Imagine turning off the main road, down a narrow, barely paved drive. There is nothing around but deer-filled meadows and forests of trees dripping with bearded lichen. It’s unassuming – a wilderness wonderland. Then, the hill levels out, and the road transforms into smooth, gray asphalt. There, to the left, is Gandona, its natural rockface facade nestled against Pritchard Hill of the Vaca Mountains. Those stones were quarried from within the hill during construction of the winery and caves, completed in 2010, lending a sense of terroir to the very building itself. Lake Hennessey, the main fresh water source for the Napa Valley, is visible in the near distance from the deck.
Originally, plantings on this property included Chardonnay and Reisling, an odd combination for the Pritchard Hill region. When Manuel Pires bought the property, he replanted with varieties that better suit the climate and soil – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and one-fifth of an acre of Touriga Nacional. Until recently, there was also a smattering of Petit Verdot, but the last vintage of the Encosta red blend to feature that varietal is the 2016 (available now and drinking great, if I may add).
Pires is from a Port-making family in the Duoro, Portugal’s premier fortified wine region. Naturally, he invested in Touriga Nacional to honor his heritage and bring some of Portugal to California. The five main varieties used for traditional Port production are Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, and (you guessed it!) Touriga Nacional. In California, however, Port-style wine is most often made with Zinfandel, and occasionally Cabernet Sauvignon. If you didn’t know, wines labeled “Port” are legally required to be made in Portugal; made elsewhere, similar fortified wines must be labeled “Port-style,” regardless of the varieties used. The Fraga do Arco Port-style wine (named after the Pires family property in Portugal) is 100% Touriga Nacional, and is bottled in a traditional, imported Port bottle. If there is enough quality yield in a given year, the variety will find its way into the Encosta red blend. But you can expect the price per bottle for those rare vintages to be much higher than average!
Gandona is a collector’s paradise. Not only are they located between cult-classic names like Bryant Estate, Chappellet, and Colgin Cellars, the consulting winemaker is the renowned Phillipe Melka, most famous for turning everything he touches into 100-point masterpieces. While Gandona wines are served in high-end restaurants around the Napa Valley, such as Morimoto, Press, and the French Laundry, individual consumers must inquire directly to purchase. New releases are offered to mailing list members on an allocation basis, meaning that a certain number of bottles are set aside for each mailing list member who then has the option of purchasing that wine. Wine is also available for purchase in the tasting room.
Here’s what’s currently on the menu:
- Encosta 2018 Chardonnay – Sourced from Sonoma Coast, specifically the Ritchie Vineyard. Rich, complex, left on the lees until the end and matured in 20% new oak. Full body with medium (+) acidity and fruit forward notes of apple and citrus, some hazelnutty and gingery spice on the finish
- Meia 2018 Estate Cabernet Franc – Firmly structured with smooth tannins. The name “Meia” means “middle” and refers to where the grapes are planted on the middle of the hill. Classic and velvety Cab Franc. Red plum and raspberry with dark berries, smoky dark chocolate, sweet tobacco and a distinctly enticing, perfumed floral note
- Encosta 2016 Estate Red Blend – 76% Cab Sauv, 20% Cab Franc, and 4% Petit Verdot. A darker floral note than the Meia, like orchid or lilac, similar juicy red plum and dark berry with some strawberry and a dusty, damp earth finish
- Gandona 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon – The name of the flagship wine, like the winery itself, is a nickname roughly meaning “curmudgeonly grandfather.” This wine is supple and jammy, quintessential Napa Cab with black current and graphite, but still elegant and refined with smooth, aged tannins. There’s a hint of green stemminess, tomato leaf, that adds character on the nose. This is a share with your friends at the next dinner party kind of wine
- Fraga do Argo 2013 Port-style – Traditional and transportive, feels like you’re enjoying a glass on the warm, sunny coast of Portugal. Fortified with brandy made from Pinot Noir. Distinctive dried cherry, prune, caramel, and warming cinnamon spice notes. Sweet, but not lusciously sticky. Perfect after dinner aperitif
The Gandona experience is a private conversation, an exploration of legacy, winemaking, and most importantly, discovering how the wines make you feel. This is the perfect place for cerebral wine drinkers, lovers of quality, tastemakers looking to expand their collections. You’ll get the tasting room all to yourself and feel like there’s something connecting you to the land, to the lake, and to the wine.