Revered Napa Valley Winery Releases First-Ever Cabernet Sauvignon After 60 Years of White Wine


Stony Hill Vineyards held out for 60 years. While they may not be the only Napa Valley winery to have made exclusively white wine for six decades, they are certainly one of the finest. Most famous for their White Burgundy-esque Chardonnay, the family-owned Spring Mountain winery has been going about their business making lovely, balanced and age-worthy wines in pretty much the same way since 1952. And now, a Cabernet Sauvignon joins the ranks of their Chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer.

“I’m Irish and Italian: I need my red,” joked winemaker Michael Chelini at the vineyard’s release party in late September. Well, it only took him 40 years to convince Stony Hill’s founding family, the McCreas, that maybe there was something to the Red King of grapes after all. Planted on a sunny, southwest-facing block that, with its deep red, rocky soil, produced Chardonnay that was too tropical for the Stony Hill style, the Cabernet Sauvignon is perfectly in keeping with what Chelini describes as a restrained and elegant approach: “It’s not a blockbuster wine; it’s a food wine,” he says.

Built for aging, the wine is modeled after some of the finest old Bordeaux: The memory of tasting these wines was fresh in Chelini’s mind as he was growing and making Stony Hill’s precious Cabernet Sauvignon. Harvested earlier than what most Napa Valley producers favor, the 2009 (their first commercial vintage and current release) expresses some of the more nuanced aromas and flavors that tend to be lost in riper interpretations of the varietal: Green olive, black cherries, violets and tea leaves. “We hope that you can taste the vineyard and not the winemaking,” says Chelini.

It is a wine that bravely defies the norm for Napa Valley. But then again, bucking (or all together ignoring) trends is something Stony Hill is also known for. When they planted their Chardonnay in 1947, there were only 200 acres of the variety planted in all of California (it is now the state’s most widely planted grape, covering nearly 95,000 acres).

Stony Hill’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as their other wines, are available at the winery (tastings and visitors are welcome by appointment), through their mailing list and at select restaurants and retail stores in the Bay Area.

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