Stellareese Wine Company is a rare Napa Valley Gem April 10 2023
Stellareese Wine Company is a rare Napa Valley Gem
April 6, 2023
Born from equal parts entrepreneurial spirit and deep ties to the Napa Valley community, Stellareese wines are rare under-the-radar gems. They are the brainchild of Rachel Stellareese (Maib) Davies and her husband Geoffrey Davies, the winemaker for Revana Family Vineyard in St. Helena. Since 2007 the couple has crafted a few hundred cases of wine each year, sourcing grapes from tiny vineyards that are often overlooked by larger wineries.
“We wanted to make a wine on our own terms,” Rachel said. “Having grown up here (she in Calistoga and he in Angwin), we have access to some pretty amazing vineyards.”
The outcome? One of the finest Cabernet Sauvignons originating from the Calistoga AVA. Even so, as a result of the pandemic, numerous recent wildfires, skyrocketing costs and the inability to obtain insurance, like many owners of small family-owned businesses in the region, the Davieses have been forced to pause wine production since 2020.
“We lost our (Middletown) home to the 2015 wildfires and moved to Howell Mountain, but we’ve been threatened by fires there, too,” Rachel said.
But then it got even harder. The pandemic hit in early 2020 and was quickly followed by the Glass Fire, which devastated much of their new neighborhood. For five weeks the couple and their two young children were forced to evacuate just as harvest was in full swing.
“It’s hard to even remember that time,” she said. “Evacuating during a pandemic, trying to make wine just became an impossible task.”
To make matters even more challenging, because the entire region has been redefined as a high fire risk, insurance companies have raised prices or even stopped issuing coverage in the area, making insurance for small brands like Stellareese nearly impossible.
The golden spiral
On the label of each bottle of Stellareese is a rectangle containing various shades of red and a golden line that curves inward. Known as a golden spiral or the Fibonacci sequence, this geometric concept is well known to artists, architects, photographers, mathematicians and scientists.
Considered aesthetically pleasing to the human eye, nature is full of examples of these inwardly flowing spirals. From unfolding fern fronds, coiling snail shells, pattern-rich spider webs and even the corkscrew seed pattern of sunflowers or pinwheeling galaxies, each follows this logarithmic sequence.
Growing up in Calistoga, Rachel didn’t formally learn about the golden ratio, but as an aspiring artist, she was instinctually drawn to the idea. She had grown up in a creative family — her father rendering drawings for his construction business and her mother an excellent cook and entrepreneur. She had also traveled to the island nation of Malta — her grandfather, Paul Borg, was born there — where she fell in love with the architecture and intricate designs that decorated the buildings.
Unbeknownst to her at the time, Malta is well known for its use of the golden ratio in some of its most famous structures. For example, the Ħaġar Qim Temple — a prehistoric megalithic temple built between 3600 and 3200 B.C.E. — features several spirals that follow the golden ratio, including the shape of the central doorway and the pattern of the decorative carvings on the walls.
“As a kid, I loved sketching doorways or incorporating the designs I’d seen in Malta in just about everything,” she said.
For a while after high school, Rachel studied art at San Francisco’s Art Academy, where she was officially introduced to the golden spiral as both a mathematical concept and as an artistic tool.
“We had an assignment to plot shades of red within the golden spiral and that always stuck with me,” she said. “It blew my mind. And so when I started making wine myself in 2007, the symbol seemed a perfect representation — the patterns, the artistry, the nature of it all.”
The couple met in Calistoga at the Surfwood Saloon and married in 2004. At the time he worked as an arborist for a local tree company and Rachel — worked at the T-Vine Winery tasting room during the day and made her own wine on the side under the tutelage of the late Greg Brown. Her first vintage was 2007. When T-Vine was sold in 2009, Rachel found herself out of a job. They had two young children — River and Ruby — and exactly what the future held was unclear.
As she drove home that night, she wondered how she would break the news to her husband.
“I thought, do I mourn this or celebrate this?” she said.
When Geoff walked through the door that evening, she greeted him with a glass of champagne.
“The bad news is that I lost my job,” she told him, “but the good news is that I am going to start a new business.”
Beyond making wine, she also created a wine-sales company that would focus on selling small local family-made wines to restaurants and retail outlets throughout the Bay Area. It was a hit. Not only could she sell their own wines, but she also earned a commission from the sales of other such wines that resonated with clients looking for under-the-radar wines from the Napa Valley. Geoff, too, had become interested in making wine and began working under one of the region’s most revered winemakers, Thomas Brown.
Eventually Geoff took over the winemaking duties at Stellareese, but Rachel remains deeply involved, tasting and blending wines that make it into the final bottle. Beyond a growing family, another reason Rachel stepped back from the winemaking duties was that she launched another new business, Stellareese Napa Valley, a lifestyle brand of designer bags, totes, carry-on luggage and duffle bags.
“At first I made them so that I could carry around my wine,” she said, “but since then it’s really grown into something more.”
Today many of the stylish self-branded bags and totes found at local shops (Calistoga Depot, Papa Lou’s, Gary’s Wine Shop) and wineries (Opus One, Joseph Phelps, Miner) can trace their products back to Rachel and her team.
Stellareese makes three wines, and each one is of exceptional value. Most of the wines can be purchased at locally focused shops such as the Calistoga’s Wine Stop and Cal Mart, St. Helena’s Sunshine and The Saint and Backroom Wines in Napa. The wines are also available at restaurants such as Brasswood, Solbar and The French Laundry. Both wine and bags can be purchased from their website, www.stellareesewine.com.
The 2018 Marcey's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($55 a bottle, 250 cases) is made from grapes grown in a small Calistoga vineyard that is directly adjacent to the rock stream bed of the Napa River. Originating from one of the hottest regions of the valley, this wine is surprisingly well balanced. It is not overly ripe and heavy but instead has bright aromatics and flavors that tend toward black-raspberry mousse and pomegranate with hints of cinnamon-infused latte and grilled steak au poivre, which would pair perfectly.
The 2018 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($95 a bottle, 50 cases) is also made from grapes grown at Marcey’s Vineyard in Calistoga, but these grapes are sourced from the oldest vines and the wine is aged in 100% new French oak. With only two barrels produced per year, this wine is comparable to wines that are many multiples of its price point. Full of dark fruit, toasted coconut, Nicoise olive and smoked tamari, it completely fills the mouth with flavors and pleasingly silky tannins — a wonderful expression of the Napa Valley’s most northerly climes. Try this wine paired with fire-grilled duck breast served with fresh blackberries and wild rice tossed with oven-roasted carrots.
The 2018 Lucid Poet Grenache ($45 a bottle, 120 case) is sourced from rare hillside Grenache grapes grown in Sonoma’s Moon Mountain AVA. Whole-cluster fermented and aged in neutral French oak for 11 months, this wine bursts with aromas of cherry, cranberry, star anise and citrus zest. On the palate it is lively, fresh and has the added elements of blood orange and white pepper. Enjoy this wine with grilled vegetables that have been chilled and tossed with goat cheese, balsamic vinegar, chunky Maldon salt and fruity olive oil.
Because Stellareese does not have its own winery or tasting room, I met Rachael at The Saint tasting room and restaurant in downtown St. Helena. The venue seemed apropos. Built in the 1890s, the stone-walled building used to house the Bank of Saint Helena. A converted vault still remains deep within the interior, remaining cool even on the hottest days of the year with huge metal doors to keep its cargo safe.
“I am not really exactly sure what the future holds,” Rachel said, smiling as she twirled a ruby-red spiral of Cabernet Sauvignon in her glass.
“The 2018 will release soon,” she said. “It was an amazing vintage — there were no fires! And next year we’ll release the 2019, which is still aging. But after that… after that, we’ll just need to see. As some doors close, others always seem to open.”