Napa Valley AVA
Placed among Napa Valley's elite small production wineries
To say that Barlow Vineyards came into existence as the result of an unlikely set of circumstances would be quite accurate. To add the fact that this smallish winery has risen to elevated statue in the winery business would also be an honest appraisal.
To begin with, Barlow Vineyards was begun as a result of the efforts of two generations of the Smith Family, Warren and Jeanne (father and mother) and Warren Jr. and Ann (son and daughter-in-law).
“My Dad and Mother started making trips to the Napa Valley as early as 1952, and eventually started taking me along,” recalled Barr Smith, 53, during a recent interview. “My family always had more than passing interest in wine and we eventually began to dream of owning vineyards, but with the intention of being growers for other wineries.”
Smith said that it was a desire to get their families moved out of Southern California that ultimately prompted both families’ move to Napa Valley. It was 1994, and the Smiths jointly purchased a problematic 50-acre site off the Silverado Trail, some two miles below the City of Calistoga in Northern Napa Valley.
Parts of the vineyards were decimated by phylloxera in the late 1980's and had to be replanted. A small tract that was more recently planted (1992) formed the basis of the Smith’s initial production that was sold to local wineries. The younger Smiths and their children moved into an existing farm house and the older Smiths built a new home as the families settled down to the business of growing grapes and replanting the devastated vineyards.
Such was the case for four years, until the remarkable 1997 vintage proved impossible to resist. A small quantity (25 cases) of wines was produced, intended for consumption by family and friends.
“It was all Cabernet and the winemaker explained that our vineyard had produced an exceptional wine that was full-bodied and full flavored that had excellent mouth feel. He was so impressed that he suggested we sell the wines and we took his advice and did just that,” Smith explained. “It was the beginning of Barlow Vineyards and we’ve been blessed with our success since that time.”
For the record, Barlow Vineyards is derived from Warren Jr.’s middle name, Barlow. On a daily basis, Smith goes by the nickname Barr.
From that miniscule beginning with the 1997 vintage, the winery has slowly grown to its present level of around 1500 cases, a point that will probably remain for the foreseeable future.
“Our growth in the future will depend on just how interested our children are in getting into the business,” explained Barr Smith. “Our daughter Alyssa, who is 21, has already applied to UC Davis and Fresno State after she graduates in the spring. Our son Zachary is only 18 but he seems to be leaning toward the sales end of the business. If they both join Barlow Vineyards, it will be necessary for us to expand our production at that time.”
At present, Barr Smith playfully describes himself as “chief cook and bottle washer” for the tiny operation. In fact, he runs the small business with the help of his father who works the vineyards and his wife Ann who pays most of the company’s bills.
When Barlow Vineyards’ first wines were rated, they received high numbers and accolades, and have continued to do so. With the excellent estate fruit source, none of Barlow Vineyards’ wines have ever scored less than the low 90’s, a remarkable fact that speaks to the extreme quality of the wines.
Winemaker Corey Beck (C. Beck Winery, Chateau Montelena and more recently the Francis Coppola Winery of Sonoma) has guided Barlow Vineyards to its present pinnacle of success as it took its place among Napa Valley’s elite small production wineries.
His winery’s success has not fazed Barr Smith, not even a single bit.
“When we started the winery we wanted to make a wine we all enjoyed drinking,” he finalized. “We all preferred a style that was fruit forward where the focus was on the vineyard. We wanted the wine to be soft and easy on the palate, but also with lots of structure that would stand for many years. The key was that the fruit would not be hidden and, in fact, would stand out when consumed. From what I can gather, most people who drink our wines think we have accomplished what we set out to do.”
A Note from Barr Smith
Dear Platinum Series Members,
Wine country doesn’t often see two generations band together to start a family winery. Typically, the first generation gets the barrels rolling, and the kids later join mom and dad in the venture. However, tiny artisan producer Barlow Vineyards was a two-generation enterprise from day one.
In 1994, the family evaluated many properties in Sonoma and Napa before falling in love with 50 acres two miles south of Calistoga on the Silverado Trail in prime Napa Valley red wine country. The site has its own microclimate. Our property is shielded from winds out of Calistoga, so it gets even warmer than others.
When they asked winemaker Art Finkelstein to make 25 cases of Cab for family and friends, it was a hit. Today, 15% of Barlow’s harvest is reserved for 1,500 annual cases split among Barlow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and “Barrouge” (a Cabernet blend). Our goal is to produce high quality, affordable Napa Valley wine...being a cult wine would be awesome, but we don’t want to be kept on a shelf.
Our 2005 unfiltered Estate Cabernet Sauvignon fills the glass with dark currants and rum raisin with just a hint of French vanilla. The palate is loaded with black sour cherry flavors and hints of ripe plum that are woven around the soft tannins. We feel that the 2005 is one of the best wines we have made.
Thank you for your support and hope that you enjoy this wine as much we do!