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I obviously have a thing for great California wines. One of the fantastic boutique producers out of Napa, Melka Estates relies on the talents of Philippe and Cherie Melka. Melka Estates is a limited production winery that sources from some amazing sites including La Mekerra in Sonoma and Jumping Goat in Napa Valley. They also make a world-class Syrah from Paso Robles. A man needing no introduction, Philippe Melka is a Bordeaux native that has a master’s degree in enology. He has a long resume, with previous stops at Château Haut Brion, as well as Dominus Estate and various stints in Australia and even Chateau Petrus. He has been in Napa on a full time basis since 1994 and has served as consulting winemaker at some of the great wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Washington State. There is little doubt that he is truly one of the great consulting winemakers in the world. Philippe partners with his wife, Cherie, to craft the wines. She also has a highly impressive resume with previous stops Ridge Vineyards prior to starting Melka Estates. She handles all business decisions for Melka as well as helps with the blending. Having tasted with Cherie on several occasions, she has an incredible knowledge of Napa and the surrounding areas to craft wines with terroir and serious texture.
The Melkas hold their wines back considerably more than most Napa houses. The wines I tasted were from the 2018 and 2019 vintages. One of the great new world Sauvignon Blanc wines that I have tasted in the past year, the 2018 Melka Estates ‘La Mekerra Vineyard’ Sauvignon Blanc (OB, 96) is a red wine lover’s rendition of this varietal. Big, bold and seamless with serious texture and flavor complexity, this is a total stunner that is a must-purchase for any lover of Sav Blanc. Even better is the incredible 2018 Melka Estates ‘Metisse’ Cabernet Sauvignon (OB, 97) which comes from the Martinez Vineyard in the Napa Valley. Bold and brooding, with serious refinement and concentration, this beauty is absolutely a joy to consume right now in its heady youth. I think you will really be impressed with these new wines. Learn more at https://www.melkaestates.com Here are my reviews of the new Melka Estates wines.
2018 Melka Estates ‘La Mekerra Vineyard’ Sauvignon Blanc- This beautiful wine is a barrel selection wine using several clonal selections of Sauvignon Blanc that saw some battonage. This bottling is wonderfully textured with serious weight and tension. Gooseberry and bright green apple combine with suggestions of baking spice dusted brioche notes combine on the palate. Stored in roughly 60% new French oak (cigar barrels), this finishes very long. Enjoy this beautiful wine now and over the next decade. Drink 2023-2033- 96
2019 Melka Estates ‘Majestique’ Syrah- This inky colored Syrah comes form the famed Paderewski Vineyard which is farmed by Epoch. The wine displays a dazzling array of flavors from black olive tapenade, smoked brisket, violets, creme de cassis and shades of tar. The wine effortlessly glides throughout the drinking experience. Concentrated and weightless, this is delicious wine that is best consumed now and over the next decade. Drink 2023-2033- 96
2019 Melka Estates ‘CJ’ Cabernet Sauvignon- The 2019 ‘CJ’ is named after the Melka’s children, as this has been produced since 1996. Cabernet Sauvignon dominant with small parts Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, that comes from a host of vineyards throughout the Napa Valley. Immediately gratifying on the palate, this shows beautiful concentration and structure, with a smooth texture. Enjoy this now and over the next ten plus years. Drink 2023-2033- 93
2018 Melka Estates ‘Metisse’ Cabernet Sauvignon- The stunning 2018 Melka Estates ‘Metisse’ comes from the Martinez Vineyard in the Napa Valley. A combination of 67% Cabernet Sauvignon with 23% Cabernet Franc and the remainder Petit Verdot, this delivers serious concentration and verve, with a silky mouthfeel and beautiful dark florals on the nose. The herbal and structure from the Petit Verdot is shining through. Creme de violette, mocha, anise and green herbs combine with massive blue fruit flavors. This is going to be at least a twenty year wine. Drink 2023-2043- 97
Melka Estates Métisse Montbleau Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
Bordeaux-born and trained Philippe Melka is one of the region's most celebrated winemakers. He lends his talents as consulting winemaker and head of Atelier Melka to a dozen of Napa's premium producers, including Lail, Brand, and Dana Estates, crafting expressive wines that showcase the vision of his winery partners. All of his client's wines are delicious. However, Melka Estates is the wine that tells his personal story. It was created in partnership with his winemaker wife, Cherie.
From estate fruit growing on the slopes of Glass Mountain, Melka Metisse Montbleau Vineyard cabernet sauvignon is a bold, inky wine with character. The vineyard receives full sunlight throughout the day, creating robust, well-ripened fruit. This fruit produces bold wines with earthy dried tobacco, pencil lead, and black cherry, delicious with braised short ribs.
The Mekerra from Melka Wines in Napa Valley run by husband and wife team, Philippe and Cherie Melka. Having spent considerable time in France, they took their expertise back to California and now focus on a small portfolio of high-quality wine. Completely barrel-fermented, the Mekerra has been lauded for its fresh flavors of both green and yellow orchard fruit and has an aggregated score of 93 points, and comes in at an almost affordable $144 USD.
ELEGANT DESIGN IN AN UNDERSTATED PACKAGE
Sometimes the most elegant design solutions come in small, understated packages. Such is the case at Melka Estates, just off Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail. A simple form derived from the agricultural vernacular of the California wine country, the dark barn-like structure is nonetheless a dramatic fixture set against the green and gold hillsides of the Napa Valley. Humble and unassuming yet arrestingly beautiful, it is a perfect expression of the dynamism and the humility of both its owners and its architect.
Philippe and Cherie Melka and their architect, Juancarlos Fernandez, are perhaps three of the most recognized names in the Napa Valley, known for their talent, their intense commitment to their craft, and their humility. Maybe that is why they get along so well.
As business partners, the Melkas’ pedigrees are lengthy. A native of Bordeaux, with a degree in geology and a master’s degree in agronomy and enology from the University of Bordeaux, Philippe is as connected to wine and the land as it is possible to be. He began his career at the top, at Chateau Haut Brion, then worked with Moueix Company, Chateau Petrus, and numerous wineries in Italy and Australia. Armed with a degree in microbiology, Cherie began her wine-making career at Ridge Vineyards, training under the legendary Paul Draper and working as the winery’s enologist for five years. In 1991, their worlds came together with a chance meeting. While interning at Dominus, Philippe was visiting Ridge Vineyards to meet Paul Draper and taste his legendary wines when he walked into the lab and met Cherie. “Paul Draper was our matchmaker,” laughs Cherie.
After spending a year and a half in France, the couple returned to the United States. Cherie worked with Beaulieu and Silver Oak Cellars. Philippe founded his company, Atelier Melka, and has spent over twenty years as a wine-making consultant to some of the Napa Valley’s most prestigious family wineries, including Lail Vineyards, Dana Estates, Raymond, BRAND Napa Valley, and others. They cofounded Melka Estates in 1996, but it wasn’t until 2017 that their wine venture had a home of its own.
The wine-making community in the Napa Valley is close and connected, as it is in the wine-making regions of Sonoma County and California’s central coast. Since moving to the valley, the Melkas had lived in downtown St. Helena, raising two children and becoming deeply ingrained in the community.
But by 2011, they were looking for “less house, more land.” A hillside site fronting the Silverado Trail, planted with two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, offered just what they were looking for. They began by building a house on the hillside—a prefab modular home by Bay Area–based Blu Home—overlooking their vineyards and the valley floor. Next, they worked with Juancarlos to renovate an existing barn on the property to serve as a hospitality space with an airy upstairs tasting area, and a large ground-level space for events. Juancarlos brought in Blasen Landscape Architecture to tie the structures together with landscape.
“Juancarlos was our touchstone for everything here—the house, the renovated barn, the new production winery, the landscape,” says Cherie. “We don’t make any design decisions without him!”
They continued making their wine elsewhere until 2014, when they approached Juancarlos about building a new production facility on the site. Completed in 2017, the new winery is a simple barn-like structure with an emphasis on functionality and efficiency. Set parallel to the adjacent Silverado Trail, it is comprised of two prefabricated buildings painted a deep shade of charcoal. A landscaped berm lining the front of the site runs visual interference between the winery and the adjacent roadway. “The stealth dark color and the simplicity of the design reflects Philippe’s humble and reserved personality, but at the same time it makes a bold statement, similar to the wines produced within the building,” says Juancarlos.
The new winery totals just 2,000 square feet of interior space and 1,400 square feet of covered exterior space. Three separate HVAC systems allow the winemaking team to move the wine from place to place as it progresses through fermentation and barrel aging—a French approach to the wine-making process. Mobile cooling units can be relocated from place to place. “In a small winery, it’s all about efficiency,” says Cherie.
Set on axis with the hospitality building, the two prefabricated structures that comprise the production facility are augmented on nearly every side with covered space formed by extrusions of the standing seam roof. Over the hospitality-facing facade, a deep overhang creates a covered crush pad that Juancarlos calls “a modular cave.” Two screened breezeways, one original and one added about a year later, provide flexible indoor-outdoor space along long facades to the east and west. A motorized shade protects the western facade from the intense afternoon sun.
An existing oak tree to the east defines the winery’s central point—the intersection of two strong axial relationships. Set on axis with the grand oak and perpendicular to the road, a breezeway between the two structures forms a vaulted cavern equally well suited for production or events. In fact, the flexible spaces within the barrel rooms, under the extruded roofline and between the hospitality and production buildings, provide a variety of areas for entertaining, which the Melkas do often. “We have amazing events here,” says Cherie.
The Melkas made their first vintage on-site in 2017, a fall season that saw some of California’s worst wildfires ever erupt in Napa and Sonoma counties. It was a tough first harvest, but everything was saved. “We waited twenty years to do this,” says Cherie. “It was a long road getting here, but we’re really happy.”
Author: Annette Hanami
AFTER DECADES of making coveted cabernet for other wineries, Philippe Melka enlisted Juancarlos Fernandez of Signum Architecture to design Melka Estates, a new winery in Saint Helena created for his own personal label. Having worked with Melka in the past, Fernandez knew how to reflect his client’s personality as well as the highly rated wines.
For his French-born client, Fernandez looked to Europe for inspiration, particularly the northern climes, where clean-lined barns are designed for snowfall, equipped with few protrusions and steeper pitches. At Melka, Fernandez concealed the gutters, raised the roof and lowered the walls to create a barn that’s more contemporary thanvernacular.
Blending the roof and walls, Fernandez minimized the language from peak to ground with a continuous standing seam. Spanning two storage rooms, the 2,000-square-foot vaulted cavern follows the contour of the valley.
The linearity is broken by a central breezeway that frames the view of the old oaks and mountains. On one end where grapes are received for crush, a veil of perforated steel allows for air circulation without losing the seamless look.
The all-black color appears organic against the dark powder-colored concrete floors and the native plantings in the landscape. Warm Brazilian hardwood doors and delicate bent plywood chandeliers were brought in to soften the entrance creating a warm energy.
To meet the client’s requirements, the winery is prefab, designed to Signum Architecture’s specifications. With each new project, Fernandez says, “We keep learning how to get the best use of prefabricated metal buildings as a tool for great design, instead of seeing them as a limitation.”