Travel, Etc. --> Napa Boutique Winery Tour I
Napa Boutiquie Winery Tour I
Part I: From Jessup Cellars to Bleaux Magnolia
By, Jim Bandy
When the going gets tough, the tough…go to Napa?
Amidst the snow and cold of our early winter, I joined a group offriends on a trip to Napa. Silver Oak was hosting its Napa 2004 Release Party on February 7, so it seemedas good a time as any. This year their new tasting facility was open, and they were releasing the 2004 vintage. Beyond Silver Oak, we made it our goal to seek out boutique wineries whose wines can be difficult to get, even in California. So, before you read much further, please be aware that some of the wines referenced may not be submitted for professional review, have limited production, and are not widely distributed. So, enjoy the article, but don’t be too upset if some of these don’t end up on Grapevine Cottage racks.
February can be cold and wet in Napa, at least by California standards. That meant off-season pricing and lots of hotel availability, right? The Silver Oak event draws so many people that lodging can be challenging on that first weekend of February. Fervent research determined that our quaint inn from last year’s trip, Bel Abri, was still the best deal available. Bel Abri is conveniently located off Highway 29 at First Street. It’s comfortable, it’s quaint, and downtown Napa is a 10-minute walk or 3-minute drive. Only if you’re a coffee snob is there a drawback. Easily remedied, though – the Napa Coffee Company (my favorite) and Starbucks are both just a couple of minutes away.
Arriving Thursday afternoon, we learned that Jessup Cellars was going to host a tasting that very night at Bel Abri. Jessup Cellars is a premium winery with small production – a perfect fit with our theme! We enjoyed tasting with them last year and looked forward to their new offerings. Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Petite Syrah were what Jessup introduced that evening. Our gregarious group took an immediate liking to their representative, Tracy. After recounting our fond memories of last year’s visit, she graciously offered to set up a private tasting of Cabernet flights the next day at their Yountville tasting room.
Primed with good Jessup wines we headed off to UVA Trattoria for dinner. UVA is located in downtown Napa, and has been a favorite with locals for many years. With its casual atmosphere, live jazz combo, wide selection, and very reasonable prices we knew we were in for a good time. We all ordered different dishes. Everyone was happy. The flavors were fresh, delicious, and comforting. We chose a couple of bottles of the Frescobaldi Nippozano Chianti Reserva that were versatile enough to complement the range of dishes we consumed. I understand why it was named a top wine of 2008 by Wine Spectator. This is currently available at Grapevine Cottage for $25.
We departed early on Friday – remember, you can’t drink all day if you don’t start early in the morning. Our first stop was Girard. Many of you have discovered Girard
wines from Grapevine’s collection. Their tasting room in Yountville was chic, with pieces of wood salvaged from a Missouri barn adding warmth and an earthy connection to the interior feel. Their Sauvignon Blanc, part of Grapevine Cottage’s current collection, is a nice mix of traditional California grassiness with grapefruit. Crisp and refreshing without being pungent – exactly what I look for in this varietal. It just won the Golden Oyster award in Washington State. You should definitely check out this Wine Enthusiast 90 pointer for $14.99. Their Petite Sirah, also available at Grapevine Cottage, was delicious. Of the three other wines tasted and I had two “wow” moments. First was their 2005 Diamond Mountain Cabernet – deep, delicious, and clearly a winner with Robert Parker 92 points, Wine Spectator 91 points and Wine Enthusiast 95 points. Second was a unique blend they called “Mixed Blacks.” A field blend of numerous grapes from a 125 year old vineyard. It was, to borrow Doug’s phrase, a Rhône on steroids! Fewer than 400 cases were made so it was only available from the winery. At this point, we needed some lunch!
Just south of Girard is a great lunch spot called Hurley's. They were just opening up
when we arrived and Bob Hurley greeted us at the door. The menu was varied and reasonably priced, especially considering its Yountville neighbors like The French Laundry. Another nice thing about Hurley’s is that they’re open throughout the afternoon. So, if you wrap up tasting around 5 pm and want an early dinner, they’re the place to go. I had the spicy Moroccan vegetable tagine. It was heavenly – just the right amount of spice to ward off the cloudy, drizzly, February day.
Time to meet up with Tracy at Jessup Cellars just up the road. Tracy had us set up in their expanded space that also displays beautiful artwork. Jessup bottles several varietals including Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Cabernet, and a proprietary blend called Table For Four. Today, though, we were there to taste a three-year flight of their Napa Cabernet: 2003, 2004, and 2005. All were very approachable but the 2003 stood out as my favorite. I have no doubt that the 2004 and 2005 will also settle into their own character given another year or two in the bottle. Stop by this premium winery and see if you agree.
We left Yountville heading east to connect with the Silverado Trail. From there we headed north where GPS could no longer guide us. Where were we going? We had been invited to meet and taste with one of the owners of Showket Vineyards. If you’ve ever had Showket wines you’ll understand why I was giddy with excitement. Following their directions we drove up, and up, and up the mountainside. The views across the Napa Valley were stupendous! The palm trees, roses, citrus, and rosemary of their garden continued the visual feast. Kal Showket greeted us and invited us into their lovely home. Kal, a former engineer and race car driver, was delightful. We settled into their kitchen and, for almost three hours, conversed about their wines, their unique location, and their exciting new winemaking team. This was an amazing experience where we all felt truly connected to Kal and Dorothy who were generating delicious and very special wines. You can find and taste their wines at Cult Wine Central, located at the intersection of Highway 29 and the Oakville Cross Road. We stopped there on Saturday, so you’ll read more on that later.
On our way across the valley we remembered that Girard had recommended Hill Family Estates. Their tasting room was in nearby Yountville so we made a mad dash to arrive before closing. Hill’s tasting room doubles as an antique shop and art gallery. It was fun to browse while enjoying their wines. Of their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet, and Syrah we tasted, the Sauvignon Blanc was very tasty but the Syrah was a standout. The 2006 Clarke Vineyard Syrah was young and bold straight out of the bottle but it smoothed out nicely after an hour or so. There was only a small amount left, and it was a relative bargain at $35.00. I think this estate has a lot going for it.
Dinner Friday night was at Bleaux Magnolia. Voted a Top 10 restaurant last fall, Bleaux Magnolia offers updated Creole cuisine in downtown Napa. Located in an old house on Clay Street, it’s eclectic, jazzy, and fun! From the Gator Tots, to the Duck Jambalaya, to the Seafood Gumbo. Everything was superb. And, they have no corkage fee! They’re definitely a top place on my Napa dining list now.
Part II: From Silver Oak to Ma(i)sonry
March 4, 2009