by Fred McMillin
for September 12, 1997

Winery of the Week

When the Saints Come Marching In

Prologue: Saints and wine are no strangers.

  • 350 A.D.—St. Martin on the Loire domesticates a local grape that will develop into Chenin Blanc.

  • 1209 A.D.—St. Francis of Assisi founds the Franciscan Order, which will make the first wine in California five and a half centuries later. (Suprisingly, St. Francis originally forbid the production of wine by his friars.)

  • 1975 A.D.—San Francisco (named after the above St. Francis) ophthalmologist William Casey buys a Napa Winery and names it St. Clement, after his ancestral home, St. Clement's Manor in Maryland, a seventeenth- century grant from the English crown. (WineDay readers last encountered the name Clement when Pope Clement V established the Chateauneuf-Du-Pape vineyard north of Avignon. See 4/4/97 WineDay.)
The Rest of the Story: Selecting a name like St. Clement implied a commitment to excellence, and the winery surely has come through. It makes only three red and two white wines. The reds, Merlot, Cabernet and a Bordeaux-varietal blend all draw strong critical praise, as have the whites, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Production was less than 15,000 cases the last time I looked, so premier winemaker Dennis Johns can attend to every detail.

A Jump In Quality
Ten years ago a major change occurred at St. Clement. The Japanese Sapporo firm acquired the winery. Now funds were available to buy more vineyards, including that of Carneros pioneer Abbott Williams. Dennis is producing award-winning Merlot and Chardonnay from the "Abbotts Vineyard." Critic John Baxevanis rates the Reserve Chardonnay as St. Clement's best. My panel gives the top mark to their red blend "Oroppas," Sapporo spelled backwards.

Just The Facts

Name St. Clement Vineyards
Founded 1975 (the first vineyards on the land were planted in the 1870's)
Owner Sapporo USA
Winemaker Dennis Johns, who is not bound by traditional methods to get the best wine from his grapes...he may press before his Cab is totally dry...he won't use malolactic fermentation if it masks the character of his Chardonnay fruit, etc.
Recommended Wines   All five!
Contact Jennifer Lamb, (707) 963-7221
Address P0 Box 261, St. Helena, Napa Valley, CA 94574
Price Range $25 to $35

Postscript: Below the century-old Victorian house (shown on the St. Clement label) is the original wine cellar, bonded in 1879.

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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