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A Visit to Kalon, a Legendary American Vineyard

The latest developments at the most famous vineyard in the U.S.

by Terry Zarikian

January 3, 2024

To Kalon vineyard in Napa Valley / Photo: Courtesy of Kalon

Arguably the most famous vineyard in the United States, To Kalon has a unique story. In 1868, Ohio native Hamilton Walker Crabb landed in Napa Valley and purchased 240 acres of land in Oakville. While searching for gold, he made money by farming a variety of produce, including oranges, Italian chestnuts and cabernet sauvignon grapes. But as the vines grew vastly, he decided to focus on wine. He bought adjacent parcels and in 1886 named his vineyard To Kalon, which in Greek means “highest beauty.”

Crabb developed the property to almost 500 acres, making him one of the most prominent growers in California and the third-largest producer of wine in Napa County. After he died, the estate was sold and pieces of land changed hands. In 1943, San Francisco businessman Martin Stelling purchased some 300 acres of the To Kalon land and revived the vineyard with new varietals. But the property was again sold off in pieces after his death in 1950, and it was not until 1962 that Rosa Mondavi and her sons, Robert and Peter, reconstituted 430 acres of To Kalon. Robert particularly was integral in getting the vineyard back on track. Located between the Vaca and Mayacamas mountain ranges in Napa Valley, To Kalon’s well drained, gravelly soil allows the vines to root deeply, finding precious moisture and nutrients.

Today, the beer and wine group Constellation owns Robert Mondavi and To Kalon Vineyard Company. According to general manager Jason Smith, “We are able to cherry-pick the very best lots to make the style of wine we want for our To Kalon Vineyard Company in tandem with Robert Mondavi’s amazing Reserve and Schrader wines, which also benefit from these grapes.”

General manager Jason Smith / Photo: Courtesy of Kalon

During a recent wine tasting we savored the 2019 Highest Beauty. Produced from 100-percent cabernet sauvignon that is hand-selected from blocks throughout To Kalon, it is an expression of the entire vineyard. According to winemaker Andy Erickson, “The 2019 Highest Beauty exhibits classic cabernet sauvignon character with great richness and depth. Luscious with notes of raspberry and black cherry, the wine features beautifully integrated tannins, lithe acidity and a silky finish.” The first swirl in a fine crystal balloon glass exhibited an intensely concentrated dark burgundy color, and as time went by the tannins softened to a delicious balance filled with aromas of black currant and other dark red fruits. This is a wine to be enjoyed slowly to discover its many layers, as it opens a world of history.

Named after the founder of To Kalon, the 2019 H.W.C., produced from one single clonal selection, is the exact opposite of Highest Beauty. “This single clone was the one Robert Mondavi brought to the vineyard and UC Davis isolated it,” says Smith. “It literally sits in the palm of your hand.” Erickson says, “This wine has an amazing concentration and texture, with a tremendous balance that goes back generations. This incredibly low-yielding selection of cabernet sauvignon produces a black-purple wine, with an exceptional aromatic and palate intensity.”

To Kalon’s 2019 Eliza’s is a blend of 63-percent cabernet sauvignon and 37-precent cabernet franc. A colorful character in Napa Valley’s wine history, Eliza Yount was married to the founder of nearby Yountville and owned a quiet corner of land along Walnut Lane that is now home to a coveted planting of cabernet franc. Different from the To Kalon cabernets, Eliza’s displays exotic notes of cardamom, cuminseed and anise on the nose, as the wine entices with an aromatic intensity that hints of complexity on the palate. Richly textured with polished tannins, firm structure and a velvety soft finish, it is yet another stunning wine from the legendary To Kalon Vineyard Company.