3 Pioneer Wine Producers of the Mayacamas Mountains

Tasting notes from three important Napa Valley Wineries

Recently I visited Napa Valley with my good friend and Underground Wine Letter contributing editor John Morrill. We saw old friends and some new ones, but also revisited three wineries that I first went to in the early 1970s shortly after they produced their first wines. For decades, all continued to produce traditional wines that are balanced and have the ability to age for a very long time.

Diamond Creek and Mayacamas are still going strong. Sadly, Diamond Creek is without its founder and guiding light, Al Brounstein, who passed away in 2006. But today, under the direction of his widow, Boots, and her son, Phil Ross, along with long time winemaker Phil Steinschreiber, they are continuing the tradition that I am sure would make Al proud. At Mayacamas, Bob Travers remains owner and wine maker. With help from his son, Chris Travers, he is still going strong after 44 years at the helm. He continues to follow his long-standing philosophy of making wines that are balanced and capable of aging for a very long time. At Ritchie Creek, Pete Minor, owner and winemaker, has retired and now sells his cabernet sauvignon grapes — 5 tons from six acres! Unfortunately, the grapes are blended with other grapes so the property no longer has a visible identity. Pete does continue to make a very small quantity of estate pinot noir for personal consumption.

These three iconic Napa wineries pioneered growing grapes and making wine from the Mayacamas Mountains of Napa Valley. This mountain range separates Napa from Sonoma and extends north to south from Diamond Mountain in Calistoga (now Diamond Mountain American Vinticultural Area or AVA) to spring Mountain in St. Helena (now Spring Mountain American Vinticultural Area or AVA) to Mt. Veeder in Oakville (now Mt. Veeder American Vinticultural Area or AVA). Below are the stories of these three pioneer wineries and notes on some of their wines.