Martin Estate Winery
Napa Valley AVA
The Rutherford Estate - dating back to 1887 - represents a slice of Napa Valley'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 1887 and is the essential part of the Napa Valley's early history, the tale of Martin Estate began just over one hundred years later.
As avid wine collectors, Greg and Petra Martin were frequent visitors to the Valley for many years before discovering a private property, hidden behind a grove of ancient valley oaks, close to the iconic Caymus Vineyards. The building was an old three-story stone building, not unlike the much-admired Christian Brothers Winery just up the road in nearby St. Helena.
“We were thrilled by the site and once we learned its history, we knew it was the place for us,” recalled Greg Martin in a recent interview. “We gazed in aw at the old château, finding a marker hidden behind thick ivy that read 'H.H. Harris Wine Cellar, 1887'.” After some sleuthing, the Martins learned that the property was for sale by owner and acquired the former winery as well as twelve acres of undeveloped land surrounding the stone structure. It took more than 10 years to restore the old château to its former elegance, a task that first required excluding a large bat population. Wildlife netting was installed for several years, to allow the bats to leave their favorite spot and encourage them to find a home elsewhere.
Researching the Estate's history, the Martin family discovered the significant role of H.H. Harris, not only in regards to their new homestead, but to the overall early history of Napa Valley's wine industry. The imposing stone structure was built in 1887 by Henry Haris, on property he bought seventeen years prior from the estate of Napa Valley pioneer, Captian George C. Yount (Yountville). Yount was the first white settler of the Valley, who was deeded 12,000 acres known as the "Caymus Land Grant" in 1836.
Henry Harris was one of the leading growers of his time and building his own wine cellar allowed him to also produce wine from his more than 100 acres of producing vineyards. He was very well respected in the community and became one of Napa Valley's first Sheriffs.
In 1909, Harris retired from the wine business, and leased his eponymous winery to his French neighbor Georges de Latour who hired Harris’ winemaker Henry Stice to custom crush approximately 150,000 gallons of wine that would become the initial release of the heralded Beaulieu Vineyards or BV as it is known today.
Prohibition marked the end of production for most Napa Valley wineries. In 1941, the Estate was renamed Puerta Dorada, and transformed into an elegant country château. Financial problems eventually plagued the owners, and the upkeep of the large stone structure and vast gardens became a challenge that was passed on to their heirs. When fifty years later, Greg and Petra Martin stumbled upon the place, they were taken by its majestic presence and potential. “Initially, we called it “Little Greystone,” after the Christian Brothers Winery, as both buildings were constructed by legendary architect Hamden McIntyre,” Martin added. “We thought it would be a truly wonderful place to live in.”
Whilst always interested in the food and wine business – his parents owned a large farm as well as a restaurant in San Martin, California – his interest in history and technology of antique arms led him on a different path. As his primarily private business grew into an auction company that became the world’s largest for antique arms and armor, his summers were spent at a friend’s château in Bordeaux where he learned about the fine art of French winemaking.
“Purchasing this historic property, complete with its prime, never before planted acreage in an appellation like Rutherford was a dream come true,” he finalized. “With the invaluable help of Charles “Chuck” Wagner of Caymus Vineyards, we went ahead and planted select Cabernet Sauvignon clones that were tightly spaced to produce intensely flavored grapes of superb quality.” By 2002, a small state-of-the art winery dedicated to hand crafted wines was brought back within the ground level of the historic Château, and after 115 years of dormancy, the H.H. Harris Wine Cellar is resurrected as Martin Estate.
The first production of Martin Estate Cabernet yielded 400 cases of the 2000 vintage, with the majority of the crop being sold to Caymus. With the Estate vineyard maturing, the production has grown to approximately 1,500 cases depending on the yield of each block. Every drop of Martin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is estate grown, and the winery does not purchase grapes from other properties.
Private tastings are offered by appointment only, and the winery does not have a sign to designate its presence. It simply relies on its original, age-rusted 16-foot gate at its hidden entrance, a landmark to those in the know.
We are happy to introduce this fantastic bottling to our Platinum Wine Club members!
Dear Platinum 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 château. 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!