Vine Cliff Cellars Winery
Vine Cliff Winery was established in 1871, when 500 acres were carved out of the George Yount estate. One of the first bonded wineries in the United States, and the first in Napa to plant Bordeaux varietals on a commercial scale, Vine Cliff was one of the region’s most successful wineries through the end of the 19th century. A series of natural problems drove the winery under in the early 20th century, with the land remaining fallow until it was purchased by Nell Sweeney for her family in 1985. Now, under the leadership of Rob Sweeney, the family’s oldest son, Vine Cliff has regained its position as a leader in the production of superior Napa Valley wines.
The winemaking team at Vine Cliff Winery is committed to live up to the estate's historic legacy by working with the best fruit and winemaking processes to create wines of the highest quality. At Vine Cliff Winery, we offer fine wines and rare views at our beautiful 100-acre estate nestled high in the Oakville hills above the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley.
In the Oakville Region, our hundred acre estate is home to the Sweeney family, and the site of Vine Cliff's winemaking facilities and guest center. Only 25 acres are planted, dominated by the cabernet sauvignon for which the Oakville appellation is so renowned. The vineyard reaches up steep hillside terraces to the flat rocky red soil of the “Oakville Bench” at 400 feet above the valley floor. The combination of diverse terrain, low yields and impeccable farming produce grapes with incredible flavor and concentration.
From the vine to the bottle, the winegrowing and winemaking at Vine Cliff Winery comes under the watchful and caring eye of Rob Sweeney. He is involved in making every vintage and varietal produced here, bringing a hands-on style and familiarity with the estate that insure that we always meet our singular mandate - to produce the best possible wine every vintage. Rob Sweeney's philosophy is that the best fertilizer is the farmer's shadow on the vines. While he serves as both Proprietor and General Manager, he views his position as Vineyard Manager as perhaps his most important. "Vines are like children. They thrive with attention, decline with neglect."
With Rob's direction, we're constantly making the small farming improvements that lead to superior fruit. He implemented programs for vertical shoot positioning and lateral removal to improve crop quality. Canopy is managed to provide air circulation, to expose "cool side" clusters to more sun while shading "hot side" fruit. Rather than having a preset watering schedule, the team monitors vine stress through a process called "pressure bombing" and adjusts the watering cycle on an almost vine-by-vine basis. The goal is to encourage even ripening throughout each block.
Rob also introduced natural pest control methods. "We placed perches throughout the vineyards to invite the hawks and owls, natural local predators, to forage. We constructed two bird houses to accommodate Kestrals."
Rob has planted 1,364 vines of Cabernet Sauvignon to the acre at Vine Cliff. Vine configuration (vertical trellises) and clonal selections that are low in vegetative growth and low in yield sacrifice quantity for quality. Along with the famous Oakville terroir, this approach give Vine Cliff Cabernet Sauvignon powerful fruit flavor and low tannins, creating some of the Valley's most elegant wines, approachable on release, but capable of developing exceptional complexity with bottle age.
Winemaker Jim Kress joined the Vine Cliff team in 2011, bringing 16 vintages of Napa Valley winemaking experience to his post. With a Master of Science degree in Viticulture and Enology from University of California, Davis, Jim works closely with Rob Sweeney in crafting wines with amazing balance, depth and complexity.
If you're going to grow Chardonnay in the Napa Valley, the Carneros district is probably your best bet. The extreme temperature swings (diurnal shift) of daytime highs to nighttime lows that the upper Valley experiences rarely effect Carneros, making it the ideal location for thin-skinned varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Our twelve acre Estate Vineyard lies in the heart of the Los Carneros appellation. Following nearly two years of development work, including the construction of a reservoir, irrigation, drainage and trellising installation, this twenty-acre site on Carneros Creek was ready to be planted in May of 1999.
Using the lay of the land and soil types as guides, Rob selected five separate Chardonnay clones (varieties) to plant: Dijon clones 76, 95 and 96 give the wine sweet aromatics of peach and nectarine stone fruits with a soft creamy texture. Our "Old Wente" clone adds floral notes of lavender, exotic tropical fruits as well as structure and length. And our trusty UC Davis clone 4 adds hints of fresh squeezed orange juice, lemon and gives the palate incredible body, concentration and richness.
For our Los Carneros Chardonnay, we use traditional Burgundian techniques of hand picking and sorting, followed by whole cluster pressing. Fermentation takes place in new and experienced French oak, and small stainless steel barrels. The result is a wine with tropical and stone fruit flavors, complemented by a flinty minerality and bright acidity.
Named in honor of our Proprietress, Nell Sweeney, the Proprietress Reserve Chardonnay has great elegance and depth. Representing the top ten percent of our Chardonnay production, this high-style wine has a creamy texture, with moderate acidity for balance. Proprietress Reserve is fermented and aged in a larger percentage of new French oak barrels than our other Chardonnays. Combined with regular stirring of the lees, this produces vibrant fruit aromas and flavors as well as vanilla, brown sugar and toasty oak nuances. Because of our demanding requirements, we do not produce this wine every year. But in outstanding vintages, this is our go-to choice for special friends and special occasions.
Our Los Carneros Dijon Clone 95 Chardonnay is made exclusively with our earliest-ripening Chardonnay clone. This wine shows beautiful fruit and crisp, racy acidity, blending the best of New and Old World styles. If you’re looking for a classic Carneros Chardonnay with a crisp, clean style, this is the one for you.
The Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is our interpretation of a “classic” Napa cab. Balanced, integrated, with abundant dark, ripe fruit, supple tannins and rich texture. This wine is always approachable on release, but well-suited for laying down, as well.
Our philosophy is that most of our winemaking takes place in the vineyard, and this, our signature cabernet, is the perfect example. Representing the very best of the storied Oakville appellation, expect dark fruits, cocoa, anise and cedar, and hints of the forest floor. More unexpected is the suppleness of the tannins and overall level of approachability. If you’re interested in a complex, focused wine that can be enjoyed while young, yet rewards patience, the Oakville Estate is for you.
We don’t make our Private Stock Cabernet Sauvignon – 16 Rows every vintage, but when we do, it is, quite simply, the best of our best. Made with fruit from the first sixteen rows of vines planted in front of the Sweeney family’s hilltop home, this bottling represents the oldest and most mature fruit from our Oakville Estate. It is layered with ripe blackberry and boysenberry jam and deep, bittersweet chocolate. It has extraordinary texture and concentration that will stay with you long after you've finished the bottle.