Storybook Mountain Vineyards Review
Address: 3835 State Highway 128 Calistoga,California 94515.
Phone Number: 707-942-5310
Tasting Hours: By appt. Mon-Sat
Region: Napa Valley AVA, Calistoga AVA, California
Reviewer: Anthony Marocco
Review Date: 5/17/2014
Reviewer: Anthony Marocco
Located off California Highway 128 is Storybook Mountain Vineyards, the family-owned estate and organic winery at the northern end of Napa Valley. I’ll be honest – I had never heard of Storybook Mountain prior to a friend introducing me to their elegant Zinfandels. My friend, John, is a Storybook wine club member and has been since having the experience of a lifetime during a visit to the winery a couple of years ago. Our first trip to Napa would have not been the same if had we not taken the opportunity to visit this establishment, learn the history, taste the flights, and enjoy the gorgeous, historical property. First things first – make sure you make an appointment ahead of time. The tour and tasting fee is $25 and worth EVERY penny. You are also able to apply the $25 towards a bottle purchase. They take appointments almost every day, with the exception of Sundays. Be prepared to spend about 90 minutes to 2 hours on your tour, and come with an open mind that may just have the lid blown right off of it.
The original estate was purchased in 1883 by Adam Grimm. Mr. Grimm’s family had grown wine in Germany, and he began planting Zinfandel on some of the 405 acres of land sitting just above Calistoga. His brother Jacob would later join him and assist in directing laborers to dig the three wine caves about 100 feet deep into the mountainside and establish Grimm’s Vineyard and WineVault. Nearly 20 years, the brothers decided to go in separate directions with Adam moving to San Francisco, and Jacob producing “sacramental and medicinal” wines.
The property was subsequently abandoned and finally destroyed by the 1964 Hanley Ranch Fire, which burned as far as Santa Rosa. The original caves, however, were intact, and the property was purchased by Jerry and Sigrid Seps in 1976. Together, Jerry and Sigrid Seps rebuilt the vineyard and winery, and produced its first vintage in 1983. The Seps named the winery Storybook Mountain as a tribute to the property’s “scenic beauty” and the Grimm family.
Surrounded by the historical (and still charred) Redwood trees, we began our tour by meeting with Jerry Seps’ son-in-law, Rick Williams. Rick is a kind, gentle, and knowledgeable guide who doubles as the person in-charge for sales and marketing. As we began to walk the property, I couldn’t help but take in the amazing views from the top of the hillside. The Burgundian-style trellis’ hold much of the original 1976 planting of Zinfandel, while small plots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a new planting of Viognier are strategically planted about the mountainside. “Jerry is a fountain of knowledge when it comes to management of the land.” Rick went on to explain, “He knows every detail from soil, to sunlight, to cooling patterns ”
Another attractive detail about Storybook Mountain wines is that they are 100% sustainable with no insecticides, pesticides, or commercial yeasts. It is pretty impressive for a man who is into his 80s to have the control and attention to detail that Jerry does, but passion and love of the land is what drives this family. They live by the mindset that they are stewards of the land – if they treat the land right, then the land will treat them right. Rick went on to explain that Jerry handpicks and tends each vine individually and manually harvests by section (over 105 on 42 acres of land), carrying each of the bins down to the crushpad. As years progressed, Jerry’s daughter and Rick’s wife, Colleen, took over most of the winemaking at Storybook, and they have not missed a step.
As we descended the hillside towards the tasting room, we passed the crushpad just outside of the entrance. All of the harvested grapes are crushed and processed on the open-air crushpad outside of the main cave. The pad is sanitized by an ozone sanitizing machine so that no chemicals or cleaners touch any of the equipment. From there, we proceeded into the cave for the second part of our tour, where Rick showed us the original pick marks on the walls where laborers once dug. The caves are lined with upwards of 400 oak barrels. Interestingly, the walls of the one of the caves was lined with 4 to 6 inches of dormant mold. The mold was generated from years of fermentation but is not harmful, unlike most mold. It’s actually so interesting that scientists from local universities have been out to study it on multiple occasions. Trust me, I’m deathly allergic to mold, and I HAD to give it a quick touch. Fortunately, it felt like a thick velvet or felt lining and had absolutely no effect on me!
As we continued into the caves, large oak barrels inscribed with family seals and Storybook Mountain logos were displayed at the very end. We were directed to the tasting cave where a substantial lineup of estate-grown wines were on display, including a rose and a white. We all gathered in the tasting cave semi-circle around a barrel display with our tasting selections placed across a table and listened as Rick poured our first selections. The 2013 Zin Gris ($19.50), created in a similar style to that of a dry rosé from Provence, showed lush gummy strawberry aromas and lead on the palate, and tasted fruity but dry. Overall, it’s a wine that will pair perfectly with almost any summer dish you can throw at it. Up next was a taste of the 2012 Estate Grown Viognier harvested from the top portion of the property near the tree line. It was very aromatic showing gorgeous aromas of floral and tropical notes throughout. The palate carries much of the same, but with more defined layers of lychee and white peach wrapped in a veil of floral notes. It finishes with hints of crisp citrus.
Moving onto the reds, we began with the 2009 blend of 51% Zinfandel, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot that is bottled under the Antaeus label ($40). This bold blend has aromas of herb and blackberry. Jammy blackberry flavors collide mid-palate with zesty peppery notes, but come full circle with sweet spice notes and hints of cherry followed by a lengthy, slightly tannic finish. Juicy, ripe flavors of cherry are left behind to coat the palate well after the finish. Anticipating more of what Storybook has to offer, I instantly crack a smile when Rick began pouring the 2011 Mayacamas Range Zinfandel ($37.50). Dominant red berry and fragrant spices are accompanied by dabs of fresh, garden herb. The wine is crisp and well-blanced with flavors of wild berry, dark berry, spicebox, and white pepper. The finish is smooth and plush showing just enough spice to hold its masculine form while the tannins are subdued and balanced by what seems like the perfect amount of dark fruit. Rolling along, we were lucky enough to try some of Storybook’s Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($65), comprised of roughly 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot. Dark fruit, oak, and cedar tussle for position in the aromatic department, while the palate is dominated by dark berry and cherry. Nuances of green pepper sparkle throughout the palate, but are not overbearing. A long, lengthy finish caps off this elegant, fruit-forward wine. As we wrap up, Rick was generous enough to let us try a splash of the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ($65), which is still available for sale. The wine’s deep, dark color is complimented by moderate aromatics and layers of dark berry and smoke notes. A bit earthy and savory on the palate with sweet tobacco and dark berry intensifying mid palate, the wine’s dusty tannins lead you to a bone dry finish. While the wine has been aged for a few years, it’s still showing a good amount of fruit and could even age for a bit longer. Grab a bottle while you can! As we chatted with some of the other guests in the group, we decided to purchase a few bottles and inevitably joined the wine club because, well, it’s just THAT good.
After a couple of hours spent with Rick and the group, we exchanged pleasantries and headed out on our next excursion, but few could top the experience we had at Storybook Mountain. If you are in the Napa area and you have some time to make an appointment, be sure to make one at Storybook Mountain. You will be talking about their wines and the experience for many years to come.