Early in my wine career, I worked as a sales representative for Chambers and Chambers Wine Merchants. With a fantastic portfolio of wines primarily from California and France at the time, I was introduced to many wineries and would spend days working with the different owners and winemakers.
One was Eric Titus of Titus Vineyards. It was 2005 when we spent the day together driving around Los Angeles, selling his wine.
Titus Vineyards has grown a lot over the last 14 years. When I was selling the wine, it was a young brand. But, as we sat down together recently to taste through current and library releases, I learned that not only has Titus Vineyards grown, they are also celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.
Eric Titus and his three brothers were raised in Sonoma, surrounded by vineyards. Their father Dr. Lee Titus, a radiologist, purchased the property in Napa when Eric was about 8 years old.
Napa was a different place 50 years ago. Property was available and affordable. His parents spent a few years looking for the perfect land and ended up buying property that had been on the market for two years.
The Titus family purchased the land in 1968. The property, located in St. Helena at the base of Howell Mountain and backing up to the Napa River, dates to 1841. The land was originally part of a land grant from the Mexican governor of California, Governor Alvarado, to Dr. Edward Bale, the early Napa Valley pioneer whose daughter Carolina Bale married Charles Krug, founder of the oldest winery in Napa Valley.
The property had been a full producing vineyard with house, barn and approximately 30 acres of vines planted. The Titus family harvested their first grapes in 1969. At the time, Cabernet Sauvignon was not king of Napa and the varietal mix was not typical to what we would see today. There was Chenin Blanc, Gamay, Zinfandel, Carignan, Berger, Semillon, Mondeuse Noire and Concord. Dr. Lee Titus also purchased an additional 10 acres on Ehlers Lane in 1972.
Redevelopment began in the 1970s with old Zinfandel pulled out and replanted with new vines of Zinfandel. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the Titus family farmed the property, selling the grapes to local wineries. During those years, subsequent re-plantings replaced the variety of grapes with Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay as there was more of a demand for them.
After 20 years of farming and selling off the grapes, the Titus family held back five percent of their Cabernet Sauvignon in 1990 and produced their first vintage, made by Eric’s brother and winemaker Phillip Titus.
They began to ramp up production in the 1990s, and from 1999-2000 they did an aggressive redevelopment in the vineyard with the intent to make wine entirely from the estate. In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon, they planted the other Bordeaux varieties — Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc — as well as Petite Sirah. And, they still have Zinfandel planted, which today is on 40-year-old vines.
Just as Titus Vineyards was about to redevelop, Eric Titus returned to the family winery full time. Eric had studied marine science with the idea of doing marine-based research. He attended graduate school at the University of Hawaii where he got his PhD and worked as an environmental consultant.
In 1997, Eric returned to Napa in time for harvest. Eric managed the vineyard, overseeing the redevelopment, while his brother Phillip made the wine at Chappellet Winery, where he is also the winemaker.
The redeveloped vines in 1999 began to develop and after three or four years, they had fruit to work with. This means that the first vintages of Titus Vineyards wines since the replanting were in 2003 and that is the vintage I was selling when I worked for Chambers & Chambers. At that time, Titus Vineyards was producing 5,000 cases of wine per year.
In 2015, Stephen Cruzan joined Titus Vineyards as winemaker. From the beginning, Titus Vineyards wines were made in a custom crush facility but in 2015, Titus Vineyards built a winery on the property. Today, Titus Vineyards is producing between 10,000-15,000 cases per year.
Andronicus 2016 Napa Valley (66 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 percent Cabernet Franc, 11 percent Malbec, 7 percent Petit Verdot, 5 percent Merlot) ($30)—Balanced and delicious, this wine has aromas of red currant, licorice, cocoa and cinnamon. The tannins are soft and the acidity tingles on the tongue.
Titus 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (82-85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 6-7 percent Petit Verdot, 6-7 percent Malbec and under 5 percent Merlot) ($57) – Aromas of cherry, cranberry, cocoa and sweet herbs, the wine has a rich softness in the mid-palate.
Titus Family Estate Reserve 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 (92 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with Malbec and Petit Verdot) ($95) – A site select from the Ehler’s Lane Vineyard, the wine is rich and elegant with notes of dark cherry, blackberry, coffee and dark chocolate and a long finish that I wanted to go on and on.
Titus 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Franc ($54) – Smelling like a big ripe juicy blueberry with notes of chocolate and sweet herbs, the wine has sandy tannins and a long, elegant finish.
Titus 2016 Napa Valley Zinfandel ($37) – Deep dark fruit, bramble and five spice aromas the wine has a lovely mouthfeel and balanced finish.
Titus Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($28) – A warm-weather Sauvignon Blanc with aromas of tangerine, lemon curd and honeysuckle and fresh acidity on the palate.
Eric also opened some library wines from Titus Vineyards:
Titus 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($177) – With aromas of chocolate, coffee and dried fruit, this wine still has drying tannins.
Titus 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($137) – With aromas of chocolate cherries, the fruit is still rather fresh in this wine.
Titus 2012 Napa Valley Petit Verdot – Soft and approachable with purple fruit and spice notes.
Titus Family Estate Reserve 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – A dark ruby color, the wine is fresh and vibrant with floral notes and sandy tannins.
Titus Family Estate Reserve 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($170) – This intense wine shows robust fruit and cocoa notes.
Titus Family Estate Red Wine 2012 Napa Valley Lot 1 ($129)—Only 350 cases are produced of this proprietary blend made with Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Zinfandel. This is a big, tannic drinkable wine that screams hedonism.
From farming and selling fruit to producing wine and building a winery, a lot has changed for Titus Vineyards over the last 50 years. But they are still family-owned and operated and nearly all of the vineyard work is done by hand. Only time will tell if there will be a third generation to join the family business.