A visit to the Louis M. Martini winery is a visit to Napa Valley’s past. The winery was founded on Highway 29 in St. Helena in 1933. The winery has always been a special place for us, because it was one of the first we visited in the Napa Valley many moons ago. Back in the day, there were no tasting room fees anywhere in the Napa Valley, and a bottle of Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon went for $2.50! That is no misprint; the year was 1966. There were only a few wineries in the 60’s open to the public. In addition to visiting Louis Martini, we enjoyed visits to Inglenook, Beaulieu Vineyards, Charles Krug, Christian Brothers, and Beringer. Towards the end of the 1960s a great new winery opened on Highway 29, the Robert Mondavi Winery.
We had a very nice visit to the Louis M. Martini Winery on Friday, December 19th. The winery is now owned by Gallo, which purchased the winery from the Martini Family in 2002. Michael Martini, the grandson of Louis M. Martini, remains as the head winemaker. In fact, while we were touring and tasting, Michael Martini walked into the tasting room to pick up a few cases of his favorite wine for a family gathering later in the week. He is a jovial fellow with a great presence.
About the only things that have changed since the winery began are the beautiful tasting room area and the addition of an outside patio area for picnicking. Louis Martini is still making great red wines from the Napa Valley and the Sonoma County areas. The Martini wines from the famed Monte Rosso Vineyards remain for us the best red wines produced at the winery. When Louis M. Martini first established the winery in St. Helena, he believed that besides the Napa Valley, Sonoma was also a great wine-growing area. He purchased several acres in Sonoma and in 1938 purchased the vineyards in Sonoma that he labeled Monte Rosso. These vineyards are atop the Mayacamas Mountains on the Sonoma side. The soil there is bright red and volcanic. And indeed, the wines that are made from these vineyards have a notable character to them. The elevation is 700 to 1400 feet. The vineyards are above the fog line, and totally stressed from the wind and sun. The vines grow deep into the red soil. There are 575 acres at Monte Rosso, of which 231 are planted to grape vines. Louis M. Martini does sell small plots of Cabernet and Zinfandel to other producers. I have tasted Monte Rosso wines made by Sbragia, August Briggs, Charter Oak, and Cameron Hughes. The Monte Rosso wines produce bold wines with complex flavors and for me a dusty character in the finish. I have always been intrigued by Monte Rosso wines, and I am hoping that I can tour the vineyards this spring. According to the Gallo folks, they do offer tours of Monte Rosso for the media and that includes wine bloggers. Yay!
Our tour and tasting at Martini included a brief history of the winery and a look at some black and white photos posted on the walls of the entrance to the tasting room. When you visit Louis Martini, be sure to take a look at these photographs to give yourself a sense of Napa Valley history. Our tour began with a glass of the Louis Martini Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a big-production wine and found at many wine shops and supermarkets. It is a good wine at a very nice price point for the consumer. It can be found selling for between $12 to $17. Next, we tried the Napa Valley Cab, also quite good. The third wine was the Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011. This wine was amazing and one of our favorites of tasting that day. It sells for about $25.
Next, we moved on to the winemaking facilities, in fact, Wine Cellar 254. This is where all the limited production and high-end Louis Martini wines are made. This is where the Monte Rosso wines are produced. Kori Butler is the assistant winemaker and oversees the winemaking for these wines. These wines are produced in limited quantities and sold mainly at the winery. You will not find these wines in supermarkets. We were able to taste several of these wines paired with salami. What an amazing difference on the palate when these wines are enjoyed with the salami. The fat changes and softens the tannins. Try it at home with a big and bold Cab. Our final wine was the Louis Martin Lot 1. This is what they call their flagship wine. It is Cabernet Sauvignon from the best vineyard lots of each vintage. The wine sells for $145 and it is outstanding.
One can visit Louis Martini without an appointment and do a general tasting. A second option is the “Experience Cabernet,” which includes touring the cellar and a vineyard walk. This tasting requires a reservation. Check the Louis Martini Website for complete details.