On Oct. 18, Girard Winery on Dunaweal Lane in Calistoga opened its doors to 200 wine club members eager to see the modern showpiece for Vintage Wine Estates.
Pat Roney, CEO and founding partner of Vintage Wine Estates, said visitors have had positive reactions to the new location.
“It’s in startup mode, but people have been very excited about it. Now the Girard Winery is back in Napa. It’s got its history back,” said Roney.
In 1975, Steve and Carol Girard, the founders of Girard Winery, bought property bordering Silverado Trail and Oakville Cross Road. Five years later, they built the Girard Winery at 500 Oakville Cross Road. That property is now the Rudd Winery. In 2000, Roney purchased the Girard Winery name. For a few years, the company produced wine in leased space in Sonoma County. The Calistoga location represents the winery’s return to Napa Valley.
“We have a great team at Girard. I am really happy with the people and wine out in Calistoga,” said Roney.
On Dunaweal Lane
Girard Winery is located on Dunaweal Lane, almost directly across from Clos Pegase, another Vintage winery. Girard’s downtown Yountville tasting room will remain open, as it is a smaller, more informal tasting room.
Girard Winery’s new location is meant to provide “much more of an elevated experience where guests can get personal, one-on-one tastings,” said Glenn Hugo, senior winemaker for Vintage Wine Estates.
“This is a huge production facility as well that’s very busy right now during crush. We moved in during August. Hopefully we’ll crush about 1,200 tons of grapes here this fall,” said Hugo.
Hugo said Girard plans to carry a number of limited run wines, including a Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon and an Old Vine Gamay, both from the Calistoga AVA, at the Calistoga winery.
Visitors interested in exploring the cellar, barrel room, and on-site vineyards can get an education in modern wine production. The tasting room door opens to a 28,955-square-foot production space filled with Westec stainless steel tanks.
There are many “double stop” tanks, with one tank set directly on top of another. A catwalk rises from the floor to allow workers to monitor the tanks on the upper row.
“With a variety of different tank sizes, we can keep our fermentations separate. Ultimately, (we can keep the wines) separate in barrel as well. We try to use these smaller formats to keep our wines segmented,” said Hugo.
French, American, and Hungarian oak barrels line the floor.
“Chardonnay and the Cabernet blends go into French oak. We put the Zinfandel and Petit Syrah into French, American, and Hungarian oak. We also have a fusion barrel, which alternates a French stave with a Hungarian stave all the way around, topped with American heads,” said Hugo.
Hugo said French oak provides more “traditional structure” with notes of mocha and vanilla. American oak lends a “smoky, meaty note.” Hungarian oak “adds spice to the mix, nutmeg, clove, a ‘Christmas flavor.’
“That’s why a fusion barrel works for Zin and Petit Syrah. It gives (these wines) a more integrated, more balanced” taste, said Hugo.
At the back of the cellar sit bins of machine-picked and hand-harvested grapes soaking in water waiting to be sorted. A destemmer works furiously, spitting out stems, stalks, and scattering loose berries on the floor. More bins from other Vintage’s vineyards wait outside.
An important piece of technology in the cellar is the temperature control system. It shows all the tanks, color coded, on a screen.
“I can control the temperature of all of the tanks from my laptop. Eventually I’ll be able to do it from my phone,” said Hugo.
To the right lies the barrel room, 14,000 square feet containing about 5,700 barrels stored at 70 percent humidity, cooled to a temperature between the mid-50s and the upper-60s.
“We have solar panels on the west side of the roof and the west side of the building. We hope to be powered between 95 to 98 percent by solar energy,” said Hugo.
The water tank outside in back pulls water from the facility’s well. Girard and Clos Pegase share the same water and septic system. Clos Pegase lends Girard equipment and supplies, as well as a bottling line.
“We’ve planted Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot grapes out back on a traditional trellised system. Soon we’ll plant 17 acres of grapes for a red field blend and a white field blend in front,” said Hugo.
In the tasting room
The huge bank of red, white, and rosé wines in black bottles behind the counter is meant to impress. Girard has a wide variety of appellations of Girard’s Cabernet Sauvignons, as well as its Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Malbec, Merlot, Zinfandel, Viognier, and Petit Verdot available for purchase.
The 3,816 square foot tasting room and office space is open by appointment for a standard tasting at $40, a cheese plate with tasting at $75, and a food pairing with dishes made by the girl & the fig at $125.
Wine selections include mountain Cabernet Sauvignons, with appellations that include Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain, and Atlas Peak. Good choices for pairings include “a juicy New York Strip steak and Roquefort, and Stilton (cheeses),” said Scott Silva, sales and hospitality associate. He is joined by Anton Matulic, assistant tasting room manager.