3 Pioneer Wine Producers of the Mayacamas Mountains

Tasting notes from three important Napa Valley Wineries

Mayacamas Vineyards
Mayacamas has a long history dating back to the early 19th century. In 1968, Bob Travers and his wife Nonie purchased the property. (To read the complete story of Mayacamas Vineyards click here.) My first visit there with my wife Laurie and friends Ed Lazarus and Geoffrey Troy, Underground contributing editors, was in the early 1970s. The winery was very traditional and gravity fed. The vineyards were scattered around the winery. And, it was a real journey to get there. Revisiting there this year for the first time in some 30 years, everything is still pretty much the same. There are some stainless steel tanks and the vines are a lot older, but that’s about it! The setting is remarkable with views to San Francisco Bay, the city, and the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day.

The wines here are classic California wines. The mountain vineyards produce very small quantities of intensely flavored fruit. Originally, Bob Travers used 30 percent new wood for the red wines and 20 percent new wood for the whites. Now those percentages are reduced by one half to further minimize the influence of the wood. Mayacamas produces only about 1,500 cases of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay a year. The 1970 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon is legendary. It took more than 20 years for the wine to finally hit its stride, but today it is marvelous. I took one on this trip and it was stunning with no signs of fatigue at all! Likewise, the Mayacamas Chardonnays, unlike most California chardonnays, can be very long-lived, improving with time and taking five or more years to peak and holding well beyond. There are also a few hundred cases produced each year from estate-grown merlot, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc.

The 2010 vintage produced a small crop of high quality fruit. Likewise, Bob really likes his 2011s, but it was the smallest crop ever.

Below are notes on current and future Mayacamas wines tasted there and at home as well as the 1970 cabernet sauvignon from my cellar which we drank in Napa. The sauvignon blanc and 2009 chardonnay were just released. The 2006 cabernet and 2007 merlot were released last fall. The 1999 cabernet is the current library release as is the 2005 chardonnay.

2010 Mayacamas Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Mt. Veeder Napa Valley
There were 325 cases of this wine produced. Light yellow in color, this sauvignon blanc is light yellow in color and has a lovely perfume showing a hint of citrus and a faintly floral herbal nuance. It is rounded and flavorful with herbal tinged fruit and an underlying citrus tinged crispness. Unlike many of the fruit forward sauvignon blancs from California, this one has depth and structure and will benefit fro a year or more bottle age. In fact, in tasting the wine over five days it was more open and rounder after the third day — Highly Recommended.


2009 Mayacamas Vineyard Chardonnay Mt. Veeder Napa Valley
This vintage produced 1,158 cases. The wine is light yellow in color with a faint golden hue and shows a lovely floral perfume with hints of apple and peach with a nice citrus crispness. It is flavorful and has wonderfully integrated fruit showing just a tinge of vanilla. Very pure and expressive, the wine opens with air. Best decanted well in advance of serving, and I would expect this wine to improve for several years and keep well beyond. Bob recommends drinking it now and through 2018 — Outstanding. 


2005 Mayacamas Vineyard Chardonnay Mt. Veeder Napa Valley
This recent library release from the winery is a great example of the extra nuances that evolve in Mayacamas Chardonnay with a few years bottle age. The wine is light yellow gold in color and has a gorgeous perfume that has floral notes tinged with apricot and peach and a faint citrus undertone. It has great fruit, again with peach and apricot, and is very pure and rounded with a nice underlying crispness. This is a classic California chardonnay that is balanced, well defined, and expressive. Tasted over nearly a week the wine held beautifully — Outstanding Plus. 


2006 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder Napa Valley
This vintage produced 1,388 cases. As is customary with Mayacamas Cabernets, they are aged two and a half years in wood and bottle and then released for sale after five years. This 2006 is the fall 2011 release and the 2007 will be released this fall. Blended with 14 percent merlot and 1 percent cabernet franc, this cabernet has a dark color and a deep floral berry perfume with hints of mint and plum. It is impressively rich and flavorful and has great structure. The flavors are complex and show berry fruit with mint and spice nuances. The wine also opens with air and then shows a more rounded and supple impression. Ideally, this cabernet should be laid down for a few years and undoubtedly it will continue to evolve for many years thereafter — Outstanding Plus. $65

2007 Mayacamas Vineyards Merlot Mt. Veeder Napa Valley
There were 600 cases of this wine produced. It is blended with 10 percent cabernet sauvignon and was released for sale last fall. The wine has a dark color and a deep perfume showing plum and floral notes with a tinge of spice. It has lovely fruit and balance and is supple and rounded showing a faint herbal and spice note. This is a very nice merlot that drinks well now, but should also keep for many years — Highly Recommended. 


1999 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
This is a gorgeous cabernet that shows the benefits of a decade or so of bottle age. It is blended with 2 percent merlot and 2 percent cabernet franc. The alcohol is 12 ½ percent. The wine is dark in color with a gorgeous spice tinged mulberry perfume. Flavorful, rich, rounded, and supple, this cabernet has very pure fruit and a gorgeous finish. It is delicious to drink now, but this wine should age effortlessly for 10 or more years — Outstanding Plus.

1970 Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Mountain
My friends and I all loved this wine when it was first released. I bought a case of bottles and a case of magnums. After waiting a few years, I tried a bottle and the wine was completely closed and quite tannic. It remained in this state for about 20 years and then gradually began to open. This is the first bottle that I have opened in the last 10 or so years. I still have most of the bottles from the original case and all the magnums. At last, the wine has reached the peak of its evolution and has fulfilled the promise of its youth. This is a classic California cabernet. Dark in color with some amber at the edge, the wine has a stunning perfume of cassis and cedar with a faint hint of mint. It has tremendous richness and fruit and a wonderful cedary complexity. The wine is rounded and flavorful and the finish goes on and on. For sure it is delicious to drink now, but there is no hurry. My guess is that the magnums will still be great 20 or more years from now. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say that for myself! No matter, the wine is great and well worth the wait — Extraordinary.


—John Tilson, Underground Wine Letter