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Art and winemaking have many of the same traits or DNA. The land (terroir) combined with a specific year of heat, rain, fog, temperature variations provide an infinite palate in which the winemaker can formula a creative vintage. So like art and winemaking, exists a unique, colorful and highly energetic winery call THE GRADE Cellars in Calistoga. More about the creative angle later in the story.

The two Proprietor’s, Thomas Thornton and Brenda Mixson, combined with winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown to maximize their vineyard. Tom who is an architect and Brenda who is involved in commercial real estate financing, have managed to combine their right and left cerebral cortexes with just the right amount of analytic and creative percentages in their drive to produce an exquisite wine.

The Winfield Vineyard sits just above the top of northern Napa Valley’s floor in Calistoga. Their end product is a rarity, similar to precious art. Only two varietals are produced: a Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. They called themselves a producer of “handcrafted wines and know their customers on a first name basis”.

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Their now sold out 2013 Winfield Vineyard Cabernet received a 96 point from Antonio Galloni. They are about to release the 2014 Cabernet which only 550 cases were produced. They typically produce approximately 100 cases for their Reserve Cabernet. In tasting the 2014 Estate Cabernet, it possessed a dark and opulent deep red hue with round tannins and a lasting finish.  Robert Parker quote on it was that was “as dark as a moonless night”.


In addition, having a “barrel sample” of their 2015, it held the promise of an exceptional wine. It was made with heavy toasted 100% new French oak barrels. This is the one which got my peak my interest and caught my undivided attention. This is similar to watching the brushstrokes of a gifted artist, knowing the end result will be spectacular.

Tom, when preparing his wine lot for Premiere Napa Valley in 2016, was required to write about the wine to be auctioned. Here is where his creative side kicked in and submitted a sonnet or quatorzain (14 lines) to describe his offering and aligns with the 2014 vintage. In Tom’s words, The specific references include the location of Clone 337 in Block 5 in our estate vineyard, a severe drought requiring more frequent irrigations than usual, early seasonal maturation and harvest that required farming “workarounds”, our winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown who considers great wine to be made in the vineyard, and “Kingly Project” which is the name of our Reserve wine from that block.  That label’s name, as well as our other names, are borrowed from the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson who honeymooned in an abandoned mining bunkhouse above our vineyard and chronicled that experience in “The Silverado Squatters”. Apropos to my sonnet, he wrote that ‘wine is bottled poetry’.”


When you consider how the sunlight’s spent

O’er regal rows of three three seven’s leaves,

How into blue clay earth the rootstock weaves,

A season’s destiny is justly meant!


Consider droughts, too, our wells circumvent,

Nursing the ripeness each cluster achieves.

So dense and complex, the critic believes

Good farming allays what nature has sent!


Motionless while the stride of Mister Brown

Brushes against sprawled canopies, then gone,

Vines whisper sweetly, in sync and singly!


The twelve and thirteen are now cradled down.

Fourteen stands peerless, conclusions are drawn.

We bow to our earth’s project so kingly!


So in full circle, creativity in wine is limitless, yet specific in timeliness. I know you will enjoy THE GRADE Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon and it will be included in my wine room. Should you get a chance to meet with Tom or Brenda when is Calistoga, their personalities are as embracing as the wine.


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