In 1978, Dr. Julio Palmaz arrived in the Bay Area from Argentina with his wife and young daughter. Like many immigrants, he had a dream—to create a medical device that would hold open clogged or narrowed arteries—and believed it could only become a reality in the United States. He got to know the region quickly: the family lived in Martinez, his medical residency was at UC Davis, and he worked a few days a week at a VA Hospital near San Francisco. But his favorite place to spend his free time was Napa. Dr. Palmaz and his wife instantly fell in love with the valley.

“This was the most charming place in the world for my folks who grew up with wine centered on the table of their culture,” Dr. Palmaz’s son and current COO of the winery, Christian, explains. “The stent at that time was Radio Shack wire on a number two pencil in the garage. It was a dream, a crazy idea. Back then, the concept of putting a metal implantable scaffold inside the arterial vascular structure was insane.” 

Palmaz Vineyards

Dr. Palmaz persevered with his invention, and in 1985, he patented the world’s first stent, which became approved for use in 1991. By this time, the Palmaz family had moved to Texas but was looking for property in their beloved Napa. In 1996, they purchased a large parcel of land on Mount George that laid fallow for 77 years. The Palmazs set out to restore the property and create a world-class winery. 

“The property as an estate project was unique in the sense that it had a tremendous amount of diversity from a terroir perspective,” Christian Palmaz says. “It’s three significantly diversified micro-climates.” Thus, different grapes were planted at different elevations. The fruit from 46 distinct blocks is kept separate—from vine to barrel.

Jessica and Christian Palmaz

The wine ages in the barrel, and only after it has fully developed does winemaker Tina Mitchell craft the blends that make Palmaz’s complex, well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Reisling, Rosé, and Muscat. Palmaz Vineyards’ offerings go with food, and reflecting their Argentine heritage, the reds pair wonderfully with dishes cooked over a live fire. 

Today, Palmaz is a family-run operation with Christian’s wife, Jessica, and older sister, Florencia, overseeing aspects of the business. Everyone has a house on the property, and they come together frequently for meals. They love being a part of the Coombsville community and hope to continue farming the land for generations. 

The entrance to Palmaz's cave

Known For: Its use of technological innovation to grow grapes and for having Napa Valley’s largest wine cave. The 18-story cave is built into the side of Mount George, allowing the winemaking process to be entirely gravity-flow, including the bottling. It’s considered the tallest winery in the world and one of the most advanced—complete with its own water treatment system.

At the heart of the cave is the Fermentation Dome, a carousal with 24 stainless steel tanks. Christian Palmaz developed a proprietary data-tracking system that monitors the wine during fermentation known as FILCS (pronounced Felix) Fermentation Intelligent Logical Control System. The real-time data projects onto the ceiling of the dome.

The fermentation dome with data projected on the ceiling

Christian says of his use of technology, “The right approach is to surround the winemaking process with this end-to-end data analytical assistant that adds situational awareness to what's happening in the vineyard, in the process and the fermentation. But at the same time, it is not taking away from the creativity and cycling the artistic element of wine, which is obviously very important still.”

A second tool that he’s built? Vigor, or Vineyard Infrared Growth Optical Recognition. It consists of a series of multi-spectral cameras on the underside of an airplane. Every Monday and Thursday, a plane flies over the property (in partnership with a local flight school), taking pictures of the vines. The collected images measure the levels of chlorophyll in the grape leaves, which the winemaking team uses in conjunction with soil moisture data to determine how much water each vine needs. “It’s a great application,” Christian says. “I’m really proud of it. Saves water, makes better grapes.”

A tasting awaits a guest

How to Taste: Reservations are required, and guests should allocate two hours for the experience. You’ll get a tour of the stunning property, learn how the wine is made, and then taste five wines, each paired with a small bite of food. If you can’t make it to Coombsville, Palmaz also offers virtual tastings. Learn more on their website

Wine Club 411: Known as the Brasas Club, there are four vineyard memberships to choose from, all customizable, ranging from six to 48 bottles annually. Members are invited to exclusive winery events, including an Argentine-style asado hosted by the family. Palmaz also has a Wagyu beef ranch membership from their sister property Genesee Valley Ranch that annually grants members a certain amount of premium meat. 

A photo of Henry Hagen at Palmaz Vineyards

Fun Fact: The 640 acres of Coombsville that the Palmaz family calls home was owned by Napa pioneer Henry Hagen. Hagen purchased the land in 1881 and created Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery. He produced wine enjoyed throughout the Bay Area and brandy that won a silver medal at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair.

Photography by Elan Villamor

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