Vintner Stanley Cheng began 2011 on an auspicious note. In January, his 2007 Hestan Chardonnay was served at the White House during a private dinner for President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, one of only two California wines selected to mark the occasion. “It was a humbling experience and a great honor to have our wine served to two heads of state,” said Cheng. This coup and Hestan’s visibility at events like Premiere Napa Valley, have turned the spotlight on the remote southeastern corner of Napa Valley known as Gordon Valley.
Cheng’s idyllic estate, a patchwork of 25 terraced sites that reach 500 feet up the rolling foothills of Okell Hill, is surrounded on three sides by Solano County’s Suisin Valley AVA and easily accessed from Fairfield. While Hestan is sited in Napa County, this creates a disparity for many growers in the area who can sell fruit grown on the Napa side of a fence for $3,000 a ton but only get $300 for fruit grown on the Solano side. Challenges that are facing the region as a whole aside, the Bordeaux-style blends Cheng is producing from estate-grown fruit show considerable merit. The winery produces three labels – Hestan, Meyer and the newest addition Stephanie – and sources Hestan Chardonnay from 2-acre vineyard planted to the Meyer Cookware company in Vallejo (San Francisco Bay AVA) which Cheng owns. All of the reds come from the estate’s Gordon Valley vineyard.
When I toured the property last year with Cheng and one of his two winemakers Jeff Gafner, who makes the Stephanie label so named for Cheng’s youngest daughter, I was struck by the variety of expositions and the abundance of available water. The estate’s picturesque manmade lake provides irrigation water for 52 acres of vines and a welcome habitat for wildlife. While there’s no doubt that it’s warm in Gordon Valley, a recent study showed that during the spring growing season it’s no warmer than Napa itself, the region does heat up as harvest approaches and Gafner confirmed that he and fellow winemaker Mark Herold, who makes the Hestan and Meyer wines, often pick two to three weeks earlier than the rest of Napa county. Gafner also makes wine under the Saxon Brown label and opulent Pinot Noirs for Black Kite among others.
Hestan Vineyards has just released current vintages which I have yet to taste but notes from these prior vintages will give you an idea of the styles and varietal expressions on offer.
2006 Stephanie Merlot – Spent 28 months in French oak with marked aromas of cassis and bright cassis on the mid palate, plenty of grip from wood tannins.
2006 Stephanie Blend – Classic Bordeaux-style blend with blackberry and bramble aromas, leaner, brighter pomegranate fruit on the mid palate and delicious underlying minerality.
2007 Meyer Chardonnay – Very richly colored, deep, bright gold. Creamy aromas of vanilla and pineapple that intensify on the palate with a crisp, clean finish. 2006 Meyer Cabernet Sauvignon – Varietally expressive with ripe blackberry and herbal mint aromas, sweet fruit and wood tannins on the mid palate with a bright, concentrated finish.
2006 Hestan Cabernet Sauvignon – Powerful black fruit, licorice and spicy coriander aromas that deepen on the palate with a fine, ripe tannin structure and lengthy finish.