Vol. 9 No.2. Mar '01
Tasting Notes / Scores: Brief tasting impressions are included following the winery write-up. An "n/n" indicates that no notes were taken.
Arrived at Luna at 1:00 for the 1st stop of the day. There were just a few people inside the nicely appointed tasting room when we arrived. While Luna is open by appointment for tour and tasting, drop-ins are welcome. We were met inside by Joyce McCollum, who poured us a taste of Pinot Grigio, then led us out to a side porch near the crush pad for a short history of the winery and the people behind it.
Started in 1996, Luna is a joint venture between Michael Moone, George Vare, and John Kongsgaard. Each of these principals brings a wealth of wine-related experience to the Luna venture, with Kongsgaard's winemaking reputation at Newton (as well as his own label), being the most familiar to wine fans. Settling on a primarily Italian theme, Luna is making Pinot Grigio, Sangiovese, and the ever marketable Merlot as their major wine releases. Kongsgaard's own label, as well as a few other "boutique" wines are being made here as well. Luna took over the former St. Andrews winery, remodeling it to meet their needs, and giving it an inviting Tuscan appearance. A young Pinot Grigio vineyard (replacing the previous Chardonnay) spreads out to the South in front of the winery. With an initial output of 10,000 cases, Luna has increased its production to 28,000 cases as of the 2000 vintage.
Joyce took us back into the tasting room to get some of the '99 Sangiovese, then, with glasses in hand, we headed over to the winery and barrel storage room for a peek. Grabbing a winethief, Joyce pulled us a barrel sample of the'99 Sangiovese Riserva - very nice! Space is at a premium here, so Luna's been using their own facilities for the winemaking, racking, and bottling processes, but they've contracted with off-site facilities to store their bottled wines, as well as some of those in barrel that are done with racking. We did a little more chatting, then headed back to the tasting room, where Joyce poured two more wines, the Merlot and the "Canto," a proprietary super-Tuscan. Asking if we'd like to see the tower that overlooks the property, she re-sampled us on the Luna wine of our choice, and led us upstairs to a small watchtower to take in the view. It was a beautiful yet unseasonably warm Napa day. And, as we sat there relaxing at the small table, with the warm breeze and the great vineyard view, we were wishing we could just spend the rest of the day right here. However, there were still more wineries on our itinerary, and time was passing. Out at 2:30.
Arrived at Darioush at 2:40. The winery is named for proprietor Darioush Khaledi, who founded it in 1997, taking over Altamura's former home on Silverado Trail (Altamura has apparently relocated). The tasting room is currently located in a double-wide mobile home opposite the small winery, and is attractively decorated with murals and wine accessories, along with artists renditions of the new and somewhat lavish winery yet to be built. Darioush offers two lines of wine for tasting and sale - the blue label Signature Series, and the lesser expensive tan label Estate Series, which is made for sale in the tasting room only. They're off to a nice start, with quick and efficient hospitality staff, a knowledgeable manager, and something you don't see very often -- one of the staff walked out from behind the small tasting bar, handed us glasses and poured us the first wine to start our tasting. Nice touch! Tasting fee $5.
Toward the end of the tasting, a fellow taster was trying the Estate Cab at the same time as we were. Apparently picking up some Cab Franc in the nose or mouth, he asked the staff if some Cab Franc had gone into the wine. Complimented for his observation, he was told that the Estate indeed had some; however, the Signature, which they would pour for him next, had none. Having already tried the Signature Cab, we nodded in agreement. Quickly noting that we had tasted the Signature Cab before the Estate Cab, the fellow decided to exercise his wine knowledge by reminding us wryly: "Hey, you're tasting out of order." Acknowledging his observation, but resisting my usual snappy comeback, we just moved along. Out at 3:30.
Arrived at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars at 3:35 to a very busy place. I'd not been here in several years and was interested to see what may have changed, in terms of wines, facilities, and hospitality staff. Well, the grounds are as beautiful as ever, and the winery / tasting room hasn't changed very much over the years. The tasting is still done in the winery itself, with a modest tasting bar tucked into one side of the room. This might provide plenty of room unless it gets crowded. Well, crowded it certainly was. Yet, these were some of the most mannerly wine tasters I've seen in a while. Most of the crowd seemed quite content to get their pour and move away from the bar allowing others to move into place. Lot of folks were standing or sitting around inside the tasting room and out in the patio and grounds areas, just enjoying the day. Observing the SLWC hospitality staff in action was something to behold. This certainly has to be some of the most attentive and efficient staff in Napa. Considering the quantity of people and the pace, they were hustling non-stop, and all the moves looked choreographed. Tasting fee $5. Out at 4:05.
Arrived at Robert Sinskey at 4:10 to a moderately busy room. Beautiful stone and wood paneled tasting room, with a nice view of the barrel room behind the bar. Friendly and knowledgeable staff. Although the tasting room was closing, they we kind enough not to rush patrons out the door, and even poured wine for a late arrival. Tasting fee $5. Also noted that the Aries label has apparently been retired.
Robert Sinskey Vineyards has been undergoing a 'grand experiment' for the last few of years - that of organic farming. Electing to rid themselves of all the pesticides and chemical fertilizers usually used in grape growing operations, they've embraced natural methods for maintaining the vineyards. The result, Sinskey believes, is or will be obvious in the end product. He makes a logically compeling argument about non-interventionist methods, and organic certification for Sinskey should be coming soon. Meanwhile, what's in the bottle you're wondering?
Wrap up: despite a short list of 4 wineries, we had a delightful time and never felt pressured to pick up the pace. If you're interested in a one-day itinerary or just an afternoon trip, this one on the lower half or Silverado Trail covers wineries that are very close to each other, as well as offering a diverse group of wines for tasting.