From Grape to Glass at the McKenzie-Mueller Winery – it’s Harvest

Under the blazing August sun, a bulky bin overflowing with freshly picked Pinot Noir grapes gets hoisted by a forklift. A man grasping a pitchfork then loads the purple fruit into a fermentation tank. The aromatically sweet notes of grape juice and the rumble of working equipment fill the air. This is harvest at the McKenzie-Mueller Winery.

Winemaker and owner, Bob Mueller orchestrates the production with quick hand gestures and head nods. Decades of experience gleams through his reserved composure and modest attire. “Do you want to try some wine?” Bob asks.. We retreat to the seclusion of his wine cellar.

A veteran in Napa’s wine community, Bob cut his teeth under the tutelage of the Robert Mondavi family starting in 1974. “I called it the ‘University of Mondavi’ because it was very good hands-on experience,” he said. “I worked my way through production and eventually to become the Director of Enology.”

His rich experience has paid off with his own boutique label, the McKenzie-Mueller Winery. Wine and Spirits Magazine awarded

McKenzie-Mueller the ‘Estate Winery of the Year’ in 2000. The awards have been flowing in ever since.

Bob and I enter his cellar and tasting room. A foldout table showcased various ribbons, plaques and unopened bottles wearing medals around their necks. Amidst the stacked oak barrels and grape-filled vats, we journey through his current vintages.

The tasting begins with the 2004 Los Carneros Pinot Grigio. This white wine breathes crisp honeysuckle and nectarine fruit. Aged in stainless steel, it finishes with clean acidity and great minerality.

We then sample the 2005 McKenzie Clan Rosé . This Cabernet Franc-based Rosé is elegantly dry with a unique scent of rhubarb and lingers with notes of bright red berry. The 2004 Pinot Noir, their largest production, really stands out with a bouquet of wild strawberry, flavors of cranberry and spicy tannins. “This Pinot will handle some aging,” Bob says with confidence. We make our way to the 2003 Cabernet Franc. This classic Bordeaux wine hit my nostrils before bringing up the glass and embraced the palate with gobs of dark cherry and chewy tannins. “I like building, developing and making wines that reflect the soil,” he adds.

“I’ve traveled to some parts of the world,” he reflected. “This is one of the most beautiful places,” Bob remarks, referring to the Carneros region of Napa where he owns fifty acres of pristine estate vineyard. “When we moved here, it just had cattle on it. We planted the vineyard and developed it from scratch,” he continues. Founded in 1989 with his wife Karen McKenzie, the McKenzie-Mueller Winery produces approximately 2,500 cases annually. “As a vineyard matures, it gets better. Also, the person working with it understands more about how to get out it what they want,” Bob states. “People see a bottle on the shelf and aren’t seeing where it comes from. We want to bring it back to the source. It starts in the soil, the vineyard and we take them through the process,” he adds.

Soon, an employee starts the forklift and Bob then guides a large vat of Pinot Noir grapes into the cellar with a pallet jack. It’s back to harvest at McKenzie-Mueller.

By James Claus
© 2008, Artisan Wine Tours, LLC