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Copyright © 2018
Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for May 17, 2000


High on a Lonely Hill


Mayacamas logo  
In 1889, John Henry Fisher of Stuttgart, Germany, built possibly the highest winery in Napa County. The stone cellar, 52 feet wide, 32 feet deep, was recessed into the volcanic slopes near the top of the Mayacamas Mountains. "Hauling wine by horse and wagon was so difficult" that production was limited to the equivalent of about 9,000 cases a year.

...W. Heintz, Wine Country

"All through the 1950s and 1960s, tiny Mayacamas Vineyards [former Fisher Winery] was up on the mountain all by itself, at the end of an unpaved road. It was so long and pot-holed that there was a series of three roadside signs: Don't despair/ Your nearly there/Mayacamas."

...Bob Thompson, Wine Atlas


Is this inconvenience worth the trouble? Clues: Realtor William Hill (Stanford M.B.A.) made a detailed, very technical study of climates, soils, elevations, etc. And concluded that this part of the Mayacamas Range "had the potential to be the best vineyardland in the world!"

Not so long ago a major wine critic proclaimed Mayacamas Vineyards to be "the best winery in the U.S.A."

The Rest of the Story

Meanwhile, back in the San Francisco financial district, investment banker Bob Travers was showing all the signs of a winemaker wannabe. Sure enuf. Soon it was off to U.C.-Davis, some time at the Heitz winery, and then he and wife Nonie bought the former Fisher property in 1968. Today, Gourmet's Gerald Asher regards it as the most venerable winery on the mountain, producing wines that are unyielding in their youth, slow to evolve, and imposingly grand in their prime. Suprisingly, even the Chardonnays are long lasting. Thus, if the budget permits, purchase two bottles of today's wine. Drink one now and one in the year 2005. (If you have to store it in your 70-degree closet, drink sooner...say 2003.) Specialists admire the effects of even longer aging of these top Chardonnays, but my students don't; they don't want to lose too much crispness to gain more complexity.

Wine of the Day

Mayacamas Vineyards Chardonnay, 1997
Napa Valley
Acreage- John Fisher started with about 50 acres. Today the Travers family have half of them planted with their old-vine, low-yield Chardonnay.
Contact—Chris Travers, phone (707) 224-4030, Fax (707) 224-3979

Postscript —The Name Game

About Mayacamas. There was an Indian village a mile south of modern Calistoga named Maiyakma. The village had a "sweat house" where the men gathered twice a day to smoke, tell stories, and lounge until the fire warmed them sufficiently. Then they plunged into the nearby stream. Hard life!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


This page created May 2000