Watermarked cellars. Founded by winemaker Casey Stringer in 2016, production focuses on small quantities of wine from the Napa Valley and elsewhere, including the provinces of Santa Barbara and Sonoma. Casey remembers the first time he visited the Napa Valley. He travelled with his parents to several university campuses, including USF and Humboldt State in Arcata. The itinerary included a visit from a great aunt (whom he had never seen before) who lives in San Francisco. But it was only two days before his visit. This allowed the family to benefit from a few extra days on the road. Casey’s father, who loves wine, suggested going to the Napa Valley.
Casey remembers his first visit to the Napa Valley something like this: I love it, it feels good and it refers to the visual beauty of the vineyards and the surrounding hills as well as to the restaurant scene. Over the years, this first attraction has given rise to many experiments in viticulture. Hungry, but not yet experienced in viticulture, he returned to the Milwaukee area and started working at Grapes and Grain (a wine shop). He then moved to Santa Barbara and studied photography at the Brooks Institute of Photography (closed in 2016 after 70 years). While studying photography, Casey took a job in the basement of Fiddlehead Cellars. He soon realised that viticulture was a new passion and left the photo school to work full-time at Fiddlehead Cellars.
In 2004 he moved to Napa Valley and worked in Robert Sinskey’s basement and then to the top of archery in Willamette Valley, Oregon. He realized that he would need more training to continue and develop his career in viticulture. This decision took him to Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, where he was awarded a two-year certificate in viticulture and winemaking from the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) while working in wineries in the North and South Islands. In 2009 he returned to California and accepted a position as cellar master at Jonatha Vineyards in Santa Barbara.
Back in the Milwaukee area he met Brooke, who eventually became his wife – he also started working for the family business Matenaer, a metalworking company in Wisconsin. But viticulture was not far from his mind. In 2013, he decided to buy the coveted Ballard Canyon AVA de Sria vineyard in Santa Barbara (thanks to the connections he made while working in Jonatha) – loading a ton of grapes into a refrigerated truck and transporting it across the country to make wine in Wisconsin and then giving it to friends, family and customers of the family business. The following year he bought as much Syrah as Cabernet from Howell Mountain and transported the grapes all over the country again. At that time he had connected part of their ironworks to a winery, and there were wines produced. These two wines were essentially at the basis of the creation of Stringer Cellars.
Between the logistical challenges of producing wine throughout the country where the grapes were grown, plus the extra headache of compliance, various regulations, and the perceived detail of high-end (and more expensive) wines from California, but produced in Wisconsin-Casey, the decision was made to move production from the winery to Napa Valley. Like his own career as a winemaker, his winery in the Napa Valley and neighbouring Sonoma County has been winery for many years. Today he makes his wine in a small cellar at the top of the Atlas Mountains.
Select the wines
Casey’s style of winemaking embraces the Californian sun, but also emphasizes freshness about power – a balance between daring and courage – especially when it comes to his wines from the Napa Valley, where Cabernet Sauvignon is produced.
As Casey admits, if he could set up a business with Syrah from a single vineyard, he would. His stay in Santa Barbara has certainly had a major impact. The Ballard Canyon Syrah 2018 is a medium ruby red colour with an elegant bouquet showing purple aromas; it offers the vibrancy of a lush fruit with some salty notes as it breathes. Not a spicy bouquet. Shows roundness and density in the mouth. Lingers with prolonged tannins – noticeable grip but no self-awareness. Also dark spicy notes – juicy and tasty. Casey noted that the bouquet is older, while the taste is more Californian. It’s easy to see what he means when you taste this wine.
Stringer Cellars 2019 June Mountain Vineyard Grenache comes from a site in the Fountain Grove area of Sonoma County (AVA, adjacent to the Napa Valley Spring Mountain District) near Calistoga Road in the hills before going to Santa Rosa. Quite windy terrain – these Albanian clone vines would only produce about 1/3 to 1/2 of the fruit per hectare to be replanted with Cabernet Sauvignon. 2019 is the last harvest for this vineyard. It has a ruby red colour with a pink-violet reflection on the rim – with a freshness and liveliness that immediately envelops the glass. Fresh notes of raspberry, strawberry and pine, as Casey noted. Red licorice is also very typical. Well balanced in its extreme youth with high acidity – the tannins are darker in nature – slightly earthy/dusty and linger with a slight grip and tones of cigar smoke and clear cherries. It’s nice to have a drink.
And the energy label is based on a painting by the Casey family commissioned by artist Tom Utteh (known for his works depicting the migration of wildlife through the forests of the north of the United States and southeastern Canada).
Casey tends to pick his Chardonnay a little early, and when it comes to this breed, he is not a big fan, especially of oaks. It is fermented both in new 500-litre punches and in neutral oak barrels. The wine undergoes complete malolactic fermentation, but a strain of malolactic lactic acid bacteria known to produce less diacetyl (a compound that leads to oily flavours and aromas) is used. From 2018 Stringer Cellars Linda Vista (Oak Knoll District) Chardonnay (clone 4) offers Stringer Cellars Linda Vista (Oak Knoll District) a delicious bouquet with ripe apple, vanilla, citrus and dark dessert herb aromas. Very balanced but not at all woody – the wine is carried by the clarity of the fruit and lingers on a light touch of oil at the end of the mouth. Got 12 months on it but not a stick.
Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018. (4% Petit Verdot) is a blend of grapes from different areas of the Napa Valley, including Stagecoach Vineyard, Rutherford, Oak Knoll District and Howell Mountain. The wine offers a bouquet of young fruit and young oak. It offers many ripe fruit flavours – it is also sometimes spicy with cedar aromas. The chalky tannins linger on dark spices, including cracked pepper and cedar. She still needs time to fully integrate. Affordable with a reasonable price-performance ratio.
The 2017 Stringer Cellar Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (2% Calistoga Petite Sirah) is a dark ruby red colour, with aromas of blackberries, red cherries, violets and some dark notes, including tobacco smoke. Characterized by long, earthy tannins with moderate adhesion to tobacco leaves. This wine certainly has the backbone to age for years – tasting it three years after its vintage, it is still a very young wine.
Stagecoach is a large vineyard – the fruits of this wine come from the northern part of the vineyard – near Pritchard Hill with soils similar to those of Pritchard Hill – volcanic, ferruginous red with many rocks. We have seen this type of soil spread to parts of the Atlas Mountains – through parts of the Kongsgaard vineyard. Aged in a combination of closed stainless steel barrels and cask – 80% new French oak.
And these aren’t the only vineyards Stringer calls wine – he also produces wine expressions from specific locations in Oak Hill and Mount Howell.
And the names and logos of the wines have been carefully and appropriately chosen. They reflect both Casey’s last name and her love for fishing (a stringer is a series of fish hanging on a line).
The total production of all wines is about 2,000 boxes per year (including some wines bottled under a second label, Metal Bender – in honor of the family business). The wine is selectively distributed in a number of states, including California, Texas, Illinois, North Carolina and Florida. Tastings are by appointment and always with Casey, either at the production site in Windsor or in a small cellar at Atlas Peak. For more information or to become a member of their wine club, please visit: www.stringercellars.com.