Travel, Etc. --> A Napa Boutiquie Winery Tour II
A Napa Boutique Winery Tour
Part II From Silver Oak to Ma(i)sonry
By, Jim Bandy
Thursday and Friday were just a warm-up for Saturday. We left downtown early, placing ourselves in the very capable hands of Gail Davidson of California Wine Tours. Gail guided us throughout our day carefully and comfortably so we wouldn’t have to drive after our tasting adventures.
First stop – Silver Oak for the 2004 release party! What a difference from last year where we tasted under a tent in the rain. The sun was shining on the
vineyards and Silver Oak’s new tasting facility was vast and welcoming. They were offering tastes of their 2004 throughout the day but there was a limited amount of the 1999 Library that began at 10:00am. And it was, as you would expect, very good. We kept returning for refills until they ran out. Then we migrated over to the 2004 stations and enjoyed the new release. And it was, as you would expect, very good. Silver Oak is one of those wineries that strive for consistency every year, so I couldn’t discern a big difference in profile between the two. Obviously, the 1999 showed more bottle age and subtleties, but I don’t know that the 2004 won’t show much of the same in 2009. I heard that over 6,000 people attended that day’s event. From the lines at the food tables I can believe it. Besides a couple of small bites we decided to spend our time focused on drinking wine. Unless you are a wine club member the charge for the event is $35.
915 Oakville Crossroad
Oakville, CA 94562
Tasting Room: (707) 942-7022
Nickel and Nickel
Primed and ready we headed to our next stop, Nickel and Nickel's Open House. Nickel and Nickel only bottles single vineyard wines. So you are likely to get a good sense of each vineyard year after year. They were offering eight wines that day, including the new vintage of the Suscol Ranch Merlot. This would be a good time to add a disclaimer: with all the Cabernet we consumed to that point, it would bedifficult for a non-Cabernet to really knock our socks off. Everything at Nickel and Nickel was quite good. My favorites in this year’s line-up were two Cabernets, the 2005 Witz End Vineyard and my perennial favorite, the Vogt Vineyard.
Nickel & Nickel
8164 St. Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562
Our next stop was Provenance (proh-vuh-nahce - according to the winery). Grapevine Cottage first introduced me to Provenance Cabernets. They’re always good, solid, Cab’s that can have some very good years. Provenance also owns the Hewitt label, which is part of Grapevine Cottage’s current collection. While I enjoyed the Provenance offerings it was that 2005 Hewitt Cabernet that stopped me in my tracks. This wine was bold, concentrated, and glass-licking good, even after everything I had tasted earlier. No wonder Wine Spectator gave it 94 points and placed it in the 2008 Top 100! It comes with an $85 price tag but I’ve paid more for wines that don’t have nearly this much going on. Wow! My friend Jill bought the last three bottles of their 2001 inaugural vintage. I added some 2002, 2003, and 2004 to my Grapevine Cottage purchases of the 2005.
1695 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573
Cult Wine Central
Cult Wine Central was next on our agenda. It is a very special tasting facility. Not so much in their architecture, grounds, or even courteousness but special in that they carry 25 small production premium wines. It fit our theme for the trip perfectly. That day’s premium red tasting included Cabernets from Showket, Hoopes, Lamborn, Jones, and Revana. You already know my opinion of the Showket. Of the others, I was expecting fireworks from Jones, Lamborn, and Revana given their famous winemaker. Only the Lamborn really stood out to me, though. Looking more closely at the bottle I saw it was Howell Mountain fruit which explained why. The other three were fine, just not quite up to my expectations.
Cult Wine Central
7830-40th St. Helena Highway
Oakville, CA 94562
We headed back to Bel Abri, very grateful for Gail’s professional navigation that allowed us to relax and recap the day’s adventures. Dinner that night was tapas at a fairly new restaurant in Napa: Zuzu. On Main Street in an old narrow building, this place had it all going on. The steady crowd of people kept the buzz going off the wooden floors, exposed brick walls, and tin-paneled ceiling. Yes, it was a little noisy but nothing intrusive. We sat upstairs overlooking the bar, stocked with a large barrel of Sangria and topped with architectural statues of angels. Funky, funky, funky. It was also the perfect place for our last dinner since we could all get something different without being overwhelmed. Our dishes ranged from beet salad, to pan-fried manchego cheese with poblano chiles, petrale sole to paella, flat-iron steak to Moroccan barbecued rack of lamb. Every last dish was delicious. We left content, happy, and determined to return to Zuzu’s when we’re next in town.
Sunday started leisurely as we rested at Bel Abri from our previous two day’s tasting. Many of us were flying out later that afternoon so we decided our first stop should be at Chandon for sparkling. You’ll be familiar, no doubt, with their Brut and Blanc de Noir which are both available at Grapevine Cottage. I regularly have one of these on hand for when the sparkling mood takes me. We tasted their Etoile bottlings that had aged for at least 5 years on lees. Maybe I was still under the Cabernet influence but I honestly preferred their regular bottlings. In any event, you should at least go to see the grounds. They are beautifully landscaped with unique nature-inspired artworks amidst the plantings.
1 California Drive
Yountville, CA 94599
A new tasting room had just opened in Yountville last October. They focus on small production wines. We simply couldn’t let the day go without stopping there to top off our visit. More than a tasting room, though, the Ma(i)sonry is a living gallery that occupies a stunning 1904 stone building. You can appreciate art and furnishings from contemporary to antique for both indoors and out. They are open for tastings by appointment only but are worth a stop just for shopping.
Anthony DiCarlo and his staff treated us royally. Thy (tie), was our primary guide through four premium wines by Lail, Brown, Pedras, and Blackbird. The quality of each wine shone through as we compared and discussed each one. I would be happy with any of these but the Lail Blueprint Red and the Blackbird Contrarian were our favorites. We could have purchased Blackbird from Cult Wine Central but the Ma(i)sonry staff were so much nicer I’m glad we gave our business to them.
6711 Washington Street
The clock was ticking so our journey drew to an end. And, frankly, my liver needed a rest. As I recall the wines we tasted, the new places visited, the wonderful people we met, and the time we spent enjoying the company I am reminded how much wine is meant to be shared with good food and good friends as often as you can. It doesn’t have to be Napa. Just stop by Grapevine Cottage, grab a bottle or two and meet up for pizza. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
March 11, 2009