Located right on 29 Napa’s main thoroughfare but you would never know it. A wood gate and a sign the says “No Mill Parking”. I dialed the code Lily sent me on the keypad and it took them a bit but they finally let me in. I think Jon Berlin, husband of Lily and co winemaker was busy chasing the chickens back in the cage in fear I may run them over, they may attack me or the local mountain lion that was spotted at a nearby pond drinking yesterday would be in the mood for some poultry for lunch.
As I drove up the winding dirt drive I passed old olive trees, old vines of Pinot Noir just picked last week, some large desert plants resembling agave or aloe, some small old wood buildings and then chickens, safely secured in their coop. Jon greeted me kindly with a South African accent, shorts and flip flops. We started at the top.
The history of El Molino goes back to the late 1800’s with the depression and prohibition creating a sad story of decay and neglect for decades. The story of course takes a turn when Jon speaks of Lily’s father Reginald who purchased the property during the late 1970’s and was focused on making wines for himself which he loved dearly, BURGUNDY!
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were planted, the gravity feed winery was built and the ancient caves (same cave story as Schramsberg) were restored. Jon pointed to the small open top fermenters by the Italian basket press and explained how much fun it was for him and his kids to get in there and stomp the grapes with their feet. He assured me that they all wash their feet thoroughly before stomping.
The next level was where they filled up the barrels then below that was where they are stored. Incredibly small winery and production with only the most natural and hands off winemaking philosophy. A true snapshot of wine from a place.
As we tasted he current vintages of Chard and Pinot Jon told me he had worked for Flowers and Phelps. He also mentioned his neighbor was Turley. While discussing the wines I came to understand El Molino wines are old world wines made in a new world setting. The fruit and aromas are California but the structure, balance and complexity is an old world approach at wine-making.
I said to Jon, “I am surprised Wine Spectator gives you such good scores”, and he replied, “Marvin Shanken stops by regularly to buy wines to drink, he loves us!” Jon was pleasantly surprised with the business we are doing with El Molino and seemed grateful for our efforts.
Good people, good wine…
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