Roy Estate

What constitutes a Grand Cru?

Roy_Estate_Alexander_Rubin_Roy_Estate_Alexander_Rubin_0333_50Winemakers like to talk about terroir, but realtors have a better term for it: location, location, location. The quality of prime real estate will shine through again and again, whether the site is in Napa or New Jersey.

Charles and Shirley Roy purchased land at the southern end of the Stags Leap District, with the original intent of building a home overlooking the vineyards; initially, they had no intention of making wine. Helen Turley saw the exceptional potential of the vineyard and convinced them to plant 17 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.

Roy Estate was established in 1999, and superstar winemaker Philippe Melka joined the team in 2005. Melka is a believer in non-intervention, in making wine in the vineyard and limiting technique in the cellar. He immediately saw that the property had “two voices, akin to the Right Bank and the Left Bank in Bordeaux”: thin, lava-covered soil on the hillside (planted to Cabernet) and deeper soil with more loam (containing primarily Merlot).

In 2017, Roy Estate was sold to Canadian businessman and entrepreneur Stéphan Crétier. Along with his wife Stéphany Maillery, Crétier is continuing to work with Melka and committing his considerable resources to the mission of shepherding Roy Estate into a new era. Although much of the small production of 1,500 cases is sold through a mailing list, the wine is available in select restaurants and retail outlets around the country.

Roy_Estate_Alexander_Rubin-NV-CS-750-VINEYARDRoughly 550 cases were made of their 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon ($265), a blend of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Petit Verdot; according to Melka, the vineyard experienced near-perfect conditions from initial bud break to the final days of picking. The wine has an enticing nose of black raspberries, bramble, fresh herbs and new oak. It is ripe and succulent on entry, with a firm tannin structure framing the fruit in the mid palate: flavors of blackberry jam, anise, black plum and prune linger onto a long finish.

Given that Roy Estate self-describes as a “Grand Cru de Napa Valley,” and considering that Melka draws the analogy between the winery’s Stags Leap District Cabernet vineyards and those of the Médoc, it’s fair to ask how much of a resemblance the wine bears to a Bordeaux First Growth. The answer, of course, is that they are two completely different experiences. The 94/6 combination of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot would likely not be found on the Gironde peninsula, where the art of blending is paramount and where the wine (in most cases) would have been softened by the inclusion of Merlot. I suspect including some of Melka’s Right Bank Merlot in the 2018 Roy Estate Cabernet would have produced a more complex, graceful and pleasurable wine. There’s a price difference, of course: $265 may or may not strike you as expensive, but it compares favorably to $1,100 for a bottle of Château Latour. The real question, though, is why it’s not sufficient to simply call this (as they do elsewhere) “a pure and powerful expression of Napa Valley’s best.” Someday, that will hopefully be enough.


Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, has been re-released on Amazon in print, e-book and audio book formats.

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