Napa Valley Cult Wineries to Know

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  • on OCTOBER 6, 2023
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Napa Valley Cult Wineries to Know

By Jillian Dara October 6, 2023

In Napa Valley, “cult” associations aren’t necessarily a negative thing—in regards to wines and wineries that is. The label of cult wineries is often thrown around in the Valley as an elite title reflecting a winery with limited production of high quality wines and a dedicated following. Many of these cult wineries sell out of their vintages in days and have years-long waiting lists for memberships. Oh, and because of these traits, high price points are a standard of cult wines.

As we said, cult isn’t necessarily a negative term here in the Valley, but there are some winemakers and vintners who shy away from it because of what the expression has come to encompass. On the other end of the spectrum, consumers revel in the term, especially if they’re able to access some of these cult wines. Regardless of your opinion, however, cult wineries exist and are very much a symbol of Napa Valley (though there are cult wineries around the world, too). Below are 10 cult wineries in Napa Valley you should know about, including a few rising stars quickly joining the cult ranks.

Photo Courtesy of Lithology

Lithology pays tribute to the study of Napa Valley’s unique geographic history lending itself to the region’s unmistakeable terroir. Most famed for their Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from their 13-acre vineyard under the Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate in St. Helena, Lithology also produces single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc sourced from the highly sought after plots of Beckstoffer Dr. Crane, Beckstoffer Las Piedras, and Beckstoffer To Kalon. The Estate recently added a tiny block of Sauvignon Blanc that is sure to be a cult hit of its own in seasons to come.

500 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, CA 94574, (707) 963-6015

Screaming Eagle
Photo Courtesy of Screaming Eagle

No list of cult wines would be complete without pointing to Screaming Eagle, a label that’s considered to pioneer the category in the late 90s. Though cult status wasn’t the intention of Jean Phillips, who founded the brand in 1986, the wine’s notoriety has only compounded since its first 100 points by Robert Parker in 1997 (rating their very first vintage from 1992). The flagship Cabernet Sauvignon is traditionally blended with tiny amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. You may find a stray bottle on the market selling in the range of thousands of dollars (their 2019 vintage starts at $3,899), however, the winery openly discourages resale from its exclusive members’ list.

Oakville, (707) 944-0749

Photo Courtesy of Scarecrow

A minimalist label showcasing a household icon, Scarecrow pays homage to the original owner’s ranch where its ultra-premium Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are grown—JJ Cohn was Chief of Production at MGM during Hollywood’s ‘golden era’ and played an essential role in the production of The Wizard of Oz. While Scarecrow recognizes the eponymous, loveable character it’s also a symbol of prideful, American agriculture. The single-vineyard release sees no more than 2,000 cases bottled per vintage and is only available to mailing list members on a first-come, first-serve basis with no allocations.

Rutherford, (707) 963-3361

Stony Hill
Photo courtesy of Stony Hill

Established in 1952, this storied Spring Mountain estate is more known for its white wines than its reds—quite unusual for wineries in Napa Valley. In fact, it’s been referred to as America’s greatest white wine estate. In 2009, the secluded winery started adding estate-grown Cabernet Sauvigonon and Merlot to its portfolio, but continued only selling its limited-production, cult-status wines through a mailing list. It wasn’t until recent years that Stony Hill started welcoming people to its exclusive property, where the revamped ‘Residence at Stony Hill’ greets guests with an inviting, mid-century modern setting. Since the winery still only produces small amounts of wine, guests are limited in how many bottles they can purchase to take home.

3331 St. Helena Highway North, St. Helena, CA 94574, (707) 963-2636

Harlan Estate
Photo Courtesy of Harlan Estate

In 1984, Bill Harlan founded Harlan Estate with the goal to create First Growth California wines—reminiscent of the best Grand Crus from Bordeaux. Now recognized as one of the original cult wineries in the Valley, the estate is known for its two top-tier labels, The Maiden, and its proprietary Red Blend, produced from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot grown on Harlan’s 240 acres that rises in elevation from 225 to 1,225 feet above sea level. The varying elevation of the vineyards provide distinct terroir for these first growth wines which has undoubtedly contributed to the estate’s global reputation.

Oakville, (707) 944-1441

Photo Courtesy ofPromontory

One of three wineries under Domain H. William Harlan (the others include the aforementioned Harlan Estate as well as BOND), Promontory made a name for itself as a relative newcomer to the Valley. The Harlan family acquired the 860-acre property in 2008, and have maintained its ruggedness–a facet that makes both the wine so special and limited as less than 10% of the land is under vine. The first Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blend to hit the market was in 2009 (though Promontory produced a 2008 vintage, the owners were not happy with the result and will not sell it). Promontory differs from many other cult wineries as it offers a tasting room (by appointment only) and allocation of wines.

1601 Oakville Grade, Oakville, CA 94562, (707) 944-0125

Component Wine Company
Photo Courtesy of Component Wine Company

This boutique label was founded by Michael Kennedy, former sommelier and wine director for chef Eric Ripert’s Blue at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, with a mission to isolate specific parcels of vineyards from top sites throughout the Valley to hone in on the beauty of each single “component”—grapes that’re typically thrown into a blend. Component’s first wine from Napa was a 2013 Petit Verdot (only two barrels were produced). In 2014, they added Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to their portfolio. Today, Component produces around 750 cases under the guidance of winemaker Marc Gagnon, the former assistant winemaker at Screaming Eagle and head winemaker at Bryant Family Vineyard, who joined the team in 2019.

270 Kreuzer Lane, Napa, CA 94559, (707) 332-2499

Bella Oaks | Matt Morris Photos
Bella Oaks, Photo Courtesy of Matt Morris Photos

In 2019 — Bella Oaks’ latest release—only 430 cases were produced of their proprietary, single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard sits in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, in what’s known as the Rutherford Bench, and dates back to the mid-19th century. When Suzanne Deal Booth purchased the property in 2010, she enlisted some of the best in the industry to revitalize this historic plot and simultaneously emphasize biodynamic practices, including vineyard manager David Abreu, winemaker Nigel Kinsman, and master blender Michael Rolland. The estate achieved certified organic status in 2019, of which the same year’s vintage received 100 points by Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media.

1350 Bella Oaks Lane, Rutherford, CA 94573

Roy Estate
Photo Courtesy of Roy Estate

This 47-acre estate was purchased in 2017 by Stephan Crétier and his wife Stéphany Maillery specifically for its world-class vineyard blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, which comprise their portfolio of wines today: Roy Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Roy Estate Mr. Evans Proprietary Red, and only released in exceptional vintages, Roy Estate La Rêveuse. Since then, Robert Parker, Jr. has described this Napa property as “a hidden gem and top under-the-radar wine estate” producing wines of elegance and length. Each vintage never exceeds 1,500 cases, but La Rêveuse typically caps out at 50 cases or fewer.

1220 Soda Canyon Road, Napa, CA 94558, (707) 968-1710

Vice Versa
Photo Courtesy of Vice Versa

Founded in 2003 by Montreal-native Patrice Breton, Vice Versa Wines are predominantly sold as futures directly to consumers per their mailing list. That means many of these wines are sold before they’re even bottled, which is a nod to the label’s success in the Valley. For the 2019 vintage, Vice Versa released 13 wines—primarily Cabernet Sauvignon but two outliers included Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Platt Vineyard—totaling 3,020 cases. Aside from Platt and their own estate vineyard, Vice Versa sources grapes across vineyards recognized for their exclusivity and excellence, including; Beckstoffer To Kalon (the 2019 single vineyard expression recently received a second 100 points from The Wine Advocate), Beckstoffer Dr. Crane, Beckstoffer Las Piedras, Beckstoffer George III, and Steltzner.

1461 Railroad Avenue STE 100, St. Helena, CA 94574, (707) 412-8423