This is the final article on our recent visit to three very different mountain wineries in the Napa Valley. Our first visit was to the Stony Hill Vineyard on Spring Mountain, then on to Ladera Winery on Howell Mountain. Our final winery visit took us south of Howell Mountain to Chiles Valley and to one of Napa Valley’s oldest wineries, Nichelini Winery, atop Sage Canyon Road.
This little hidden winery in the Napa Valley may perhaps be best described as the “The Little Winery That Could.” Through the prohibition era this winery kept chugging and chugging, making wines. Prohibition forced many wineries out of business and a few others survived by making sacramental wines. The Nichelini Winery kept making wines and rumors say that none of it was for the Church. Rumors abound regarding who the Nichelini clients were, and how the family managed to elude the law. Whatever this means, the winery has had 121 consecutive harvests and the family has proclaimed that they are the oldest continuous winery in the Napa Valley.
Most travelers to the Napa Valley will never get near Nichelini. First, it is well off the beaten path, 15 minutes from the Valley floor; and perhaps the biggest reason, they have never heard of the wines of Nichelini. The winery does little promotion and relies mostly on word-of-mouth. That may all change soon as the Nichelini Family is planning to bring production from 1800 cases annually to 4000 cases within the next five years. Leading the way is Aimée Sunseri, who is a member of the 5th generation of the family and recently became the seventh head winemaker at Nichelini. In the tasting room and doing PR work is family member Kenny Wainright. With these two key members of the Nichelini team, look for the winery to embark on new territory in promoting the Nichelini brands.
The vineyards are estate owned and some date back to 1928. All the wines are reasonably priced between $15 and $30. We liked the wines we tasted but none was an absolute standout. We did like the Primitivo very much and the Zinfandel but they were sold out. We also were enamored with the Old Vine Muscadelle. Have you heard of it? It’s made from the Muscadelle grape, also known as Sauvignon Vert. We liked it very much and I do not believe any other winery in California is making this varietal of wine. It is similar in character to a Sancerre style Sauvignon Blanc. Nichelini is one of the very few wineries without a tasting fee. How nice!
During the winter months, the tasting is done in the main area of the original Nichelini home. During the warm weather, the tasting is moved below to the barrel room. Just below the barrel room, a stairway leads to a very nice secluded picnic area and a Bocce court. The only knock on this winery is the parking. As you can see from the photo above, this is a two-lane road the leads from the Napa Valley to the Lake Berryessa area. The parking is on the shoulder of the road and cars generally travel too fast along this stretch. But don’t let that deter you from visiting. After all, how often do you get to visit a winery that has had 121 consecutive harvests? We highly recommend a visit to this historic winery in the Napa Valley. The winery is open on weekends or by appointment during the week.