Blackbird Vineyards

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Blackbird Vineyards
Blackbird Vineyards Logo.jpg
Location Napa, California, United States
Appellation Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA
Founded 1995
First vines planted 1996
First vintage 2003
Key people Aubrey Dean Jenkins and Michael James Hastings - Founders
Michael Polenske - Owner
Paul Leary - President
Aaron Pott - Winemaker
Cases/yr 7,500
Varietals Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon
Distribution International
Tasting Public

Blackbird Vineyards is a Napa Valley based winery that was founded by Aubrey Dean Jenkins and Michael James Hastings in 1995. It is now part of the Bespoke Collection. Current owner, Michael Polenske, wanted to create a winery that focused on producing wines from Merlot grapes, which fits with the name "Blackbird", as merlot means "young blackbird", in French patois.[1][2] Blackbird Vineyards creates wines inspired by the Pomerol area of France.[3] Winery president Paul Leary describes the wines as "California Bordeaux" wines.[2]


In 1995 Mr. Aubrey Dean Jenkins and Mr. Michael James Hastings purchased 10 acres of land in the heart of Napa Valley from John and Janet Trefethen of the Trefethen Vineyards.[4]. Growing on the land at the time of purchase were a few old Pinot Noir grape vines that Trefethen Vineyards.[4] used for blending, but most of the remaining land was a Black Walnut orchard.

Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hastings first moved to the Napa Valley in June 1979. They raised horses at their Napa Valley home and ranch (“Elderado”). During that time they had met and befriended many vintners and winery owners in Napa Valley, such as John and Janet Trefethen and Andre Tchelistcheff (foremost wine maker and neighbor). They liked the idea of starting their own vineyard. They had never owned or operated a vineyard, so they were true beginners starting from scratch. Regardless, they eventually made their dream vineyard come true when they founded “Blackbird Vineyards.”

The first name and label chosen for the new vineyard was “Corazon Vineyards.” The name was derived from the fact that their vineyard was located in the heart of Napa Valley; hence, the Spanish name for heart “corazon” seemed appropriate. They created signage and did a limited bottling under that name. About a year later, they changed the vineyard name and label to “Blackbird Vineyard”, because the already established Corison Winery felt the “Corazon” name infringed on “Corison.” The inspiration for choosing the new name “Blackbird Vineyard” came from the swooping flocks of black Starlings that came every year over Napa Valley. The actual name “Merlot” refers to the blackbird, which is thought to be a diminutive of merle, the French name for the blackbird; probably a reference to the dark blue color of the grape.

Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hastings worked in the vineyard morning till night. They also renovated two homes on the property while establishing the vineyard. They lived in the main house and rented out the renovated Victorian home. Mr. Hastings also went to Vintner school at Napa Jr. College to become a knowledgeable grower. To ready the land, the old vines and Walnut trees were removed in 1996 and the soil was tilled with extra deep excavating equipment. After excavation, all of the land was covered and fumigated to kill all nematodes. After the soil was prepared they laid out the vineyard’s orientation and established two watering systems. One watering system was for drip watering and the other was for overhead sprinklers for frost protection. Next, came the trellising and end-post supports. As an innovation, Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hastings installed electronic sensors to monitor the minerals and moisture content of the soil. In the fall of 1996, they selected and planted their Merlot root stock and clone (110RClone3) after consultation with Mr. Tony Baldini. Mr. Baldini had farmed the property for many years when owned by the Trefethen family. He believed in planting the right variety (and even clone) to match the soils and condition. Thus, it was Mr. Baldini’s sage advice that led to the final choice of vines. Steve Baldini, Tony’s son, was the vineyard manager. Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hastings were also very lucky to have the ongoing vineyard management interests of Mia Klein of Selene Wines.

The vines had to mature for three years before producing a suitable and robust harvest. The first crop was harvested in 1999 and was sold to Mia Klein of Selene Wines. Mia Klein used Blackbird Vineyard to create her 1999 Selene Merlot . The June 2002 issue of “Wine and Spirits” magazine named Mia Klein’s 1999 Selene Label, Blackbird Vineyards, one of the ten best. The first private bottling under the “Blackbird Vineyard” label was in 2000. Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hastings only crushed, fermented, and aged a few cases of that year’s grapes for personal use. The first private labels created were very simple and had only the basic information (i.e., year, variety, and percent alcohol content). The original Blackbird Vineyard label was designed by Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hastings and based on the signage at the vineyard. It depicted a white latticed background with a single blackbird feather sitting on top of the “Blackbird Vineyard” banner. From 1999 to 2001 they sold the Blackbird Vineyard grape harvest to Mia Klein. After 2001, they sold their harvests to other Napa Valley area wineries, including Duckhorn. In 2011, Oprah Winfrey picked “Blackbird Vineyards” as one of her favorites. The January 2011 issue of “O Magazine“ says that Oprah Winfrey's favorite winery would be Blackbird Vineyards, a new winery whose first vintage wine was 2003.

In October 2004, after 9 years of hard work creating Blackbird Vineyards from scratch and establishing its highly regarded reputation, Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Hastings sold Blackbird Vineyards to Michael Polenske.[4]

Michael Polenske left his career in finance and focused on creating a wine label and a lifestyle brand that would eventually become the Bespoke Collection; Blackbird is part of that collection.[2][5] In 2006, Paul Leary became president of the label.[6] Blackbird Vineyards partnered with country singer Martina McBride to release an exclusive wine in 2009.[7][8] Blackbird Vineyards wine has been served at events for Chanel and the High Museum.[9][10]

Blackbird Vineyards sells their wines online and at Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley, a wine, art and design gallery in Yountville, California. They also have a wine club called BlackMail.[11]


The current wine labels have flocks of blackbirds on them in different positions and layouts.[1] The label was designed by California designer David Hughes and Michael Polenske. Hughes had designed logos for other companies such as French Laundry and the Sundance Film Festival.[12] Blackbird's proprietary red wine blend, Arise, features blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire in the same layout as the starting notes in the Beatles' song "Blackbird".[1]

Wine production[edit]

Blackbird Vineyards has a ten-acre estate vineyard in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley AVA.[1] The vineyard was originally a walnut orchard until it was planted with 5,717 Merlot vines in 1996.[1][3] The first crop was harvested in 1999 and was sold to Mia Klein of Selene Wines. Mia Klein used Blackbird Vineyard to create her 1999 Selene Merlot.[1] The first bottling under the new Blackbird Vineyard label was a 2003 Merlot, made by Sarah Gott.[5] They produced 90 cases that vintage and it was only sold to private buyers.[2][5] While the estate vineyard produces only Merlot, Blackbird Vineyards also sources Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon for blending.[2] They also make a Rosé and four proprietary red wines from those varietals.[1][13] Five different wines make up the collection.[1] Materials discarded from harvesting and winemaking, such as stems and vegetation, are made into compost and used in the vineyards.[3] The vineyard is designated Fish Friendly Farming land.[14] Grapes are often sorted two or three times to select the best fruit. The winery uses native yeast during the fermentation process. They use 100-percent French oak barrels in the winemaking and aging processes.[3] The vineyard is managed by Renteria Vineyard Management.[15] Aaron Pott continues as winemaker.[1][16]


The Merlot used in Blackbirds' wines comes primarily from their estate vineyard in the Oak Knoll District. Blackbird wines are made in the style of the Merlot-based wines of Pomerol, France, especially because of the similarity of the Pomerol and Oak Knoll district.[3] They also make Merlot wine using grapes from Hudson Vineyards in the Carneros AVA and Stagecoach Vineyard in the Napa Valley AVA.[14] Their Cabernet Franc grapes come from Stagecoach Vineyard, Hudson Vineyard, and Crocker & Starr vineyard, the latter which is located in St. Helena, California.[14][17] Blackbirds' Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are sourced from Hudson Vineyard.[17]


Blackbird Vineyards makes red wines blended with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

Blackbird Vineyard wines (l-r): Arriviste, Arise, Illustration, Paramour, Contrarian


Blackbird Vineyard also makes rosé wine called Arriviste. Arriviste is a blend of Blackbird's three signature grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.[17][18] It pulls inspiration from the gypsies that winemaker Aaron Pott interacted with when living in the Saint-Émilion area of France.[17] The wine is harvested in autumn and uses the saignée method during the winemaking process. It then undergoes a cold fermentation process for six weeks.[17] After sitting in cold storage, it is bottled 4–6 months after the grapes are harvested.[2][17]


One red blend is called Arise. The name is taken from the Beatles' song "Blackbird". Arise is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. The label features nine blackbirds on a telephone wire in the position of the starting notes the Beatles' song.[1] Arise uses primarily Merlot grapes, rounded out with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It's harvested in the autumn and released two years later after being aged in half-seasoned and half-new French Oak barrels for 21 months.[19]


Illustration is primarily a Merlot wine, using a majority of Merlot grapes, followed by Cabernet Franc and a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon. It's inspired by Pétrus wines. Like other wines under the Blackbird label, it is aged for 21 months in French oak barrels that are majority new and only 25 percent seasoned. Illustration is considered the "heart" of the label's wines, being majority Merlot and heavily inspired by Pomerol-style wines.[20] It was the only red wine served at the Vanity Fair Oscars party in 2007.[21]


Blackbirds' Paramour wine is inspired by wines from Château Cheval Blanc.[2] Year to year it focuses more on Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with a smaller amount of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It is aged for 21 months in French oak barrels after being harvested in October. The barrels are 75 percent new and 25 percent seasoned, the same as the Contrarian and Illustration.[22]


Contrarian is a red blend with a stronger focus on Cabernet Franc, which is often the main grape in the blend, followed by Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The style is in the vein of Château Troplong Mondot and Château Figeac wines. It is harvested in October and released in the spring after fermenting for 21 months in 75 percent new and 25 percent seasoned French oak barrels.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ell, Kellie (November 2012). "Blackbird Vineyards". Nob Hill Gazette. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Pio de Roda III, Alfredo Z. (July 2011). "Fine as French" (PDF). Metro Society. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "The Blackbird Story". History. Blackbird Vineyards. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  4. ^ "Art and Wine" (PDF). Gentry: 76–79. June 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c Sardar, Zahid (May 2010). "From city to rusticity" (PDF). Rosewood Magazine: 78–80. 
  6. ^ McCoy, Elin. "Chinese Wine Lovers Go Californian as Taste Widens". News. Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  7. ^ Ayers, Will (3 August 2009). "Country stars take a shine to winemaking". The Tennessean. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  8. ^ "Blackbird Vineyards announces the debut of the..." News. Martina McBride. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Lawrence, Jeanne. "Chanel unveils newly-redesigned flagship in Beverly Hills". L.A. Social Diary. New York Social Diary. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  10. ^ "High Museum Wine Auction". Our latest news. Owens Dining Group. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  11. ^ "BlackMail". Bespoke Membership. Bespoke Collection. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  12. ^ "Blackbird Vineyards - Napa Valley". Diamond Series. Gold Medal Wine Club. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  13. ^ "Buy, Buy Blackbird..." Bespoke Collection. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  14. ^ a b c "The Vineyards". The Blackbird Story. Blackbird Vineyards. Archived from the original on 29 January 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  15. ^ Williams, Bridget (16 April 2010). "The Business of Leisure" (PDF). Sophisticated Living: 86–93. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  16. ^ Isle, Ray. "Winemakers of the Year: 2012". Food & Wine. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  17. ^ a b c d e f "2011 Arriviste". The Wine Portfolio. Blackbird Vineyards. Archived from the original on 31 August 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  18. ^ Narasin, Ben. "Wine of the Week: Some Rosés Well Worth Your Time, Money, and Attention". Wine. SF Weekly. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  19. ^ "2010 Arise". The Wine Portfolio. Blackbird Vineyards. Archived from the original on 15 January 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  20. ^ "2009 Illustration". The Wine Portfolio. Blackbird Vineyards. Archived from the original on 14 November 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  21. ^ Behbehani, Mandy (January 2010). "Second career takes flight - as Napa vintr" (PDF). San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 16 December 2012. 
  22. ^ "2009 Paramour". The Wine Portfolio. Blackbird Vineyards. Archived from the original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  23. ^ "2009 Contrarian". The Wine Portfolio. Blackbird Vineyards. Archived from the original on 14 October 2012. Retrieved 19 December 2012. 

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