovely food and I finally allowed myself some coffee, the old man from before walked in and this time was introduced to me by Eddie as Ed Salvestrin. Ed stood for a while, and then at our urging joined us at the table, and taught me more about the Napa Valley in half an hour than I had learned in a year of study.
It was Eds father, John, who along with his wife Emma had immigrated to the United States from Italy and acquired the home and 26 acres in 1932. John made wine for himself, but mostly sold the grapes in a post-prohibition market that had all but strangled the American viticulture scene. From John, the property had been passed to Ed, and from Ed to Rich, who after studying viticulture at Fresno, had crafted his first vintage in 1994. We always grew grapes, made our own wine at the home, but we didnt make wine to sell until my son, Richard, got in the picture, Ed explained, clearly proud of his son and the legacy he has carried on. We continued to talk at length, Eds effortless humor and warm smile greasing the wheels for casual conversation to range between memories of the Valley, family history, and the ever-increasing traffic on Highway 29, of which Ed isnt particularly fond. We talked and ate and sipped at coffee, making a memory that Sonja and I have since often referenced, and will certainly always cherish.
Unfortunately, time moves by so quickly in instances such as that one; Sonja and I were genuinely reluctant to leave for our next appointment of the day. Its not entirely unheard of that we would cancel a visit to spend more time in such a place, but we didnt want to overstay our welcome, nor did we particularly wish to sour our relationship with the winery we were scheduled to visit at 10, so around 9:47, at the last possible minute, we made our goodbyes to Eddie and to Ed, promised to return and see them again soon, and headed to our car.
By the time we walked out the door, the sun had won the day and succeeded in burning the fog off of the vineyards. Subtlety was replaced by a brazen and beautiful scene, the historic G.B. Crane residence towering over the famous vineyards, with immense trees casting shade where they could, and birds beginning to sound off in the distance. The Napa Valley had awakened; it was time to be on the road.
A few months later, I was in a local wine shop in my hometown of Omaha, and a man holding a bottle of Salvestrin Cabernet glanced over and said to me You know, I visited this winery not long ago. The wines are excellent, but I think it was the people who made it such a memorable experience. If you ever go, see if you can meet Ed. That guy knows the valley like nobody else. I opened my mouth to reply, but I realized almost immediately that this memory, though in one sense shared, was uniquely special to each of us. Telling him I had just been there would do nothing to improve it for him, nor would it do anything to enhance my own treasured experience. Each of us held something special in our minds, and the memory that belonged to Sonja, Eddie, Ed and I was ours alone. Thank you, Ill be sure to do that, I told him. Then I smiled to myself, grabbed a bottle of Salvestrin from the shelf to take home to Sonja, and left him to his memories.