Sommelier-beloved Chardonnay with a valley-view chaser.
Oaks, Douglas firs, and other trees line the narrow road north of downtown St. Helena that winds west from Highway 29 through parts of two state parks up to Stony Hill Vineyard. Fred and Eleanor McCrea, who purchased this former goat farm on the eastern slope of Spring Mountain during World War II, first planted grapes here in 1948.
Most of the vineyard blocks face north or east. During the summer, shade from the mountain comes early in the afternoon in some spots, making the setting a natural for the cultivation of white grapes like Chardonnay, Riesling (shown in lead photo), and Gerwürztraminer. Some Riesling vines planted in the 1940s, now thick and gnarly, continue to produce grapes for Stony Hill’s refreshing White Riesling.
Old World, Low Tech
As good as the White Riesling is, Stony Hill’s mineral-driven, sommelier-beloved Chardonnay sealed the winery’s reputation. Fred McCrea and, from 1977 through 2018, his successor, Mike Chelini, crafted these two whites, plus Gewürztraminer and a Semillon dessert wine, in a small, atmospheric winery equipped with oak barrels dating back to the 1960s. Jaimee Motley became the current winemaker following the winery’s purchase in late 2020 by a group focused on legacy wineries (other Napa Valley holdings include Heitz Cellar and Burgess Cellars). In good weather, a tasting on a stone terrace with views east across the Napa Valley to Howell Mountain follows the brief tour. Tastings often include an older Chardonnay in addition to the current release. Many guests are surprised to learn – and taste – how well Stony Hill’s white wines age.
Tip: Syrah is among the reds made here over the years, with Cabernet Sauvignon a 21st-century addition. The Cabernet is made in a lighter style than many of its Napa peers.
Why go: ageworthy whites; easygoing tour; Spring Mountain setting.
Stony Hill Vineyard appears in 3 Historic Napa Valley Wineries Day Trip.