- Rating: 96 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: Free with bottle purchases
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
St Helena, CA 94574
Many of the wineries I’ve talked about have very nice views from their property, but the one from Gandona is just surreal. Located up on Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountains, Gandona sits at 1800 feet and overlooks Lake Hennessey. It is also next to popular cult wineries such as Bryant Family, Colgin, and others that charge $500+ per bottle of wine. With those kinds of neighbors, you’d get the feeling that this place would be unapproachable. Not true at all - Gandona is another winery that invites you in with open arms, both with its open-air tasting room that takes full advantage of the view and their great host / wine ambassador.
Gandona is reservation-only as there is only one visiting group allowed on the property at a time. Besides our host, I don’t think we saw another human on the property, though the owners’ cat became quite close with one of us. The level of attention you receive, the views and the wine all contribute to a first class experience at a first class winery. The only thing I wish I could change is their production level. Because they emphasize quality, the number of cases produced each year is quite low, meaning they consistently sell out of the wine they do produce. Despite their limited production and availability, the prices are reasonable with respect to the quality. The wine tasting menu is as follows:
- 2016 Chardonnay
- The Chardonnay was on point - the acidity wasn’t too sharp, the fruit was ripe but not overly so, and no overpowering notes from lees aging - just a solid, balanced Chardonnay. We had it while walking outside to the vineyards, so I didn’t get a chance to write notes down at the time. Biggest takeaway is that its on par with other Chardonnays in its price range and is geared towards balance rather than intensity.
- 2011 Encosta ($90)
- Their second-label Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a good value buy if you are looking to try Cabernet from the Pritchard Hill region. Solid, yet balanced and the volcanic character of Pritchard Hill is clear in the wine. The 2011 in particular is drinking really well right now as its tannins are softer than other vintages.
- 2014 Encosta ($90)
- Most of my group purchased the 2011 Encosta as it had a levity and elegance that were really enticing. I purchased bottles of the 2014 because of its aging potential and what it can become. Again, I think it has more personality than other Pritchard Hill Cabernets at the same price.
- 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($225)
- The more table-ready of the two Estate Cabernets we tasted. This wine served as a good comparison point against the intensity of the 2011 and 2014 Encostas. Somewhere in the middle, this is still not ready, or at least requires more decanting than we had, but only needs 3-5 more years.
- 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($225)
- This wine is huge - I can only imagine what the 2013 will be like when it rounds into form (I also grabbed some bottles of that). A little tougher to feel the nuance right now, but it’ll be older than the ‘11/’12 when it hits its peak, meaning there should be a good chance to check out the wine when its tertiary notes are more apparent.
- Estate Port ($85)
- 100% Touriga Nacional. The Estate Port is a way of paying homage to the ancestry of the owner (who is Portugese). And while it is delicious, the price point is a little high for me as it is a 375ml bottle. Though, I know what they are aiming for - a top flight Port that is grown in a great terroir and will compare to the best of the Douro.
It is a bit of a trek to the winery, so it would be smart to pair this tasting with other wineries in the region (e.g. Chappellet, David Arthur, etc.). We were late to this tasting because we didn’t buffer enough time to get up the mountain. Also, when you make the appointment, they will send you directions. BE SURE YOU PRINT THEM OUT. Google Maps may not take you to the correct location and when you reach the point where the instructions become important, there won’t be any cell phone service to look up those directions. So be sure to plan ahead! Also, be prepared to buy a bottle or two if you like the wines - the tasting was free, but don’t be that person who tries to take advantage of that fact.
Even if they wouldn’t let me do another tasting there, I would love to go back one day and spend an hour just looking out at Lake Hennessey from their perch - it was probably the best view we had all weekend. This is also a great stop for those that want to learn more about the Pritchard Hill AVA, but don’t want to pay for Colgin/Bryant and want something a little more cultish/smaller than Chappellet.
Make sure to visit on a good weather day and enjoy!
Rating: 96 out of 100