Maxville Lake Vineyards recently held a grand opening of its winery in Chiles Valley, the remote high-altitude valley east of Napa Valley.
A large delegation of Chinese distributors attended the meeting along with neighbors and a smattering of the media and others.
The property used to be Catacula Lake Winery and Napa Chiles Valley Winery, but was bought in 2014 by Qinghai Huzhu Barley Wine Co., Ltd. in Haidong in China.
Its CEO is Anthony Hsu and chairman is Yinhui Li. Both addressed the crowd in English as well as Chinese.
The new owners have heavily renovated the disused property and it now has impressive facilities including an up-to-date winemaking facility and extensive and expansive visitors’ spaces. The winery, which is sometimes called Maxville Winery in its own material, totals 32,000 square feet.
The property is part of the 8,000-acre Rancho Catacula granted to Joseph Chiles in 1844. It totals more than 1,000 acres and also includes 15,000 square feet. of caves, 12-acre Lake Catacula and 96 acres of vines with about 40 acres more to be planned.
Ed Keith, a well-known Napa landlord, bought the property in the 1960s and opened Bar 49 Summer Camp, which provided children with an opportunity to experience farming, horseback riding, fishing, boating, water sports and arts and crafts.
When he closed the camp, the land reverted to agricultural zoning
Keith produced the first wine there in in 1999. He started Catacula Lake Winery in 1974 and the winery is permitted for 25,000 cases.
Chiles Valley is its own American Viticultural Area, but most wineries prefer to highlight that it’s part of the well-known Napa Valley AVA even though it lies in its own valley 1,000 feet higher. Its water does drain into Napa River, however.
Summer afternoons in Chiles Valley are sunny and warm, but nighttime temperatures plunge. A longer growing season encourages full phenolic maturity. They use dry farming and minimal intervention in the winery.
Winemaking neighbors interviewed at the event seem to welcome the ambitious winery as a way to bring more attention and visitors to their properties. These include RustRidge and Nichelini Vineyards.
“We are all happy to hear that Maxvell Winery will be selling significant amounts of its great Napa wine domestically and not planning to send it all to China,” said Doug Patterson of the fourth generation of Nichelini Family Winery. “They are upgrading their tasting room and surroundings to provide a first-rate experience for their guests. And, so far, they are proving to be good neighbors. Our mutual goal is continuing a great wine reputation for Napa Valley and for the Chiles Valley District. We wish them the very best.”
The winery once expected to sell most of its product in China, but now is partnering with Terlato Wines for U.S. sales. “Terlato was the only company we wanted to partner with to launch our wines,” said Maxville Lake CEO Anthony Hsu.
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Terlato Wines imports, markets or owns more than 80 brands. Locally, Terlato owns Chimney Rock and Rutherford Hill wineries.
The executive winemaker is Camille Benitah.
Benitah began her career in agronomic research in her native Bordeaux, France, but it wasn’t until she turned 24 that developed an interest in winemaking. She received her bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology from La Tour Blanche in Sauternes.
While in Bordeaux she worked at several prestigious properties including Château La Tour Blanche, Château Myrat, Château Carbonnieux, Château Smith-Haut-Lafitte and Château Chainchon.
Camille came to California in 2000 as an intern at Kent Rasmussen winery, where she met the founders of Merus, who were making their wines there.
After working on the wines for a number of vintages, she became Merus’ first official employee in 2004. She became head winemaker in 2008.
She subsequently became a consulting winemaker to other wineries and joined Maxville Lake Winery in 2014. “The Chiles Valley is real and rural and absolutely awe-inspiring,” said Benitah. “This is really an undiscovered part of the Napa Valley – it has so much history, but it’s also still pristine.”
The associate winemaker is Greg Fitzgerald.
Four Maxville wines will make their U.S. debut in the Terlato portfolio: a 2014 cabernet sauvignon, a 2014 estate petite sirah and 2014 cabernet franc ranging from $55 to $66 and a 2015 estate sauvignon blanc at $33. It sells the zinfandel it grows.
The sauvignon blanc is a musqué clone and is partly fermented in oak, some new, and stainless steel and partly aged in acacia barrels that impart a little smokiness. They also use a concrete egg.
Tastings are available by appointment. The winery will be available for private events soon. Visitors are welcome to picnic and fish at the winery.
The property has trails for hiking and horseback riding, as well as luxury guest cottages.
The St. Helena Historical Society has created a small exhibit on Chiles Valley’s history that’s on display at the winery. The winery has also planted an orchard of 100 stone fruit from around the world on the property.
Visit www.maxvillelakewines.com or call 965-9378.
Maxville Winery is 4105 Chiles Pope Valley Road.