When Chuck Easley said that T-Vine Cellars buys its grapes only from growers whose names end in a vowel, he does so without mentioning there are exceptions to that rule, not because he’s forsaking anyone, it’s because it is mostly true, and it makes for a good story -- something he likes to keep in his hip pocket.
"T-Vine’s been around since 1992 and had a great following. We wanted to preserve it,” Easley said.
Easley is co-owner of T-Vine, which is producing only red varietals, with James Harder and Jim Regusci. Harder and Regusci are behind Tank Wine Garage, in the old Wine Garage space just down the street from T-Vine, that was recently approved by the Calistoga Planning Department.T-Vine is focused on “legacy” grapes, Easley said.
’We are so happy to be here and are back in Calistoga,” Easley said of returning T-Vine to its Calistoga roots.
T-Vine, when purchased by the group was operating out of an upstairs space above Regusci until the new tasting room located at 810 Foothill Boulevard opened on July 13, won’t seem like a new winery; it will feel like an old soul thanks to the selection of longtime grape growers in the valley.
T-Vine buys grapes from at least a couple storied growers in Calistoga, such as Frediani Vineyards - T-Vine calls Jim Frediani the “Grape Whisperer” - which supplies T-Vine with syrah, petite sirah, Grenache, zinfandel, and the elusive charbono. T-Vine estimates that there is less than 70 acres of charbono grown in California, and it is believed that between Calistoga’s Frediani, which has seven planted acres, and Summers Estates, the city has a fair amount of charbono planted here.
And there is Nichelini Vineyards, the oldest continuously-operating family vineyard and winery in Napa County, which provides zinfandel and petite sirah to T-Vine. The 12 blocks of vineyards at Nichelini are named for the 12 children of the founding family Anton and Caterina Nichelini.
T-Vine’s 2010 Chiles Valley Zinfandel comes from Nichelini’s Frederick Block 9; and the 2010 Chiles Valley Petite Sirah comes from their Josephine Block 3.
The winery’s 2010 Napa Valley Mixed Blacks, Oak Glade Vineyard, is a field blend of zinfandel, petite sirah, carignane and malvasia varieties from Alex Vyborny, who is the vineyard manager for such wineries as Far Niente, Joseph Phelps and Chateau Souverain.
And yet another Calistoga grape grown by a vowel-ending grower, Rudy Mancini, provides the fruit for the 2010 Calistoga Zinfandel, Stonebridge Vineyard. Coming from a boxing background- Mancini was called “The Kid” in the 1950s and is related to the great boxer “Boom Boom” Mancini -- T-Vine prefers to use a press to do punch downs, not the Mancini fists.
T-Vine’s winemaker, Charles Hendricks of Regusci Winery, James Cole Estate Winery, and his own label hope & grace wines, has an assistant winemaker, Bertus Van Zyl, who spends hands-on time visiting the vineyards and keeping track of the grapes’ progress. The berries they buy from the Nichelini vineyard that have unique microclimates, some that enjoy cooler temperatures, are on the expected path of veraison, which is a behind warmer climate vineyards.
Van Zyl noted the new building on the postage-stamp-sized site is built like a yacht in that it encompasses clever use of every square inch of the building thought out for storage, light, operation and guest flow.
The small production winery - Easley expects T-Vine will produce 4,500 to 5,000 cases a year -acts like it’s on 10 acres but it’s on a half-acre and is surrounded in the back and sides by vineyards that don’t belong to them, but standing in the tasting room with the steep windows, who cares who owns the plants, everyone gets to enjoy the view.