Napa Valley AVA
"Magic Mountain" truly applies to this property and the vineyards
Its location is part of a collapsed mountain in the Vaca Range on Napa Valley’s Eastern side that has become known as Magic Mountain. The area is home to a handful of prized wineries and vineyards including Screaming Eagle Winery and Vineyards, Dalla Valle Vineyards, Rudd Oakville Estate, and Sir Peter Michael.
Oakville East is the brainchild of owner Elliot Stern, 55, a native of Fargo, North Dakota. Stern is the third generation of his family to be part of the wine business. “Both my grandfather and father were in the distribution end of the business,” he informed, “and, I was a liquor industry executive in Chicago before I decided to come out west.” When Stern joined the prestigious St. Helena wine marketing firm of Wilson Daniels, he eventually became vice president of sales and marketing. One of Wilson Daniels’ chief clients was Dalla Valle Vineyards.
“At one point I bought Jack Daniels’ home,” he continued, “and after Gustav Dalla Valle died in 1995, his wife Naoko decided to leave Wilson Daniels. My home was sitting there right under Dalla Valle’s property and the thought came to me that a new winery was entirely plausible and that I could make it work. I knew the property was incredibly good for growing grapes so it was my intention to start the project (Oakville East) right away. However, some things got in my way and I actually waited two years before beginning Oakville East.”
It was in the early 2000’s and Stern next approached his neighbors in the area who were growers and received their support for his efforts. He was assured of additional first class fruit for his new project.
Since that point in time, Stern has wasted no time in making his startup one of the luminaries of the Napa Valley wine scene. From a small initial release of around 490 cases in 2004, Oakville East has grown to between 1,250 and 1,450 cases a year. “I have produced as much as 1,600 cases,” he added, “but the last five vintages have been completely biodynamically grown and our production has been down a bit.”
Biodynamic farming has played a huge part in Oakville East’s dynamic rise in popularity. An early friendship with biodynamic soil expert and winemaker Philippe Armenier has produced amazing results that allow the grapevines to nourish naturally and produce exceptional fruit.
“The term Magic Mountain truly applies to our property and to the vineyards we utilize,” he explained further. “The place itself is really magic. Our vineyards are both rocky and steep and our harvest is never over two tons per acre. We purchase grapes from three different vineyards (Stern Vineyard, Saunders Vineyard, and Harter Vineyard) that are among the best grown in Napa Valley. These grapes, and the wines that have ensued from them, have always produced extremely high scoring wines that have been critically well received.”
The Oakville East label is something of a work of art. With the help of his ex-wife and professional photographer Avis, the label portrays the mountain coloring that results from the sun’s exposure on the rocks and core stone that comprise the collapsed mountain. What seems an orange tinge of the mountain is offset by old Roman interlocked letters (OE) with an evolving arrow pointing east. In short, Oakville East enjoys a really clever label.
Elliot Stern jokingly points out that his name is only found on the back label and that total credit is given to the vineyards and wine. “Our winery is a family project at its base and our neighbors are almost part of our extended family. Take the Saunders Vineyard. The Saunders used to own the whole mountain and they sold off pieces to different wineries through the years. We get most of our fruit from Saunders Vineyard so you can just imagine what the quality is like,” he further stated.
Elliot Stern is also cautiously optimistic that his son, Harry, 26, will one day follow him into the winery business. Harry would be the fourth generation Stern to do so, a positive for Stern. At present, Harry is a top DJ and promoter as well as a recognized MC in the Bay Area, but has recently shown signs of interest in the winery.
“That would be the real topper,” Stern finalized. “With Harry’s ability to project and impress, he would make a great winery sales and marketing executive. That’s what I am hoping for and I believe it will someday come true.”