Julie Johnson’s St. Helena ranch has the look and feel of a working organic farm.
Edging the Mayacamas foothills in the Rutherford AVA’s northwestern quadrant, Tres Sabores Winery feels more working organic farm than Napa Valley wine tasting showcase. Owner-winemaker Julie Johnson’s patch of Rutherford benchland isn’t fancy, but much of value transpires here.
In spring the resident sheep trim the grass. Year-round, diverse flowering and other plants attract beneficial insects and renew the soil. Not far from a centuries-old oak tree, a dark-purple post-harvest compost pile generates nutrients for the next year’s crop. Pomegranate trees line the gravel driveway that leads to the small tasting room, though on most days the sipping takes place outdoors, the better to enjoy the vineyard and valley views east to the Vaca Mountains. Visits to Tres Sabores, by appointment only, include a brief tour of “the ranch,” as Julie calls it.
Cab, Plus Zin & P.S.—and Why Not?
Not surprising in this appellation known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Johnson makes a complex and satisfying one. Her vineyard is also planted to Zinfandel, which she transforms into a smooth exemplar of that varietal. The other attention-getter is a Petite Sirah made from dry-farmed Calistoga grapes. Johnson, whose own vineyard contains Petite Sirah as well, rounds out her lineup with Sauvignon Blanc, a Rosé, and ¿Por Que No? (Why Not?). A recent vintage of the last wine, a red blend, contained Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.
Land, Vines, Artistry
In Spanish, tres sabores means “three flavors,” which in her wines, Johnson believes, represents the combination of her ranch’s soil and climate, the particular varietal or varietals in the bottling, and her winemaking artistry. A fourth flavor that makes visiting here a sheer delight is the homespun hospitality that recalls the farm-oriented rhythms before the Napa Valley’s era of luxury spas, splashy restaurants, and palatial tasting salons.
Why go: passionate owner-winemaker; chance to see organic farming up close; single-vineyard reds.
Tres Sabores is part of 3 St. Helena Wineries with a Personal Touch.
More St. Helena Wineries
Where to Sleep
This story originally appeared online in 2017; it was updated most recently in 2023. Julie Johnson participated in the 2019 P.S. I Love You “Masters of Petite” panel and tasting.