Burgess Cellars

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Burgess Cellars
Location Deer Park, California, USA
Coordinates 38°33′26″N 122°28′29″W / 38.5571°N 122.4748°W / 38.5571; -122.4748Coordinates: 38°33′26″N 122°28′29″W / 38.5571°N 122.4748°W / 38.5571; -122.4748
Appellation Napa Valley AVA
Founded 1972[1]
First vintage 1972[2]
Key people Tom Burgess, Founder[3]
Kelly Woods, Winemaker[4]
Steve Burgess, Vintner[5]
Cases/yr 12,000[6]
Known for Burgess Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
Varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, Malbec, Grenache, Rosé
Distribution National
Tasting By Appointment
Website www.burgesscellars.com

Burgess Cellars is a historic California wine producer in Napa Valley on the hillsides of Howell Mountain.[3] It was founded in 1972 by Tom Burgess[1] on a hillside vineyard and winery, and has been continuously family owned and operated. It is run by the second generation of the Burgess family and includes 65 acres across its two estate vineyards,[4] which are at elevations of 800 to 1,000 feet (240 to 300 m).[7]


Burgess Cellars from the air.

Burgess Cellars showcases its two estate vineyards on Howell Mountain, with a hillside terroir representing only 4% of Napa acreage. For much of Burgess Cellars history Cabernet Sauvignon has been the flagship grape since Burgess Cellars' inception in 1972. Today, they craft an estate and a reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, and also single-vineyard, single-block bottlings of Petite Sirah, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and an intentionally farmed rosé of Syrah. They also craft a single-vineyard Chardonnay with fruit purchased from the Balletto family of grape growers in Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.[8]

Library selection[edit]

45-year old Library Program wines shared at Burgess Cellars.

A library selection, with every vintage from 1979 on, is available in the tasting room. Few wineries maintain a library selection on the scale of Burgess Cellars Library Program. Tom Burgess started putting aside wines in 1980. He initially held back about 15% of a vintage, between 500 and 1000 cases, which was released a decade later in 1990. Burgess wanted people to have the opportunity, as he had in Europe, to taste how beautiful wine can become with age. Selections in Burgess Cellars Library Program are stored in conditions to protect the provenance of the wines until release.[9]

Mountainside terroir[edit]

There are several components that make up the terroir of Burgess Cellars two estate vineyard, Winery Ranch Vineyard and Haymaker Vineyard, both on Howell Mountain in Upper Napa Valley. Burgess Cellars is at 1,000 feet above the valley floor and therefore the vineyards are not affected by the fog that moves up and down the floor of Napa Valley. These factors ensure longer growing days with greater exposure to sunlight. This, coupled with overall cooler daytime temperatures, allows the grapes to attain full maturity and ensure the flavors and colors are maximized.

Harvest on the mountainside estate vineyard at Burgess Cellars.

Some 4 million years ago, Napa Valley underwent a long episode of volcanic activity, which created the primary soil, the Konocti Series, which is composed of volcanic ash studded with hard stones. Many of the structures at Burgess Cellars are built from ancient rocks hewn from the hillsides. Grapevines in these soils develop strong root systems to dig deeply into the rocky, nutrient-poor environment. This struggle, along with efficient drainage, results in a mountain terroir that is reflected in the unique qualities that mountain grapes exhibit versus valley floor equivalent varieties. Burgess Cellars hillside grapes tend to be smaller, with more concentrated flavors and tannins, varietal intensity and excellent aging properties.


Early history[edit]

Curated Wall at Burgess.jpg

Burgess Cellars’ history starts in the 1870s, when Italian brothers Carlo and Fulgenzio Rossini planted grapes on a western facing mountainside, with views of a valley below and access to an unpaved county road up Howell Mountain. This is today’s Winery Ranch Vineyard, and it was soon sold to Giovanni and Elva Poncetta, Italian Swiss immigrants with dreams of operating a mountainside property, a goal attainable in Napa Valley’s burgeoning 19th-century wine industry. The Poncettas built a gravity flow winery in the 1890s, which still stands in operation as the oldest section of Burgess Cellars’ winery.

After Prohibition[edit]

Prohibition saw the mountainside's grapevines pulled out for cattle ranching, and cattle roamed freely for 21 years. Lee Stewart bought the thirty acres and old winery in 1943, restoring the property and naming his winery Souverain. The mountainside won Souverain many awards and was the first job of two of Napa’s greats, Warren Winiarski (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars) and Mike Grgich (Chateau Montelena, Grgich Hills Estate), who both went on to craft the winners at the 1976 Judgment of Paris.

Tom Burgess[edit]

Founder Tom Burgess, and today's President Steven Burgess and vineyard manager James Burgess

Burgess Cellars has been family-owned and creating wines since 1972 on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley.

When the founder Tom Burgess purchased the 1870’s-era winery in 1972, he established himself as a pioneer of mountain side wineries. At the time, there were approximately two dozen wineries in operation in Napa Valley, and he saw the potential of mountain vineyards to produce wines that evoke the French concept of terroir: that the grapes, and thus wines, should reflect the vineyard’s soil, exposure, and overall micro-climate.

Kelly Woods[edit]

Winemaker Kelly Woods

Kelly Woods marks her five year anniversary as winemaker of Burgess Cellars this month. When she drove up the Howell Mountain hillside in January of 2013, she became just the second winemaker in the history of this 45-year old property and ushered in a renaissance in winemaking.

Woods calls her career a happy accident. Not wine but veterinarian studies led this Central Coast native to enroll in the University of California at Davis. When her childhood ambitions faded, she found herself in an institution with the premiere program for Viticulture and Enology. A career was born. Woods graduated and found a first position with Seavey Vineyards, which was an entree into family ownership and hillside vineyards. There, she fell in love with mountain fruit and the complexities of that terroir. Positions in New Zealand, Bryant Family and Sequoia Grove soon had Woods feeling ready for a head winemaker role.

At this time, owner Steven Burgess was months into an exhausting winemaker search. He’d taken over from his father Tom Burgess, who founded the winery in 1972, and needed to replace the first and only winemaker, retiring after 41 vintages. In the midst of 130 applicants Woods emerged, and became Burgess Cellars’ second winemaker.

Woods walked into day one as winemaker to an enormous undertaking. She had to rapidly understand what had been done in four decades, learn the vineyards and their individuals blocks, the wines and the winery operations. She conquered the 2012s without delay, already picked, fermented and barreled down by her predecessor, and made her first mark with blending and final decisions.

A renaissance best describes what Woods has ushered in since day one. She’s brought innovations to harvest, fermentation and aging protocols, with the support of a vineyard and cellar team willing to take a chance on her vision. Replacing 2-ton gondolas with half-ton macro bins, performing detailed barrel trials, and soon bringing in smaller fermentation tanks are all small changes that have made a big impact on the wine.

The first growing season under Woods’ full direction, 2013, demonstrates this impact. She’ll admit she got lucky, as crop loads were up, quality was exceptional and the harvest went off without a hitch. After years of waiting through barrel and bottle aging, her 2013s released this year to critical acclaim, scoring 92 Robert Parker and 92+ Vinous.

Woods continues to craft one high quality vintage after another, but her greatest accomplishment is the creation of the Mountaineer Red Blend - 45% Syrah, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Petit Verdot. While Burgess Cellars is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Woods wanted to be creative and show her craft in producing a balanced, expressive wine that showcased the other estate varieties. This debut vintage scored 92 Wine Spectator. Today, she has her eye on new vineyard blocks, like Zinfandel, in developing the Mountaineer into the future.

After five years, many curveballs from Mother Nature and a host of innovations, Woods can reflect on her part of the Burgess Cellars renaissance. She frequently discusses her work and speaks directly to fans in the winery’s original YouTube series “On the Mountainside”.

Tours & tastings[edit]

Mountainside Tasting Room at Burgess Cellars.

At almost 1000 feet, far over the valley floor, a visit to Burgess includes a panoramic vista that offers real perspective on the Napa Valley. One can see the length of the Mayacamas range, from Calistoga to the hills beyond Napa.[10]

Cheers in the Mountainside Tasting Room.

"Mountainside Tasting"

Allow 90 minutes for this experience.

Library wines and the best seat in the house await you in this elevated experience! This seated semi-private tasting takes place in our Mountainside Tasting Room with panoramic vistas of Napa Valley. Your group will experience the best of our terroir with selections from our 45-year Burgess Cellars Library Program, small production rare wines and current releases. We’ll share our unique viticulture and wine program innovations while looking on the grapevines of our home vineyard below.

Reservations required. Offered Monday - Saturday: 10 am, 2 pm $60 per person. (YOUR PRICE: $45 Friends of Club Members.)

In the Cellar Tasting Room.

"Tasting in the Cellar"

Allow 60 minutes for this experience.

Our classic tasting experience brings you right into our Cellar Tasting Room, an active barrel room where founder Tom Burgess first started hosting early Napa Valley vistors years ago. Surrounded by cellaring wine, our friendly hospitality team presents wines from our current release selections. Your group will learn of our rich history as well as our current innovations and second generation team, while perusing a display of vintage bottles and a museum wall constructed from our retired wine barrels.

Reservations required Offered Daily: 10 am, 11:30 am, 1 pm, and 2:30 pm. $30 per person. One tasting fee waived per three bottles purchased.


  1. ^ a b "Burgess Cellars - Unique Story". Archived from the original on 2012-04-02. Retrieved 2012-06-09. 
  2. ^ Scott Cherry (March 12, 2003). "World of wines: Burgess Cellars a well-kept secret in shops". Tulsa World. p. D6. 
  3. ^ a b Jordan Mackay (December 11, 2009). "Cellared wine as a window to the past". New York Times. p. 33B. 
  4. ^ a b Marla Ridenour (October 19, 2003). "Napa by way of Akron". Akron Beacon Journal. p. A1. 
  5. ^ "Burgess Cellars - Bios". Retrieved 2012-06-10. 
  6. ^ Steve Heimoff (February 1, 2012). "Napa Valley Cabernet Class of '72". Wine Enthusiast. Archived from the original on July 2, 2012. 
  7. ^ Peg Melnik (November 2, 2010). "Decade in the making". The Press Democrat. 
  8. ^ "Burgess Cellars - Wines". shop.burgesscellars.com. Retrieved 2017-04-17. 
  9. ^ Mackay, Jordan (2009-12-10). "The Gift of Cellared Wine Offers a Window to the Past". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-04-17. 
  10. ^ "Contact Us – Burgess Cellars". burgesscellars.com. Retrieved 2017-04-17. 

External links[edit]