Gargiulo Vineyards, Napa: Current Releases

There’s something really cool about seeing a young winery start to hit its stride. I’ve only seen a few newborn calves and foals in their first moments after birth as they learn to use their spindly legs, but it’s hard not to feel a sense of pride when after a few minutes, they go galloping around in circles. I feel the same way after my recent tasting of current releases from Gargiulo vineyards. They’re starting to make some very good stuff.

I was first introduced to Gargiulo at a wine bar in San Francisco a couple of years ago. I just happened to stop by for a drink, and April Gargiulo was on hand, pouring what was then her family’s second release to a hip crowd of San Francisco wine lovers. At the time, I wasn’t blown away by the wines — they were somewhat awkward, and didn’t fully hang together — but April seemed very serious about what they were doing, and they certainly had some good land in Napa, so I made a mental note to check back in on them over time.

I’ve tasted an odd barrel sample here and there at various auctions and functions, but I was pleased as punch the other day a box of their current releases showed up on my doorstep, giving me the opportunity to check in and see how they were doing.

Gargiulo Vineyards was started in 1992 when Jeff Gargiulo and his wife Valerie purchased a 40 acre vineyard in Oakville called Money Road Ranch. Like many of the new vineyards owners in Napa, the Gargiulos come to their new occupation by way of a lifelong dream. Jeff has worked in the agricultural business his whole life, but always thought that one day he might have an opportunity to merge his own love of wine with his work on the business side of agriculture. It was only a matter of time before the right property came along, and suddenly the Gargiulos were in the vineyard business.

The first task of that new occupation was the replanting and re-engineering of the vineyard, with new rootstocks and planting grids and trellis systems, a process which took three years. The resulting vineyard is mostly Merlot, with smaller amounts of Cabernet, Sangiovese, and Pinot Grigio.

The vines weren’t ready for prime time for another four years, and for the first couple of years after that, the Gargiulos sold their fruit to local producers while they fine tuned their operations. In that time the family purchased another piece of property at Oakville crossroads, sandwiched in between Rudd and Screaming Eagle. Needless to say, it’s a prime piece of real estate, and one of the few south-facing sloped vineyards in the Oakville appellation. The Gargiulo’s named this vineyard OVX, and planted it with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petite Verdot.

In 2000 the family felt ready to produce their own wines from the Money Road Ranch vineyard, and have slowly ramped up production, as they build their own winery facility which is due to open this fall. Starting in 2004, the family also began harvesting and bottling wine from the OVX vineyard, bottles of which will arrive on the market in 2007.

The winery is truly a family-run business, with the Gargiulo’s daughter April running sales and marketing. For assistance on the winemaking front, the family has retained the services of Kristof Anderson whose tenure in Napa, though short, has been impressive. Before ending up at Gargiulo in 2001, Kristof was a winemaker at Lewis Cellars, Del Dotto, and at Saddleback Cellars.

Gargiulo Vineyards currently produces four wines, a Cabernet, a Merlot, and a Sangiovese based wine that they call a “Super Oakville Blend.” Each comes from their estate vineyards which are farmed with deficit irrigation and sustainable soil management practices. Yields are kept relatively low, around 5 to 6 tons per acre, and the family sells much of its crop, making only a couple thousand cases from the best of its estate fruit.

One of the things I like about the Gargiulo wines so far is that they are not slathered in new oak. A lot of new Napa wineries, anxious to impress with their young vintages, will give their red wines 100% new French oak for 18 to 24 months, obliterating a lot of their personality with the flavors that these barrels infuse into the wine. None of the wines sees 100% new oak (the Sangiovese only gets 25% new barrels) and Anderson uses very specific coopers for each of the wines.


2003 Gargiulo Vineyards “Aprile” Sangiovese / Cabernet, Oakville
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a slightly shy, but gradually sumptuous nose of cherries, plums and leather aromas. On the tongue it displays an excellent balance and mouthfeel with flavors of cherry and leather and hints of tobacco. The wine has great acidity and smooth, very light but well structured tannins that carry its flavors through to a moderate finish. This wine showed remarkable longevity over the course of nearly ten days with very little oxidation, leading me to believe it will age extremely well. 1443 cases made. Score: 9. Cost: $30. Where to buy?.

2003 Gargiulo Vineyards “Money Road Ranch” Merlot, Oakville
Medium garnet in color, with strong purple highlights in the glass, this wine has a nose of juicy, bright cherry aromas. In the mouth it is round and bright with primary flavors of tart cherries and some hints of vanilla and oak. Reasonably well integrated tannins push through to a high-toned finish that satisfies if it doesn’t impress. This is a solid, but not particularly expressive Merlot. 1512 cases made. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $35 . Where to buy?.

2003 Gargiulo Vineyards “Money Road Ranch” Cabernet, Oakville
Medium ruby in the glass, this wine has a nose of deep cherry aromas wrapped in leather and dried black tea aromas. In the mouth it has gorgeous acidity and mouthfeel, with bright and rich cherry flavors supported by smooth but strong tannins and a very nice finish. 469 cases made, will be released in September. Score: 9. Cost: $ 55. Where to buy?.

Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.