By Fran Endicott Miller
On a clear day, visitors to Napa Valley’s Nine Suns Winery can see all the way to San Francisco. At 1,400 feet above sea level, this spectacular Vaca Mountain property shares its fabled Pritchard Hill address with the likes of Chappellet, Continuum, and Ovid—viticulture powerhouses that could easily intimidate or overshadow the new kid on the block. With its recently opened Juan Carlos Fernandez-designed winery, tasting room, and guest quarters, and the release of its first Cabernet blend, Nine Suns has not only held its own on this storied hill, it has become an instant cult favorite.
Sibling proprietors Aimee, Jason, and Christopher Chang, along with Jason’s wife, Flora, have managed to create a brand that clearly resonates with an audience thirsty for far more than a superbly balanced ruby red end product. Led by a deeply ingrained entrepreneurial spirit, and despite little to no experience in the wine industry, the Changs pooled their collective and diverse expertise to design and execute their modern hilltop masterpiece. The foursome spared no expense in hiring the best of the best, and the result—from vine, to bottle, to winery atmosphere—is dazzling.
Named for the Chinese myth whereby the scorching heat of ten sky-rising sunbirds led archer Houyi to strike down nine to restore earth’s balance, Nine Suns honors the legend at every turn. The stunning award-winning logo, designed by San Francisco-based Landor Associates, features the nine orbs, as does the wine cave’s handblown glass chandelier. Houyi makes his appearance on logoed items, and in name—the winery’s 22 vineyard acres (planted primarily to Bordeaux varietals) bear his moniker. Elsewhere on the property, a softly-lit wine library mimics the shape of a guitar, a peace offering of sorts to the Changs’ guitar-collector father who initially found the winery’s overall aesthetic a bit too contemporary for his taste. A fireplace-encircled perch, complete with Sonos surround sound, looks out over the valley. The 6,550-square-foot barrel-aging cave is not only elegant in looks, it is resilient and high-performing due to its rare, Elephant Armor mortared walls.
Nine Suns’ initial 500 cases of its 2012 Cabernet blend were sold primarily to club members; bottles are currently found only at auction, or in extremely limited quantities at the Long Ranch Road winery and tasting room, open by appointment only to club members or VIP guests. Here, the term “tasting room” is used lightly. The Grant K. Gibson-designed space (he’s a childhood friend of Aimee’s) is the epitome of relaxed sophistication, with colors echoing those of wine country—a blue rug symbolizes the sky, a green mohair sofa echoes the vines, and cranberry red chairs mimic the hue of the wine. Highly graphic, organically hand-painted wallpapers by Berkeley artist Porter Teleo add even more color pop. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows open completely to bring the outside in. It’s both lavish and low-key, and a place in which to linger.
While the brand’s exclusivity is part of the attraction for the A-list actors, NBA superstars, and business industry titans who count themselves as fans, the extreme level of personal service also appeals. Tours are led by either Jason or Flora themselves. Of course, the appeal of the wine itself, with its cashmere-like lusciousness, cannot be denied. Ultimately, though, it’s the promise of an invitation to witness a sunset from the Nine Suns veranda, or to relax in the jewel-toned tasting lounge, that is of nearly equal importance to those for whom a lavish lifestyle is de rigueur.