Keen on exploring the breathtaking Joseph Phelps Vineyard estate and their exceptional wines?
Joseph Phelps is one of the most famous Napa Valley wine estates producing a range of critically-acclaimed wines for almost half a century.
Interestingly, the winery pioneered the first California red Bordeaux-style blends and Syrah and Rhone-style blends (later sold to Randy Pura and Ventana Vineyards.)
But what is the secret behind the iconic Joseph Phelps brand?
This Article Contains:
(Click on the links below to go to a specific section)
- The Renowned Joseph Phelps Winery
- The History Behind Joseph Phelps
- Viticulture at Joseph Phelps
- Joseph Phelps Wine Styles
- The Most Outstanding Joseph Phelps Wines to Buy in 2021
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia 1974, Napa Valley
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia 1984, Napa Valley
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Heinemann Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir 1975
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1975
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1979
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Selected Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling 1976
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1978
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Delice du Semillon 1997
The Renowned Joseph Phelps Winery
The Joseph Phelps family owned winery is located in Napa Valley, California. Its founder was a successful contractor and entrepreneur who managed his own construction company in Colorado before he fell in love with the craft of winemaking.
The estate’s flagship wine is the Bordeaux blend Insignia, which critic Robert Parker hailed as “one of the world’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends.” Although the winery is most famous for its Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wine, it also produces other magnificent wines from these grapes:
- Pinot Noir
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Grenache Rose
Let’s see how this famous estate came into existence.
The History Behind Joseph Phelps
In 1973, Joe Phelps bought a 600-acre cattle ranch near St. Helena in the beautiful Napa Valley. The ranch had no vine plantings, so Phelps planted around 100 acres of prime vineyards.
The winery building was constructed in 1974, and in the same year, Phelps produced his first Insignia wine (made with fruit bought from local grape growers.)
In the 1980s, biodynamic farming practices were introduced on the Joseph Phelps vineyard property.
In the 1990s, Joseph Phelps wanted to expand his vineyard holdings with lands more suited to growing Burgundian-style grapes like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Sonoma Coast climate was perfect for that, so in 1999 he purchased a 200-acre former dairy farm near the town of Freestone, Sonoma County. Phelps replanted the property with young vines.
By 2004, the family owned winery was growing enough grapes to produce its first 100% estate-grown Insignia vintage.
Joseph Phelps passed away in 2015, and his son Bill Phelps took over the management.
The winery opened its grandiose hospitality center in the same year, where you can attend different wine tasting events and wine education lectures. The center also offers a terrace tasting experience that allows you to taste the different Joseph Phelps wines while overlooking the estate’s beautiful vineyards.
Viticulture at Joseph Phelps
The Joseph Phelps vineyard holdings spread over 425 acres across nine vineyard parcels in Napa Valley:
- St. Helena
- Oak Knoll District
- Stags Leap District
- South Napa
The soil in these vineyards is a mix of gravel, pebbles, clay, and volcanic rocks.
On the western Sonoma Coast Freestone estate, Joseph Phelps has 100 acres of vineyard property that includes:
- The Pastorale vineyard on the Western Sonoma Coast that’s planted with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
- The Quarter Moon Vineyard that’s exclusively planted with the Pinot Noir grape varietal
Joseph Phelps uses the following biodynamic techniques in viticulture:
- The estate produces its own organic compost.
- A biodynamic diversity is maintained. Besides the vine plantings, there are fruit trees, flowers, and herbs.
- The different grape varieties and crops are carefully selected and matched with the most suitable vineyard parcels.
Next, let’s see the Joseph Phelps signature wine styles.
Joseph Phelps Wine Styles
The grape composition in the wine varies from year to year. Joseph Phelps Insignia contains Cabernet Sauvignon grapes predominantly with small amounts of other red Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec.
Joseph Phelps has produced over 34 vintages of the iconic Napa wine - Insignia. There are about 15,000-18,000 cases of Insignia produced annually.
The other famous Joseph Phelps wines include:
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Backus: This is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine produced from vineyards near Oakville, Napa.
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Freestone Pinot Noir: This Pinot Noir wine is produced from the grapes in the Freestone estate vineyards.
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Freestone Chardonnay: An elegant Chardonnay wine from the Sonoma Freestone vineyards.
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Freestone Quarter Moon Vineyard Pinot Noir: A single-vineyard Pinot Noir that comes from Freestone’s Quarter Moon Vineyard in Sonoma County
- Joseph Phelps Vineyards Freestone Pastorale Vineyard Pinot Noir: This is another unique Sonoma Pinot made with grapes exclusively from the Pastorale vineyard.
There was also a Rhone-style blend brand - Le Mistral - but, it was sold to Randy Pura and Ventana Vineyards in 2018.
So, which are the best Joseph Phelps wines you should look out for?
The Most Outstanding Joseph Phelps Wines to Buy in 2021
Here are our top picks of Joseph Phelps for 2021:
1. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia 1974, Napa Valley
This mature Napa Bordeaux blend is made from grapes from the Oak Knoll, St. Helena, Stags Leap District, and Rutherford vineyards.
The flagship wine has preserved its freshness and developed mild tannin levels and silky texture over the years. There are notes of ripe blackberry, cassis, and fruitcake with hints of chocolate and toffee on the palate.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia 1974, Napa Valley: $1,773
2. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia 1984, Napa Valley
This elegant dry California wine from the 1984 vintage is made with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The wine surprises with delightful acidity and grainy tannins. The dominant flavor of black cherry is complemented by subtle notes of wood spice, chocolate, and tobacco.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia 1984, Napa Valley: $408
3. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Heinemann Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir 1975
Here we have a mature Napa Pinot Noir that needs at least two hours of decanting to open up. The rich bouquet of flavors includes licorice, cassis, and black cherry with a leather aftertaste and a superb finish.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Heinemann Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir 1975: $290
4. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1975
This is a traditional Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1975 vintage that has red fruit aromas and beautiful dark fruit tasting notes. This California wine is complex with layers of smoke, earth, and herbal undertones and is a beautiful expression of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1975: $887
5. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1979
This Napa red wine blend has a complex nose of red fruit, cherry, and ripe blackberry aromas with intense minerality. On the palate, the wine has pleasant notes of mint, earth, and dark chocolate.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1979: $601
6. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
This well-balanced Napa Cabernet Sauvignon surprises with a silky texture and medium tannin levels. The concentrated tasting notes of plum, licorice, and black cherry transition slowly into an oaky vanilla finish.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2015: $700
7. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Selected Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling 1976
Here we have a unique Joseph Phelps Riesling with a golden yellow color and oily texture. On the palate, there are sweet flavors of caramel, honeyed apricots, and maple syrup accompanied by slight petroleum undertones.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Selected Late Harvest Johannisberg Riesling 1976: $317
8. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1978
This intense Napa Cabernet strikes with intense aromas of juicy cherry, cassis, and red fruits. This full-bodied wine has a lively freshness and medium tannin levels. On the palate, it has chocolate, vanilla, and leather tasting notes.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1978: $347
9. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
This exceptional Cabernet is still young and fresh with grainy tannins and refreshing acidity. On the palate, the ripe blackberry and dominant cherry flavors complement the subtle aroma of earth, smoke, and licorice.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016:$340
10. Joseph Phelps Vineyards Delice du Semillon 1997
This beautiful white Napa wine is made with 100% Semillon grapes. The wine has a warm golden color and creamy texture.
The nose is rich with hints of apple and peach. On the palate, layered flavors of toffee, caramel, and honey fade into a long-lasting finish.
Price of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Delice du Semillon 1997: $158
Is Joseph Phelps - one of the world's great wines - a great long-term investment option?
Investing in Joseph Phelps Wines
Joseph Phelps is a good investment wine with a longevity of about 20-30 years. One of the most iconic wines, the flagship Napa Valley blend Insignia can last well beyond three decades.
Besides all the other accolades from wine critics, the 2002 Insignia vintage won the “Wine of the Year” award from the Wine Spectator magazine.
Joseph Phelps is among the iconic wines which represent a stable investment with a slow and steady price appreciation over time:
- Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012 grew 9% from $220 in 2019 to $240 in 2021.
- The rare Joseph Phelps Vineyards Riesling surged by 565%, from $48 in 2020 to $315 in 2021.
Joseph Phelps wines do well at auctions too:
- At an auction in 2014, 12 bottles of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1978 Napa Valley were sold for $5,795.
- At a Christie’s auction in 2016, an 11-bottle lot of Joseph Phelps Insignia 1994 sold for $2,083.
So, how can you easily buy a bottle of Joseph Phelps for your wine collection?
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Add a Superior Joseph Phelps Wine to Your Wine Collection
Joseph Phelps is nothing short of an iconic Napa wine producer, and a wine bottle like Insignia would fit perfectly in any wine enthusiast’s collection.
It is also an excellent investment-grade collectible with great aging potential.
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