Top 5 Napa Wineries
- ButterflyWest Jul 10, 2008 09:27 AM
Please post your Top 5 bullet list for wineries not to miss in Napa (Unique Experience, Views, Quality of Wine). Zins, Sangioveses, Viogniers and Buttery Chards are some of our favorites. If you have any specific contacts we should search out at the wineries, please include them too!
Good list, Whiner.
Similarly, mine would be:
and L***** (I'm not allowed to mention it because I worked there three years ago). (Syrah!)
Gee -- is there anyone in Napa making a good Viognier? My favorites are all from Central California...
re: Carrie 218
Pride makes an excellent viognier! Also, in warmer years, the Catie's Corner vineyard in Russian River usually yields fantastic Viognier, wihch is bottled by many including Christopher Creen and Lost Canyon. I'm a big fan of Iron Horse's viognier as well. Alternatively, some really good viognier is being made in the Sierra Foothills, too.
Chimney Rock (especially Élévage, their Bordeaux blend) and their VIEW!!!
Trefethen (Chardonnay) beautiful family owned property - historic vineyards. Family still lives on property.
Honig (reserve Sauvignon Blanc) also super-friendly
Grgich Hills (he made the Chardonnay that beat the French in 1976!)
Far Niente (If you LOVE buttery Chards, you shouldn't miss theirs!)
Just a slight correction on Far Niente...they use no malolactic fermentation in their Chardonnay, so they really cannot be characterized as buttery.
They are very well made Chardonnays, and FN grows some of the most beautiful Chardonnay fruit in the valley. The Far Niente Chardonnays taste luscious, round and full -- yet clean. That roundness or creaminess in flavor is due to sur lie yeast aging though, and not the "buttery" fermentation known as ML.
Unfortunately, except for the buttery Chards (and even those are becoming more a thing of the past), the varietals you've listed aren't a focus of Napa Valley. Napa Valley is known for Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay, and to a lesser extent, Sauvignon Blanc.
As far as the other varietals you mention:
Sangiovese -- almost not made anymore here at all; the varietal doesn't do well here and isn't economically feasible here. Nobody beats Italy for their quality and price with this grape, by far.
Zins -- see the Whiner list; he knows his wine. If you want Zins, head to Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma -- that's Zin country. Check the wine board for specific recs.
Viognier -- very little made: Beringer, Stag's Leap Winery, Freemark Abbey, Darioush are the few wineries producing it. More made elsewhere in California.
Buttery Chards: Rombauer, Franciscan, Cakebread
Look for chards with heavy malolactic fermentation. Two Chowhound threads focused on this entirely --
"Napa wineries with chardonnays with heavy malolactic fermentation"
"ISO "Buttery" Chard"
re: Carrie 218
Located in Wooden Valley 9 miles northeast of Napa, Altamura Winery makes some of the consistently best (if not the best) Sangiovese in CA. This is in the Napa Valley AVA just southeast of Atlas Peak. Altamura focuses primarily on producing Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.
re: Carrie 218
Yes, Carrie, Yes, Butterfly.
It's Luna Sangiovese and PG I was referring to. I thought I was replying directly to Carrie because when I posted BN1's post hadn't showed up yet -- the computers on this site are slower than mo-lasses.
And that caused me to do a little checking. While I maintain that there are fewer and fewer producers of Sangiovese in Napa Valley (Shafer very ceremoniously threw in the towel on the grape a few years ago, and it is expensive to produce in Napa), there are more Napa Sangiovese producers than I thought: Pride, Garguilo, La Sirena (the very talented Heidi Barrett), Del Dotto, Showket, Luna, Kuleto, Swanson, Venge, Silverado, and Benessere, to name most of them.I'm not saying they're all good; I'm saying they're here.
Sangiovese grown in this country has never blown up my skirt like that produced in Italy. It doesn't seem true to itself here; it isn't varietally correct. Sangiovese wine here is usually over-ripe, extracted and powerful -- it's not like the easy-drinking red-fruit of Italian-grown Sangiovese.
But still, there a number of Napa Sangiovese producers for Butterfly to choose from. It's expensive to make here, though -- the Altamura is $45, and for that you could have a really good Italian one or a pretty good Cab or very good Merlot. But BNI is an informed fan, so read what he has to say.
re: maria lorraine
Corrections: La Sirena and Garguilo no longer make Sangiovese. Garguilo makes only a Rosato of Sangiovese. Venge has been sold.
Prices of Napa Sangiovese:
Pride (if you can find it -- very limited quantity) $70
Del Dotto $45
Recognizing that wine is a truly personal experience and everyone’s palate is their own, I will try to comment more on the experiences we had and less on the details of the wine. I think some experiences are worth the price, some are not. But it’s up to you individually to figure that out what you are looking for, so you won't see comments on specific tasting prices. I don’t want to deter a wine from being tried because of the tasting cost or even lack thereof.
Wednesday – Tasting at Freeman - I know this is Sonoma, but it bears repeating here as it was such a positive experience. Ken and Eric were extremely kind in communicating back with me prior to the trip. We arranged to stop in though they told us it was harvest and they would be swamped. They said it was ok to still come though. When we arrived, it was obvious that Eric had forgotten. As he was right in the middle of something, he had his grower/fellow winemaker Craig Strehlow from Keefer Ranch start us on tasting in the cave. He was really enjoyable and very much loves wine/winemaking and it showed. As this was one couple’s first winery experience in the Napa/Sonoma area, it set the bar extremely high for other wineries to match this! Craig opened up his bin filled with grapes encouraged us to stick our heads down in it to smell it. It was amazing! We did not taste his wines, but he knew Freeman’s wines as if they were his own! We all enjoyed Freeman’s wines. Eric did join us when he was finished and showed as great enthusiasm for the wine as Craig did. I think the Chardonnay, then Pinot Cuvee’, then Keefer Ranch Pinot were the favorites among the group. The facility is the working facility – it’s not a crowd-oriented place. I asked where we as the general public can purchase the wines (expecting him to say well here, now), but instead he said online. I was very surprised. I don’t know if he misunderstood what I was asking or if he did know I was trying to purchase some then. We certainly will purchase online as we want to enjoy their lovely wines at home!
Thursday we met up with a different family for the afternoon. Pride was our scheduled destination. What a beautiful drive and winery location! James was very enthusiastic about the wines and very knowledgeable. He made the 6 of us feel welcome in what was a busier than expected environment at first. If memory serves me, we tasted the Viognier, Chardonnay, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv and Reserve Cab Sauv. All very nice wines. We all made purchases and they gave us bottled water as well and encouraged us to spend some time on the picnic table enjoying the view up the hill. James arranged for our group to go down the hill for a tasting at Smith Madrone (as was explained, almost ALL wineries up in the hills require appointments and especially for 6).
Smith Madrone was probably one of my favorites of the whole trip. Charles Smith (one of the winemakers/owners brother of the other owner) brought into his office/vineyard in a barnlike building. Dust on the bottles, wine everywhere. He was amazing. So passionate about wine, real about everything. We were told by James at Pride that we would not likely get a tasting of his Riesling, but since they had just bottled the latest vintage that week, he indeed did let us taste it. I first got into wines through German Rieslings. Sweet, but not as sweet as white zinfandels, but quickly got away from them as a learned more and preferred non-sweet wines. Smith-Madrone’s is so far above any other Riesling I’ve ever tasted. It’s not sweet. Just incredibly aromatic and supple on the mouth. AMAZING. All his wines were delicious, but this one was my favorite. A young couple was with us for this day and had little experience in drinking wine at all. His discussions were so informative and really got them into the whole idea! He welcomed questions and gave heartfelt answers full of experience and knowledge. We even got to meet Stu. I cannot say enough about the experience here or the wine.
Friday we had 3 appointments set. The first was at Frogs Leap. Erin was our tasting/tour guide. She was FANTASTIC. Erin was a great deal of fun, very enthusiastic and very knowledgeable not only about the wines, but about the environmentally sound/protective measures used by the winery. The place is just beautiful. Getting to walk the vineyards and gardens and winemaking facilities was great – more in depth than other tour experiences we had over the years. Tasting occurred at all different locations throughout the tour. Nice touch. Green living was consistently highlighted but not done in a preachy way – done in a respectful way showing the value of doing it this way. And the wines were frankly delicious. We started with Sauvignon Blanc at the table in the greeting center. Next was Zinfandel in the vines. Then Merlot in the garden. Cab in the “barrel barn” and a finish with their late harvest Frogenbeerenauslese. The owner has a great sense of humor! If you buy a bottle sometime, be sure to check out the government required warning they chose to put on their label. After the tour was complete, they did a Petite Syrah tasting back at the table in the visitors’ center because someone made a special request. I think all in our group purchased some wines and we all thoroughly enjoyed what landed up being close to an hour and 45 minute tour. They have a cool cat that hangs out and seems oblivious to all the activity around him. HIGHLY recommend the winery and HIGHLY recommend Erin.
Our next appointment was with Phoebe at Neyers . Phoebe communicated back and forth with me for quite a bit before the trip and I cannot say enough about her. She was very gracious and accommodating and incredibly knowledgeable. Our party of 6 was arriving later than expected because the previous experience lasted longer. I called her and she made us feel at ease and welcomed us at a later time though I’m certain it must have interfered with her day or lunch schedule. She made no issue of it though. She was on the phone when we arrived but had us take a seat around the table on the patio – TREMENDOUS privacy and views tucked in the hills. The ages in our groups ranged a bit and she made sure to give attention to everyone. The wines were tremendous in my humble opinion. We tasted the 2006 Napa and El Noviero Chardonnays, I believe the Merlot, then the Tafanelli and Pato Zinfandels. YUM. They do tastings by appointment only and it is well worth the time to experience them! Phoebe has already e-mailed again in regards to our purchase. Incredible follow-through to match the incredible wines.
We did two more unscheduled tastings at “main road” wineries that day. Both wineries were helpful before the trip in answering questions via e-mail. Miner Family was not at all what I was expecting. Maybe we just hit it at a horribly busy time. Our hostess was funny and gracious. But there were TONS of people crammed in the little room. Our group literally was six deep. Only one could get to the bar at a time to get the tasting pours. None of us walked away feeling like any of the wines was particularly memorable (OK, the rose was memorable for the Gatorade coloring, but…). It was disappointing and more of a touristy thing than we had hoped for. We finished at Chimney Rock. Beautiful building and setting. The couple with us had had a fabulous wine there years ago and were hoping for a repeat this trip. Carla Bosco was our hostess. She was delightful. It was the end of the day and being a group of 6 could have been overwhelming, but it did not deter her at all. It was quite busy in the small space, but we still enjoyed the tasting and looking around at all the lovely Italian pottery/wine items. Ask for Carla if you go there – you won’t be disappointed by her attention. The whole experience was more of a touristy thing though – so you might want to try it not on a weekend as we had to.
Saturday was our last day for any tastings/tours. A friend of mine recommended Darioush (as did a chowhound) for their Viognier. First of all, I want to compliment the manager Ryan. He was very responsive via e-mail and answered all my questions. And he helped in part to take care of our group while we were there – warm and friendly though hurried. We did not have a set appointment time as we were doing just a tasting and not a tour/tasting. The staff did accommodate, but made it clear we had to be out in very short time as the space they were allowing us to use was reserved for another group in less than a half hour. It was a little unnerving – just say it once. It was repeated over and over again by three different staff members and we felt like we had to gulp the wine. They seemed annoyed when we asked for the pistachios that are normally served with the tasting and had not been to us. When you land up paying $25 for a tasting in an environment that is zoolike and the pours are very small, you needn’t be reminded that they are in a rush. I do appreciate they accommodated our group, but the half hour spent there netted them a pretty penny and the experience did not reflect what was paid. The Viognier was enjoyable, though not sweet, it had more of a sweetness leaning than we’ve had in other Viogniers. Others in the group did enjoy other wines poured. The architecture is beautiful. When you pull in the parking lot, you will see mostly Limos, Jaguars, Hummers and the like. It’s apparently a place to be seen. When walking in the door, it was MAYHEM. I frankly felt jittery for over a half hour after leaving the tasting room. The craziness made me forget about the wine itself. One couple who had been there on several other occasions noted that each time they've gone, the crowds/craziness have gotten worse. This is a place to avoid if you want to avoid large crowds (maybe the tasting/tour appointments get you out of all of that...). After the experience, several in our group noted it felt like an amusement park for the wealthy on their busiest day of the year or more specifically like Caesar’s Palace in Vegas.
Our last appointment was at Jarvis, set up by someone else in our group. We knew going in what to expect. It was what we expected. It was a beautiful cave, but felt a bit strange and very pompous. Guinness (yes, that was the guide’s name) was very obviously going through his canned speeches and seemed disconnected from us and the wine itself – a bit of an air of conceit which I guess goes well with that environment . No wine was served until the end in the tasting room, at which point we were certainly moved along. At the end, we were even told “we need to leave now as another group will need to get in”. Ok, that may have been the case, but the reason we were there was for a tasting. When he made that statement, I looked around the table and noted that almost everyone had at least several sips left in several glasses (we were told to leave several of the wines specifically for a bit to notice the changes in taste in even a short period of time). Take 5 minutes off the winded tour and give time for a relaxed tasting! Or pour the first wine when you begin the tour so you need the tasting room for 5 less minutes and can taste the others at a more relaxed pace. The price of this tour was steep and none of the wines stood out as amazing to me (yes, most of them were Cabs).
We were unable to taste at Far Niente as they were completely booked. Domain Chandon rudely never responded to our questions and request for a tasting appointment. Amarosa di Castelle responded to my e-mail, but obviously did not read the question I asked as the response was a canned response not related to the question. Even after a second attempt, they never bothered to respond to the e-mail/question.
So, in summary, Smith Madrone, Neyers, Frogs Leap and Pride were our best experiences.
You just deserve a gold star for reporting back so dilligently on your trip. This fresh info will be so helpful to others.
Excellent report. I feel like I was with you on a virtual vacation.
1300 Montgomery Rd, Sebastopol, CA 95472
Pride Mountain Vineyards
4026 Spring Mountain Rd, St Helena, CA
Frog's Leap Winery
8815 Conn Creek Rd, Rutherford, CA
Chimney Rock Winery
5350 Silverado Trl, Napa, CA
4240 Silverado Trl, Napa, CA
Miner Family Winery
7850 Silverado Trl, Napa, CA
2970 Monticello Rd, Napa, CA
4022 Spring Mountain Rd St, Helena, CA
2153 Sage Canyon Rd St, Helena, CA 94574
just got back from a wonderful trip to Napa and surrounding areas..
went to some of our fav's like Rombauer (great Chard) and Silver Oak..they were just about to move into their new digs..also, went to Franciscan and Nickel & Nickel.
We had a picnic at V.Sattui winery..great sandwiches, olives.
Had a great time at all of them.
Rubicon estate is great! especially if you do the elevage tour. Chalk hill was spectacular! it is in Healdsburg. which is a good hour north of napa. the culinary tour there is amazing! duckhorn and paraduxx tastings are great too!
amazingly enough a few of my favorites are completely missing:
Elyse/Jacob Franklin in Yountville
Vincent Arroyo in Calistoga
Graeser in Calistoga
Hartwell in Stag's Leap
Reguschi in Stag's leap
Responding a little late but hopefully this will help
Schramsberg - Candlelight tasting in Caves
Charbay - www.charbay.com - speak with Dana or Mark AMAZING personalize vist with AMAZING drink - 13 generation wine making and distilling family
Sterling - Nice experince, self guided tours and much to enbibe along the way
Frank Family Vineyeard - worth the trip great drink and feels almost exclusive with a family note
Artessa - Wow what a view and beautiful place as well - mainly a spanish influence in their wines but it is understandable as the family that owns the winery is a spanish wine making family.
Hope this helps
Best Sangiovese in Napa is Rutherford Grove by the Pestoni family. Amazing. Really, the ONLY sangiovese NOT from Italy I have ever loved!