What To Drink Now: Miner Family Winery

Many years ago at the then Sense nightclub (now Victor Tango’s) I was introduced to Miner Family Wine from Napa Valley. It was a Sangiovese, not the typical grape from Napa, served by the glass and filled with cherry, spice and a hint of vanilla. From that moment I was a fan, making Miner one of my first stops on my initial trip to Napa, and now a must visit every trip since, tasting great wine and creating wonderful memories with friends and family along the way.

I recently sat down with owner Dave Miner while visiting the valley to get his perspective on the industry, his wine and plans for the future.

Formerly a software guy with Oracle, along with a number of other technology operations, Dave Miner began his winery with his wife Emily and Dave’s parents, Ed and Norma Miner, in 1998.  Ed can often be seen around the tasting room, as he stops by to do his daily quality check, but the winery was really Dave and Emily’s baby.

From a young age Dave’s uncle was a big influence on his developing a passion for wine and eventually getting Dave into the business, as he had asked Dave to move from Houston, TX to Napa and run his winery, Oakville Ranch Vineyards, when he fell ill.  Dave new early on it was the best decision he had ever made and quickly became completely dedicated and passionate about wine.  It was also at Oakville Ranch that Dave and Emily met and eventually married, working together to launch Miner Family Winery.

One thing I have always loved about Miner is their whimsy and adventurism with their wine, and always creating quality wine at reasonable prices.  From very early on they began producing the typical varietals for California, including their Oakville Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from his uncle’s vineyards he had managed, and a crisp and classic California Chardonnay, but also small quantities of Sangiovese, Malbec, Tempranillo, Wild Yeast fermented Viognier, and most recently more Rhone varietals like Syrah, Grenache, Marsanne and Rousanne; even a Portuguese blend of Souzão, Tinta Cao and Grenache.

Why so many different varietals?  Because they love wine, and love to see how the soils of California can adapt to the distinct characteristics of these different varietals.  They are certainly not typical, but they are delicious.  From the start Dave has formed relationships with some of the best vintners throughout the valley, sourcing grapes from the likes of Gary’s, Rosella’s, Stagecoach, Hudson and Simpson, even heading outside of Napa and Sonoma to Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills to find the best grapes he and winemaker, Gary Brookman, could use to create their luscious, versatile, balanced, succulent wines with personality and perfect for pairing with food.

Winemaker Gary Brookman (left) with Dave Miner (right)

Along with a building relationships throughout the valley, Miner also believes in working ecologically through composting and re-use of waste water, but mainly through reducing their carbon footprint and use of CO2 by adding solar panels in 2009 producing enough for the winery to run on and give energy back to the community.   They want it to be a clean environment not only for themselves and their staff, but for the generations to come, as Dave and Emily’s children visit the winery often.

From the start I have always had two favorite Miner wines –
The Oracle and Miner Wild Yeast Chardonnay.

The Oracle is their flagship red, created from sourced Stagecoach vineyard fruit (located just above their Oakville Ranch vineyard), and is their nod to a classic Bordeaux style blend.  Early productions of this style defining wine just included Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as that was what was available at the vineyard.  As Stagecoach grew and continued to develop the blend has blossomed to include Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Inky, elegant, complex and full-bodied, yet incredibly balanced this wine exudes hearty ripe cherry, black plum and blackberry flavors layered with leather, spice and herbal notes, perfect for pairing with rich stews, grilled game or braised beef.

Miner was one of the first in the valley to really promote using wild yeast fermentation in their Wild Yeast Chardonnay, surprising as using only indigenous or “wild” yeasts found throughout the vineyards and on the actual grape skins, adds depth, texture and body to this well-rounded Chardonnay filled with ripe pear, golden apple, and melon with hints of caramelized honey and toasted nuts.  A delicious wine for sipping on its own or with butter poached lobster or roast chicken.

When I asked Dave about his hopes and plans for the future, with a slight twinkle in his eye he spoke of his love for France, particularly the Rhone region, having visited many times over the years, often with Emily. He recently began making his La Dilligence (‘stagecoach’ in French) wines with the help of winemaker Francois Villard, making the most French tasting style wine from American grapes grown at Stagecoach vineyard.  It wouldn’t surprise me if at some point his La Dilligence actually came from France.

It was with great sadness that I heard Dave’s beautiful wife Emily passed away last Wednesday, losing a bravely fought four-year battle with cancer.
She was a vibrant woman, dedicated wife and loving mother with elegance, optimism, passion and grace. She will always be remembered as these traits also define her lovely young daughters and the wines she loved so much.