The Glamour of
Cathiard Family Estate
By W. Peter Hoyne
Cathiard Family Estate in St Helena, Napa Valley is one of those awe-inspiring places with an identity that is immediately apparent. Daniel and Florence Cathiard, owners of Chateau Smith Haute Lafitte fame in Bordeaux, completed the purchase of this 200-acre property in 2020. In many ways, the future potential of this property is reminiscent of their grand cru classe estate in France’s Pessac-Léognan appellation. The Cathiards are poised to position their wines at the top tier of Napa’s elite.
Daniel and Florence met while on the French Olympic ski team in 1960’s, finding love on the Alpine slopes. Together they managed an extensive number of supermarket stores and a chain of sporting good businesses. In 1990, they pivoted, selling their business and purchasing the historic 14th century chateau and vineyards near Bordeaux. They elevated the reputation and wines of this estate with a mission statement that read “To do our utmost so that every vintage of our red and white wines reflects the full potential of our magnificent terroir.”
Cathiard Estate is situated at the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains in St. Helena, California. The property changed hands several times between 1840 and 1885 until Scottish emigrants James and William Rennie purchased the property from Martin Furstenfeld in 1885. The Rennie brothers constructed a gravity flow winery and planted 60 acres of grapes. Falling into disrepair after phylloyxera and Prohibition, the winery closed. In 1933 Louis Martini and his wife purchased the property, using it as their residence while storing Martini’s wine. Martini stayed on the estate until his passing in 1974. In 1978, the Komes and Garvey families became owners and named the property Flora Springs Winery, until it was later acquired by the Cathiards in 2020.
Cathiard Estate Vineyards is an idyllic location with 200 acres of mountainside and Napa Valley floor vineyards. The rolling hillside vineyards extend to 500 feet in elevation with a spring fed reservoir near the top. The property is officially in St Helena but also straddles the Rutherford appellation with volcanic and sedimentary sub-soils.
As with their property in France, the Cathiards are intent on resurrecting this historic winery and vineyards. The Cathiards, being extremely savvy in winemaking and business, are intent on creating a state of the art wine making facility with their own cooperage. Of course, as with their other property in France, a new hospitality center is in place. Florence and Daniel realized “our vineyard must be earned, it requires vigilance, commitment and a respect for the legacy of the pioneers before us.”
They are growing their team with the French, energetic Justine Labbé, who has been appointed general manager and head winemaker. She had worked with Fabien Teitgen, Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte’s senior technical director in Bordeaux before transitioning to California. Tiegen has been overseeing winemaking for over 20 years at the chateau and as is responsible for much of its winemaking success. Fabien Teitgen visits the property several times a year overseeing winemaking, vineyard development and the overall project. Tiegen professes that this endeavor “is the beginning of a story. It is our view of Napa Valley.”
At this point in time. the Cathiards objective is to produce two Bordeaux red blends and a Cathiard Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The blends are named Hora, after a group of Greek goddesses representing the change of seasons, Founding Brothers after James and William Rennie, and Cathiard Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyards are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. The estate vineyards have transitioned to organic and biodynamic farming practices.
As I tasted these wines, it became quite evident that these were remarkably different from others in the valley. They possessed a vein of purity and an artistic expression of sophistication along with a touch of savoir-faire. There is a self-confidence to the wines that expresses a true sense of place. The first release of this collection of wines from Cathiard Estate is expected in Spring, 2023.
2020 Cathiard Vineyard Hora, Napa Valley Red
This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec from estate vineyards spread across St. Helena and Rutherford. The average age of these vines is 18 years and the wine spends 12 months in 40% new French Oak.
Although it has an immediately approachable personality, the Hora shows a pedigree throughout. The concentration and purity of red fruit in this wine was beyond my expectations. The bouquet is subtle, offering delicately scented field flowers and peonies. There is a mix of juicy dark red fruits with crème de cassis, red plums and hints of delicate sweet spices. The tannins are round and supple. The wine flaunts its finesse and elegance as it effortlessly glides over your palate. This wine defines purity and balance. It is enjoyable now and into the future.
2020 Cathiard Vineyard Founding Brothers Napa Valley Red
This wine is a blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Franc from vines that average 25 years of age. It spends 18 months in 40% new French Oak and 20% in large foudres.
Opaque-garnet in color this blend has a soaring bouquet of rose petals, purple violets and crushed stones. Everything is slowly draped over elements of dark wild blueberries, earth, cedar and pencil lead shavings. As I stepped back for a moment, I thought I was in Bordeaux again. This polished wine is firmly built on texture, density and freshness. It is certain to benefit from additional cellar aging.
2020 Cathiard Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
This estate-grown wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from volcanic and sedimentary sub-soils from the oldest hillside vineyard on the property. The average age of the vines is 35 years and it is aged for 18 months in 80% new French oak barrels and oak foudres.
This is a profound and extremely sophisticated wine from the beginning to the conclusion. Although somewhat Napaesque in style, the French showcase their talents in expressing the terroir of this property. The wine opens up with layers of pure silky black and blue fruits accented by undertones of savory spices, graphite and minerality.
The wine has a sense of place with a compellation of complexity and texture that carry you on a journey. Around every rounded corner is a new dimension and more gratification. The finish is long and memorable, although I wish it hadn’t ended. I found this Cabernet Sauvignon to be nearly flawless in its expression. An impressive achievement by winemaker Justine Labbé and her team.