Thursday, October 16, 2008

Napa Favorites

Posted By on Thu, Oct 16, 2008 at 7:40 PM

click to enlarge 2946663647_cafcc6775e_o.jpg

Vines were first planted in Napa Valley by John Patchett in 1858 and the first commercial winery was established by Charles Krug in 1861.   It may have turned out to be a great idea, but it was definitely not easy sailing from first vines onward.  Setbacks included a Phylloxera (insects deadly to grape vines) outbreak in in the late 1800s that practically wiped out the entire industry, Prohibition from 1920 - 1933 and then the Great Depression which lasted until the late 1930s.   Phylloxera hit again in 1992 devestating 50,000 acres - nearly half of the Northern California vineyards.    You could say it has been a tough row to hoe.


Not to be dismayed, winemakers dug their boots into the unfertile soil and awaited the upticks:   In 1976 at the Judgment of Paris,  California wine producers Chateau Montelena and Stag's Leap Wine Cellars bested French wines in the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon categories respectively, sending shockwaves thru the wine world (and now is a pretty fun movie ).   Today nearly 4.7 million people visit Napa Valley each year - making it the second most popular destination for tourists in California (second only to Disneyland) and tourism to Napa is the second biggest industry in Napa County, generating almost $1 billion annually.  And for those who hung on to property purchased way-back-when property prices have skyrocketed - an acre of vineyard land in the highly sought-after Rutherford district can now fetch up to $300,000.  A bummer for a wine start-up, but great news for retirement accounts!-


On our most recent trip to Napa we visited several wineries, large and small, and what follows are our four new favorite wineries - and wines.

click to enlarge off beaten path

Large Wineries


Chateau Montelena:  Established in 1882, this is a truly grand old estate nestled in the hills of Calistoga.  The building is gorgeous (you may recognize it from the movie) and the winery offers tastings without appointments from 9:30am-4:00pm ($15) though you can also fork over $40 and try some of their older wines at a "Library Tasting" which occurs 4x daily and for this you must reserve a spot.  This is a great winery to try both because of the history of their vineyard as well as the fact that their wines are outstanding.  1429 Tubb's Lane, Calistoga, Ca 94515


ZD:  ZD produced their first commercial vintage in 1969 and converted to farming their 32 acres of vines organically in the 80s.  Way before organic was cool...and expensive.  They are best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir although you can also try their Syrah and their Gewurztraminer available only at the tasting room.  That room is open 10am-4:30pm for tastings, or you can book a "Vineyard View Tasting" for $40 and have it in a special room with special wines and an accompaniment of cheese and chocolate too.  These wines are also wonderful, not overly expensive and the staff is incredibly friendly.   8383 Silverado Trail, Napa CA 94558.


Small Wineries.


click to enlarge Charlie Smith Punching Caps

Smith-Madrone was founded in 1971 when brothers Charles (left) and Stuart Smith purchased a 200-acre ranch that had been abandoned during prohibition.  They grow all of their own grapes and produce only 1,000 cases each of Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.  They offer tours and tasting by appointment only.  This is not the winery to visit if you are looking for t-shirts and wine souvenirs.  The wines are outstanding, the

brothers are incredible and the view is spectacular.  Can you tell I like this place?  Smith-Madrone is located up a trecherous windy road - go early and stay sober.  Tours and tastings are by appointment only and are led by one of the two Smith brothers.  4022 Spring Mountain Rd, St. Helena, CA  94574


Quixote Winery. Down the street, also in 1971,  Carl Doumani founded Stags' Leap Winery (Not to be confused with Stag's Leap Winery *notice the apostrophe* also founded in 1971, Stag's Leap was the wine that edged the French Grand Cru Chateau Mouton-Rothschild for 1st place in the Judgment of Paris).  In 1997 after an incredibly successful run, Doumani sold out to Beringer Wine Estates, reserving 150 acres where he  started a winery of his own.  Thus Quixote was born.    Quixote Winery makes Quixote Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite  Syrah as well as a second label called Panza (get it?) Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah.  Quixote wines are outstanding and reasonably priced.  This architecturally stunning winery was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser and can not be missed both because of the wines and because of the incredible modern art collection.  Call ahead for an appointment.  6126 Silverado Trail (and way off the beaten path), Napa, Ca 94558.


Enjoy your trip.  Drink responsibly.




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