Suppose you gave a party and no one came?
That describes how Tom Pecota, director of hospitality and sales for Catacula Lake Winery in Chiles Valley, must feel sometimes. It's a beautiful place in a beautiful setting, it makes good wine and has a rich history, but few people visit, and it's not because visiting is by appointment only. It's situated on Chiles Pope Valley Road and is somewhat remote — so remote that employees' business cards have a map printed on the back. After you leave Silverado Trail, it can take 20 or 25 minutes along a winding two-lane road.
But once there, a visitor is in for a treat.
Upon entering the tasting room area, the first sight to greet visitors is a mural that encircles the huge great room. The mural, painted by Napa artist David Huddleston, depicts the history of Chiles Valley, starting with the days when the area was inhabited by the Southern Wappo Indians, continuing through the Spanish settlers, to the farmers who later tilled the area, and finally to the days of the Bar 49 Summer Camp, which provided children with an opportunity to experience farming, horseback riding, fishing, boating, water sports and arts and crafts.
Pecota, nephew of Napa Valley vintner Robert Pecota, said the large entry is used for parties, and the adjacent tasting room boasts the "longest tasting table in Napa County." Windows running the length of the room behind the tasting bar and wrapping around to one side afford a panoramic view of nearby Lake Catacula and the rugged terrain that surrounds the winery.
A picnic area is provided for visitors, and, given enough notice, the winery will even arrange for a St. Helena caterer to provide box lunches. Pecota said those using the picnic facilities don't even have to buy wine.
Fishing on lakeshore
Fishing from the shore of Catacula Lake is allowed (no boats, though) and Pecota said, "Quite a few people come here to fish. One guy from San Francisco comes up here (to fish), stays a while, goes somewhere else and then stops back here on the way home."
The facility is rented for occasional business meetings, but Pecota said most of those are daytime events. "We have them at night only if they are brought up and taken back (in a bus)." That's because the winery doesn't want visitors trying to navigate the unfamiliar narrow roads after enjoying some wine. Pecota said it encourages people to come visit the winery, but also stressed limited tasting and urged one person in the group to refrain and be the designated driver.
Camp for children
The property, known as the Bar 49 Estate, is part of what was the 8,000 acre Rancho Catacula granted to Joseph Chiles in 1844.
In the 1960s, the Edward Keith family purchased 1,025 acres and turned a portion of it into the Bar 49 camp for youngsters, which remained in operation until the mid-1980s. According to Rick Keith, the family spokesman who heads public relations and marketing for the winery, when the camp closed the family tried to work with others, including the San Francisco 49ers, in putting a similar camp together, but issues were raised regarding the use permit — it was zoned only for agriculture.
"Since it was (zoned for) ag, we could put in a winery," Keith said, and that's exactly what the family did —in 1996 they began building the 32,000 square foot winery. His brother David was responsible for the architecture, and some of the wood used in the great room was from the lodge at the Bar 49 camp.
The first vintage crushed at the facility was in 1999, although they produced wine in 1998 at another facility. The winery is permitted for 25,000 cases, but only about 5,000 cases of the Catacula Lake brand are produced, along with about 4,500 cases of a second label, Cheyanna.
During the past year the winery began custom crush operations, serving about 15 small vintners, and in 2003 opened a cave with 15,000 square feet of storage.
About 100 acres are planted to grapes (the first plantings occurred in 1974), including zinfandel, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. Some cabernet franc, petite sirah and syrah have been planted during the past year, and although most of the grapes currently used in the wines are estate-grown, the winery is looking forward to "being completely estate in a couple of years."
Prime zinfandel country
Keith described the property as "prime zinfandel country. We have volcanic soil that's perfect for zin and sauvignon blanc." He said the soil was analyzed by a geologist and "it's as good as it can get."
The Catacula Lake brand was described by Keith as "more complex, more ageworthy," while Cheyanna is "softer, less tannic and meant to be drunk young." Zinfandel is the signature Catacula Lake wine, with the 2000 vintage selling for $15, and the 2001 at $18. Cabernet sauvignon is $22, while the sauvignon blanc is $12. The Cheyanna wines retail for around $12.99. The winery also produced a late harvest sauvignon blanc in 2003.
Winemaking duties are handled by Bob Broman, who has his own Napa Valley brand and also works with several other wineries. Horatio Herrera is the cellarmaster who oversees all day-to-day operations. Both have been working with Catacula Lake for about three years.
Distribution is handled through a national sales director who has placed the wines in about a dozen states, but marketing in California is handled directly to retailers and restaurants by the winery. Wine also is sold via the Internet and at the winery — Pecota estimated that "19 out of 20 people who visit buy wine."
for Napa residents
As an incentive to get locals to visit, Catacula Lake Winery participates in the Napa Valley Vintners' Napa Neighbor Program, and offers complimentary tasting to all Napa County residents.
Soon, a sample vineyard, with some vines of all varietals produced by the winery, will be planted between the tasting room and the lake, providing visitors with even more to see, Pecota said.
What they see is a view that will remain in perpetuity. "The land has been placed with the Napa Valley Land Trust to preserve the integrity of the property forever," Keith said. "It will never be subdivided, but will be only for ag use. It'll be preserved the way it is now."
Martha Vallejo-McGettigan, great-great-granddaughter of Gen. M.G. Vallejo, currently works at the winery in office administration and is the "resident historian," giving tours and explaining the history of the property. She agreed with Keith: "This is the way California was like 150 years ago."
The winery is located at 4105 Chiles Pope Valley Road. Information can be obtained at www.cataculalake.com.