Visits in This Issue:
(Journal notes on an obligatory and gustatory tour of Napa Valley and Sonoma County wine regions. Regarding tasting notes, each wine was scored using the requisite sight, smell, and taste impressions. Scores reflect a combination of two of the tasters opinions, and we've taken the liberty of "grading" the wines using an asterisk (*) on those we feel rate some merit. I haven't decided on a symbol for "bah" yet. And an upsidedown glass isn't on the keyboard yet, either.)
Sunday, October 10, 1993
Left Irvine at 6:15am for Mecca. The plan is to start at the South end of Sonoma and work our way North through Sonoma Valley, and head South thru the Alexander Valley and down into Napa Valley, all over a period of 4 days. We're counting on 4 visits the first day and about 6 per day thereafter. We've got a total of 23 on our list, half of which we've visited before, but think they warrant a return visit.
Arrived at first stop, Ravenswood about 1:40. It's a smallish place on knoll w/stone front, just North of downtown portion of quaint Sonoma (this used to be the Haywood tasting room.). Ravenswood is a rather renown Zin producer, and we're rather renown Zin tasters (amongst ourselves, that is). Normally pouring 4 tastes, they were pouring all they had, and N/C too! Tried '84 Char; 2 Zins (VB**); 2 '91 Cabs (Gregory *, Sonoma ***); and '90 Pickberry ***. No vino purchases. Probably going to try to keep a lid on purchases of stuff we hope to find back locally. Got pretty busy w/Sunday visitors, so off we went to next stop ~ 2:10.
On next to Arrowood . Arrived ~ 2:20. We had all liked Arrowood Cabs in previous tastings, so we were looking forward to this stop. N/C pouring of '91 Char and '90 Cab . Cab was just as delicious as expected! Beautiful view of countryside off Hwy 12. No vino purchases here either.
Next to Kenwood. Arr ~ 3:00. Selected 4 tastes N/C from list. Same barn-like tasting room as last visit. Fair-sized crowd in attendance, but managed to get nice place at bar. Discovered vital piece of research -- older male pourers don't pour as generously as younger female pourers. We'll apply for a grat to study this phenomenon further. Tried JL Zin; '90 Sonoma Cab **; '89 JL Cab **; '90 Artist's Label ***.
Off to Ch. St. Jean. Arr ~ 3:30. N/C tasting of 4 pours. Tried Fume Blanc, Chardonnay, a Sparkling wine and a Gewertztraminer. No reds poured. Too bad, the reserves have been getting a good write-up lately. If they were pouring any reds, it appeared it must have been upstairs, and for a fee. A little tailgate snacking, and left at 3:50 for the incredibly long drive to our next stop.
Drove out the driveway and straight across the major 2-lane thoroughfare arriving 2 minutes later at St. Francis. Tasted N/C '90 Merlot; '89 Cab Franc; '89 Cab Resv ; '90 Zin . The Merlot was kind of a let down, considering this is a well known Merlot house. No vino purchases. Left about 4:20.
Overnight in Santa Rosa. Today's impressions: EA thought Arrowood Cab best of day, followed by Kenwood Artist's Cab, Ravenswood Pickberry, and Jack London Cab round out the favs. MP differed: thought both the other Kenwood Cabs bested the Pickberry. I enjoyed the Kenwood ambiance the best. No rush, nor pressure even though fairly busy and crowded. Arrowood was kind of solitary, with not too many people wandering in. Ravenswood was rustic, and maybe a bit messy and rushed. St. Francis, good runner-up to Kenwood for me. Ch. St. Jean seemed too corporate & blah. What a great start: planned for 4 wineries, but made it to 5. Tomorrow's itinerary takes us to 6 wineries. But, we may do a little improvising along the way.
Monday, October 11, 1993
Off to Piper Sonoma for a bubbly start. Arrived 10:25; not their first customers of the day, but we sure got the full treatment. Tried 2 NV: Brut and Blanc de Noir at N/C. Plus, tasted '88 of same types (both **) at N/C (usually $2.50). Very friendly pourer suggested some other local stops to us, but we're on kind of a tight schedule. Nice visit. Left ~ 11:00.
Arr Lytton Springs @ 11:15. Now owned by Ridge Vineyards. Weather's cloudy with light sprinkles. Got the full treatment and then some from our animated pourer. Tried '90 Lytton Zin (13.9%); '91 Lytton Springs Zin; '91 Ridge Paso Robles Zin (14.9%) ***; '90 Ridge York Creek (14.6%) **; '90 Lytton Spr LH Zin ***; '91 Ridge Geyserville; LH Gewertz; '91 Ridge LH Zin **. 8 wines -- and gratis, too. Did a brief tailgate picnic, and moved on to greener vines. Left about 12:20 for 10 min ride down the road to Mazzaco.
Arr about 12:30 at Mazzocco. Owned by a physician, the winery sits on a knoll with a great view of valley, and right next to small local airport (that the good Doctor uses for commutes). Vines still fairly heavy with grapes. The local tasting room cat was completely undisturbed by patrons. Tasted '91 Char (2nd label--River Ln) **; '90 Merlot; '91 Sonoma Zin (14.5%) **; '89 Cab; '89 Matrix (meritage). All in all, a nice and friendly visit. Left for next stop at 12:45.
Arr at Ferrari-Carano at 1:00. Nice setting in a small valley. Beautiful grounds, with flowers everywhere. Nice tasting room inside the winery. A new Chateau-like tasting room and cellar is being built on grounds adjacent to teh winery. Behind the wine bar is a full glass windowed area looking into oak storage room. Turns out that at least one of the principals of this winery also own a Nevada hotel. So, money's probably not a problem here. $2.50 tasting for 4 wines from list. Picked reds only; tried '90 Pinot; '91 Zin (14.6%)***; '90 Merlot **; '89 Cab (Alex Vly) **. Pulled extra taste of '91 Eldorado Gold LH (SB/Semi) ***. Got back to our reg itinerary, and took off for next stop about 1:35.
On to Murphy-Goode next. Starting to drizzle, turning to light rain. Arrived 1:50 for our first Alexander Valley stop. Its location is just into the valley AVA, on a setting near the Russian River. Hadn't been here before. First started in '86, but getting some good reviews, first for Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, now for reds. Ran into some bicyclers (figuratively speaking of course) in the nice tasting room. Very friendly staff. Did 5 wines at N/C. '92 Fume Blanc (grassy) *; '91 Char; '91 Merlot ***; '90 Cab ***; '87 Cab *.
Still light rain/drizzle. Cross referencing several sources of info, we're still not sure whether Jordan is really "open" for visits, but decided to give a shot anyway since we're in the neighborhood. Consulted MP's Wine Country Access guide (not necessarily our first place of reference, but often our last), and found no mention that the winery might be "closed" to visitors. Ergo, Jordan appears to be open to all comers. Of course, this is based on the same faulty logic as "...if it doesn't say you can't do it, then you can!" Jordan developed an initially quick reputation for Cabs when they opened in the '70s. But, it has always had an "exclusive" reputation, and not open to the public. We drove along a side road looking for the correct address (hint #1: they're not advertising this place) and notice we've passed the address. Turned around in a driveway clearly marked "Not Jordan Winery" on the gate. (This is a good sign...apparently they do get visitors.) So, one driveway back, we drove through an open gate and up a winding road to a beautiful chateau. Lovely grounds. Found staffer who was escorting others to what was apparently a scheduled visit/tour. She informed us of what was probably all too obvious...that Jordan was open by appointment only. Too bad. Stuffy Wineries: 1, Access Guide: 0. So, we took a bunch of photos, and headed out at 2:35 to next scheduled stop.
Arr at Field Stone at 2:45. Drizzle stopped now. 2 of us were here on last trip. I'm fond of their reds, and their understated winery/tasting room. Seems less like a sales-room than most wineries. Free tasting of 4 wines: '91 Zin (seldom bottled by them); '89 Cab **; '89 Staten Resv Cab ***; '90 Petite Syrah **. Departed 3:10 for Napa Valley.
Into the Napa Valley, arriving at Chateau Montelena about 3:30. Historic winery and tasting room, situated, up on a large hill with a small lake and bird sanctuary in a park-like setting. A few of today's crop of winemakers came through here on the way to doing their own thing (e.g. Grgich, Forman.) Chardonnays and Cabernets are substantial, and priced accordingly. Previous visit was not as pleasant as this one. Boy, the staffer you get sure makes a difference! $5 tasting fee (as before) gets you 5 wines. Tried: '92 Riesling*; '91 AV Char**; '91 Napa Char (more complex, but...) *; '91 Calistoga Cuveé (2nd label Cab -- used to be Silverado Cellars)***; '89 Cab ***. Took photo opp on grounds. Left 4:05 for next stop.
Still more wineries open, so we stopped @ Markham next. Arrived at 4:30 for our last stop of day. Beautiful tasting room with horseshoe-shaped tasting bar. Tasted 3 N/C (they were only listing 2 on the signboard, so I think we pulled in another one). Had: '92 SB **; '92 Glass Mtn Char (2nd label)**; '89 Cab ***. Chatted with staffer and reminisced about the appeal of the old label (with cannon & soldier).
Musings on the day: major effort! We hit 10 wineries and had 9 tastings. How can this be, you say? There's only 9 entries above (you were counting, weren't you?). Well, this is the new math. You see, Lytton Springs visit counted as 2 wineries because we tasted Ridge there also. And Jordan was a no-taster. Violá! Quite a successful day, considering we had planned just 6 visits. Memorable: Ridge Paso Robles Zin, Murphy-Goode Cab and Merlot, Montelena Cab. Dinner at Mustard's in Yountville.
Tuesday, October 12, 1993
Arrived at Silver Oak ~ 9:20 (they open @ 9:00!). Poured current Napa and AV Cabs (out of the Bonny's Vnyd) for a $5 tasting fee, incl a very large glass. Silver Oak burst onto the scene in '79 about the way Jordan did. Yet, they've managed to retain the pomp, the circumstance, and the ratings. They only make Cabernet, and do an excellent job. Killed a little time there taking photos inside (great looking barrel room behind tasting area) and out, then drove around looking for the Niebaum-Cappola site. Found an unmarked driveway that looked like the place, but we passed up the opportunity to investigate further. Finally, set off for the Opus tour.
Arr at Opus One's locked gate about 10:25 for our 10:30 appointment. Its location is right across from Mondavi (convenient, huh?), and is an amazing piece of architecture. From the road, it seems to rise up out of the ground like some huge wine press. The winery is sort of a cross between neo-classical and early California design. I sort of expected someone would arrive to open the gate, but as we waited, another car arrived, and we watched him call 'em up from the phone at the gate. Well, hey, I can do that! Once inside, met our tour guide, Donna (7 mos pregnant), and awaited the rest of the group that would accompany us on the tour. Tour led us through and about the winery. There were great views of the valley from the roof of the structure, which was perfect for entertaining. Followed our guide into beautiful oval tasting room where we tasted the '90 Opus One (great stuff, needless to say). Oval-shaped barrel room surrounds the tasting room with glass separating the two; very impressive. The most obvious departure from the usual California-style of winemaking appeared to be the cleanliness and environmental controls in effect. All-in-all, a fabulous and fascinating tour of a beautiful piece of property. Tour finished about 12:00. Did a tailgate picnic till about 12:30, then off our next place about a 1/4 mi North.
Arr at Sequoia Grove ~ 12:35. $3 glass incl tasting of 6 wines. Poured 3 Chars (Carneros **; 2 Cabs; and a Gewertztraminer (EA passed on Gewertz). Shortly after we arrived, the the door kept opening, and the Canadian Navy started arriving, and arriving, and arriving. A van-load of our Northern neighbors had been doing some Napa touring, and had pretty much filled up the small room by now. (One of them was soaked with wine -- looked like they hit a bump in the road and broke a bottle.) With just one pourer, service/chatting was going to get real slow. Finished with our tasting, we made a hasty departure, and drove another 1/4 mi North to next stop. (Boy, this is tough road work, driving to all these places.)
Arr St. Supéry ~ 1:05. A very corporate-looking place; you'd have thought we were looking for admittance to company headquarters. We had to stop inside the door at a table to register. We paid $2.50 and were given a appointment card for today that would admit us to a tour, a visit to the gallery, and a tasting. Hey, we don't want no estinkin' tour or gallery visit! Where's the tasting? Seemed like a hassle, so we kinda' pushed our way (actually, we just walked) directly into the tasting room rather than proceed to the start of the tour. Now, some poor staff member had to leave her office to either throw us out, or assist us at a tasting. Luckily, she didn't call our bluff. While our dutiful staffer poured for us and tried to discuss the wine, she had to fend off others who tried to follow our lead of bypassing the "routine." (They like to run people through an orderly system here, and our little recalcitrant band of three was messing things up and setting a bad example.) So, we drank (I mean tasted) their wares, and off we went. We did say thanks, though. Tried : '92 SB*; '91 Napa Char ** and Atkinson Char (2nd label); and Atkinson and regular Cabs, both **. Left ~ 1:25.
Off to Grgich Hills. Arr ~ 1:30. Same ol' tasting room. Friendly staff poured: SB ; Char ; Zin ; new '88 Cab ; and an extra pour of the '83 Cab ...all gratis! Nice hosts. No library pours or wines available; looks like these are a weekend kind of thing. We pushed on to visit # 6 (if you're counting) ~ 1:50.
MP wanted to check out Beaulieau, or BV as it's known. Arrived 1:55 at this famous label of yesteryear. With most of it's wines now seemingly "good-very good" compared to other Napa wineries, BV has lost its edge, and become an example of the mediocrity that corporate ownership can sometimes bestow on a winery. And yet, this is history, man!! So, it's a must visit at least once. Poured 5 tastes N/C. Char, SB, Pinot, Rutherford Cab, and Muscat (EA passed on Muscat). It looked as though the bldg across the parking lot had library selections to taste for a fee, but we passed. Left ~ 2:20.
Did a little improvising on our itinerary, and added a couple of tomorrow's wineries to today's visits. Arrived at Caymus ~ 2:25. New digs are right next door and to the South of the older house/tasting room. Looks like even Caymus is dressing up! $2 glass includes tasting of: '92 SB *; '92 Conundrum **; '92 SS Pinot **; and brand new '90 Cab **. New tasting room is a little light on merchandising at the moment, but a friendly visit. Ostentatious arrival of couple in limo was highlight of visit. (The guy had a cool European accent, too.) We're starting to sense a record-breaking (# of visits) day, so we've got to push on. Left for winery # 8 at 2:40.
Arr at ZD winery ~ 2:45. Nice new tasting room off Silverado Trail. Mostly known as a Chardonnay house, they are starting to get a reputation for their reds as well. $3.50 tasting incl glass. Poured: '91 Char ***; '90 Char **; '88 Cab *; '91 Pinot ** (great nose, but...). Both the Cab and the Pinot promised more than they delivered. (Interesting note: while ZD does stand for the owner's' names, they're also trading on a Zero Defects moniker.) Off to the 9th stop ~ 3:10.
Stopped @ Conn Creek at 3:20. Another previously well-known winery. One-time reputation for Chardonnays and then Cabs, has dropped. Wines tasted seemed quite good though. Distracted pourer (friends were visiting) gave gratis tasting of 6 wines: Saignee (rosé); '90 Char *; '89 Merlot *; '88 Zin *; '88 Cab *+; '84 Cab. Nothing outstanding, but worth a stop. Out at 3:40 to yet another place of interest.
Up and just around the corner to Raymond. Arr ~ 3:45 just slightly before closing. Winery looks kind of like a '50s ranch house. Got a little remodeling going on at front gate. Another of the Jordan saga type: accolades after a quick start, then hits a plateau. Very friendly staff poured 5 wines N/C. Tried: '92 SB; '91 Char *; '89 2nd label Cab *; '89 Cab; '88 PR Cab **. Staff didn't seem in a hurry to force us out, but left at 4:10.
Headed to the V. Sattui winery back on Hwy 29. Arr 4:15 (they're open 'till 6:00). Great deli, and tasting bar, w/racks and racks and racks of bottles. Interestingly, their wines are only sold thru the winery, not thru retail outlets. Long conversation with our pourer about wine, geography, philosophy, and trivia. Great time! Hated to curtail this, but we're starting to get both toasted and hungry. Originally, tasting was to include 4 pours N/C. But, we got 7. Seemed like we'd never run out of stuff to taste. Tried: '90 Zin **; '87 Cab (Preston Vnyd) *; '90 Cab ***; '84 Cab **; '92 Muscat **; and NV Madeira ***. Finally left ~ 5:30.
Dinner at Brown Street Grill in Napa. What a day! Old records were broken, and new records established. We visited 11 wineries and had 50 different wines. This simply must stretch the bounds of human tolerances. We're completely exhausted. Memorable: Silver Oak , Opus, had fabulous wines. Sattui Cabs very good; reg Raymond Cab, bah!
Wednesday, October 13, 1993
Lt rain last night. Up @ 7:00 for 8:00 breakfast. Usual continental stuff. Left for Joseph Phelps at 9:05 to fill gap until Mondavi tour @ 10:00. Bummer they're not open for tasting except by appt. This and Jordan were only probs in this respect.
Arr @ Mondavi for 10:00 appointment for our "In-Depth" tour and tasting. Our tour was led by Bill Cadman, who is also owner/winemaker of Toulocay Vnyds (707-255-4064). Small group made for intimate tour and tasting (although we had a couple of people asking the usual neophyte-type questions ("...what are legs," what is nose?"). Got the full treatment on the tour, along with a barrel sample tasting of the '92 Fume Blanc ; and the '92 Pinot . But the real main event was the 'sit-down" tasting. Held in a banquet room that we had all to ourselves, we handled our own pours of some fabulous stuff. Tried: '91 Fume Blanc Resv ***; '91 Char Resv ***; '91 Pinot Resv ***+ (wow!); '90 Cab **; '90 Cab Resv ***; '90 Merlot ***; '92 Muscat d'Oro **. Boy, oh boy. We thought we'd gone to tasting haven. The Pinot was exquisite, and the Cabs and Merlot were Very Good to Excellent. What a deal! Contrasting this tour/tasting with the regular tour/tasting, we made out like bandits. (Especially considering the retail prices of these wines, versus taking the regular tour/tasting, with the opportunity to pay-per-taste @ $3-4 /glass for some of the same wines we tasted por nada! ) How could anybody not take the "In-Depth" tour. Gad, Mondavi puts on a great party! Tour and tasting formally ended at 2:00, but we stayed and chatted w/Bill Cadman for another 15-20 min. Bill said to give him a call next time we'd be in town, and he'd show us around Toulocay. Went to car for a tailgate picnic, and finally left Mondavi at 3:00.
Arr at Stags Leap ~ 3:10. Same old understated tasting room right inside the winery building. Unfortunately, this time the air hung thick with bleach from the disinfecting they were giving the valves on some of the large stainless storage tanks. This was a real put-off, and certainly reduced the potential enjoyment of tasting. Also, the tasting bar had been moved to the other side of the building, and was now much closer to the tanks. This was unfortunate, because now we had to watch out that bleach didn't get splashed on our clothes as they doused the valves (yes, we were that close). Ah, well. It is their winery and we're just guests, afterall. Albeit, the paying guests. On the other hand, I suppose if we don't like it, we could leave, huh? $3.50 incl glass. Tried: '90 Hawk Crest (2nd label) Cab *; '89 SLV Fay Cab **; '90 Petite Syrah ***; '93 Clorox ****; '93 Purex ***. Hawk Crest not bad, and Petite Syrah was quite nice. Clorox had good nose, but we didn't taste it. Out @ 3:30.
Went next door to the South to Clos du Val. Arr 3:32. Tasting $3 w/ no glass. Kind of superior of them, huh? Nothing special here. I had thought the Merlot (first tasted at the Symphony tasting - 1/93) made this a worthy stop for our itinerary. But, they weren't pouring it. What a let down. Not much ambiance. At least Chateau Montelena backs up their tasting charge with very nice wine. Heck, even Stags Leap threw in a glass! I can't see coming back here again -- although, it looked like everyone else in the place seemed to be having fun. What were we missing? Tried: '90 Semillion *; '89 Pinot *; '89 Cab. Left ~ 3:48.
Continued down Silverado Trail and over to Monticello. Arrived at 3:55. Pretty quiet. Staffer we saw last time here emerged from back room. She asked if we'd been here before. Yes, we said, and got our tasting gratis. Nice touch. Nice selection, too. Poured: '90 Pinot **; '90 Merlot ***; '89 VS Cab ***; '89 Corley Cab **; NV Chateau "M" LH. I thought the '89 VS Cab was especially good. Left about 4:30.
Dinner again at Mustard's. Memorable visits: Mondavi for everything. What a fabulous PR job they do. Monticello for the '89 VS Cab. Clos du Val gets the snob award.
Thursday, October 14, 1993
Light rain again last night and continuing into morning. Set off about 9:50 for just a couple of more stops. Going to hit S. Anderson and then go to a Brandy distillery in Carneros area.
Arr @ S. Anderson @ 10:15. Small family operation w/tasting room next to family house and winery. Genial guy @ tasting room asked if we wanted to take the tour @ 10:30 w/S. Anderson in command. What, take a tour of the cave? Heck, yes! Tour started with retired dentist Stan Anderson baring all his feelings about life, Napa, politics, wine, politics, medicine, and politics. Fascinating guy. We started in his office/winery dining room, and proceeded through small winery, and over across the property to his cave. Still sprinkling, so we all drove over to the site where Stan had a coal mining machine dig a cave deep into the hillside. Neato, musty cave with lots of casks, bottles, riddling racks, candles, and the whole schmear. What a find! The "1 hr tour" took about 90 min, but was fantastic. Tasted in the cave: '89 Blanc de Noir **; and '91 Char **. Wish we could've stayed at the cave, I've taken a lichen to it. Snicker. But, drove back to tasting room where his son served up more things: '91 Char Resv ***; '88 Brut **; and '88 Rosé (sparkling) **. Left ~ Noon.
Stopped by Sinsky for a brief visit. Arr 12:05. Still sprinkling on and off again. Another physician-owned winery. Sinskey was a partner in Acacia when it was bought out. This property (intended to be a 2nd Acacia location) then became his. Very quiet inside. $2.50 incl glass for tasting. 2nd label stuff pretty good. Tasted: '91 Aires Char **; '91 Pinot (Carneros) *; '90 Merlot **; '90 Aires Cab ***. Traded in a glass for credit on an Aires Cab. Tailgate picnic between sprinkles, and headed out ~ 12:45 or so.
Headed to Carneros area to visit Carneros Alambic brandy distillery. Facility produces Brandy in French style of distillery. Rather than single distillation, this process uses a pre-heater etc., to render product with more essence of flavors. Pretty interesting tour. Barrel room was quite a treat. 4,000 barrels stacked in huge storage room give off an almost suffocating aroma of brandy in the air (don't light a match), and all with Gregorian chants playing in the background. My, my. Left @ 2:35.
Stats: 1,164 miles; 31 wineries w/ 135 different wines over 4 days. Great trip, We really must do a Spring-time visit next!