Martin Estate Winery

Napa Valley AVA

The estate dates back to 1870 and is a slice of Napa’s early history

There are many extraordinary reasons behind the existence of a number of Napa Valley wineries, but none more compelling than the story of Rutherford’s Martin Estate Winery. While the actual estate dates back to 1870 and covers a slice of Napa’s early history, the saga of Martin Estate began sometime in 1996.

Greg and Petra Martin were frequent visitors to the Valley for many years before discovering an almost neglected property in Rutherford that bordered the iconic Caymus Vineyards. The building was an old two-story stone building, not unlike the much-admired Christian Brothers Winery just up the road in nearby St. Helena.

“We were thrilled by the old site and once we learned its history, we knew it was the place for us,” recalled Greg Martin in a recent interview. “We were looking for a country home for our family, and weren’t really interested in getting into the wine business.” The Martins went about the business of restoring the old chateau to its former elegance, a task that required ridding the place of its large bat population. At the road that leads into the property, the Martins decided on erecting a suitable entrance for the estate, including a huge 16-foot iron gate that gave the house a sense of privacy.

“That’s when everything took a turn for the worse,” added Martin. “The county decided that the fence violated their eight-foot height requirement for residential fences that was the existing law. We thought about it for a while and decided we all liked the bigger fence. Our only option was that we go into the wine business and plant some vineyards that would take us out of the residential category.” For the record, the old building’s history is incredibly important to the early history of Napa’s wine industry. It was built in 1887 by former Napa County Sheriff Henry Harris, on property he bought from the estate of Napa Valley pioneer George C. Yount (Yountville). The property was part of a Mexican land grant in 1836 and Yount was the first person to plant grapes in the Napa Valley.

Henry Harris was one of the leading growers of his time and broke ground for his new winery in 1887 which functioned as a first class winery until Prohibition. In 1909, Harris leased his winery to Georges de Latour who upgraded the winery’s facilities and produced a first crush of 50,000 gallons that would become the initial release of the heralded Beaulieu Vineyards or BV as it is known today.

In 1941, the estate was renamed Puerta Dorada, and transformed into an elegant country chateau. Financial problems eventually plagued the owners and the house gradually fell into a state of disrepair. Fifty years later, Greg and Petra Martin stumbled upon the place and were taken by its awesome majesty and potential. “We call it the baby Greystone, after the Christian Brothers Winery,” Martin added. “We thought it would be a truly wonderful place to live in.”

Martin made his fortune by a most unusual method. As a youth of 13, be began collecting guns and old arms and began actively trading with other collectors. The business grew into an auction company that became the largest in the world that traded guns, armor and anything pertaining to firearms. He and Petra maintained a home in San Francisco and were frequent visitors to Napa Valley. As a youth, Martin had also worked at his parents’ restaurant in San Martin and became interested in wine and winemaking. He also spent several summers at a friend’s chateau in Bordeaux where he learned the fine art of French winemaking.

“Even though I really hadn’t contemplated being in the wine business, the step wasn’t all that difficult for me,” he finalized. “Petra urged me to go ahead and we planted several Cabernet clones and a small amount of Merlot.” The Martins did all the work themselves and produced a small amount (400 cases) of the 2000 vintage as Martin Estate’s first release. Production has grown and is between 1,500 and 1,800 cases depending on the yield of each vintage. Every drop of Martin Estate is estate grown and the winery does not sell grapes to any other winery.

Tastings are done by private appointment and Martin Estate Winery does not have a sign to designate its presence. It simply relies on the 16-foot gate at its entrance, a landmark everyone recognizes.

Featured Wines

Petra and Greg Martin - Proprietress and Proprietor in arms

Dear Platinum Series Wine Club Members,

It is with great pleasure that I am presenting to you the 2012 MARTIN ESTATE Cabernet Sauvignon. I am delighted to share one of our best wines with the members of the Gold Medal Wine Club.

This superb wine was created from exceptional grapes sourced exclusively from the Puerta Dorada Vineyard, which surrounds our historic 1887 stone chateau. We are located in the Napa Valley appellation of “Rutherford,” famous for its Cabernet Sauvignons. Combined with our microclimate of warm days, cool nights, and early morning fog, our grapes thrive in a perfect environment. But, as being born in a palace does not necessarily mean the offspring is fit to be king, proper upbringing and relentless grooming is essential. An experienced and quality-conscious vineyard team and winemaker can influence the style of the wine produced with the right growing practices and harvest methods. I closely supervise Martin Estate’s winemaking process together with my husband Greg and our award-winning winemaker, Aaron Pott. Aaron was recently named in the Wall Street Journal as “The mouth behind some of Napa’s best wines,” and voted a “Winemaker of the Year” by Food and Wine Magazine.

There is a saying, “Great wine starts in the vineyard,” meaning that you need quality grapes to make a truly fabulous wine. But, in addition, it takes a level of perfection that goes way beyond just growing good grapes. To achieve the excellence you will experience in the 2012 MARTIN ESTATE, we pay attention to every little detail throughout the year, and particularly at harvest time, we take winemaking to its highest level. Sorting grapes by hand twice to select only the very best fruit, fermenting in custom French cement and oak tanks, followed by extensive aging in oak barrels from only the finest French cooperages – we are aware of even the smallest facets and no expense is spared to make a wine that is worthy of carrying our name on its label.

When you taste this extraordinary Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, relax, enjoy, and think of all the great things this life has to offer.

Here’s to health and happiness!

Petra Martin