My Visit to the Exclusive Sloan Estate Winery

My Visit to the Exclusive Sloan Estate Winery

My Day at The Exclusive Sloan Estate Winery:

On a pleasant Friday morning the sun was shining brightly, there were a few cumulus clouds and a light breeze. I started my usual Napa Valley journey of the day, but this one was like no other. This is the mysterious Sloan Estate, it has always been this way since it’s inception, private and exclusive, it’s not open to the public for tours or testing’s. Their website can only be accessed by their members and their published address is a post office box #. It defines Swanky and it certainly is.

After several emails and telephone conversations with Marsha Chandler, Customer Relations Manager, Martha McClellan, winemaker and Stuart Sloan, proprietor, an arrangement was made for us for a tasting / tour of the Sloan Estate. Martha emailed me driving directions and we were on our way. She emphasized how difficult it is to get to the Sloan Estate, by looking at the map and reading the directions it looked manageable to me, since I am very familiar with Napa Valley, I was wrong.

The Sloan Estate is located in a very secluded part of Napa, hidden away off the beaten path. We drove up a gentle hill, slowly and carefully, through some narrow roadways that were hard to negotiate, especially when another car is coming in the opposite direction. We navigated our way to the estate. I first learned about Sloan Proprietary Red when it was rated a perfect 100 score by Robert Parker, Jr. for the 2002 vintage. Sloan Estate shares the same plateau as some of the world’s finest wineries on Robert Parker Jr’s list of 100 perfect score wines. This list includes, but not limited to, France’s Bordeaux power houses; Chateau Lafite, Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Latour, Chateau Mouton -Rothschild and Chateau Margaux which are the full representation of Premier Cru. An impressive company indeed of who’s who in the wine world.

The estate was acquired in the mid 1990 by: Stuart Sloan, a Seattle businessman who had a knack and built a reputation of taking small companies and transforming them into giant entities. His track record has been proven and documented by Wall Street as well as Main Street. There was no doubt that Sloan would achieve his ultimate goal of making a great Bordeaux style wine, sooner or later. After all, when you start a venture surrounding yourself with the best talent and location you are bound to succeed. Stuart Sloan had the vision and the experience to lead a talented team into his new business venue. It was surprising how quickly he was able to reach his desire of producing a world class wine, a perfect 100 point rating by RP. Sloan’s team consists of dedicated individuals, consulting oenologist Michel Rolland, David Abreu, vineyard manager / viticulturist and Martha McClellan as the winemaker.

Martha McClellan was the winemaker for Harlan Estate prior to joining Sloan. She lived in Germany for 10 years, while there, she studied and earned a degree in oenology as well as in viticulture. She is an avid marathon runner, although of small stature she is an over achiever, driven and thrives for perfection. It took her a little while to warm up to us and feel comfortable in our conversation but when she did, Martha was charming, passionate and articulate.

We arrived at Sloan Estate passing through a closed double rod iron gate, with a touch of a button, the gates opened. We drove up the winding road through the well manicured property. Approaching a traditional French Chateau style building, ornamented with an ivy covered elegant tower that overlooked the vineyard. We were cordially greeted by Martha in the front gravel driveway where she led us to the English manor garden abundant with vibrantly colorful roses, that was very well groomed and meticulously maintained hedges.

We were in the garden for about 15min. talking about Martha’s wine making philosophy. She is self motivated by personal pride and driven for perfection. I could feel her passion for wine making and doing what she really loves! She led us to the cellar through beautiful thick heavy wooden doors, into the fermentation room which was lined with stainless steel tanks. These tanks are being replaced with more sophisticated technology, temperature / humidity control system was installed to aide during fermentation. We walked to a small touch screen panel hanging on the wall, Martha demonstrated how she is able to control and maintain the cave’s various zones for temperature and humidity by venting the air flow electronically from this panel. We continued down a hallway where all the walls and ceilings were lined with European used bricks imported from Austria during the cave’s construction phase which was completed 2002. We reached the chamber where French barrels lined the cave’s walls and housed the grape juice in the midst of it’s long journey (aged for 24 months in new oak barrels prior to bottling) to reach the delicate and gradual maturity process. It is the molecular changes known to unfold involving the gradual interaction of oxygen and wine. Simple chemical compounds break down and recombine into more complex forms called polymeric phenols. Acidity and alcohol soften.

The largest compounds-the harsh astringent tannins-drift down into a carpet of sediment, taking with them the saturated, inky pigments. They leave behind a mellowed, unfathomably subtle flavor and a brick red hue. Everything knits together, resolving into an ever finer complexity expressed fragrantly in the wine’s bouquet. But it does not start there, it starts early in the vineyard, with careful pruning, calculated fruit dropping by cluster position then harvesting according to Brix count and fruit tasting and finally picking through the fruits by hand to select the very best. There is no fruit crushing at Sloan, then the selected berries are placed in the fermentation tanks for approximately 60 days. During this period, the juice is extracted from the fruit mainly by gravity and the pure pressure of it’s own weight on top of each other in approximately 2 ton capacity stainless steel tanks. This is a very time consuming and labor intensive method of operation, during which the juice must be monitored and catered to constantly. At the end of fermentation, the premature wine is placed in new French oak barrels to begin the evolving process of maturity, as if it were a fetus in a mother’s womb it is a live organism always changing, growing, building structure and complexity. After bottling, the wine is aged for another 12 months prior to market release. Sloan produces two labels; their flagship is the Sloan Proprietary Red and the other is the Asterisk label. Both are in the classic Bordeaux style. It is a careful blend of a few Bordeaux varietals and is produced in very limited quantity (under 500 Cs. per year).

We tasted the 2006 vintage of Sloan Proprietary Red: Massive as a gentle giant, extraordinary nose like crystallized violets with dark deep purple color, rich dark fruits, blueberry, blackberry, roasted coffee notes interlaced with subtle smoky oak, and a wealth of spice, intense, complex, well balanced with a lingering long finish, I predict this wine to peak after 15-20 years and stay at that plateau for another 10-15 years before declining. If you are not a member of Sloan’s mailing list, which is currently closed, but you can join their waiting list by visiting their website, you will not find their wines easily attainable. The most likely place that you will be able to experience the taste of Sloan’s Proprietary Red is at a fine restaurant or a very scarce upscale wine library across the country. I was very impressed of how meticulous and well kept the Sloan Estate was from the vineyard to the Cellar. In my opinion, Sloan started his endeavor with a strong performance early on. After all, it is easier to reach the top than maintain it. Visiting and experiencing first hand how Sloan operates his estate under strict measures of high quality standards, I have no doubt in my mind that they are on the right path for continued greatness. Here at Sloan The Grape is King and wine rules. You will be pleased to know that, we were able to negotiate an allocation for our members of Sloan Proprietary Red, from their next release. We will announce it as soon as it becomes available. I am sure you will appreciate the possession of this trophy wine.

Until next time,