Published on 27-06-2024
Whitehall Lane Winery
Napa Family Values

Set to the west of Highway 29, just past the iconic Ink House, the relaxed and unpretentious family owned and operated Whitehall Lane property feels far removed from the constant busyness of Napa Valley. It’s quiet stealth hides three unique features that make this place, run by three generations of the Leonardini family, so worth visiting.


Whitehall Lane Winery Garden Pavillion

New Garden Pavilion

First, the vast outdoor Garden Pavilion tasting area, completely hidden from the front entrance and the tasting room, is a tree and vineyard-lined oasis. To get there, you walk through the vineyards to a lovely spot where you can enjoy wine tasting and a picnic, if you brought one.  Here, you’ll enjoy views of the Mayacamas Mountains, with vineyards perched on their flanks, while you taste an excellent 2021 Sonoma Valley Chardonnay or a 2022 Swan Clone Pinot Noir from their Sonoma Stage Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap. Big Cab lovers will thrill to the cherry tobacco, sage and crème de cassis of the 2020 Leonardini Vineyard clone 8 Cabernet. Enjoy these wines from one of the swinging love seats in the Garden Pavilion, while the huge American flag flutters above, and birds flit through the vines. Peaceful and serene, the calm is occasionally punctuated by the toot-toot of the horn as the Napa Wine Train goes by.

Admire the label of the 2020 Mancino, a 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, which is something of a Rorshach test: some see an angel, others a dog or cat. Laden with dark chocolate covered blueberries, blackberry liqueur and maraschino cherries, it’s got a remarkably soft finish for such a powerful wine. Like all the Whitehall Lane wines, it possesses both accessibility and age-worthy structure.


Club Room

Second, for club members and for Winery Exclusive Flight bookings, there is a well-appointed two-level Club Room, complete with a kitchen, that provides food for club events. The best seat in the house might just be the deck above the small produce garden, overlooking the vineyards to the west.  The Winery Exclusive Flight includes 5 limited production wines, accompanied by a small cheese plate ($60). A Napa Cabernet Exclusive Flight, served with cheese, is also available ($90). These experiences can also be enjoyed in the Garden Pavilion.


Whitehall Lane Winery scooter

Red Stella Scooter

Third, there’s an utterly adorable red Stella scooter with sidecar, perfect for those ubiquitous selfies. Parked just outside the Lion’s Cage, where older vintages are stored, the scooter was purchased by owner, Tom Leonardini, in celebration of his family’s Italian heritage. You can even don a pair of goggles, as his daughter, Katie Leonardini, Vice President of Operations did, on a recent visit. 

Upstairs in the Club Room area there’s a photo of huge family gathering, taken in a San Francisco restaurant. She points to her grandfather, so young, his life still ahead of him.

This is wholeheartedly a family operation, and one of the few remaining in Napa Valley today. Yet it was one Katie didn’t embrace right away. “I majored in Poli Sci in college, and worked briefly as a teacher before getting into financial services,” she says. “I moved to Philadelphia while pregnant with twins, and 4 years later came back here to California with three little kids. The winery pulled me in. I knew I was ready.” 

As we walked through the cellar, Katie introduced me to her son, William, who was helping to ready barrels for bottling. After graduating from Cornell, he spent time working harvests at Louis Martini, then in South Africa. He is currently working alongside winemaker, Jason Moulton, before he heads to Paso Robles to work at Denner Winery for the 2024 harvest. Winemaker Moulton’s worldwide background includes working with legends Philippe Melka and David Ramey, and time spent in cellars from Bordeaux to Canada. He’s happily at home in Rutherford.


Whitehall Lane Winery
Katie Leonardini, Winemaker Jason Moulton and Tom Leonardini, Jr.

Katie’s brother, Tom Jr., runs the winery’s national and international sales and marketing organization. As we toured the cellar, we also came across Tom Leonardini the 3rd. “Tommy” as they refer to him, is Whitehall Lane’s Cellar Master. Tommy and William enjoy working side by side in production.

Katie says winemaker Moulton has brought a lot to the operation since he joined Whitehall Lane in 2016. “He asked me what we should add to our lineup and I said ‘Sparkling!’ This is the third year we’ve done it.” All hand riddled in house, the 2022 Blanc de Noirs from Petaluma Gap is a standout, with its pale lilac-rose color and aromas of pink grapefruit and cranberry, followed by delicate bursts of rhubarb, cranberry and wild strawberries on the palate. It comes from the Sonoma Stage Vineyard, and is made entirely from pinot noir clone 115.

When Tom Leonardini Sr. purchased the Whitehall Lane property in 1993, after selling off his car rental franchises, he inherited a winery with a good reputation for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, that had access to some prime Napa vineyards. Leonardini tirelessly sought to expand those holdings and bolster the reputation begun by a family from Southern California that planted the vineyard here back in 1979. He’s done so with the help of GM Mike McLoughlin, who happened to walk into the winery right after Leonardini purchased it, asking if they needed help. Tom Sr. gave him a job on the spot, and he’s been there since.

In addition to the estate vineyard, which is 23 acres, the Leonardini family now owns seven other vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties for a total of 200 acres. Their case production is about 35k and there are five core wines that make up 80 percent of their production, which is distributed nationwide. The rest of the wines are small lots, including Semillon, vineyard designate Cabernets, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The winery is open for tastings seven days a week. Tastings start at $50. Definitely ask to sit out in the garden. There are six Adirondack chairs with a killer view of the very western edge of Napa Valley as it meets the Mayacamas, where you can drink a toast to one of the true family owned and operated wineries left in Napa.


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