- Rating: 99 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $100 or Free with purchase of a $100+ bottle
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
St Helena, CA 94574
I love hearing stories about how people entered the wine industry, especially those that had to start scrappy, rather than spending millions they earned in their previous life to fast track their way. Maybe because if I’m ever going to have the opportunity myself, the path will look like the former, rather than the latter. Russell Bevan and Victoria De Crescenzo of Bevan Cellars are the watermark for this category. From enjoying blind tastings in the midwest to forming a wine lovers group in Minnesota, to trips and tastings in California with winemakers to risking it all and moving Napa on a dream. Everything about their story resonates with me (and hopefully some of my friends, haha). So it is only natural that I visit to taste their wines. And wow, what a brand and catalog of wines they have built…
The first thing people tell me when planning a trip to Napa is that they are looking for QPR darlings. “What are the tastings where I can get the most for my money?” Bevan Cellars is my answer for the highest price/quality category; although the tasting fee is $100, the entire fee is applied to any Cabernet bottle(s) you purchase. So if you are alright with buying one nice bottle for $200, you can get a free $100 tasting too of some very good wines. And with wine quality as high as it is at Bevan Cellars, you’ll love the tasting and won’t have a hard time finding a bottle you want to buy.
Still, it’s shocking to me that you can go from selling dental equipment to producing some of the best wines in the valley. But listening to the Wine Ambassador talk about their approach of paying attention to quality, all the way down handsorting each individual grape, you begin to understand the amount of work involved and why they’ve become successful. It’s all about going further and doing what other people aren’t willing to do. That type of attitude is important when you come into an industry where everyone else knows more than you do.
Focusing back on the wines, the aspect that Bevan Cellars pays most attention to when making their wines is texture. Texture is apparently an obsession for Russell Bevan in his wines. And that’s something that’s obvious in not just his Cabernet Sauvignons, where high acid and tannin require that focus to make the wines approachable early in their life, but it’s also obvious in his Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs, where the larger textures give both varietals a presence that isn’t observed in wines from other producers. And although they aren’t going for any certifications, they are moving towards more biodynamic / organic farming practices to continue increasing the quality of their grapes.
When emailing Bevan Cellars to coordinate your tasting, make sure that you write down the phone number of the wine ambassador you will be tasting with. When you arrive at Brasswood Cellars for your tasting (Bevan doesn’t have it’s own winery / tasting room), there is no sign for Bevan Cellars or the Winemaker’s Den. The pourers at Brasswood may also not know what you are talking about when you say you are there to taste another winery’s products. You will likely need to call the phone number and ask that they look for you in the courtyard. But once you find the room and settle in, be prepared to have a delicious hour of really good wines…
- 2016 Ontogeny ($95)
- The Ontogeny is a blend that got its name from how Russell Bevan approaches the wine. Ontogenesis is the development of an organism from its early stages through maturity. Similarly, he wanted to shape the wine so that year after year, you could see the change. Sourced from Oakville, Stags Leap, Howell Mountain, and two other AVAs, the 2016 is composed of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Very pretty but powerful on the nose with white flowers, violets, and black fruit. For the complexity of the blend, it’s surprising how much balance and texture this wine has. A QPR darling and pretty close to being called a steal…
- 2016 Proprietary Red Wine, Sugarloaf Mountain ($195)
- Their 60% Merlot and 40% Cabernet Franc proprietary blend. The Sugarloaf has a similar nose to the Ontogeny, but it’s a little less pretty, showing off a deeper richness instead. On the palate, there is some much structure that seems built layer upon layer, almost like a deck of cards. I cannot believe there isn’t any Cabernet Sauvignon in the wine; the high acidity and tannin trick you into believing otherwise. The fruit focuses on the red spectrum moreso than the blue or black. But this is a fantastic wine that leaves you wondering how it compares against the best of the Right Bank.
- 2016 Wildfoote Cabernet Sauvignon ($195)
- 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Leap, right next to Shafer. The best way to describe this wine is a blueberry pie baked inside a french barrel… This is the most fruit driven wine in the portfolio, according to the wine ambassador. Sniffing the wine, it was incredible how pretty and how deep the aromas were. Grown in volcanic soil with just two tons of fruit per acre harvested (that’s very low yielding), it’s like the wine itself is a concentrated/extracted version of a normal wine. On the palate, there’s just so much depth and integration with the soil-attributable flavors. It’s really hard to elaborate. I felt that this wine was near perfect for me. So much so that I bought multiple bottles.
- 2016 Tench Cabernet Sauvignon ($195)
- According to Russell Bevan, Tench Vineyard (located in eastern Oakville) possesses a consistent reflection of “what is Oakville”. Composed of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Merlot, the wine has a pretty, elegant nose that reminds me of Beckstoffer Vineyards… Although it isn’t as bright as the other wines, the nose has deep red fruit that is consistent through the palate as well. But the showstopper here is the acid. It’s as if there is a constant zap, like a tuning fork, hitting the back of the palate that just keeps stimulating you during each sip.
- 2016 Tench EE ($195)
- This bottle is similar to the Tench, but the nose is a bit more reserved and the tannin is a bit more present. This wine will require more aging than the Tench to achieve its full potential and may eventually have more potential than the Tench as well. The fruit is also prettier and fresher than the Tench. A fairly interesting combination, given that the wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. It seems as if the Cabrenet Franc provides that nose and the Merlot provides the richness on the palate. Just give this wine a little time to round into form.
- 2011 Tench EE Cabernet Sauvignon ($250)
- I literally stopped in my tracks when I tasted this wine. This was not a California wine. This must be a Bordeaux 1st or 2nd growth. The pyrazines from the Cab Franc are still there but it is very complementary to the wine; you can find it in the nose, but it matches the lighter aromas well. This wine is such an outlier from the rest of the portfolio, yet so good in its own way. I cannot believe this is from the same vineyard that produced the previous wine. Out of a tough vintage like 2011, winemakers had to adapt to the fruit given to them. And Russell Bevan did a magnificent job with this vintage. I had to get a bottle of this wine to show other wine enthusiasts to see if I can trick them, haha.
As you can tell, I was very impressed with the entire portfolio of what I tasted - I’ll post another tasting note if I get to try their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at the winery. The wines are definitely larger and more brooding than many others in the valley, so make sure that’s the style you prefer before visiting. As I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend tasting with Bevan Cellars, not just for the wine quality, but because of the refunded tasting fee with a purchase. And although the price points of the bottles can seem scary, the quality is absolutely reflective of the quality.
So get out there and good luck finding your way to the Winemaker’s Den in Brasswood, haha. Cheers!!
Rating: 99 out of 100