We visited Napa early September during harvest time to select the Global Adventuress 2014 “Top 10” Napa Valley Wineries. Along the way, we tasted some culinary delights, dipped into mud & mineral baths, surrendered to heavenly spas, went to some local markets, and discovered some new places we want to stay at on our next visit.
Here’s our list of recommendations for 2014 based on a combination of our personal experiences and recommendations from close friends, and a few suggestions from concierges in Napa Valley.
Important to note: be sure to call before visiting any of these wineries, since they require appointments.
Top 10 Napa Valley Wineries of 2014
1. Palmaz – The first stop on our Top 10 Napa Valley Wineries! We met Christian Palmaz on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and toured the Palmaz family state-of-the-art winemaking facility and vineyards. We entered the 18-story building with a maze of tunnels and domes – an impressive engineering feat built into the rock of Mount George. Christian, son of Julio and Amalia Palmaz, and Director of Operations for Palmaz Vineyards, is in charge of the farming and winery.
Christian gained an appreciation for food and fine wine early in his youth. He says,”From a young age Mom and Dad’s deep passion for wine always intrigued me. The dinner table was always accompanied by some of the finest wines made around the world. It wasn’t long before I too was fascinated by this living liquid.”
We were intrigued how the Palmaz family have optimized technology to track the vines individually, to monitor the health of the vineyard and identify the right time to pick the grapes. This helps the winemaker spend more time to make better wine, ensuring that the flavor and character of the wine develop naturally.
The Palmaz family dreamed of buying a winery in Napa, which became possible after Julio invented the balloon-expandable stent, known to be one of the “Ten Patents that Changed the World” in the last century. They bought a forgotten stone winery with the Cedar Knoll Vineyard, founded in 1881 by Henry Hagen, one of Napa Valley’s pioneer winemakers. The family brings their Argentinian heritage to the vineyards with the Estancia ranch-like ambience, celebrating wine tastings with traditional Asados (BBQ’s), where club members are invited to gather round the fire.
2. Hall Rutherford – Owned by Craig and Kathryn Hall this beautiful winery includes a wine cave that sits in the Rutherford Hills, where you will have stunning views of the valley. Kathryn was the former U.S. Ambassador to Austria and collected art during her years in Austria. You can see some of their art collection throughout the 14,000 square foot cave was built with handmade brick recovered from crumbling castles in Austria. Deep inside the caves resides a dazzling reception area and a spectacular chandelier dressed in hundreds of Swarovski crystals. Here you can taste some of Hall Rutherford’s most regaled wines.
One of our new favorites? 2012 Hall “Coeur” Cabernet Sauvignon! “Coeur” translates to “heart” in French, and was inspired by the artisanal skills of early winegrowers and makers in the heart of Napa Valley. Lisa Heckaman, PR Manager for Hall Rutherford, shares that this blend is unique “…for its gravelly, low vigor soils and cooling influences of Pacific breezes. The fruit in this region produces a stylistically lush, aromatic wine with a dense core of dark briar fruit, with exuberant aromas of blackberry, cassis, cola and red fruit. The palate is opulent with a harmonious balance of fruit, oak, and tannin carrying through the long finish.” And we agree! We bbq’ed steak for our group and paired the meal with the 2012 Hall “Coeur” Cabernet Sauvignon – everyone loved every drop of this lush, smooth, full berry blend.
3. Chappellet – Chappellet exudes romance! In 1967, Donn and Molly Chappellet were drawn to Pritchard Hill with its vistas of Lake Hennessey, surrounding hillsides, forests, and wildflower-filled meadows. Their love for this land helped them make the decision to move their young family to this remote area of Napa Valley, and plant the Chappellet vineyards. The Chappellets embrace the rugged land with its rocky slopes and became the first winery to plant vineyards on high-elevation hillsides that produce legendary wines with intensity and depth.
We were greeted by Blakesley, wife of Cyril Chappellet, who took us on a vineyard safari in a 4WD, driving up steep roads through the vineyards. She showed us the property and we stopped at resting areas through the vineyards for wine tastings while looking out at the panoramic views.
It was an “Out of Napa” experience, especially when she took us to Pritchard’s Camp. Blakesley shared, “this is our most exclusive experience, as it is limited and costs significantly more than our other experiences.” It’s a wine tasting experience like no other in Napa Valley where you can relax in a tented camp and look out at some of the best views in the valley. The architectural pyramid structure of the winery was inspired by early 1960’s artist Ed Moses. His work, along with work from John Altoon, and Ed Ruscha (who designed the Chappellet logo & original label), Larry Bell and others (including Lygia Chappellet) are displayed throughout the winery. The family is passionate about preserving the land and continuing what Donn and Molly began—making extraordinary wines.
4. Nickel & Nickel – a visit to Nickel & Nickel’s winery in Oakville, lets you step back in history where you can walk through gold prospector John C. Sullenger’s Queen-Anne style home. This historic farmstead roots go back to 1867 when the parcel of land was bought, and today Nickel & Nickel house cutting-edge winery hand crafts up to 25 single-vineyard wines.
On this tour, you also visit the Gleason Barn, Fermentation Barn, and Barrel Cellar. “Our goal was to develop a modern winery, specially outfitted to meet the needs of single-vineyard winemaking, while respecting the history of the location,” says Nickel & Nickel director of winemaking and chairman, Dirk Hampson.
He adds, “Anyone driving past on Highway 29 will see a restored farmstead that appears to have been there for generations, without realizing the classic barns house an extremely sophisticated winery.”
5. Long Meadow Ranch – If you are near St. Helena, be sure to stop at Long Meadow Ranch for a meal and wine tasting. You’ll find a 3-acre destination location in St. Helena known as Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead, which includes a restaurant, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch, tasting room in the historic Logan-Ives House, and the Farmers Market at Long Meadow Ranch. You can purchase handcrafted olive oil here too, eggs, and farm organic fruits and vegatables.
6. Venge – A definite must on our Top 10 Napa Valley Wineries and just minutes from Calistoga, tucked into the Northeastern foothills of the Palisades Mountains, is a12-acre, private estate, owned by Kirk Venge. The Venge (ven-ghee) family represents three generations of farming, producing, and purveying fine wines for half a century. Knud migrated from Denmark to the U.S. in the early 1900’s, and his son, Per imported European wines, then his son Nils founded Venge in the 60’s after he studied viticulture at UC Davis.
Nils son, Kirk continues the Napa Valley heritage, “When I was growing up, working in the vineyard and winery gave me a wonderful sense of partnership in my family’s way of life; it was hard work, but I loved it.” He learned the rhythm of winemaking as a young man, helping in the family vineyard throughout the growing season, experiencing the labor of harvest and the love of crush, and working alongside his father, Nils Venge, in the winery. Some of his earliest memories are of riding on the tractor with his father cultivating the Oakville Estate vineyard and dragging hoses throughout the cellar floor.
7. Barnett Vineyards – With passion and patience, Fiona and Hal Barnett created this vineyard and winery in 1983 with the intent of producing small amounts of hand crafted Cabernet Sauvignon wines from their estate. The vineyards are located at the top of Spring Mountain, at elevation 2,000ft, and planted on steep terraces that follow the contour of the land. Mountainside farming is very challenging. The vines must struggle to reach nutrients and water in the soil and, as a result, yield only one to two tons per acre. The elements of sun, temperature, and well-drained porous soils give an advantageous water stress to the vines and contribute to the depth, richness and character of the wines. Grapes are harvested by hand; vineyard row by row, as optimum ripeness and maturity is reached. Fermentation is done in small batches. Since the winery’s first 100 cases in 1989, Barnett Vineyards has grown to approximately 6,000 cases in total production.
8. Pride Mountain Wines – From St. Helena, we drove 20 minutes up a steep and twisting road where in some places the grade averages in excess of 35%. We climbed up to Pride’s “Summit Ranch”, with stunning views of rugged Mount St. Helena to the northeast and vineyards rising skyward in all directions. Pride Mountain Wines straddles the crest of the Mayacamas Mountain Range at 2,100 feet, and is known as “One Ranch on Two Counties” since it borders Napa and Sonoma County Lines.
The 235 acre property dates back to 1890, when it was the only winery that served the entire mountain community. The first records of vineyard plantings date back to 1869. The eight-three vineyard acres on Spring Mountain are exposed to southern light from dawn to dusk. Pride has a wooden-beamed, modest-sized winery where the Pride family owns and actively manages the winery and vineyards. There are 23,000 square feet of caves that are 20 and 50 feet beneath the surface, and are home to some 2,400 barrels. Be sure to see the tasting room in the caves and if you have time for a post-tasting picnic, you’ll find peaceful sitting areas with amazing views!
9. Gemstone – Gemstone Vineyard is a small, family-owned producer of estate wines. Our focus is on crafting richly textured red wines from Bordeaux varietals grown on our 16-acre hillside property in the Yountville appellation of Napa Valley. Esteemed winemaker Philippe Melka handcrafts our Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and an Estate Red Wine. Our wines are quite limited and are sold to members of our allocation list, which you can request to join here, while the rest can be found on the wine lists of great restaurants through the country. Gemstone Vineyard is a small, family-owned producer of estate wines. Their focus is on crafting richly textured red wines from Bordeaux varietals grown on their 16-arce hillside property located in the Yountville appellation of Napa Valley. Their esteemed winemaker Philippe Melka handcrafts an outstanding estate Cabernet Sauvignon and an Estate Red Wine.
10. Darioush – The final winery on our Top 10 Napa Valley wineries list! Shahpar Khaledi offers this warm welcome to every guest, “Darioush is about celebrating tradition and culture, this kind of hospitality comes naturally. To me, it is obvious to treat guests like they are part of your own family.” Upon arrival, we were greeted with a glass of wine and silver bowl of pistachios. Darioush epitomizes the American dream. After emigrating from Iran as a trained and educated engineer, he and his wife built one of the largest family-owned grocery businesses in California.
In 1997, after many years of success, Darioush and Shahpar founded Darioush, realizing a lifelong dream – to share art, the Persian culture and fine wines from their winery and 120 acre vineyards in Southern Napa Valley. At an early age, Darioush learned winemaking from his father who was inspired by the wine culture of Shiraz that dates back to 5,000 B.C. in the Zagros Mountains of Northern Iran. When approaching Darioush, you feel as if you’re arriving to the ancient city of Persepolis and entering a Persian palace. Wine tastings are provided in private rooms and spaces surrounding a tasting bar and high-end fashion brands boutique. The hospitality provided at Darioush is inspired by the culture of Tarof. Here, you experience the Darioush wines and Persian culture where, “It is the art of politeness, rooted in a centuries old tradition of going beyond one’s means to make the other person feel more at home than home itself.”
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How to Get Around?
Napa Valley Tours & Transportation (NVTT): Napa Valley Tours & Transportation delivers the red carpet & white glove service! For 15 years, President Michael Graham has operated a family-owned company that provides full transportation service. His fleet of hundreds of vehicles are available to suit your needs from town cars to buses. Mike raises the bar for Chauffeurs – professional, prompt, and shares local knowledge and insights that are invaluable. NVTT’s concierge service helps you to plan your trip and make the most efficient use of your time.
For reservations, call #707.251.9463 or #888.946.3859
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Thank you to Palmaz, Chappellet, Hall Rutherford, Venge, Nickel & Nickel, Pride Mountain, and Darioush for hosting us on your tours!
Patricia Stone, a travel writer and consultant with www.GlobalAdventuress.com