AWG Correspondent

Martin D. Redmond

Heitz Wine Cellars Photos

Heitz Wine Cellars Review

Regions: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California

Reviewed: August 17, 2014 by Martin D. Redmond
Published: April 4, 2015

Napa Valley means many things to me, most of which are associated with positive feelings. It has an intriguing sense of history when one considers its ascendancy in a relatively short period of time to the status it enjoys today in the wine world. It has a unique geological profile with a multitude of soil types packed into a comparatively small area, which I find fascinating. And of course, there are the world-class wines and a flourishing culinary scene.

On the other hand, traffic can be a nightmare. And the tasting fees, which add up quickly, can be prohibitively expensive.

On my most recent visit to Napa Valley, I decided to see if I could find free tasting. And "two for the price of one", or "tasting fee waived with purchase" don't count in my book. I'm talking complimentary, gratis, nothing, nada, zilch, zero cost.

I had a feeling that finding free tasting in Napa Valley was going to be a bit like finding bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

Much to my surprise (and sheer delight), my search didn't take long as I quickly discovered American Winery Guide's "Free Wine Tasting in Napa Valley" article. And I was positively thrilled when my search uncovered the name of one of Napa Valley's most historic and iconic wineries….Heitz Cellar!

Heitz Cellar is a family owned and operated winery established by Joe and Alice Heitz in 1961 after they purchased an 8-acre vineyard south of St. Helena along Napa Valley's main road State Route (Highway) 29. At the time, the property was mostly planted to Grignolino, an obscure Italian grape variety.

Having worked for André Tchelistcheff - who is widely regarded as California's most influential winemaker since the repeal of Prohibition - for 10 years, it didn't take long for Joe to establish a stellar reputation as a fine winemaker in his own right. Needing room to grow their burgeoning winery, in 1964 the couple purchased a 160-acre vineyard in Spring Valley in the eastern hills of St. Helena. This beautiful ranch with its winery and homestead proved to be the ideal place to grow the family business. They have gradually expanded their farmland to encompass 400 acres located in the Napa Valley's finest winemaking appellations, including Rutherford and Howell Mountain.

Heitz Cellar has been one of Napa Valley's pioneering wineries. They were the first to introduce vineyard-designated wine (Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon) in 1966. Heitz was also one of the first Napa Valley wineries to export its wine, and they were one of the early proponents of the use of French oak. Today they are one of the largest organic grape growers in Napa Valley.

Another unique aspect of Heitz is that, unlike most wineries that sell out of a vintage, then move on to the next, they keep five vintages of their top end Martha's Vineyard and Trailside Cabernet Sauvignon on sale at any given time.

While Heitz is most renowned for their Cabernet Sauvignon, they also produce Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, and Port-style Zinfandel dessert wine and the aforementioned Grignolino (the only Napa Valley winery making it!).

Tasting Experience

The Heitz sales and tasting room remains in its original location on St. Helena Highway. The relatively new building is composed of native stone and mahogany. When you walk in you'll find yourself in the beautifully appointed tasting room filled with a fireplace, overstuffed leather chairs, natural stone and a beautiful wooden low-top tasting bar. The room has an intimate and upscale, yet unpretentious, vibe. The tasting room staff is very friendly and knowledgeable.

It was a bit crowded the day we visited, but the staff adroitly managed to facilitate getting everyone a place at the tasting bar.

On the day we visited, there were four wines available for tasting.

The Wines

2009 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon – Shows promising black cherry, cassis, and cedar wood aromas. On the palate it's medium-bodied and fresh with abundant, pleasing blackberry, black cherry, cassis, vanilla and a bit of cacao flavors

2009 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Trailside Vineyard – This wine is aromatic with blackberry, cassis, tobacco, and a bit of spiced vanilla aromas. On the palate, it's medium-bodied with a plush texture and good acidity with an ample core of cassis, blackberry, and spice flavors complemented by pleasing earthy notes and a long sweet finish.

2009 Heitz Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard – This wine has an alluring and complex character with expansive dark fruit, eucalyptus, oak, and spice aromas. On the palate, it's full-bodied and opulent showing youthful tannins and layers of blackberry, black cherry, cassis and bit of plum, vanilla, and spice flavors and a long finish. A memorable wine, that's approachable now, but needs time to blossom. It was my favorite wine of the tasting.

2013 Heitz Cellar Grignolino – What a fun and charming wine! It shows a delightful light-bodied strawberry, floral character with lively acidity and interesting minerality. A wonderful, chillable red wine that's a great picnic wine!

Insider's Tip:

Drop in at Dean and Deluca, an upscale grocery store/deli, across the highway from Heitz, pick up your lunch, then head over to Heitz and pick up a bottle of Grignolino. Then head out to the patio to take in the fabulous views of the vineyards and garden. Or if it's delectable fine dining you seek, and if you plan ahead a bit, make a reservation for lunch or dinner at Press, either before or after your tasting at Heitz. It's also just across the highway and the food is fabulous!

Address & Contact Information: 436 St. Helena Highway South St. Helena, California 94574. Telephone: 707-963-3542, website: Tasting Hours: 11:00-4:30.

Overall Rating:  

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