Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Arns Napa Valley Syrah 2013

Arns Melanson Vineyard Napa Valley Syrah 2013

A quiet evening at home watching a thriller movie we opened this Napa Syrah with hearty beef stew, artisan cheeses and fruits. 

As I reported in follow up to our visit to the Arns Estate back in 2013, Arns wines are produced by John Arns and Sandi Belcher - John managing the viticulture and Sandi tending to the winemaking. The property has been in the Arn's family since the 1950's when it was acquired by Arn's parents as an escape from the city down in Berkeley. The elder Arns planted vines in the 1960's to sell to local wineries. John and his brother, Steve took over the property and John continued developing the vineyards.

The Arns property was originally homesteaded in the late 1880’s by a German immigrant, then taken over by a stone mason whose work on homes and caves throughout the Valley and helped build the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena with stones, shown left, quarried from the property.

The previous owners of the property planted Zinfandel grapes.Today, ten acres of vineyards are sited across the 160 acre property of rocky hillsides, meadows and forests in ten different blocks consisting of seven different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux and Napa Valley. The vines vary in age from 15 to 45 years. The ten blocks planted showcase the clonal differences and with each having varied exposure, the result reveals unique characteristics that contribute to the overall blend that is Arns Cabernet Sauvignon. The result of this combination of clonal selection, low yield, and minimal irrigation is fruit that is concentrated and intensely flavorful and a blend that has complexity, breadth and depth.

Ironically, we discovered Arns Cabernet Sauvignon on our frequent trips to Washington DC and our regular stops at Andy Bassin's McArthur Wines there. Over the years, we accumulated a collection of Arns over the years dating back to the 1996 vintage. It turns out Sandi is from Virginia and developed the resale arrangement during her trips back home.

Since our Napa trips of recent years focused on distinct appellations per trip, we missed Arns over the years during our frequent visits to Napa Valley and mountain districts including Howell Mountain. It was great to finally connect with Arns and see first hand what makes up the artistry of their work.
Arns Napa Valley Melansen Vineyard Syrah 2013

Sandi Belcher produced this limited production single vineyard designated Syrah from fruit sourced from the Melanson Vineyard on Pritchard Hill. John Arns managed the viticulture, overseeing tending the vines for several producers around Napa Valley. This  includes Syrah varietal vines that he planted at 1400 feet up on Pritchard Hill back in the early 1990's. 

The clones for Arns Syrah are from Joseph Phelps Vineyards. This provides fruit for this, the 5th vintage release of Arns Napa Valley Syrah. What a discovery and pleasant surprise to discover this label on our visit to Arns! Readers of this blog know we love big full throttle Syrah/Shiraz which comprises a third of our cellar behind Bordeaux and Napa Cabernet. We didn't expect to find one at a Napa mountain fruit Cab producer. Moreover, ironically, we also spent an afternoon up on Pritchard Hill during that Napa trip.

The rocky terrain of the mountain elevation with the long warm growing season results in powerful but polished, forward  flavors of black berry and hints of blue fruits, layers of anise and cassis with hints of mocha and clove, violets, leather and olive on a long lingering firm but silky tannin finish. This is more like a big Southern Aussie Shiraz. There were only 65 cases produced of the 2008 vintage release that we tasted at the winery during our visit. We tasted it at the winery, purchased some and shipped it home, tasted again... and subsequently bought more, which included this vintage release in a follow on purchase. 

Rick, Linda and John Arns
This vintage year, 2013, they produced 200 cases of this label. It represents the style and profile that we favor in a Syrah. We pulled this bottle to enjoy with artisan cheeses and fruit for enjoyable casual sipping watching a movie.

ARNS starting producing this SYRAH back in 2004. They admit, "It was a great surprise to be able to craft such a beautiful wine from Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley. We have enjoyed many spicy vintages from this time forward."

This 2013 ARNS SYRAH was aged four years in two year old French Oak barrels.

Dark inky blackish purple, full bodied, concentrated flavors of gooseberries, plum and what Arns refer to as 'wild black cherries' are accented by notes of spice, black pepper, and what Arns refers to as 'beef and violets'.

RM 91 points.


The 2013 ARNS SYRAH is in the same vein as our previous vintages. Enhanced by four years of two year old French Oak barrels, we have watched this wine evolve into the classic we have witnessed in the past. Captivating on the palate are flavors of gooseberries, red plum, wild black cherries touched by black pepper, beef and violets. A handsome wine with moderate aging potential.



  • Winemaker: Sandi Belcher
  • Appellation: Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley
  • Varietal: 100% Syrah
  • Barrel Aging: 4 Years in French Oak
  • Production: 200 Cases 750ml only

Arns Winery is located merely 10 minutes from the hustle and bustle of Silverado Trail in the northern part of Napa Valley yet it seems miles away (note the winery and property was sold in 2019 – the wines are now being made at a winery west of the city of Napa). Here time seems locked in an era that focuses on the land and what it can produce – which in today’s growing urban environments, is mostly lost. This is a farm centered lifestyle focused around agriculture – in this case vineyards. The tiny winery sits on approximately 160 acres of which only 10 acres are planted to vines. Most of the land is still native vegetation on rolling hillsides.

The vineyards are separated into 9 blocks, each with their own clonal differences which makes each block unique. The soils are generally deep and as a result little or no irrigation is required. Their Cabernet Sauvignon vines are a mix of premium cuttings including Caymus Special Selection and Shafer Hillside, clone 337. The yields are generally quite low often 1 to 2 tons per acre.

Long time Napa vineyard manager and owner John Arns tends to these vineyards (with the help of a local long time vineyard management company); he used to manage more vineyards in the valley but over the years has pulled back his other vineyard management duties to focus on this property.

While this is not technically in the Howell Mountain Appellation – it might as well be, as soils on their property and vegetation are very similar to Howell Mountain (the actual appellation starts at 1400 feet). The soils are very rocky – in fact much of the stones for the large stone building that now houses the Culinary Institute of America in nearby St. Helena came from this property. The quarries that produced the stone for this building now serve as deep ponds on the property, well stocked with fish.

John and his wife Sandi are only the 3rd owners in the properties history since it was homesteaded in the late 1880s (the first vines ever planted on the property were Zinfandel). John’s father Robert Arns, a chemist from MIT moved to Berkeley to run the west coast division of Ortho. He purchased this property in the 1950’s as a weekend getaway and began replanting grapevines in the late 1960s.

Over the years fruit from this property has been sold to a variety of wineries including Martin Ray of Santa Cruz, Burgess Cellars, Ballentine, Dunn Vineyards, Spring Mountain and Merryvale.

 Both John and Sandi have enjoyed lengthy careers in the world of wine; Sandi went to UC Davis for graduate work without an plans to become a winemaker. Hooked by the wine bug at Davis, she has been making wine in the Napa Valley since 1972, including at Chateau Montelena and Heitz Cellars (where she worked on the heralded 1974 Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon).

Her longest winemaking stint was for Long Vineyards on Pritchard Hill (now Gandona Estate Winery). She spent 27 years there – she has also worked in the Barossa Valley, Australia and has consulted for wineries abroad including Thailand and China. As a result of their Thailand connections, Arns wine has been one of the few Napa wines available at select locations in Bangkok including the prestigious and historical Oriental Hotel.

John graduated from the University of California Berkeley with a degree in Art and Sculpture, however he has nurtured a passion for growing things all his life. It was while working at Peter Lehmann Winery in the Barossa Valley, Australia where he discovered his interest in working with grapevines. Peter encourage him to pursue his interests – upon returning to California John enrolled at the University of California Davis and completed his degree in Viticulture and Enology.

Both Sandi and John were extremely busy with their consulting and vineyard work but began discussing the possibility of building a winery in the 1980’s. Finally the right timing presented itself; their first commercial release was the 1992 vintage, 600 cases of estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Arns Winery is small; their total production is around 1000 cases of which the majority is their estate Cabernet Sauvignon along with a smaller production of Syrah. All their wines are 100% varietal. And they are not quick to market – Sandi bottles when she feels the wine is ready to do so and often ages the wine in bottle for several years before release. As a result, their current release wines are usually 5 to 6 years behind the vintage date.

A visit here is for the serious wine enthusiast wanting a vineyard tour (typically hosted by Sandi or John although Kathi, Sandi’s daughter is often on site as she is the assistant winemaker). The tall wooden bear standing next to the winery is always a good conversation piece; John and several wine maker friends hauled this chainsaw created back to the Napa Valley from Lake Tahoe during the middle of a harvest a number of years ago.

Their Syrah is one of the more beautiful wines of this varietal from the Napa Valley that we have tasted over the years. The several vintages we have tasted show the characteristic hallmarks of this varietal – the smokiness and pepper nuances – but these characteristics are not overwhelming and are captured as lesser influences, rather then dominating the wine. This wine generally spends 4 years aging in French oak (some new and used barrels).

 The 2013 Arns Melanson Vineyard Syrah (a vineyard located on Pritchard Hill near Colgin Cellars – planted by John) is very dark in the glass showing darker fruit on the bouquet including plum, blackberry and dark cherry. Somewhat meaty in its olfactory approach, its aromatic savoriness immediately invites a sip. As the wine opens additional aromas show including darker dessert spices and hints of mocha. Big flavor with the savory characteristics on the bouquet also present on the palate. Cigar smoke, pepper and well-integrated tannins show on a long lasting finish. Drinking this wine made us immediately think what to pair it with on the BBQ on a warm summers evening.

The 2012 Arns Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is opulent with powerful fruit showing on the bouquet – with aromas of ripe blackberry and blueberry tinged with aromas of old cedar box. Both red and darker fruit shows on the palate; this is a very well balanced wine between fruit, structure and acidity. More red fruit shows on the finish – with a slight red cherry tartness complemented by dusty elegant tannins (no monster gripping finish here). This is a wine that should age very well for years to come.

Two newer wines in the Arns portfolio are IMPROMP22 – a rare non vintage Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and about 200 cases of a Chardonnay sourced from the Heintz Vineyard in Sonoma Coast. These Chardonnay vines are the second oldest Chardonnay vines in all of Sonoma County. Their vineyard source contains some of the oldest Chardonnay vines in all of Sonoma County.

The 4th release of IMPROMP22 is 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon (a compilation of three different vintages). The bouquet is focused on the fruit rather then influences from oak – primarily ripe boysenberry and blackberry jam aromas along with notes of black licorice. As the wine continues to open – the bouquet eventually reveals very subtle aromas of vanilla. Well put together on the palate – with a noticeable intensity of mostly darker fruit flavors and depth of flavor that runs the length of the palate. A lingering spicy fruit combination persists for some time – with well-integrated tannins. Only 200 cases were produced.

Sandi and John often participate in select tastings around the country including the annual Wine Classic at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles – usually held in January (along with a number of other mostly premium Napa vintners). They also showcase their wines at the annual Napa Valley Wine Library tasting held every August at the Silverado Country Club. Their wines are distributed in select markets around the country.

Joining their mailing list gives one the opportunity to sometimes purchase older vintages (when re-released). For more information, visit:

NOTE: as of 2019, the Arns physical winery and property has been sold to David Abreu. The Arns brand was not sold. We will update or archive this review as more information becomes available and or will archive this review if production ceases. This review has not yet been updated based on the sale of the property.