Chimney Rock Winery: Stags Leap - Napa Valley
Interview with Elizabeth Vianna, GM and Winemaker
As you approach Chimney Rock winery the distinctive architecture is immediately noticeable, with its impressive gables and bright white stucco exteriors. The Cape Dutch-style exterior reminds you of the Western Cape of South Africa. An allegorical frieze of Ganymeade, the “cupbearer to the gods,” decorates the gable of the original barrel room. The founders’ inspiration for the frieze came from Groot Constantia, a famous South African winery established in 1685.
Chimney Rock Winery was founded in 1980 by Hack and Stella Wilson who purchased a 180-parcel in Napa Valley which included a golf course. Fortuitously with today’s climate issues, that parcel included the water rights from the town of Yountville’s recycled water. Chimney Rock has been called the “brightest light” in the Stags Leap district, and the wines and winemaking certainly tell that story.
In 2004 the Terlato family and TWG (Terlato Wine Group) had a clear vision of the potential of this great estate and purchased the winery. TWG has experience with other premium wines in its portfolio and acts as a shepherd for the highest standards of winemaking. The Terlato Family now has family-owned premium wines in CA, Italy, France, Austria, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa fostering powerful brands such as Chimney Rock.
About Elizabeth Vianna, Winemaker
I met Elizabeth Vianna about eight years ago at a Women in Wine Conference in Napa Valley. Since that time, I’ve not only admired the wines she makes, but I’ve also become a regular customer.
Elizabeth Vianna is the General Manager and Winemaker at Chimney Rock. Elizabeth had roots as a biology major at Vassar and worked as a clinical toxicologist at Cornell Medical Center. In 1985 Elizabeth enjoyed a pre-auction tasting at Christie’s (the famous auction house) in New York City, then decided to attend UC Davis for a master’s degree in enology. Elizabeth joined the Napa Wine Company and was soon named assistant winemaker there, where she worked directly with many of the region’s top winemakers including Heidi Barrett, Erin Green, and Pam Starr. Elizabeth was named to the position of assistant winemaker at Chimney Rock in January 2002 and advanced to the position of winemaker in 2005. Elizabeth is one of America’s few Latino winemakers.
Elizabeth currently serves as the Board President, Stags Leap District Winegrowers. Stags Leap is one of the premier Napa Valley nested AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas.) Wine history buffs remember that it was the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon which was the star and winner of The Judgement of Paris in 1976, the subject of the movie, BottleShock.
“In 1985 I enjoyed a pre-auction tasting at Christie’s in New York City. I was then hooked on wine,” noted Elizabeth Vianna.
Best of Tasting: Chimney Rock Winery
As a customer of Chimney Rock and fan of Elizabeth Vianna’s winemaking, I had previously purchased the Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Franc rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon, and the white blend Elevage Blanc. I was anxious to see which wines rose to the top in this tasting. Thank you to Phillip Anderson, Master of Wine candidate, for joining me in this tasting.
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, this is a complex white wine that holds up to aging. Aromas of white peach, brioche, citrus, and pear with hints of caramel predominate… one of my favorite wines honoring the style of the great Bordeaux whites.
Wine Enthusiast 94 Points
This estate-grown Napa Cab had one of the smoothest mouthfeels from its well-managed, silky tannins that I tasted on my 2021 visit. Racy and spicy in clove and oak, red and black cherry flavor, and a long length, this a wonderful exhibit of the best from the Stags Leap District.
Wine Enthusiast, 93 Points
A perennial favorite of mine and perhaps my choice among the Bordeaux-area grapes, this Cab Franc is a food-friendly and approachable wine. The aromas of bright red fruit, rose petals, and spicy black pepper, plum and chocolate leap from the glass.
Wine Advocate, 93 Points
Tomahawk Vineyard is the pinnacle of the Chimney Rock estate. The 2002-planted vines make a world-class and powerful Cabernet Sauvignon and only 800 cases are made. Age-worthy and complex, this wine was a highlight of the tasting.
Wine Wanderings Editorial Calendar
A Wine Club Event: the 50th Anniversary of Summit Lake Vineyards and Winery, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley
Exclusive Pritchard Hill Pioneer, Chappellet Winery, An Interview with Dominic Chappellet
The Surprising Mixologists of Napa Valley Cocktails
Traveling to Napa Valley: Wineries, Sports Activities, Shopping, Where to Eat, Where to Stay
Napa Valley Recovery: What is the Outlook for the 2020 Vintage?
Gary Farrell Winery, Russian River Valley, Sonoma: An Interview with Winemaker Theresa Heredia
The Restaurants of Calistoga, Napa Valley
The Heritage of Hall Winery, Napa Valley: Tour and Tasting
1881 Museum Napa Valley: A Transformation of the Oakville Grocery
The Best of Joseph Phelps Vineyards: Tour with a Wine Educator
Ab Astris Winery, Stonewall, Texas – “of the Stars” Interview
What Constitutes a Great Bed & Breakfast? Recipes, Service, and Amenities
Healdsburg and the Wines of Russian River Valley: Revisiting Gary Farrell Winery
Healdsburg: Sonoma County’s Shopping and Tasting Room Mecca
America’s Exceptional Wine Country Adventures: States to Consider
The True Cost of a Cocktail with the CEO of BuzzBallz, Marilee Kick
Tour Tuscany Like a Pro
Styles of Corkscrews: Which Should I Use?
Left Bank vs. Right Bank Bordeaux: Taste the Difference
Wine Castles of Sonoma County
Smashing Summer Cocktails: The Best of Gin and Bourbon