Oak Knoll winery focuses on sustainable farming, congenial hospitality, and balanced, elegant wines
The tree-lined Napa River curls through the eastern edge of the 50-acre Oak Knoll District ranch of Materra–Cunat Family Vineyards. Brian Cunat, an international real estate developer, and his wife, Miki, a native of Japan, entered the wine business with the purchase of the property in 2007.
The couple later built a state-of-the-art winery to make their wines and provide custom-crush services to boutique and larger clients. A new hospitality space with three private tasting rooms and a light-filled lounge area is expected to open in early 2024.
Visiting Materra–Cunat Family Vineyards
Hosts greet guests at their cars with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, setting the tone for the congenial sessions that follow. The standard Daily Tasting ($45 per person) consists of two whites and three reds.
When the weather’s good, most visitors sip outdoors, the better to soak up the vineyard and mountain views. The latter encompass the Vaca Range to the east and the Mayacamas Mountains to the west.
Guests can also opt for the White Wine Tasting ($45) of three whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Chardonnay) and the Yoshino Rosé of Malbec.
The rosé, named for Japan’s Yoshino Mountain, is also served at the Japanese Tasting ($45), along with the easy-on-the-oak Shinkan Chardonnay and the “soft and approachable” Dogura Cabernet Sauvignon. With input from Miki Cunat, winemaker Chelsea Barrett developed these small-batch wines specifically for pairing with Japanese cuisine. Materra offers the Japanese Tasting when all three are available.
The Red Wine Tasting ($60) often begins with the Merlot-heavy Right Bank and four-grape Midnight blends, usually followed by two Cabernet Sauvignons and Petite Sirah. A recent tasting also included the potent flagship Vine 1 Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine honors the mid-19th-century vintner Captain Joseph Warren Osborn, whose many accomplishments include naming Oak Knoll.
Respect for the Land
Brian Cunat, who grew up on an Illinois farm, brought his appreciation of agriculture’s rigors and respect for the land to Materra—the name merges two Latin words, mater (mother) and terra (earth). Over the years, he and Miki planted Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah on their estate and acquired other land nearby.
The farming at Materra–Cunat emphasizes sustainability. Interspersed throughout the vineyards are roosting boxes for owls that control the rodent population and bluebirds that feed on insects. Innovative alternatives to spraying insecticides were introduced to minimize the impact of glassy-winged sharpshooters, vine-destroying predators that thrive near waterways.
In recognition of these efforts, the winery has received Napa Green and Fish Friendly Farming certification.
Family, Napa Ties
Several family members are or have been involved in the winery over the years, most notably Cunat daughters Amie, who designed the labels, and Neena, who for seven years handled day-to-day operations. Neena’s husband, Harry Heitz of the longtime Napa Valley clan, assumed her duties so she could concentrate on her photography career.
Barrett, who joined Materra in 2019, also has deep Napa Valley ties. Her parents are Bo Barrett, CEO of Chateau Montelena, and esteemed winemaker and consultant Heidi Peterson Barrett.
A visit to Materra comes off mellower than experiences at labels hell-bent on wowing patrons at every turn. The low-key approach keeps the focus where it belongs: on Barrett’s balanced, elegant wines and the magnificent valley-floor setting where many of their sustainably cultivated grapes are grown.