As readers of the Wine and the Movies column may recall, it was the 1976 Judgment of Paris wine competition that put Napa Valley on the world stage. And it wasn’t just for the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay featured in Bottle Shock, but also for a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa’s Stags Leap District, which runs along the Silverado Trail between Napa and Yountville. This unique terroir produces fruit with a unique softness and intensity, and local winemakers know how to transform that into a great wine.
After a couple of fun days in Healdsburg, we decided to drive through the Alexander and Knights Valleys, both highly respectable Cabernet growing appellations, and get a room at the historic Napa River Inn. The River Inn is a converted mill and warehouse located in downtown Napa. It’s a nice hotel and a great location for exploring the riverfront and downtown areas.
The next day, we took a drive up to Robert Sinskey, at the north end of the Stags Leap District. Sinskey has vineyards at the winery and in Los Carneros, and a few years ago produced the best Merlot I’ve ever tasted. The tasting room boasts fine craftsmanship and a soaring ceiling, and you can count on experiencing a variety of perfectly crafted wines and some of the best food pairings in the valley. It’s also a nice place to picnic, with bucolic vineyard views. In addition to the truly great Merlot, the Three Amigos Vineyard Pinot is always a treat, and you shouldn’t go to Stags Leap without trying some estate cabs.
In search of more great estate cabs, we proceeded to Cliff Lede, on Yountville Cross Road, where cab is king. In keeping with the old adage “How do you make a small fortune in wine? Start with a big one,” Cliff Lede and his brother made their fortune building Ledcor, one of Canada’s premier construction companies. Along the way, Cliff had the foresight to buy land in Napa, which is probably now worth a fortune itself. We happened to pull into the parking lot at the same time as Tom Roseller, a senior consultant who advises clients on custom wine production.
Tom also trains the staff, but had enough time this day to afford an interested listener an extensive dissertation on the myriad details involved in producing some of world’s great Cabernets. We sampled anything and everything he could find, including a couple things from the backroom that Tom poured while discretely muttering “contraband”. As an avid wine tourist, it doesn’t get much better than that.
I must close by offering an apology to any reader of the Healdsburg column who rented My Favorite Year and wondered why there was no Russell Crowe and no vineyard. The correct title is A Good Year.