Rollie Heitz was measuring his cellar – he had about four more inches of room along the left wall and another eighteen inches in depth and was trying to figure out just how best he might use that extra space. “Since I’m paying for it, I might as well try and use ever bit of room I can,” he said with a crafty twinkle in his eyes. Rollie was showing us his new winemaking facility on Sage Canyon Road, about two tenths of a mile off the Silverado Trail – in the old Limur winery – where he was currently making wine under his Midsummer Cellars label. Once off the Trail at 771 Sage Canyon Road, those with quick eyes will catch sight of the small sign at the roadside on the right identifying the entrance. “I wanted to have a bigger sign out front,” Rollie explained, “using a full sheet of plywood, but I couldn’t get permission. Then I proposed half a sheet . . . I ended up with sign measuring two feet by three feet.” Which was apropos, since the Midsummer Cellars winery was probably the smallest winery in Napa Valley, every bit of a thousand square feet tops and with a ceiling height of barely seven feet. That was why all the measuring. “I could get another ten gallons, if I could purchase larger barrels that still fit in the same sized barrel racks,” Rollie calculated. With the tight overhead most wineries have to contend with (no pun intended), it was no wonder Rollie had out the measuring tape. “Now, if barrel coopers would start make barrels six inches around and four feet long, then I might slide a couple more underneath along the walls,” Rollie joked, and I laughed along with him about the newly discovered business model for barrel coopers – oddly shaped barrels for tight cellars – square ones, and triangular ones, and tall narrow ones, and long skinny ones shaped like torpedoes.
But don’t think for a moment that the wines are small coming from this winery, especially the 2004 Midsummer Cellar’s Cañon Creek Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which Rollie poured for me over lunch. We were having carnitas burritos and gourmet chocolate brownies at a small outdoor table next to the winery under what Rollie informed me was one of the oldest Valley Oak trees in the area. The tree, clearly old and massive, with limbs reaching out above our heads thicker than most tree trunks you might happen to see, looked more like something created in a Hollywood special effects shop for another The Lord of the Rings movie than a real living thing. Rollie informed me that for a long time the massive tree was a corner marker for the area. It had been significantly old enough a couple hundred years ago to be chosen for that purpose when George Yount was still exploring the Valley (the town of Yountville was later named after him).
The Cabernet Sauvignon was obviously amazing – obviously because Rollie put in eighteen plus years working for his families’ legendary Heitz Cellars winery when he was younger – that was before branching out on his own with his Midsummer Cellars label – and also obviously because his perfume-laden wine was going so amazingly well with carnitas burritos of all things. Rollie just smiled knowingly as I helped myself to another glass. You always know when you’re drinking a wine of extraordinary quality when you have to hold back the primitive impulse to shove everybody to the ground and hog the entire bottle for yourself.
The 2004 Midsummer Cellars Cañon Creek Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon retails for $48 with just over three hundred cases made, and Napa Cabs this good usually go for three times this much. Rollie just shrugs when I point this out. Maybe if he can figure out that barrel space dilemma there might be a few cases more for those lucky enough to get their hands on some. Hey, no shoving!
If you’re in the area, and would to like to visit Rollie and the giant Valley Oak at Midsummer Cellars, please call to make an appointment. Contact Rollie Heitz by phone at (707) 967-0432, or visit his web page at www.midsummercellars.com.