Fontanella is a new winery on Mt. Veeder and the owners Karen and Jeff Fontanella have some fresh ideas to perk up visitor interest. Visitors receive a private 30 to 45 minute session that includes a tasting of three wines, a novel comparison barrel tasting, and the opportunity to buy a small blending kit to create their own bottles of wine.
We begin our experience at Fontanella with a taste of the Chardonnay, a nice food-friendly wine. We then step into the barrel room where there are two barrels side-by-side filled with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt. Veeder but from separate vineyards. The first barrel contains Cabernet from the Yates Vineyard at 1200 feet elevation where soil consists of volcanic rock and ash. The grapes are stressed to the max and the grape clusters are much smaller and thus more concentrated with flavors. In the second barrel, the juice is from the 800 ft. Headwall Vineyard where the soil consists of shale and sand. It is remarkable how different the wine from each barrel tastes, but both very good and enticing. Jay liked the fruitier-tasting wine from the 800 ft. vineyard, while I was more taken by the more tannic and intense wine from the 1200 ft. vineyard. This comparison tasting is an opportunity to educate visitors on the impact that soil and climate have on the characteristics of wine. Now for the cool factor in this barrel tasting: If one should really like the wine in one of the barrels, winemaker Jeff Fontanella can bottle a case for you during his twice-yearly bottling day. It’s the same price per bottle as the regular Cabernet.
The regular Fontanella Cabernet is made up mostly of grapes from these two vineyards, but in addition a small amount of Rutherford Cabernet and Merlot is added to round out the wine. Now here is where the blending kit comes into play. The blending kit consists of four half-bottles from each of the vineyards that go into their Cabernet blend. Also provided in the kit is a graduated cylinder for making precise measurements. At home, you can probably make about ten different blends from the four bottles. I love the idea of lining up a set of wine glasses to taste each with a different blend. When wine club members purchase the blending kit for $120 they commit to buying a case of whatever blend they choose at $75 per bottle.
The winery produces 1300 cases of wine each year of three varietals: the Chardonnay, the Cabernet, and a terrific tasting Zinfandel that we really enjoyed. The family recently was given the go ahead by the city of Napa to be able to plant 10 acres of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon on their estate. I imagine when the vineyards are mature, the view from the tasting room is going to be a spectacular sight.
If you want to visit, contact the tasting room at (707) 252-1017 and arrange for your appointment. The fee is $20 per person. Be sure to do your Google or Mapquest search for directions, as it is easy to get lost making your way up Mt. Veeder from Highway 29.