Porter Family Vineyards in Napa Valley’s Coombsville Appellation is a true family endeavor, offering outstanding wines and a wonderful tasting experience in an underground cave. Yes, the actual winery here is housed fifty feet underground as part of a 17,000 square foot cave network. After Tom Porter and his wife Beverly purchased the property in 2005, they oversaw the installation of the caves, a 6-month project. Since then, the couple has been joined in the business by their son, daughter, and son-in-law. Porter Family Vineyards sits 600 feet above the valley floor in the Southeastern hills of Napa Valley and produces only about 3000 cases of wine each year.
Porter Family Vineyards – The Story
Tom and Beverly Porter originally started with the idea to grow a few grapes and maybe start a winery someday. After purchasing the Coombsville property and studying the vines, soil, hillsides, and seasons, they felt compelled to share it with others. Reluctant to disturb the lovely terrain, they decided to create an underground cellar in which to make their wines. Today, the winery’s existence is disguised behind two entrances on either end of the 17,000 square foot underground winery. Grapevines still grow up and around and over the hill.
The entire winery operation is underground in the caves with the exception of an outdoor gravity-flow crush pad. The winery was designed with high technology in mind and utilizes sophisticated control systems to monitor and adjust environmental conditions, control fermentation temperatures, and provide access to winery operations data. The cooling system created by Tom Porter uses sensors inside and outside of the caves to control the temperature of the caves. Vents automatically open up when it is cooler outside at night, leveraging Mother Nature so neither air conditioning nor humidifiers are needed. There are also solar panels installed on the property.
As the Porters dug into the hillside to build the winery, an amazing discovery was made: fossilized footprints of a Sandpiper. It appears the hill surrounding the winery actually began as a shoreline millions of years ago, was uplifted into the hills above the vineyards over time, and then much later slumped downhill to its current location. The fossil has now become an integral part of the winery and the sandpiper leaves its tracks somewhere on every label of Porter Family Vineyards wine.
Most of the fruit used to make the wines here is grown in the winery’s estate vineyards. The fourteen acres planted with grapevines are farmed using the principles of sustainable agriculture, and only about 2 to 3 tons of fruit per acre is harvested. Porter Family Vineyards is also a Napa Green Winery, reflecting an independent, third-party, comprehensive environmental certification.
The vineyards are planted to mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, but Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot are also grown on the property. Given that the vineyards are in Coombsville, the grapes enjoy plenty of sunshine, but also benefit from the cooling influences of breezes from the San Pablo Bay.
The winemaking team is directed by Ken Bernards, a visionary winemaker who uses scientific experimentation in the vineyards and winery, while adhering to more traditional, small-scale methods. Ken’s first harvest was in 1986, but in 1992 he began making wine for his own label, Ancien. Since then, he has made wines in Napa Valley, Oregon, North Carolina and Chile.
Ken even made wine on the Porter Family Vineyards property while it was still under the previous ownership so he has come to know the property intimately. Because of that history, he knows how to work with the unique characteristics of the property to produce absolutely delicious wines. Ken was also instrumental in helping to design the in-cave winery, designed to maximize gravity-flow processes.
Porter Family Vineyards – The Wines
Generally speaking, Porter Family Vineyards wines are made in a style which embraces the rich but restrained fruit of Coombsville. The wines are complex, with elegant structure and nice acidity. These wines have the structure to age gracefully, but can also be enjoyed earlier along their journey.
Porter Family Vineyards produces Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Bordeaux blends, a Bordeaux-Rhone blend of Cabernet and Syrah, and a Rosé crafted from Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache grapes. To give you a better sense of the structure and characteristics of wines produced here we’ll highlight a few of the recently released wines:
- The current vintage of Beverly’s Chardonnay (2017) displays wonderful aromatics of ripe apple and pear with hints of bright lemon and a little toast. While the texture is creamy, there is a nice minerality rounding out the wine.
- The current vintage of the Porter Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (2015) is an opulent, densely flavored wine showcasing red berry fruit and blackberry pie elements with hints of black pepper, cedar, cocoa and currant, all supported by ample tannins and nice acidity.
- The current vintage of the Family Blend (2015) is a Bordeaux blend comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. This wine shows wonderful spice, currants, tea, blackberry and cocoa on the nose with hints of cassis and earth on the palate, with a nice balance of tannin and acid.
- The current vintage of the Syrah (2016) takes us back to the Northern Rhone with its expressive aromatics, highlighting white pepper, blood orange and lavender along with some leather and black tea. On the palate, the spice notes continue with a dense blackberry pie focus within a round and opulent structure.
The wine lineup also includes two excellent wines with very interesting stories: Time and Barre Azure. Time is a solera-style wine blending the grapes (and qualities) of both young and aged Cabernet Sauvignon, dating back to the winery’s first vintage of 2005. Only 60 cases are released per year, through allocation only, and it is fittingly named after the phrase “Time in a Bottle.”
Barre Azure is a Bordeaux-style blend, incorporating the five traditional grape varietals, and the wine is named after the Old English meaning referring to the blue bars on the family crest. The 2016 vintage is composed of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec, 27% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. Since the first release in 2012, the wine labels have been designed each year by students at The Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. The winner is granted a scholarship, and the honor of their artwork (and name) appearing on that year’s bottles. Each vintage tells part of the story of the 11th century Battle of Hastings, the beginning of the Norman Conquest of England.
We are thrilled to have finally discovered Porter Family Vineyards and love the entire portfolio of wines. We encourage you to try them all, purchase your personal favorites, and then lay a few bottles down to be able to experience the wonderful nuances that a little cellar time will produce.
Porter Family Vineyards – The Tasting Experience
Porter Family Vineyards is located in the beautiful Coombsville Appellation, with visits and tastings by appointment only between 10 am and 3:30 pm daily. All tasting experiences are private, intimate, friendly, and usually last 60-75 minutes. You’ll tour the vineyards and the caves, learn about the history of the winery and the property, and then enjoy a seated tasting in the caves themselves.
The tasting experience cost is $60 per person and includes a wonderful, thoughtfully developed, cheese and chocolate pairing. Ultimately, the tasting experience price may be waived with a minimum $200 purchase or wine club sign-up.
Location and Contact Information
Porter Family Vineyards is located at 1189 Green Valley Road in Napa, about 15 minutes east of Downtown Napa. You can contact the winery at (707) 927-0765 or via email at CustomerService@PorterFamilyVineyards.com.
If you plan to visit Porter Family Vineyards, we also recommend that you seek out other wineries in the area such as Palmaz Vineyards, Farella Vineyard, Ackerman Family Vineyards, Italics Winegrowers, Scalon Cellars and Ancien. In Downtown Napa, nearby restaurants include Angèle, Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ, Charlie Palmer Steak, Compline, Gran Eléctrica, Kitchen Door and Napa Valley Bistro. If you’re looking for great places to start your day, we suggest visiting Alexis Baking Company, Model Bakery, Monday Bakery or Sweetie Pies. Or, you can follow the drop-down menus above to see our Favorites by Wine Region for additional suggestions in Downtown Napa and elsewhere in the Napa Valley (or other wine country travel destinations).
We, the Two Guys From Napa, highly recommend that you plan a visit to Porter Family Vineyards to enjoy another wonderful tasting experience in the Napa Valley. Cheers!