VASO Cellars at Dana Estates
St. Helena, Calif. 94574
Hours: Open Monday-Friday
(By appointment only)
Tasting Fees: $115/per guest
Wines Offered: 2012 VASO Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 VASO Cabernet Sauvignon
(Selections subject to change)
Reservations: Call (707) 963-4365 for a reservation.
Did You Know? VASO Cellars is a blend from Dana Estates’ four unique vineyards—Helms, Hershey, Lotus and Crystal Springs. The Helms Vineyard, home to the winery and caves is nestled at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains. Lotus, Crystal Springs and Hershey are planted on rocky Howell Mountain soils. All four vineyards are farmed organically, vine-by-vine using fish-friendly practices.
The property at Dana Estates was founded in 1883 by H.W. Helms, a German viticulturist who built a winery at the northern edge of what is now known as the Rutherford appellation. During Prohibition, the winery was left to ruins for years and became one of the notable ghost wineries of Napa Valley.
In 1976, the site was purchased by John and Diane Livingston, who restored the property to viticulture, and it served as the home of the Livingston Moffett Winery for many years. In 2005, Hi Sang Lee, a Korean businessman, who had forged ties to Napa Valley as an importer of the region’s wines, purchased the property and vowed to maintain its historical legacy.
There is an ethereal, enchanting quality to the grounds of Dana Estates, where you half expect to encounter a sprite among the vines, or beneath a tree in the sun-dappled courtyard. The winery is named after Lee who was nicknamed “Dana” as a child by a Buddhist monk. Dana—pronounced Donna—is Sanskrit and means the spirit of generosity.
VASO Cellars tastings at Dana Estates begins with a tour of the property. A tranquil courtyard features the original stone wall of the winery and leads to the rotunda where you’ll find a sculpture of a lotus flower just beginning to bloom. “The lotus represents creation,” says Kit Gilbert, director of sales and marketing. “This is a reminder that we’re always in pursuit of greatness. It is a constant goal, yet we are always at the mere beginning of this journey.” The winery was transformed by renowned architect Howard Backen, who designed the estate’s winery and caves with subtle nods to Asian culture, while preserving the 1883 ghost winery and barn.
Next we tour the barrel room, which is softly lit from fixtures suspended from the ceiling and where the barrels are stored along the walls in single rows, rather than stacked. A soft melody fills the space. “We play classical music during the day and in production. It goes off at night,” says Gilbert, noting with a smile that the music is for the wine, not visitors. “Our philosophy is always gentle and minimal manipulation.”
What sets Dana Estates apart is its attention to detail throughout the property and how it impacts the winemaking process. The Helms Room, for example, features upright oak tanks to give the wine an early integration of oak tannin for more structure. “The site where the fruit is sourced—ranging from valley floor to hillside—lends itself to an ethereal floral wine,” says Gilbert. “Yet fermentation in these large oak tanks helps us to achieve balance by encouraging structure.”
After a tour of the property, seated tastings take place in the Rooster Barn, which features a sweeping view of the Vaca Mountain Range. Dana Estates is known for its single-vineyard wines, which run $475 per bottle. While each vine is carefully cultivated, only about 15 percent of the total harvest in any vintage meets the precision and site expression required for Dana Estates wines. The fate of the remaining 85 percent of the fruit is the inspiration behind the new VASO Cellars wines, launched in June. VASO means “vessel” in Spanish and Italian. In the spirit of generosity, the winery offers this collection of elegant, terrior-driven wines at a more approachable price ($85/per bottle).
“VASO Cellars blends both varietals and vineyards to create a synergy from our four sites,” says Winemaker Chris Cooney. “My goal is to capture the personality of the vintage and vineyard. Hence the focus is on the vineyard and growing the grapes. This is the hardest part. The winemaking is very simple. My goal is to guide the natural transformation from grapes to wine.
We begin with the 2012 VASO Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley. Unlike most Sauvignon Blancs, this is an age-worthy wine. “It’s from the Hershey vineyard and because it’s cooler [there], it can retain its acidity and rich mineral essence,” says Gilbert. Vibrant and textured, this Sauvignon Blanc has a lush mouth-feel and is perfectly balanced. Next, we try the 2013 VASO Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. This wine offers fresh red fruit on the nose, and a restrained note of new French oak.
Lee is still known as Dana to his family, and the childhood nickname embodies the spirit of Dana Estates. “The winery is about being stewards of the land, preserving this piece of Napa Valley and making it a world-class winery for hundreds of years,” says Gilbert. Next time you’re in Napa Valley, make an appointment for an intimate, focused tasting with VASO Cellars at Dana Estates.
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