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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Hunnicutt - Cab, Chard and Zin for Enthusiasts who want the winery to themselves

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Experience: Hunnicutt Winery is a well-kept secret in northern Napa for people seeking a relaxing, intimate environment, serious wines and the beauty of nature. Tastings are scheduled in advance and done privately, one group at a time, starting with a personalized welcome sign bearing your party’s name. One can’t help but feel the exclusive feeling that you’re at a private home away from home - there’s no crowded tasting bar here! The decor is cozy, but chic, with bicycle paraphernalia adorning the walls (the Hunnicutt family are active sports enthusiasts). Nestled under beautiful pine trees, you will enjoy these well-integrated, ageable wines expertly crafted to be enjoyed by those who love wines of great structure and finesse with a hint of playfulness. Just a couple of tasting appointments are offered each day so that guests can really enjoy the tasting experience without being rushed, or having a tasting attendant who is distracted by servicing other groups. The cave and property tour are worth the extra fee, and include barrel tastings of some of the single vineyard red wines. The winery was completed recently in 2011 and makes wine for 20 other small Napa Valley wine brands - you’ll see their barrels aging in the cave cellars.

The Team: Justin Hunnicutt Stephens, with his father Don, owns and operate the property, producing the first commercial vintage of Hunnicutt in 2004. Justin made his way to Napa after working in the world of commercial real estate and having an “awakening” that wine was his true passion. After making the decision to change careers, Justin moved to the Napa Valley and worked at notable wineries including Miner Family, Saddleback Cellars, Venge and Seavey Vineyards, gaining winemaking knowledge before founding Hunnicutt in 2001. In 2004, he joined a winery started by his father Don, (the D. R. Stephens Estate brand) and is now the Managing Partner of both wine brands as well as Hunnicutt Wine Company, LLC, which is a custom crush winery in St. Helena. Kirk Venge is Hunnicutt’s winemaking director and known for his great expertise and knowledge. Kirk grew up in Rutherford and was always surrounded by wine. After getting his degree from UC Davis, he worked at Mumm and also in New Zealand before returning to Napa to start his own brand, Venge Vineyards, while also consulting at several local wineries including Hunnicutt. Seana, Justin’s wife, grew up in San Francisco and worked for advertising for 10 years before moving to Napa to start a family with Justin and help with the advertising for Hunnicutt.

The Wines: Hunnicutt wines are best described as bold, but well-balanced - for those who like a substantial wine but appreciate complexity. The winemaking philosophy starts in the vineyards - Kirk and Justin work with the winery’s growers to develop the highest quality fruit and from there let the terroir shine through in the wine. Grapes are sourced from all over the valley. The Zinfandel comes from the Chiles Valley region in the eastern Napa county. Cabernet grapes come from three vineyards sourced from Rutherford, Spring Mountain and St. Helena. These vineyards produce very different wines which combine elegantly for a well-balanced, smooth wine. Hunnicutt keeps the wine from each vineyard barreled separately until the final blend - you can taste them in the barrel and notice the distinct differences in the single lots. Hunnicutt also produces Chardonnay, coming from Rancho Sarco Vineyard in Coombsville, Star Vineyard in Rutherford and Dutton Ranch Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. While you seldom see a winery that specializes in these three varietals, they are able to focus on these “wines that are their favorite to drink” by sourcing grapes from various parts of Napa and Sonoma valley - untethered from any estate vineyards. Outside the Hunnicutt wines, the CUTT label was developed as a catch-all for different varietals that the winery switches up yearly. The varietals selected each year for CUTt depend on what unique and special vineyards the winemaking team can and choose to source based on availability. There is one bottling under the label that is consistent in name, if not blend, and that is the “Fearless Red” - always a unusual and fun blend wine, perfect for casual drinking and entertaining! It should be noted that the other Hunnicutt red wines are made to be aged. 

The Name: Though Justin grew up being told different dramatic stories about where his middle name, Hunnicutt came from, Justin eventually learned that Hunnicutt was actually his Great Grandmother’s maiden name. It is also now the middle name of their daughter, Parker Hunnicutt Stephens. The companion brand, CUTT, was added in 2007 - focused on producing wines other than Zinfandel, Cabernet and Chardonnay.

The Credo: “We strive to produce excellent quality wines while trying to make the idea of wine unintimidating. Wine evokes fond memories and is supposed to be fun”. Though I didn’t get a chance to meet him, Mo, our gracious guide, describes him as down-to-earth and he apparently is regularly present at the tastings, chatting and pouring wine for visitors.

Visit Details: The winery is open daily by appointment only. You can make a reservation by calling 707-963-2911, or book online here. Portfolio tastings for up to 12 guests cost $35 per person, or you can choose to do a tour of the 15,000 sq. foot caves, which includes barrel tasting and a wine tasting paired with cheese and charcuterie in the Cave Room for $70 per person for up to 8 guests.

Tasting Notes:

2013 Chardonnay - $45
Bright with notes of honeysuckle, lemon zest and tropical fruit paired with subtle hints of orange blossom, vanilla and shortbread providing enticing depth in each glass. On the palate the supple notes of citrus and melon shine brightly and linger on through the mid palate, where they are met by delicate spice and a hint of toasted ground vanilla bean on the long tapered finish.

2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley - $55
Bursting with boysenberry, blackberry and black cherry. Underlying the immense fruit, there is a lovely, but subtle, floral component lending elegance to this big wine. Warm, toasty vanilla from the French oak is present, but frames the fruit rather than dominates the palate. The mouthfeel is explosive and dense. Velvety Nutella, crème de cassis, blueberry pie and blackberry jam hit your mouth in tidal wave proportions. The tannins and bright acidity ensure a long, prosperous life in your cellar, but the fine grain tannins allow this wine to be enjoyed in its youth… with vigorous decanting.

2012 Zinfandel - Not currently available for purchase
This gorgeous Zin exudes aromas of blueberry preserves, boysenberry and sweet oak. The palate offers rich, brambly blackberry and blueberry flavors with youthful tannins wrapped in a soft blanket of boysenberry and plum. The incredible depth of fruit, supported by a firm acid backbone makes this wine wonderful on its own and absolutely delicious with food.

2012 CUTT Fearless Red - $45
This deeply hued wine evokes the bramble of blackberry and blueberry. The fruit notes are abundant, but with freshness, signifying perfect ripeness. Accompanied by the fruit notes are subtle hints of vanilla and black pepper dancing around the edges. On the palate, lush berry notes burst forth, intermingling naturally with the promised pepper and allspice. On the finish, the abiding blackberry continues and is paired with light toasty oak, vanilla and rounded dusty tannins, which lead to a long lovely finale.

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