Rudy Von Strasser has been making his own wine in the Napa Valley since 1990, focusing exclusively on cabernet sauvignon from the Diamond Mountain AVA.
In fact, he led a two-year movement that forged consensus and completed the process for a 1998 AVA designation for the district.
With over 25 years experience making cabernet sauvignon at the same location, Rudy sought change. He wanted to diversify his palate of wines and begin to explore regions outside of the Napa Valley.
In 2017, Von Strasser sold his Diamond Mountain facility, purchased the Lava Vine Winery in Calistoga, moved his operation and began to shoulder new challenges. Lava Vine had focused on varietals other than cabernet sauvignon and his initial priority is to continue that format while elevating the label.
Prior to developing the familiar Von Strasser label, Rudy Von Strasser graduated from the enology program at UC Davis and became the first U.S. intern for Chateau Lafitte Rothschild.
After a stint at Trefethen Winery in the valley, Rudy and his wife Rita took the bold step in 1990 to purchase the old Roddis Estate Winery and Von Strasser Wines was born.
Now is their time to begin again, although Rudy will continue to produce his familiar single-vineyard cabernet sauvignon. He seemed excited as we sat in his Calistoga tasting room one morning with Huckleberry, the official winery pup, to taste some new releases of Von Strasser 2.0.
It began with a 2016 Lava Vine Gruner Veltliner ($30) from a one-acre vineyard on Diamond Mountain. Whole-cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, this is a crisp wine with pungent aromas of green apples, citrus and stone fruit flavors and a soft minerality that makes it food-friendly.
As Gruner Veltliner originates from Austria, verdelho is a popular white varietal from Portugal. The 2016 Lava Vine Verdelho ($30) is sourced from a Suisun Valley vineyard and fermented in all stainless steel, resulting in a zesty summer wine with a healthy acidity.
Admittedly partial to grenache, the 2014 Lava Vine Napa Valley Grenache ($45) stood out among the new varietal releases. Aromatic baked fruit and blueberries on the nose were followed by deep, complex flavors of strawberry, spice and roasted nuts throughout the finish.
It would have been hard to leave without tasting some of Rudy’s noted cabernet sauvignon and cabernet blend releases.
He obliged with three including the 2012 Von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignon Post Vineyard ($80) from a site first planted in 1992. Malbec (10 percent) and petit verdot (5 percent) were added and the blend aged two years in 50 percent new oak. These wines are all about the stock, local Diamond Mountain terroir and Von Strasser’s not so secret weapon: his palate. With musk and forest floor aromas followed by acute black cherry and spice flavors, “Post” is consistently one of the highest rated Von Strasser wines.
Using root stock from Martha’s Vineyard, first planted on Diamond Mountain in 1968, the 2012 Von Strasser Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($80), also with added malbec and petit verdot, delivers a rich mouthfeel, solid tannins and flavors of dark fruit and espresso.
The final wine was a unique red blend from the high elevation Sori Bricco Vineyard owned by Lindy Johnson (who was described as a midwife from Berkeley). An equal blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec and petit verdot with a hint of merlot, the 2012 Von Strasser Sori Bricco Vineyard Red Wine ($80) was dominated by layered savory flavors including mushroom, black pepper, spice and coffee. The vineyard name translates to “sunny hillside” and the site is synonymous with lush fruit.
It should be noted that Von Strasser is beginning to experiment with pinot noir and has secured partnerships in the prestigious Santa Rita Hills and Santa Lucia Highlands appellations.
I was impressed with the Von Strasser palate of wines, new and old. The future will certainly produce exciting releases that can be tasted at the remodeled tasting room on the Silverado Trail near Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga. The new facility is also commercially zoned for dinners and musical events that should add to the appeal of the fine wines.
I plan to keep an open eye on the continuing diversification of the Von Strasser family of wines.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at email@example.com.