Pushing Boundaries: Brandlin Estate’s Focus on Innovation and the Future of Mountain Winemaking in the Napa Valley

By Published On: April 11, 2023

© 2020 Marc Fiorito // Gamma Nine Photography

Nestled among the rugged terrain of Mount Veeder lies Brandlin Estate, a winery with a rich history dating back to the 1870s. Once a homestead where the Brandlin family farmed orchard fruit and operated the local grain store and stagecoach, the estate eventually became a premier winery.

It all started in 1926 when Henry Brandlin decided to plant the vineyard’s original block of head-trained, dry-farmed Zinfandel, marking the family’s venture into winegrowing. Over 70 years later, the Brandlin family legacy was entrusted to Two Estates Wine Collective in 1998, and today the winery covers nearly 120 acres of pristine woodlands, boasting 49 acres of vines spread across a ridgetop that rises from 900 to over 1,250 feet.

The unique terroir of Mount Veeder significantly impacts the grapes grown at Brandlin Estate. With its high elevation, well-drained decomposed granite soils, and long, cool growing season, Brandlin Estate is an exceptional location to grow Bordeaux varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon. The rugged terrain naturally lowers yields, and the vineyard’s proximity to the San Pablo Bay provides one of the longest growing seasons in Napa Valley. The high elevation and mountain soils bring depth and concentration to the wines, while the grapes ripen slowly and retain acidity. In the vineyard, the team has implemented modern viticultural practices, including VSP trellising with relatively high-density spacing. The vineyard is predominantly planted on a ridgeline with a south-facing aspect, with select blocks offering northeastern exposures. The site features grades as steep as 30%, resulting in extensive hand work when cultivating the vineyard.

Brandlin Estate has a winemaking philosophy that emphasizes a balance between tradition, innovation, and artistry. Steve Rogstad, the winemaker at Brandlin since 2002, has developed a distinctive approach to winemaking that focuses on achieving complex and alluring wines that honor the estate’s high-mountain terroir.

The winemaking process begins in the vineyard, where every grape is hand-picked, sorted, and de-stemmed. In the winery, the grapes are gravity-fed into small fermentation vats, and Steve tailors his approach to each individual lot.  Patient aging in the finest French oak barrels further enhances the complexity and depth of the wines. The result is a collection of wines that are both powerful and elegant, reflecting the unique terroir of Mount Veeder and the winemaking expertise of the Brandlin team.

© 2020 Marc Fiorito // Gamma Nine Photography

“From our estate-grown Cabernets to our Bordeaux-varietal blends, our wines embody the structure and complexity that can only be achieved with mountain-grown grapes,” said Steve. “At the same time, because of the way we cultivate our grapes, and the winemaking methods we apply, our wines have a silky, velvety plushness and wonderful freshness, purity and length. Finding that ideal balance between power and grace is essential to making a great mountain wine.”

Brandlin Estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon is particularly unique due to the cool climate of Mount Veeder. This growing region produces wines with incredible color and richness, while also maintaining vibrant and dynamic flavors thanks to the long, temperate growing season. The excellent acidity and pure, focused flavors of Mount Veeder’s wines lend themselves to exceptional aging potential. In contrast to warmer appellations, where grapes ripen faster and result in plummy, jammy flavors and lower natural acids, Mount Veeder’s Cabernet Sauvignon has its own distinctive character that is sure to impress any wine connoisseur.

Their Old Vine Zinfandel is a testament to the rich history of Brandlin Estate, with vines that have been growing for almost a century. These vines not only represent a connection to our past, but also produce a wine that is uniquely complex and compelling. Despite their age, the tannins in the wine are fine and supple, providing a beautiful structure for the bright fruit and spice flavors that are characteristic of our Old Vine Zinfandel. As for how it pertains to Mount Veeder, the wine showcases the distinct terroir of the region, with its high elevation, cool climate, and volcanic soils contributing to the wine’s unique character.

With a commitment to innovation and evolution, Brandlin Estate is constantly pushing the boundaries in winemaking. Currently, the winery is focused on developing an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc program and crafting a complex, age-worthy expression of mountain Sauvignon Blanc that rivals the world’s finest. With the vineyard maturing and the team’s expertise in winemaking, Brandlin Estate is well-positioned to achieve this goal. As visitors continue to explore the rugged, mountainous estate, they can expect to witness exciting new developments from Brandlin Estate in the years ahead.

The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review.  The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation  or incentives were provided for inclusion in the story. As always, the top priority is to provide readers with informative reporting.

Wine Recommendations

© 2020 Marc Fiorito // Gamma Nine Photography

2019 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- exudes a captivating bouquet of succulent blackberry and cassis, beckoning the senses to indulge in its robust essence. This full-bodied red boasts well-structured tannins that serve as a steadfast foundation, bolstering the wine’s opulent mountain fruit that is imbued with a complex layering of flavors. This is a wine with great aging potential, and will undoubtedly evolve gracefully for another decade or more.

2021 Estate Sauvignon Blanc- displays a remarkable fusion of lemon, lime, and grapefruit flavors. Its bright fruit flavors are skillfully balanced, yielding a luxurious and prolonged finish that leaves a lasting impression on the palate.

About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : joe@winebulletin.net .