The Best Winemakers in Napa Valley
Is wine made in the vineyards or in the cellar? Some of the finest talents in the world debate this point. However, most inspired winemakers lean towards making themselves invisible in the wine—their talent is entirely versed in detecting subtleties in the vineyard or the vintage, adapting to it and expressing the best of the moment and place. Want to know who’s making the best wine in Napa Valley? Here are three winemakers we consider some of the most talented and attentive to the land and their craft, whose products are always both enjoyable to the senses and inspiring to the mind.
A native of Bordeaux and one of the most celebrated winemakers in North America, Philippe has been making some of Napa Valley’s most revered wines for the past 25 years with a string of 100-point scores. Melka’s first job out of school was at Château Haut Brion. From there, he took a position with the reputable Moueix Company and was sent to Dominus Estate in Yountville to study soils in 1991. Napa Valley soil proved to be a revelation for Melka.
Melka was trained and influenced by some of the most notable personalities in the wine business such as Jean Delmas and Jean Philippe Masclef from Haut-Brion, Christian Moueix and Jean Claude Berrouet from Petrus, Paul Draper from Ridge, Daniel Baron from Silver Oak and the globetrotting wine consultant Michel Rolland with whom he continues to work with on consulting projects.
Twenty-five years after launching his consulting business, Atelier Melka he’s acquired approximately clients 30. His team estimates Atelier Melka oversees about 150 wines each year. Clients include: Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate, Dana Estates, Nine Suns, Brand, Davis Estates, Raymond Vineyards, The Perfect Season, Tusk, and Westwood—to name a few. Melka’s goal is to make a very specific wine reflecting the geology, topography and microclimate of each site or, if blending different sites, work toward a style based on the philosophy of the venture. One of Philippe’s greatest assets is his ability to build a blend quickly in his mind, like a brilliant artist who sees the complete work of art on a blank canvas.
With more than two decades of winemaking expertise, Fayard is one of Napa Valley’s most respected winemakers producing California varietals with French finesse. Julien’s wines are a pure expression of their terroir, highlighting the specificities and characteristics of the fruit, vineyard management, soil and climate. Originally from France, Julien began his career as a winemaker producing quality rosé at his family’s winery in Provence. In Bordeaux he worked at Lafite Rothschild and Smith Haut Laffite before relocating to Napa Valley. In Napa, Julien Fayard spent eight years under Philippe Melka’s tutelage, he was Melka’s director of winemaking for a few years before launching his own projects, which include Fayard Winemaking and Covert Estate in Coombsville.
Fayard lends two decades of winemaking expertise to more than a dozen different brands including the highly-rated Purlieu and Le Pich wines, as well as his own labels—Azur and Empreinte. His clients include Krupp Brothers, Nicholson Jones, Patel, Somnium and Two Old Dogs. Julien has a track record of building brands both in terms of quality and market presence.
Thomas Rivers Brown
Thomas Rivers Brown is one of Napa Valley’s most accomplished winemakers, guiding production of some of the region’s most distinctive and sought-after wines. Brown has earned more than 25 perfect 100 scores from Robert Parker and Wine Spectator combined. He has been associated with some of Napa Valley’s most distinguished labels, and oversees approximately 40 top Napa Valley wineries including: Schrader, Maybach, Rivers-Marie, Black Sears, Pulido-Walker, Post Parade, Riverain, Mending Wall, Gemstone, QTR and his own project, Rivers-Marie, among others.
Thomas works with three powerful vineyards—Tench Vineyard in Oakville, Red Head Vineyard located on Old Soda Springs Road north of the city of Napa and Ithaca Vineyard located in the Rutherford AVA.
Brown opts for his wines to showcase the vineyard, not the winemaker. His minimalist approach encourages the expression of regional characteristics in the wines, notably through rich aromas and flavors.
Brown’s latest project is overseeing the vineyard and winery at The Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Calistoga. Thomas Rivers Brown and his team will lead guests through hands-on winemaking and tasting experiences.
Wine Spectrum has been a big supporter of these iconic winemakers year after year. Many of the wines these winemakers produce are highly coveted and in short supply. We encourage customers to purchase these wines as soon as they are available. All of these winemakers create wines of great finesse!