Friday, March 18, 2011

Up Close and Personal with Stony Hill Vineyard

As the TexaCali Wine Trail moves along, I am thrilled to have spent a few hours with Peter McCrea recently of the legendary Stony Hill Vineyard. I mentioned to a few friends of mine who know my wine preferences well "figures you would make the trek over to Napa for the first time in months for a Cult White Wine producer!".  Whew, a very curvy and steep drive up from Hwy 29 just a few miles south of Calistoga atop the St. Helena western hillside sits Stony Hill Vineyards.
They were right, what a pleasure to taste the beautifully and electicly made wines of Stony Hill alongside the McCreas and Mike Chelini, their winemaker of 40+ years.  They've been making fruity "non-oakey", non-maloactic, Chardonnays, White Rieslings and Gewurztraminers for fifty-eight years straight.

The afternoon sunshine was beaming down the first hint of spring warmth as I walked past 48 year old Riesling vines.  To see the very tops of the vineyards I had to take a few steps back  - a vertical gaze straight to the top of the mountain side that faces East towards St. Helena.   I couldn't help but text photos of the old Riesling vines and post a few pics to my Facebook during my walk with Peter - overwhelming historic views to share!

Character with Style...
What was most surprising to me during the tour of the tiny old winery - "the French Oak barrels were purchased about 38 years ago", yep, the wines scream "NO NEW OAK".  A welcome tasting experience indeed.   

In the very back corner of the winery, I pointed to barrel with red streaks stains around the bung hole, "what is this red wine?"...Peter was quick to thieve a little out of the barrel and fill my glass.  Beautiful!! It's Cabernet Sauvignon from their estate vineyard planted on the West side of the hill in 2004.  Of course the Cab was made in the same vein as all the Stony Hill whites...all about the fruit! I loved it. Currently they are selling their 2008 Red Table Wine -  they produced about 195 cases of the 2008 vintage and are selling it for a steal $25 a bottle. This is a Napa Cabernet I could drink weekly. A pleasant surprise.

Soon after the walk along the grounds we tasting inside the McCrea home. The house next to the winery is the original home purchased by Eleanor and Fred McCrea in 1943. I felt the history just upon walking through the front door streaming at me.  What a magical hillside to have created memories on for so many years.  I'm super glad to know the youngest generation (a daughter and son about my age) of the McCrea family is actively involved in the winery to this day. Stony Hill is an old producer and the "new generation" of world class Sommeliers and Wine Pros should be showing off these wines to their followers no doubt!

The line up in the kitchen that day included: 

2009 Stony Hill Gewurztraminer - 12% alcohol. Very Dry and floral. Sees time in French Oak, which gave it a tiny hint of softness on the finish.

2009 Stony Hill White Riesling- 1% residual sugar, 12% alcohol. A fun riesling to "blind" your pals on...honeydew melon on the nose, touch of apple in flavor - very dry.

2008 Stony Hill Chardonnay - Tasted pretty opposite of how I remembered my first sip of Stony Hill years ago - a bottle that was at least 6-8 years old. The 2008 was just a baby - a baby Burgundy if I was blinded on this glass though!  Great structure but has not come into her glory days yet.  Peter told me the 2007 is much more lush in flavor than the 2008, but haven't pulled a cork on the 2007 yet - tasting notes posted as soon as I do - promise.

2008 Stony Hill Red Table Wine - another low alcohol at 13.8% - which is crazy speaking in Napa Valley Cab terms.  What I loved about this red wine, it was all about the deep red fruit - berries to be exact that drew me into the glass and made my mouth water once sipped. It's a perfect medium-bodied red for me, the tannins were slight, but structured.

2008 Semillon de Soleil- screams Creme Brulee! Went home with 2 bottles...can't wait to pair these at a fun dinner party, a total treat!

Recent Press from the Sommelier Journal: 

Hot Picks
2007 Stony Hill Chardonnay
Lots of California winemakers are talking about changing their style to feature lower alcohol and less oak.  Stony Hill started building California's reputation for Chardonnay nearly 50 years ago, and its approach has never changed: careful handling of the fruit and hand-off winemaking.  In this version, the purity and depth of character that come only from older vines will impress even the most diehard white Burgundy fans.

If you have a chance to visit the winery - awesome! But if not, you can always buy directly from Stony Hill and experience their history at home.

Cheers! TexaCali Ali (click on each photo to enlarge for a better view!).


Andrea Middleton said...

What a treat to meet Peter McCrea! Your reviews are making my mouth water; can't wait to try that Riesling - do you know where to find it in Austin?

TexaCali Ali said...

Andrea, thank you for your message. I had to pinch myself a bit walking with Peter that day.

The wines are on the way to Texas soon. I would reach out to John @ The Austin Wine Merchant and let him know you are interested in the Riesling.

A very limited amount will be available in stores, most will go to restaurants throughout the State. If you miss out, you can always buy direct from the winery... Cheers! Ali