On a rainy day in Napa Valley, I had the privilege of visiting Pym-Rae Winery, a beautiful property located deep within Mt. Veeder, bordering Napa and Sonoma. The winery covers 600 acres of land, but less than 18 acres are planted with old vine Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. The vines were planted 35 years ago by Bob Craig, and all farming is done organically and biodynamically. The location of the vineyards above the fog line in Mt. Veeder, and the fact that the vines are lovingly cared for, drew Alfred Tesseron, the owner of Pym-Rae, to the property. Tesseron is also the owner of the famed Chateau Pontet Canet in Bordeaux and Tesseron Cognac.
As I drove up the steep hills of vineyards, I couldn't help but wonder how this place came about and why I had never heard of it. It turns out that the property was owned by the beloved actor Robin Williams, who wanted a remote place where he could wake up and see beautiful vineyards. He lovingly named the vineyard Pym-Rae, after the middle names of his children, and the property Villa Sorriso, which means "Villa of Smiles". The Tesserons chose to continue using the Pym-Rae name for the winery's wines out of respect for Robin Williams.
To Alfred, Pym-Rae is a passion project, not a business project. When I asked if there were plans to plant more vineyards and produce more wine, he simply said he likes the production volume where it is now, at around 15,000 bottles per year, and won't consider making more wines if it will sacrifice quality. That makes sense when you hear how the wines are made. The hills are steep, making machine harvesting impossible, so all the grapes are hand-picked. Because the vineyards are scattered across the hills, each micro-plot can ripen at different times, so the team takes up to five weeks to harvest the grapes, one plot at a time, only when they're at the perfect ripeness. When it's not harvest time, the full-time employees take care of the cows and goats on the property, which helps with their biodynamic farming practices.
After the grapes are harvested, they undergo traditional hand sorting and hand destemming. Alfred believes that this gentle approach allows the terroir to show through. No pumping or automatic temperature control is used. Alfred purchased 40 tiny concrete tank fermenters, allowing him to ferment each micro-plot separately before making the final blend. The wines are aged in 70% French oak and 30% concrete barrels for a modest 16 months. The philosophy here is to make fresh, terroir-driven wines that showcase what the grapes have to give, not what the winemaker and oak barrels have to add to the wine.
I had the opportunity to taste the 2016, 2017, and 2018 vintages, which are the first three vintages that Pym-Rae has released. Each wine reflected the vintage, and each was unique. None of the wines were overpowered by oak, yet each had such a long and intriguing finish. These are the type of wines that really need a few more years in the cellar before you enjoy them. That's why they decided to release their wines later. Whereas most Napa wineries release their 2020 and 2021 vintages in 2023, Pym-Rae will be releasing their 2019 vintage at the end of 2023.
Pym-Rae Winery is a great up-and-coming first growth level Napa winery that you don't want to miss out on. It's a passion project for Alfred Tesseron, and he's dedicated to maintaining the quality of his wines. The limited 3-pack mini vertical (2016, 2017, 2018) is a great way to experience the unique and terroir-driven wines that Pym-Rae Winery has to offer.
Tasting Notes -
2016 Pym Rae - This wine offers a lovely floral aroma on the nose, with a smooth and refined texture on the palate. The tannins are sharp and grippy, leading to a long, satisfying finish. This vintage is almost at its drinking window compared to the other two vintages, making it a great choice for those looking to enjoy it now.
2017 Pym Rae - Due to the absence of Cabernet Franc in the blend (smoke taint from the 2017 fire), this vintage of Pym Rae is more structured and firm, showcasing the depth of the Mount Veeder fruit. The wine has firm tannins that give it a powerful structure, yet it maintains a sense of balance and harmony. It's one of the most assertive 2017 Cabernets we've tasted, with a long, complex finish.
2018 Pym Rae - This vintage is pure and fresh, with pretty aromas that lead to a rounder mouthfeel on the palate. The wine has a spicy finish, adding an interesting element to the overall taste. Although it is approachable now, it definitely needs more time to age and reach its full potential. Overall, this wine is a great representation of the Mount Veeder terroir and is sure to impress.