Winemaker extraordinaire Celia Welch
Celia Welch is found on any list of Napa Valley’s top winemakers. Her resume includes some of the most iconic names in the industry: Scarecrow (voted #1 wine in the world), Staglin, Kelly Fleming, Keever Vineyards, Hollywood and Vine, and her own small label, Corra. Welch specializes in consulting for ultra-premium wineries. She’s respected for her attention to detail and uncompromising standards.
These days Welch concentrates her talents on Yount Ridge Cellars. It’s a relatively new label, and its wines all emanate from a vineyard that lies at Napa Valley’s mid-point in Oakville, adjacent to Cardinale and across Highway 29 from Far Niente – a coveted spot that stretches from the highway to the Napa River. Yount Ridge’s 25 acres of organically farmed vineyards produce Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot and a small amount of Petit Verdot.
While Yount Ridge’s first commercial release was the 2014 vintage, Welch has been making wine for its owners since 2006.
“Celia has been working for years on the vineyard,” said Yount Ridge spokesperson Laura Madonna. Yount Ridge is surrounded in mystery.
“Nobody really knows about this vineyard. The gentleman that owns it is a venture capitalist. Celia worked closely with him ever since he bought the property.” For more than a decade, few people tasted the results of Welch’s work. “They privately bottled all the wines,” Madonna said. “Often, these wines were sold at auctions. The money raised from selling the wines helped restore the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. So over the years the wine achieved this secretive, cult-like reputation. The wine was excellent, but impossible for most people to buy.”
Though it’s now easier to purchase, Yount Ridge’s four releases have retained their cult status. The winery produces only about 1,000 cases per year in total, and it offers only four wines (prices are for their most recent vintages): a Sauvignon Blanc ($38), a proprietary red blend ($98), a Cabernet Sauvignon ($96), and a flagship Cabernet called Epic ($240).
Those price tags might make the average wine buyer blink, but Madonna maintains that they’re reasonable, considering the location of the vineyard and the reputation of the winemaker. “I think that these are quite approachable prices for the caliber and style of wine we’re making.”
Madonna pointed out that there’s a healthy market for Scarecrow’s wine, even at prices that approach $700 per bottle. “Our winery offers a unique opportunity to obtain a wine made by Celia. If you can get a wine that she’s made under another label it means that you’ve probably waited a long time and paid a lot of money. Yount Ridge offers a way to bring more people into the fold who are curious about her wine.”
Madonna likes treating Yount Ridge visitors to something that most newish wineries can’t offer: a vertical tasting. “Although we weren’t selling to the public at the beginning, we have some library wines that go back to 2006. Thus, we can do a nice vertical of the proprietary blend, for example. It’s a fascinating road map that traces the changes from year to year and the differing amounts of Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot that Celia used.”
“Celia really loves this vineyard. She has been able to develop it exactly the way she wanted to. The vineyard is now certified as organically farmed.”