C. Elizabeth is a dream that was years in the making. It is a multifaceted story that begins with a love story between two wine industry dreamers, Dave Ficeli and Christi Coors Ficeli. C. Elizabeth is a micro boutique winery in Oakville that exclusively produces Cabernet Sauvignon from a highly renowned vineyard site. This is not your stereotypical Napa Cabernet. Setting them apart from the crowd is their own unique barrel program.
C. Elizabeth Wines – A Dream In The Making
Christi and Dave fell in love while working in the wine business at Gallo. In 2002 they got engaged and decided to move to Napa Valley. They fell in love with Napa Valley, fell in love with the Napa Valley community and fell in love with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Having worked in the wine industry for large-scale companies, they both wanted something they could call their own, something they were passionate about. When they were younger they weren’t exactly sure what that would be, but invariably the conversations always turned towards the wine industry. So early on they decided to name their goals and said they wanted to do something that mattered, all while leaving behind a legacy for their family. They decided that C. Elizabeth would be the name of the project, without even knowing what the project would be.
Throughout their marriage they held on to this dream, it was a story of patience that was ultimately rewarded when they found the ideal plot to help them fulfill their dream. Bill Nancarrow was Cristi’s winemaker at Goosecross Cellars. In 2012 Bill identified a unique vineyard that was literally in their backyard, Game Farm Vineyards. This was the beginning of C. Elizabeth Wines.
C Elizabeth is Christi’s name, her middle name is Elizabeth, her mother’s middle name is Elizabeth, her grandmother was Elizabeth and her daughter is Elizabeth. Christi says, “It is a big bold beautiful Cabernet, inspired by these big bold beautiful women in my life.” All the Elizabeths in the family have marched to the beat of their own drum, they all are very different from each other and have the passion and pride to be their own women.
Dave says they had no real marketing plan. The wine was born out of the desire to produce something genuine. Bill and Christi had the good fortune to try wines from around the world. Over time they realized that they gravitated toward California Cabernets and what rose to the top were wines that were made with American Oak. The two that Dave remembers vividly were Penfolds 707 and Ridge Montebello. This spurred conversations with Bill and he made the project come together. Bill has honed in on the style that Christi and Dave were looking for, including the meticulous use of American oak. There is an evolution to the wine, which is impactful when tasting the verticle of the four vintages(2014-2017).
Bill Nancarrow – Winemaker
Bill Nancarrow is originally from New Zealand. He has traveled and worked across the world, before finally settling down in Napa Valley. Bill found Game Farm Vineyards, across the creek from Goosecross Cellars. It was a site he was very familiar with when he was making wine at Duckhorn.
Initially, when Christi and Dave said they wanted to use American Oak it threw off Bill, but he also thought it was a cool challenge. The use of American oak would set them apart from other Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, as American oak imparts unique flavors like vanilla, coconut and sweet spices. Once they found the vineyard site, Bill researched American Oak. There were a lot of barrel trials and studies from different cooperages across the United States.
For the first vintage, Bill sourced new and old oak from Missouri, Minnesota and Virginia and Pennsylvania with different toasting. Taking meticulous notes throughout the first few vintages, they eventually decided on Pennsylvania and Missouri for subsequent vintages as it imparted more softness. The resulting barrel selection imparts great complexity and structure while balancing the fruit and tannins.
Game Farm Vineyards
Game Farm Vineyard is a renowned site located on the southeastern corner of the Oakville AVA. The property is owned by Alex Vyborny, who started farming in 1974 and is a long-time supplier to stellar producers like Duckhorn, Honig and Groth. Bill describes the Game Farm Vineyards as a “crazy site” for Cabernet vines. It reminded him of Chateauneuf du Pape. The Game Farm Vineyards is made up of two parts: The Rock Pit and The Trailside. The Rock Pit site is extremely rocky, even 25 feet down it is all rocks. Here the vines are gnarly and there is no cover crop, just vines. These rocks allow for heat reflection and heat retention, and a slightly different growing season. No one has a rocky profile like this in Napa.
The 2014 and 2015 vintages are made up solely of fruit from the Rock Pit. In 2016, grapes from the Trailside became available and Bill blended this into subsequent vintages. This blend gave the wine depth, weight and concentration. The trailside added elegance and sophistication.
C. Elizabeth Verticle Tasting (2014 -2017)
C. ELIZABETH GAME FARM VINEYARD 2014 (SRP $125)
The first vintage of the wine is entirely from the Rock Pit site of the Game Farm Vineyard. With this vintage, Bill started with new American oak from different coopers in Pennsylvania and Missouri along with neutral oak barrels. The wine has a deep opaque crimson hue. A robust wine with notes of vanilla and sweet spice. There is bright fruit on the palate with distinct minerality and smooth tannins. Only 215 cases produced.
C. ELIZABETH GAME FARM VINEYARD 2015 (SRP $125)
The fruit is sourced entirely from the Rock Pit site, and small adjustments were made to the barrel aging program. Aromas of blueberries, blackberries, vanilla, spice and cedar fill the glass. Full-bodied and rich in the mouth, the wine has nice acidity with chewy tannins and nice length. Only 185 cases produced.
C. ELIZABETH GAME FARM VINEYARD 2016 (SRP $150)
This was a good vintage for the Valley and is evident in the classic expression of this Cabernet Sauvignon. Some fruit from the Trailside site became available, and so Bill blended the two plots, resulting in a wine that has a bit more depth, weight and concentration. He also narrowed the field with coopers from Pennsylvania and Missouri. You can see the progression and evolution of the wine with this vintage. This is a wine with lots of structure and tannins. It is very well balanced with notes of blackberries, raspberries black tea and chocolate. The Trailside added a nice dimension. This is a more classic Cabernet that is elegant and sophisticated. Only 212 cases produced.
C. ELIZABETH GAME FARM VINEYARD 2017 (SRP $150)
With this vintage, they maintained the same protocol with the oak program as well as the two sites(Rock Pit & Trailside) from Game Farm Vineyards. This is a genuinely incredible wine with ripe blackberries, currant, cassis, white pepper and violets. The minerality is perfectly captured in the glass. It is elegant and full-bodied, with nice structure and length. Only 244 cases produced.
2017 was the year of the massive fires in wine country. Bill made the call to pick the blocks a few days before the fires hit. Dave recalls a very bitter-sweet moment in the midst of the fire. Bill and Dave were tasting the wines and looking at the fires above them. They were imagining how could they be tasting something so wonderful while watching this tragedy unfold before them. Dave said, “It was a solemn moment, as I marveled at the brilliance in my glass but not able to make sense of what was going around us.” Dave says 2017 is his favorite vintage, it is a stark reminder that like life, wine is really fragile. This vintage reignited their philanthropy efforts, because of what it reminds them of. It will always hold a special place in their hearts and reminds them of the community that came together in the valley during the fires.
C. Elizabeth wines embody a passion and a dream. The dream to produce Napa’s best Cabernet Sauvignon. These are high-quality, exceptional Napa Cabernets made from a very specific renowned vineyard site. Bill has been able to showcase the vineyard site in the glass while using American oak. It was a brave choice but a successful choice.