It is such a wonderful change of pace to visit a winemaker like Vince Tofanelli. Too often when we visit the Napa Valley we get caught up by the big and the fancy wineries and tasting rooms and tend to overlook the smaller names of the Napa Valley. It is much more fun and a truly rewarding experience when you meet and taste the wines of the small winemaker. We made an appointment with Vince via email to visit his family vineyards on Dunaweal Lane in Calistoga. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate that day and we had to forego the vineyard walk and instead met Vince at Envy Winery in Calistoga where he makes and ages his wines. We went into the barrel room where we tasted his 2007 Zinfandel and 2007 Charbono, and also got a barrel taste of a Grenache and a Petit Sirah that he will bottle and release later this year.
Vince’s winemaker endeavors date back to 1978 as a home winemaker. In 2000, encouraged by various elite winemakers who tasted his homemade wine, he began to make wine commercially. He produces 600 cases of Zinfandel and 300 cases of Charbono. Yes, Charbono, a grape that once flourished in the California wine industry but now is produced by a mere six wineries. The old Inglenook winery made Charbono and it was one of the elite varietals from 1940 to 1960. But once the winery was sold to Heublein Corporation the Inglenook story ended. Today those same Charbono vines are located on the Tofanelli Vineyards. It was Vince’s grandparents who planted those vines for Inglenook. Vince’s grandparents purchased the vineyard property in 1929, and later in 1950 his parents added six acres. An elite list of wineries buy from the Tofanelli Vineyards: Turley, Schrader, Duckhorn, and Orin Swift to name a few.The barrel room was quite cold and so were the Zinfandel and Charbono that Vince retrieved from the boxed bottles in the barrel room. Knowing that we could not get the full impact of these cold wines we decided to purchase a bottle of each and make a judgment at home with a meal. We are so glad we did. The Charbono wine is absolutely outstanding. It has a beautiful purple color and is perfectly balanced, rich and flavorful wine all in a very subtle style. This is one of the better wines we have tasted in recent months. Absolutely delicious! The Zinfandel is also quite good and medium in style. This wine is no fruit bomb and is excellent with a meal. We wish more winemakers would take this approach with Zinfandel. Many Zins today are big and very fruity up front. They are good for perhaps one glass and after that your palate begs for something a little more relaxed.
Check out the Tofanelli Website and next time in the Napa Valley arrange a visit with Vince at his vineyards. For a tour and tasting the fee is $20 a person and the fee can be applied to a purchase. Gee, and just a few weeks ago we visited a 900-case winery with a fancy tasting room that charges $25 a person just to taste one wine.