Day 1 - Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Our arrival day in the valley of wine. We began our day in Tennessee at 3:15 AM when the alarm went off signaling the beginning of another trip to Wine Country. The plane left Chattanooga about 6:00 AM headed for Atlanta where we would get our connection to Sacramento. We landed about 10:30 AM and picked up our luggage and rental car and hit on the road about 11:30. In a hurry to get to Napa Valley.
Our first and only appointment for the day was in St. Helena at 2:30 PM. Arriving in the Valley a little early, we made an unscheduled stop at Hope & Grace in Yountville. Those of you who are looking for Pinot, you could not do much better than tasting the two releases here. I am a cab and zin person, always have been, always will be, but the 08 Doctor’s Vineyard Santa Lucia combines fruit and body, and at $46 was considered a very good buy. But wait, their 08 Hendricks Doctor’s Vineyard was a cut above with berries that cling to your palate with a long lingering finish. At $75, I doubt you could find a much better Pino in the Valley. Then on to our favorite, the cabs. We tasted 2, the 2007 and 2008 Lewelling, St. Helena. The 07 was filled with fruit and a long lingering finish. The 08 has not been released yet and really needed some time to develop in the bottle. Open it in a couple years and let it decant, and you will probably have an incredible cab. The 07, at $58, followed us home. Matthew Beverly was our host and led us through their offerings. He was knowledgeable and fun making for a great experience.
Now, let me digress for a moment. I can remember when we started drinking wine back in the 60s and at maybe $7 per bottle, Mateus was our favorite. As our palates have changed and our tastes have become more sophisticated (I can’t believe I said that), our outlay per bottle has steadily risen. I can remember a time when I would not think of paying $50 for a bottle of wine . . . then it was $75 . . . then more! I used to balk at paying high end prices but I can tell you first hand, there is a difference, and you can taste it.
Then on to St. Helena to our appointment at Salon St. Helena. This is a new tasting room featuring the wines of Harris Estate Vineyards and Jones Family Vineyards, both having Thomas Rivers Brown as winemaker. I first tasted TRB made wines when I purchased an 07 Harris Lakeview vineyard cab from the winery. All I can say is, “It was incredible”. I became an instant fan and selected five wineries on this trip with TRB as winemaker. By the way, he was named Winemaker of the Year in 2010 and has had more 100 point wines than any other winemaker. The first wine we tasted was the Harris 08 Indulgence cab. Lots of fruit, smooth and balanced, incredible nose. The second was the 07 Jake’s Creek vineyard cab. Bold, smooth with lots of fruit. The next was the Jones 08 “The Sisters” cab. Very fruit forward with a very nice finish. And the last was the Jones Estate cab. We were told that this was more in the French style, more earth with not as much fruit, a little softer. We enjoyed all of these wines and even thought they were on the high end, bottles of each followed us home. Asa Baird was our host and he made the experience enjoyable. I gave all these wines a WOW, and am looking forward to tasting more of Thomas Rivers Brown magic. The fee was a little steep at $35, but knowing the wine, it was definitely worth it. When I mentioned to Asa that I had ordered from Harris before, he waived the fee.
Day 2 - Wednesday, October 26
The day began a little on the crisp side, but the sun was out and we knew it was going to be a fabulous day. Because we are tasting so many wines, I will only write about the ones we brought home with us.
Our first stop was at Paradigm (pronounced pear-a-dime) winery in Oakville. This is another of those smaller family wineries. First up was the 08 Oakville Merlot. Normally, I am not a Merlot drinker, but this one stood out. The nose was incredible and the wine had a very nice body for a Merlot with a nice smooth finish. I would say more of a Cab drinkers Merlot. Then we tasted the 07 Oakville Cab which was made up of 90% Cab, 7% Merlot, and 2% Cab Franc. A great fruit forward body full of flavor, power and elegance. Heidy Peterson Barrett is the winemaker here. We had a nice tour and we were able to watch some of the crush. The tour and tasting were hosted by Jennifer Harris-Jakoby, daughter of the owner.
Our next stop was at Keever Winery near Yountville. Another small family owned winery, so small that we had a hard time finding it. Guess we should have had Shirley, our GPS with us. She would have gone crazy at the number of times we went past the street to turn on. Those of you who have been in this area will recognize the California Soldiers Home (may not be the correct name). Well, you go up the road toward it, come to a privacy gate, go through it, and go clear up on the hill overlooking the valley below around Yountville. By the way, when we were back down in the valley, we could look up and see the house. We purchased the 2008 Cab which had intense aromas and 100% Cab. Full bodied with a nice smooth finish. Olga Keever gave us the tour and led the tasting. Their tasting and tour fee was $35.00 . . . a little steep and with the price of the bottle of wine, I wouldn’t wouldn't do it again
After our lunch at Pacific Blues, we traveled up Deer Park Road and Howell Mountain to about 1100 ft. to taste at Bremer Family Winery. Our first purchase was the 05 Howell Mountain Merlot . . . yes, another merlot of powerful body with lots of fruit and great finish. I am beginning to enjoy Merlot that has a good body, a “Cab Drinkers Merlot”. The second purchase was their 06 Napa Cab which we preferred over their Howell Mountain Cab which seemed to have too many tannins for us. The NV Cab was really smooth with a great finish. The tasting was led by Kathy Wood who I would highly recommend. On another day this trip we will taste four more Howell Mountain wineries, which I believe if you put Bremmer at the end of that day, you would have a great five winery tour.
The last stop of the day was at B Cellars on the Silverado Trail up near Calistoga. I believe a couple years ago this was the Silver Rose winery. Although the venue was outstanding, the wines had not improved from when it was the Silver Rose. I could only recommend this as a pretty place to see. By the way, we walked in and were shown where to sit and the hostess came poured our wine and left . . . each variety with very little comment. Most of their wines were blends (maybe that is what the “B” stands for).
The last couple trips I have been wanting to stop at Dutch Henry and wished we had instead of B Cellars. Another time.
Let me digress for a minute. As far as I am concerned, part of the wine tasting experience is the people and those that guide you through tastings. I really don't care how good your wines are, if I don't have a good "people" experience, I will not purchase.
This was the end of the second day and with only four wineries, we were able to head for our hotel for a much needed nap before dinner.
I have 6 more days and if you are interested in reading about them, let me know.