Cathiard Family Estate: A French Restoration in Napa Valley
Tour, Tasting, and Interview with Winemaker: Justine Labbé
Cathiard Family Estate became the Napa Valley project of the Florence and Daniel Cathiard family when they purchased the 280-acre former Flora Springs property (58 acres under vine). A significant transformation in vineyards, production areas, tourism sites, tasting room, and private residence has taken place with more to come next year. Florence and Daniel Cathiard are writing a new chapter for this prime Napa Valley property situated at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains. It was a pleasure to witness this year’s public debut of the 3-year makeover.
French investment is not new to the Napa Valley. Think of Opus One (Baron Philipe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi joint venture), Domaine Carneros, Mumm Napa Valley, and St. Supéry. There are more than 25 French-owned Napa Valley properties. Consider that in 2013, Francois Pinault, owner of famed First Growth, Château Latour, purchased Araujo Estate.
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A Rich History
The property has a storied history. Two brothers, James and William Rennie, immigrated from Scotland to the Napa Valley and purchased the property in 1885. They planted sixty acres of grapes covering the Rutherford and St. Helena AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). The property changed hands several times and was shuttered in the 1920’s with Prohibition. The beautiful stone winery joined many in the area to go into disuse and become a ghost winery, said to perhaps being haunted. Louis Martini purchased the property in the early 1940’s and built the large wood private residence, where he and his family lived until he sold it to the Komes-Garvey family. They sold it in turn to the Cathiard family. The estate now has a distinct French feel. 19th century French antiques and heavy stone statues have been shipped here. The courtyards and pergola have a French esthetic and are perfect places for seated outdoor tastings.
The Cathiard Family Castles
It has been a privilege to visit two of the six Cathiard castles this year – in Bordeaux in August - Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte, a Grand Cru Classé - and this past week in Napa Valley – Cathiard Family Estate. I have yet to visit the other Cathiard castles: Château Le Thils, Bastor-Lamontagne, St.-Robert, and Chateau Beauregard. The family wines of the first two are top quality, and I look forward to visiting the other castles in the future.
Florence and Daniel Cathiard began as young, ambitious athletes and high-level ski champions. It is evident that they bring this drive and enthusiasm to Napa Valley. Thirty-two years ago, the Cathiard family originally entered the wine business with a much-needed extreme renovation of Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux, France. The family since has done the same thing with other wineries and has also developed luxury hotels, a spa, and a ski chalet.
We were intrigued by the future winemaking and “tourism experience” plans, enjoyed the off-road tour of the property, and amazed at the insight of the Cathiards and winemaker, Justine Labbé. The next plan is to create an in-house cooperage where they will toast their own French oak barrels.
The Cathiard Tasting Experiences Including an Off-Road Adventure
We experienced the Cathiard off-road adventure that is available to wine tourists. The provenance of the EV tour vehicle (see above) is fascinating: a 1950’s South African Landrover safari frame, the guts of a Tesla engine, and some Jaguar parts thrown in. We took a wild ride up the side of the Mayacamas Mountain foothills to look back over the just-harvested vineyard and note other vineyard replanting firsthand. A tasting in the mountains can be arranged as part of this adventure. The foothill old-vine vineyards go up 1000 feet, sheep can be seen mowing the grass, and two natural lakes sit on the property…quite a sight.
Wine pairing dinners at the private residence and normal Napa Valley tasting room sampling can also be chosen. We were welcomed at the tasting room by Candice Bernard-Cathiard, hospitality manager.
The Wines of Cathiard and an Interview with Justine Labbé, Winemaker
“My philosophy: Let the terroir speak. [At Cathiard] we have one foot in France giving the wine a French freshness and elegance, with the other foot in the exceptional terroir of Napa Valley.” – Justine Labbé, winemaker, Cathiard Family Estates
Justine Labbe, degreed in Soil Science and Agronomy, began her winemaking career in France with New World wine detours in Napa Valley and Australia. She then became “Assistant Maître de Chai” at Château Smith Haut Lafitte. Justine arrived at the Cathiard property during the Covid pandemic to oversee the transformation of the property, vineyards, and the first wine vintage. Her philosophy to harvest grapes earlier than many in the Valley paid off in 2020, as the Cathiard grapes were picked prior to the infamous Glass Fire of 2020 which smoke-tainted remaining unharvested grapes.
Cathiard is producing three wines exclusively from estate grapes, a flagship Cabernet Sauvignon wine and two blends, with prices ranging from $115 to $395 a bottle.Cathiard Family Estate, Barrel Room, Wines, Photographers: Wendy and Brian Hatfield
Recommended Wines: (Note most are sold via allocation.)
100% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18 months, 80% new French oak aging
60% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, 12 Months, 40% new French Oak aging
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 16-18 months, 40% New French oak, 20% large foudres aging
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