Visiting Fontanella Family Winery
Posted by Gabe on July 28, 2009
When I got up this morning I had no plans to visit Fontanella Family Winery. In fact, I wasn’t familiar with them. That all changed pretty quickly. For the second time in a few months I had the opportunity to spend some time with Peter Rubissow of Rubissow Wines. It was once again an excellent time; a detailed report of my first visit to Rubissow is available. The offshoot of all that is that Peter recommended Fontanella. I headed straight to their tasting room a bit further down the hill on Mount Veeder when I left Peter.
Karen Fontanella greeted me warmly when I arrived. I got a brief history of their winery which is a pretty new operation. Work on their tasting room was completed just about a year ago in the summer of 2008. They’ve been pouring wines there by appointment ever since. We went through their current releases which are made from purchased fruit. They have extensive plans to plant on their own property in the area surrounding the winery and tasting room. For now though they have sourced their fruit from sources they are familiar with, both friends and others. While there is quite a bit of Mount Veeder fruit in their wines they also source in Calistoga, Rutherford and Carneros. Once their vines are planted and bearing fruit they will ultimately make Mount Veeder Appellation wines.
Jeff Fontanella is the winemaker and he founded this winery along with his wife Karen. His prior wine-making experience includes work at Opus One, ZD Wines and Saddleback. Along the way he picked up a host of experience which helped him hone his craft and find his personal sweet spot in terms of wine-making style and philosophy. I didn’t get to meet Jeff this time out but his wines spoke for him, quite loudly:
The 2007 Fontanella Chardonnay is an even split of Carneros and Mount Veeder Fruit. This Chardonnay reminded me of the Van Halen song “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love.” Specifically when David Lee Roth sings, “I’ve been to the edge, and there I stood and looked down.” The reason for that is that this wine really skated the oak edge for me. I found it had just enough oak treatment to add layers of complexity and make it really interesting to drink and contemplate, but not enough to bog it down or mask the fruit. The nose of this wine is very expressive and the finish has a nice rich and creamy edge. The wine retails for $30.
The 2006 Fontanella Cabernet Sauvugnon is made from Rutherford (86%) and Mount Veeder (16%) fruit. More than anything I was salivating, hoping someone would show up with some fork tender Filet Mignon when I tasted this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. As there was no grill in sight I was left to think about this wine. It’s a well structured wine that features lots of berry fruit flavors and firm but yielding tannins. Rutherford dust, baker’s chocolate are out in force on the finish along with some espresso notes. This is a really nice Cabernet that should improve with some bottle age. It sells for $55.
The 2007 Fontanella Zinfandel is made up of Calistoga (67%) and Mount Veeder (33%) fruit If I wanted to sit in the corner, sip wine and contemplate life this Zinfandel would be a good choice. It has a big, bold, hedonistic nose that draws you to the glass. Rich, ripe, berry jam fruit notes are copious throughout the palate along with some spice reference points. The finish of this Zin is soft, smooth, silky and of excellent length. As soon as it’s fades you’ll want another sip.
In addition to these current releases I had the opportunity to taste barrel samples of the Cabernet Sauvignon components for the next release. They seemed to indicate consistency of quality and style, good signs in my book. As I mentioned above to visit Fontanella you need to make an appointment, so keep that in mind before visiting. Picking up the phone to make that call is well worth your time. The tasting room at Fontanella is cozy, welcoming and well appointed. It has a nice view of their property which will be under vine before long. Most importantly the wines are delicious, well made, artisinal offerings that are worth the extra effort to seek out. Karen Fontanella is a very gracious and charming host who will be happy to tell you about the wines and the burgeoning history of their winery. They’re already on my short list to revisit on my next trip to Napa as I expect the lovely wines to continue. Special thanks to Peter for the recommendation.