Category Archives: Napa Valley

Stags Leap District

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.

Napa Roots

My love of wine goes way back. But it never flourished until I first visited Napa. The Napa Valley is ground zero for world class Cabernet Sauvignon, the first varietal that made me realize just how good wine can be.

Even if you’re a casual wine drinker you may know names like Mondavi, Beaulieu (BV), Sterling, Beringer and Domaine Chandon.

Merryvale ProfileThough I’ve been to all of those, I’ve come to prefer the small and medium sized producers, where you can get the personal touch. Ron, our host at Merryvale in Saint Helena, is a perfect example.

We stopped by Merryvale because we wanted to try some of their limited production wines. Ron started by pouring a few of their more widely distributed labels. You can buy the Merryvale Starmont Cabernet and Chardonnay in many supermarkets, and both are a good value. I’m always trying to get a photo or two, so while Ron was engaged with the Official Wife of the Wine Columnist (OWWC), I decided to sneak through the big doors marked “Employees Only” and get a shot of the barrel room.

Busted! I apologized to our host as he summoned me from the barrel room while explaining that the winemaker worries about bacteria contaminating the wine. “If you want a picture of some wine barrels, we have empty ones over here,” Ron said as he led the OWWC and me into a cavernous warehouse stacked to the ceiling with racks of empty oak barrels. “While we’re here,” Ron said, “let’s check out the library.” A library is a climate controlled stash of bottles from every vintage a winery has chosen to keep. In California, they can go back 100 years, which is actually longer than you can expect even a Cabernet to remain drinkable. The Merryvale library contains large format bottles of many high end wines, including the Profile Cabernet, Ron explained as he launched into an animated dissertation about the history of Merryvale.

Merryvale Tasting Room Napa

We ended up tasting a lot of great wines that day, some retailing for over $100 a bottle. If you make a point to get to know your pour person and express a real interest in wine, you’ll get better service and maybe the opportunity to try things that are too rare or too expensive to be on the regular tasting menu. There’s a lot more to report from our recent trip to Napa, so please come back in June and we’ll be Wining Again