Love Napa Valley mountain Chardonnay and Cabernet but looking for some variety to add to the mix? Look no further, I’ve got a solution for you.

The Owner

I recently had the opportunity to become acquainted with Thomas Wargovich, owner and vintner of Gratus Vineyards in the Pope valley, a Napa Valley sub-AVA on the opposite side of Howell Mountain as you head down into Chiles Valley.

Thomas is a Pittsburgh native who has always been fascinated by horticulture, obtaining a degree in Botany and Biology at nearby West Virginia University. He then went on to medical school and became a cardiologist, leading to a fateful visit to the Napa Valley for a medical meeting where he fell immediately in love. The desire to be part of this winegrowing lifestyle ultimately led to the purchase of this special 27 acre property in 2001, on which he would plant 10 acres of vines in 2005.

The Property

Currently under vine at elevations between 875-1000 feet are Napa Valley mountain stalwarts like Cabernet Sauvignon (6.6 acres) and Cabernet Franc (.3 acres), but also an eclectic mix of Malbec (.9 acres), Petite Sirah (1.1 acres) and a unique 1.1 acre block of Rhône white varietals Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier.

In addition to the vineyards, Thomas has planted over 1,000 trees covering over 300 species on the property, several of which are on the International Union For Conservation of Nature (IUCN) critically endangered species list. It provides one of the most extensive collection of plantings on the West Coast. There are also guest quarters on the property if you’d like to get a real feel of vineyard life in the mountains above Napa.

The Wines

Along with Thomas’ oversight, winemaker Robbie Meyer is expertly producing a relatively tiny 600 cases of wine per year. “Gratus” is latin for gratitude, and if you can get your hands on some these limited production wines, you should certainly be grateful. Each is unique and worth seeking out. All wines reviewed below can be purchased directly here on the Gratus Vineyards storefront.

MMXVIII (2018) GRATUS VINEYARDS WHITE WINE

A unique Napa mountain Rhône valley blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 15% each of Marsanne, Rousanne and Viognier, and 5% Picpoul Blanc aged 7 months in neutral oak. Ripe and rich apple, pear, and all sorts of orchard fruit promise this will provide enjoyment for lovers of big,mouthfilling white wines while providing a refreshing change of pace from California Chardonnay. Great purity of flavors on the palate with just a touch of spice on the long finish. Perhaps a little more acidity(pH 3.69, TA 4.5 g/L) and a little less alcohol (14.2%) would be better for this writer’s palate, but I really do think California white wine drinkers will absolutely love this bottle, without being bogged down in judicious use of new oak to mask anything resembling fruit. Looking at other vintages, the acidity seemed to be a bit more present (2017 was pH and TA of 3.4 and 6.5 g/l respectively) so you may want to seek out another year if you like a little more crispness in your whites.

200 cases produced. 14.2% abv. Aged 7 months in neutral oak. $29

BUY HERE – the 2017 is currently discounted to $23.20 as of this post.

MMXVI (2016) MALBEC

The first thing you’ll notice on this wine is the classic purple/magenta color that is the namesake for Malbec…all the way to the edge on this guy. Putting your nose in the glass reveals a uniquely California mountain fruit take on this classic Bordeaux blending varietal.  It is neither as rustic as its native home in Cahors, France nor as fruit forward as its Argentinian counterparts.

Aromas of candied strawberry and plum with a touch of mint.  Medium to full bodied in texture on the palate with a lively mix of red and black fruits (think red currant and black cherry), subtle and barely present tannins and a refreshing touch of acidity for a California red.  

Put simply, if you haven’t had Malbec from California, or at least haven’t had one you liked, this may change your mind. It sure did change mine.

75 cases produced. 14.8% abv. Aged 22 months in 50% new French Oak. $55.

BUY HERE

MMXV (2015) PETITE SIRAH

Hands down my favorite bottle in the lineup.  Crazy jet black core with only the slightest edges of opaque purple color that makes my decanter look as if it will be forever stained. Intense aromas of baked cherry pie, mocha, coffee, baking spice, pencil lead, and pepper…so much going on here, I could simply smell it for hours.

Full bodied but not massive like some Petite’s can be.  This walks the line with lush dark fruit, chocolate, peppercorn and graphite but with some older world charm and freshness that makes you want to come back for another sip.

Such a well made wine.  If you try nothing else from Gratus, you need to try this bottle.  

50 cases produced. 14.8% abv. Aged 22 months in 50% new French Oak. $50.

BUY HERE

MMXVI (2016) GRATUS RED BLEND

A unique take on a Bordeaux blend given the varietals planted on the property. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon(80%), Malbec(15%) and Petite Sirah(5%) give this wine a nose of ripe candied plum, dark cherry, with some interesting mint, anise and smoky notes as well.

Full bodied with jammy dark cassis and a brighter red fruit note as well vying for dominance(due to the high Malbec %age?). Absolutely huge monumental tannins coat the mouth and with 3 hours of air this just started hitting its stride. This one needs some time in bottle for sure. The 14.8 makes this wine taste just a bit hot and it could use some more acidity and freshness, but it is sure to be a crowd pleaser for those who are fans of bigger extracted Napa Cabs, while having enough personality and complexity of flavor to keep guys like me wanting to come back for another sip as it opens up and develops. If you open now, give it at least 3 hours to breathe, and sit back and watch it continue to unfold for several more hours.

170 cases produced. 14.8% abv. Aged 22 months in 50% new French Oak. $80.

BUY HERE – the 2015 is currently discounted to $64 as of this post.

The Final Word

It is refreshing to still be able to find relatively new, small boutique producers like Gratus who are putting out tiny lots of incredible wine on mountain sites in Napa Valley.  These are big wines with intense mountain fruit and are done well, without the typical overoaked and one dimensional character of some Napa Valley floor counterparts.  These are wines of freshness and character, and provide a unique varietal portfolio for those seeking out something new in the valley.

In an area like Napa, with world class terroir, it seems that making great wines  should somehow be the easy part. With all the competition, I’m sure that selling great wines is much more difficult. If you’re looking for something new, want to share a great, relatively unknown wine with your California wine loving friends, look no further than Gratus.