Bella Oaks is a new wine estate almost five decades in the making, a project that combines one of Napa Valley’s most historic and revered vineyards with the dedication to cultural heritage projects that characterizes the vision of proprietor and arts advocate Suzanne Deal Booth. The Bella Oaks vineyard is legendary, with a legacy for producing some of Napa Valley’s earliest single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. Recognizing both its history and untapped potential, Deal Booth, who acquired Bella Oaks in 2010, has at last given this storied vineyard a voice of its own with a team that includes Vineyard Manager David Abreu, Winemaker Nigel Kinsman, and Master Blender Michel Rolland. With a holistic focus on stewardship that includes implementing organic and biodynamic farming practices, Deal Booth is breathing new life into the historic Bella Oaks property as she continues to honor its past. The first release of Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon will be in September 2021 with the 2018 vintage ($275/bottle).
Situated at the base of the eastern slopes of Mount St. John in the Mayacamas Range, Bella Oaks’ wine-growing history dates to the late 1800s when the land was owned by non-indigenous settlers and farmers who planted several crops including wine grapes. In 1968 Barney and Belle Rhodes, wine experts, collectors and vineyard pioneers, acquired Bella Oaks. On the advice of their close friend Joe Heitz, an early champion of single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons, the Rhodes planted 14 acres of Bella Oaks to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1973, a bold move that demonstrated their vision for what would ultimately become the future of the Napa Valley wine industry. For the next 34 years, the Rhodes shared an exclusive partnership with Heitz Cellars, producing the highly acclaimed, vineyard-designated Heitz Bella Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a benchmark in the category. In the 1970s and 80s, the Rhodes’ home at Bella Oaks was an epicenter for fine dining, entertaining and social connection, and many credit the couple with helping to create the culture of hospitality that exists in Napa Valley today
Current Stewardship: Suzanne Deal Booth
In 2010, Suzanne Deal Booth purchased Bella Oaks. As a steward of cultural heritage projects and Founder of The Friends of Heritage Preservation, she was drawn to Bella Oaks’ unique place in Napa Valley’s history of wine, food, and society. She determined to revitalize the property and create an estate that represents a seamless confluence of wine, art, community, and culture. Similar to the more than 80 cultural heritage projects Deal Booth has supported across five continents, in Bella Oaks she has seized the opportunity to preserve, restore and invigorate, shepherding the past carefully into the future.
Upon acquiring the 18-acre Bella Oaks property, Deal Booth immediately set about rehabilitating 12.5 acres of vines, overseeing a gradual replanting with famed Vineyard Manager David Abreu, who adjusted row orientation, spacing, and drainage and revitalized the soils. After selling the fruit to a neighboring winery from 2011-2015, Deal Booth came to the realization that her iconic Bella Oaks Vineyard deserved to have its own voice and identity. She hired Nigel Kinsman, a highly respected winemaker who has worked with many historic vineyards during his career, and she also brought in Michel Rolland, perhaps the wine world’s best-known blending consultant. Over the next two years, Deal Booth oversaw the conversion of the vineyard to organic farming, and Bella Oaks was certified by the CCOF in 2019. With a vision of creating a vibrant and holistic ecosystem on the estate, she also hired consultant Jeff Dawson to implement biodynamic principles and practices throughout the property.
Today the Bella Oaks estate comprises a total of 31 acres, with 12.5 acres planted and plans for an additional 10 acres to be planted in 2021.
Art & Home
As one of the world’s leading advocates for culture, preservation and the arts, Deal Booth’s vision for Bella Oaks reflects her commitment to the preservation and protection of cultural heritage and the visual arts; to visit the home and estate she has created is to experience a vibrant and diverse collection of interestingly juxtaposed works of art surrounded by the natural beauty of spectacular gardens, olive orchards and meticulously tended vines. Among the beautifully spaced outdoor works are Yayoi Kusama’s Where the Lights in My Heart Go, Max Ernst’s Le Genie de La Bastille, and an untitled site-specific work by Robert Irwin. Adjacent to the home is a meditation labyrinth inspired by Chartres Cathedral which also inspired the primary design element on the Bella Oaks wine label.
WINE AND WINEMAKING
Bella Oaks Vineyard produces one wine, the Bella Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon. The inaugural release from the 2018 vintage is a blend of estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. With a philosophy grounded in minimalist winemaking, Winemaker Nigel Kinsman’s goal is to create a wine that is honest, transparent, and fully expressive of the Bella Oaks Vineyard. “I’m here to help the site shine. The place and the vintage tell the story; I try to leave as little imprint as possible.”
Bella Oaks’ lineage can be traced back to the era of the great Heitz Cellars Bella Oaks Vineyard Cabernets, but under Suzanne Deal Booth and her team’s management, the wines carry the precision, freshness, concentration and texture that come with a renewed commitment to farming and winemaking at the highest level. “Bella Oaks absolutely has a distinct signature; I haven’t worked with another vineyard like it,” says Kinsman.
Commencing in June 2021, pre-release tastings will be offered on a very limited basis by-prior-appointment-only at nearby Wheeler Farms for $125 per person.