As a special surprise birthday present, Doug Wolf bought for his wife, Jane, a *small* house quietly nestled on the edge of the Mayacamas Mountain foothills in St. Helena. Living in San Francisco, this was not going to be a permanent residence, but a weekend getaway that is often inhabited by the family moreso during the summer months. The elegant and stately old house was built in the mid-1800s and happened to be in the middle of roughly 29 acres of vineyard grapes.
This was in 1997 and at the time, the grapes (mostly merlot!) were owned and managed by the Jaeger family. The Wolfs did not buy the estate for the purpose to make wine, but when you have quality acreage in St. Helena, you can either sell off your bounty to other winemakers, or make the wine yourself. Wolf Family Vineyards was born! The merlot was pulled out and replaced with cabernet sauvignon and Karen Culler was hired as the consulting winemaker. She has been responsible for producing Wolf’s namesake wine from the very first vintage.
I was extremely fortunate to have Karen show me around the property on a very warm afternoon. A small building was constructed to produce the wine along with a tiny cave that Karen calls a doll’s cave due to its diminutive size. The cave is so small, it can only hold one vintage’s worth of barrels and on the day of our visit, she had just had the 2004 vintage removed, readying the cave for the incoming 2005 grapes. The production level of Wolf’s wine varies each year, but the cave itself cannot hold more than 1,000 cases and they have never produced much more than that with their three total offerings.
The beauty of the surrounding property is astounding. The reservoir has a spouting fountain which can be admired from a water-front gazebo or the adjacent expansive vistas. Surrounding gardens include the decorative from dahlias and roses, to the pratical tomatoes and strawberries. Entirely envious of the family, it must be emphasized that this is not a winery open to the public — or even by appointment — and I have refrained from showing the gorgeous house to respect their privacy.
I am infinitely grateful to Ms. Culler for taking quality time during harvest to show me around and allow me to taste the wines. There is no website from which to order the wine. If you want it, I would suggest contacting some of the more prestigious wine stores around the United States. A quick glance through Wine-Searcher shows Wolf Family wines available, mostly in California but some also in New York.
2004 Sauvignon Blanc – 40 cases produced. Rich, classic cat piss with layers of grass. Soft, smooth entry that is textured and luxurious expanding to display hay, a bit of lemon, and a creamy meringue finish. No price – unlikely to be purchasable.
2002 Cabernet Franc – 120 cases produced. 85% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. I believe in previous vintages, this wine is occasionally sold as a Meritage. Karen explained that the blend does change every year, depending on the quality of the grapes, but that she tries to keep it CabFranc-heavy. If memory serves, it might have been the ’00 or ’01 vintage that was CabSauv-heavy. This offering is a dark, inky blackish red in color with layers of aromas including dark cherry, herbal, and noted terroir. The taste shows spice and well-balanced minerals with a tease of intense violet. The silky texture entices with a slightly minty finish. Internet searches show this wine between $50 and $65.
2002 Cabernet Sauvignon – 700 cases produced. 100% Cabernet, this wine is dark with earthy currant and blackberry notes. The entry is initially a little sweet and then blossoms to a rich middle palate of dark spice, developed oak and black fruit, and a finish showing depth and elegance. $60
Wolf Family Vineyards (Office information) ~ 3701 Sacramento Street, #366 ~ San Francisco ~ CA ~ 94118 ~ 707-963-6042