Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Napa winery tour.

On a recent trip to Napa we coordinated a day of wine tasting for a few friends / business colleagues of the Hub's. To ensure the day was not only relaxing and safe {i.e., we didn't drive}, but also that we visited some phenomenal wineries, we went to Larry Luttrell, Your Driver in Napa.

Before we arrived in Napa we spoke with Larry and discussed our interests {smaller wineries - introducing us to something new} and requested that our itinerary reflect our budget. We wanted to be able to not only enjoy the wines we tasted but also ship a few {cases} home to enjoy throughout the year {or two}. Larry perfected matched our tastes and budget with the wineries we visited. Each was small, charming, and {relatively} affordable.  

Larry picked the group up at our hotel and began the day by giving us a little primer on wineries, wine history, and wine tasting. 

A few of Larry's helpful hints:
  • Don't be afraid to pour out or dump what you don't like or don't want to drink.
  • Don't be afraid to have and voice an opinion about what you like and don't like. 
  • And, of course, look at the wine in the glass - color and clarity, swirl to aerate, smell, taste  by swirling around in your mouth to use all your taste buds.
  • And last, but not least, stay hydrated.  
Our day started early -- our first tasting was at 10am  -- and this was not a quick tasting tour -- we didn't roll back into Napa proper until around 6pm. But we were having so much fun along the way that we hardly noticed as the hours passed us by.

Here's a little peek into what was quite possibly the best Napa wine tour ever:

This family and winery is an absolute Cinderella story. The couple, Jeff and Karen, are in their 30s, have two small children, and have built their winery from scratch over the past six years. Jeff was a premed major and Karen a lawyer. Fate brought them together and to this picturesque property located in the western hills of Napa. 

We tasted upcoming vintages but also enjoyed barrel tastings of various components of their Cabernet -- Cabernet grapes grown in volcanic ash and Cabernet grapes grown in shale. It was very interesting to taste two of the individual components as well as the ultimate blend.  

I think our entire group agreed that this was our favorite winery of the day. Was it because it was first and our palates were fresh, because Jeff and Karen are so adorable and we loved their story, or because this was our only stone cold sober tasting? I cannot say, but I will say I will be drinking Fontanella wines for years to come. 

Production - 1,200 cases annually
Tasting fee - $20 / person 

This is a small privately owned winery located between Napa and Yountville. Bart and Barbara O’Brien live on the property, grow all of their own fruit, and make the wine in one of the oldest wineries in Napa. 

The old adage, wine is made in the vineyard, certainly holds true at O'Brien Estate. They keep their yield low to ensure their fruit is among the best in the valley. 

We tasted a few lovely wines and were able to witness a bevy of activity as they unpacked all new French barrels and crushed the last of the harvest.   

Production -  less than 5,000 cases annually
Tasting fee - $15 / person 
Amy & the hubs at the O'Brien Estate Winery

Jamey Whetstone is the mastermind and producer behind the Whetstone label. Whetsone is a very small producer of a nice Viognier, a Chardonnay, a couple of scrumptious Pinot Noirs and a Syrah. We enjoyed a private tasting with Jamey's wife and co-proprietor, Michelle, along with a catered lunch of various panini sandwiches, a lemony salad and a charcuterie tray from from Michael Chiarello’s Napa Style in Yountville.  

The setting was as amazing as the wines. An old stone building, built in 1885, set the stage perfectly for a very memorable lunch and wine pairing. Michelle was down to earth, incredible knowledgeable and charming. Their wines, all of which I absolutely loved, are reasonably priced and not readily available other than directly from the winery. 

We joined their wine club to ensure we continue to receive their offerings. I fear, however, once word gets out we may no longer be able to afford their wines.  

Tasting fee - $40 / person (including lunch)

Salvestrin is a 3rd generation, family owned and operated winery which has been producing wine since 1932. They farm organically and have produced 79 harvests. They are very much a farming family though this is now their 16th year of producing {prior to producing the wine they sold the fruit to some of the better known wineries in the valley}. The original plantings were done in 1860 by a Dr. George Crane.

They produce a Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a red blend they call Retaggio, a Sangiovese and a Petite Sirah. 

We adored the Salvestrin wines as well, and if I remember correctly, we ordered quite a bit of of their Cabernet and Retaggio. Or did we join the wine club? I suppose we'll see in a month or so!

Tasting fee - $15 / person. 

Amy and the hubs in the Salvestrin vineyard
We tasted the Hill Family Estate wines in a small tasting room located inside a French Antique store  in Yountville. We were all very relaxed {euphemism} by this point in the afternoon and quickly devoured the lovely prosciutto, cheese and bread provided with our tasting. 

The entire gang - including, Larry, Your Driver in Napa.
We had a fabulous time at the Hill Family Estate tasting room. There is actually video footage where I reenact a certain scene from When Harry Met Sally. I fear Larry may post the evidence on his own website one day but you will never find it here! 

They produce a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Pinot, Merlot, and a Cabernet all of which we loved and are reasonably priced. 

This was another favorite winery. Maybe it was the end of the day, maybe it's that we'd each drank our weight in wine, or maybe we just wanted to get April to open a bottle of The Beast, a library wine not on the tasting menu {which she did and which precipitated the R rated video}, whatever the reason we all adored Hill Family Estate wines. 

Tasting fee - no charge {because of arrangements made by Larry}

It was a fabulous day spent enjoying unforgettable wines! I've spent many days touring the wine country and have always had a wonderful time -- what's not to love?!  But I have never had such a memorable day filled with intimate experiences at such unique wineries.

Seeing the owners driving forklifts and unpacking barrels.

Hearing about generations of farmers living together on the family vineyard.

Talking with a viticulturist who was clearly born to make wines.

These are the wine makers of Napa Valley -- as authentic as it gets.  

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