601 Cellars. Enter the Napa Valley brand that does not produce Cabernet Sauvignon. An anomaly, yes, but a refreshing one. The owners Brian Doody and Laura Larson lived in Washington DC and worked in the high-tech (data storage) sector when they started buying a holiday home in the Napa Valley during the 2008/2009 recession. Because of the economic crisis, they had no trouble finding a house – and eventually, after spending more time in the valley, they decided to settle there permanently.
During a stay in Italy in 2001 it was spontaneously decided to get married – the city was Florence. And the most auspicious month and year was June 2001 (6/6/2001 to be precise) – after all, that’s the name they kept for their wine brand. And with this numeric name, an advantage is that they are usually at the top of the alphabetical list of wines!
Both already knew about Sangiovese before this trip, but during their trip they took the time to explore the variety of Sangiovese grown and produced in Italy. In the Napa Valley at that time they also tasted Shawkett Vineyards’ Sangiovese (their Asante Sana), which was later sold to Peter Michael in 2008 – and Luna Vineyards (a vineyard that partly focuses on Italian varietal wines). Both Brian and Laura enjoy the Sangiovese grown in California, emphasizing the richer characteristics of this Napa Valley variety.
Although some of their bottles have an alcohol content of 15% or more, all wines are clearly fresh and lively. These are wines that are not heavily wooded, their style should emphasize the grape variety and not the dominant characteristics of the barrel. These are wines that are very personal for Brian and Laura, and they are wines they like to drink.
The wine that gave birth to 601 Cellars was produced in 2015 in the Bruno Solari Vineyard in Calistoga, near Bennett Lane. Laura remembers that Bruno called to say that the fruit was ready to be harvested. Brian was out of town and Laura didn’t have a vehicle big enough to bring a ton of fruit to the cellar. Due to the different heat peaks this year, the fruit was harvested quite early. She rented a U-Haul van and drove it to the vineyard and even in the queues to facilitate the transportation of the bins to the van for the grape harvest (about a ton of grapes was harvested).
He and Brian planned to make this wine for personal use only, but several winemakers, including Mitch Cosentino, Duane Dappen and Jarred Pierce, tasted it Sangiovese and encouraged them to bottle it as a trademark. So they took his advice to heart and put it into practice, producing only 45 cases for their first outing.
Brian credits his mentor in the wine industry to Barbara Spelletich (who runs Crush 94, a winery in Napa’s southern business district). Brian and Laura bought wine at Wine Thief in the centre of Napa, where they met the owner Andy Renda. Andy pointed her to Crush 94. Brian remembers asking Barbara if they could press their grapes here – she agreed and provided space for their small production.
In the end, Brian learned by doing, while Barbara made the wine – and led the way. Brian took a winemaking course at Napa Valley College and is now their winemaker – although with so many winemaker friends in the industry, he’s never more than a phone call or text message from an expert when he needs further advice.
2019 601 Cellars Rose of Grenache from Napa Valley is a Provencal rosé. It is orange salmon with beautiful flavors like strawberry and orange peel. This wine is lighter in style and dominates the palate with its acidity, minerality and clear finish. It wears its youth magnificently and is pleasant to drink alone. With such a limited production (only one barrel) and such a seductive palate, this inaugural vintage is quickly sold out.
The Sierra Foothills Grenache Cellar 2017 (with a bit of Syrah in the mix) has a medium ruby red colour, a remarkable balance on the palate and intense flavours. The finish has hard and grainy tannins. It lingers on aromas of red berries, cherries and raspberries. And a remarkable clarity. 26 months in neutral drums.
And thanks to the relations of the winegrower Rudy Zuidema, they will bring Grenache from the Napa Valley (grown in Rutherford).
The Napa Valley Sangiovese 601 Cellars 2015 Napa Valley Sangiovese Reserve is medium ruby red in color and offers a sweet nose with aromas of strawberries and red fruit – as well as some spicy features, perhaps a hint of sage. Aromatics are fascinating. On the palate, this wine is balanced – complemented by subtle tannins. As with the other wines we have tasted, the acidity is lively from start to finish. It’s a great culinary wine.
The 601 Cellars Napa Valley Sangiovese Reserve is medium ruby red in colour and offers a variety of sweet aromas of red liquorice, cherry cola, blackcurrant vanilla, mocha, and a hint of graham cracker. As the wine continues to breathe, subtle touches of cedar emerge. On the palate balanced with lively fruit notes such as red cherry, red berries and raspberry. The tannins are well integrated in the finish in a light style. No violence. It lingers on a lively acidity and red currant flavour. This wine has been aged for 24 months in neutral French oak barrels. Where’s the nearest glass?!
Super Tuscany Napa Valley 601 contains 80% Sangiovese (from the Bruno Solari vineyard in Calistoga), 12% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark ruby in the glass, the wine offers an attractive combination of black fruit and dark herbal aromas on the nose, including spicy Santa Rosa plum, dark liquorice, dried tobacco leaf and cracked pepper. A little fleshy and spicy, especially after the flavours have had time to mature in the glass. The palate is very deep – juicy from start to finish; it lingers on notes of dried tobacco leaves, dark herbs, lighter but firm tannins that linger for a while, and clear fruit. The finals are attractive. The best thing is to mate, nestled under a warm fire, with a majestic serenade – the voice of Andrea Boccelli.
Artist Series labels are prints of works of art made by befriended artists, including Penelope Moore (whom we first met at a dinner in Verona, Italy, and who lives in Napa). Penelope is best known for her large-scale painting Palette du palais, inspired by wine and abstract oil paintings. They are partly created based on what she smells and tastes like a certain wine. Brian and Laura commissioned the painting (which hangs in their house); the label of the 601 cellar of the Sangiovese Reserve in the Napa Valley 2015 contains 12 images of this painting. They have collaborated with several other artists, including Tim Howe, whose work we discovered at an exhibition at the O’Brien Estate in the Oak Knoll area of the Napa Valley.
Laura is the editor-in-chief of the famous magazine Napa Life, which is distributed in selected wineries and other outlets throughout the Napa Valley, and she is also a writer and photographer. She also founded and runs Virtual Vines, a small sales and marketing consultancy focused on the customers of the wine industry.
Most wines are sold directly to consumers, with the exception of a very limited number of local companies offering selected wines, notably Allegria and Zuzu. For more information or to buy wine, visit: 601cellars.com.
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