- Rating: 93 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $75 for Cabernet Tasting, $40 for Regular Tasting
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: Yes for Specialized Tastings
Rutherford, CA 94573
For those who have not yet been to Tuscany (Italy), you need to make plans to visit ASAP. The gorgeous scenery aside, the wineries of Tuscany feel like you are visiting distant relatives. In addition to growing grapes and making wine, the Tuscan estates will also grow olives onsite and make olive oil / balsamic vinagrette. Combined with the family restaurants on the property and it’s easy to see why you could spend an entire day at a winery eating great food and drinking great wine with the families that own the estates. Of all the current Napa estates that I have been to, Round Pond is the one that reminds me most of Tuscany. Its 462 continguous acres in Rutherford can also make you feel like you have been transported somewhere else.
Like the Tuscan estates, Round Pond is family owned, everyone (the owners and the children that now run the winery) lives on the property, they produce their own olive oil from their 13 acres of olives (the old tasting room is now their olivery), and it’s very easy to sit outside on their veranda and drink/eat all day long… The only thing is the family is not Italian! Though one vacation to Tuscany is all that is needed to fall in love with everything about it. It’s also the reason why they grow Italian varietals such as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo and not just the traditional Napa varietals.
But before they started Round Pond, the owners originally owned some land on Pritchard Hill and used that experience to determine whether they would go all in on a winery or not. They would come up every weekend to take care of their plot of land and camp outside in the vineyard after each long Saturday and Sunday of hard work. After many months of working in San Francisco during the week and then traveling to Napa every weekend to work in their vineyard, they decided that they wanted to go all-in and moved their family to Rutherford. Another family that answered its calling to contribute to the great world of wine…
Our wine hostess (Erin) was great. In addition to talking through all of the history I described above, we talked about the old horticultural school they had for boys, how the style of wine seems to blend the fruit and structure of Napa with the rusticity of Tuscany, and why Thomas Rivers Brown is one of the premier celebrity winemakers in the valley. Looking back, Round Pond would have been a great place to order some food, but we had to get up Pritchard Hill to Chappellet afterwards, so I’ll need to revisit the food another time. Still, the ambiance of the winery was great - fun, not too crowded or loud, relaxing seating, and no rush through the tasting.
We went for the Cabernet Tasting ($75), so the menu will be slightly different if you choose the regular tasting instead. Also, you normally get to choose one of the Gravel Series wines for your tasting (Secret Garden, Scholar’s Gate, or the Vow), but since I was there with two other friends, we each picked a different wine from the Gravel Series and shared with each other, hence why I have notes for all three. The wines:
- 2017 Nebbiolo Rose ($32)
- The fruit is pretty mellow but the acidity is bright on the nose. Medium body with high acidity and enough tannin to add to the body. The color is a unique, nearly invisible pink. The wine is a little warm – you can definitely feel the alcohol at the end, but otherwise is very pleasant. I love the novelty – it’s not easy to find Nebbiolo Roses around here.
- 2015 Proprietary Red ($88)
- 65% Cabernet, 25% Petit Verdot, the rest is Malbec and Merlot. Deep red fruit (kirsch) and spice on the nose with some deep black fruit (fig) as well. The body was much lighter (med) than I was expecting. Still had a spice bite but smooth otherwise while warming you up a bit thanks to the alcohol. Some rustic feel too, reminding me of Italy.
- 2015 Reserve Cabernet ($110)
- 96% Cabernet, 4% Petit Verdot. Much deeper in color than the Proprietary red - they also brought us some skewered meat to pair with the wine. The nose is similar to the Proprietary Red except this had blue/black fruit with the spice and the alcohol was better integrated. The body and flavors are wonderful in this wine and the tertiary notes are starting their development too. The tannins are already so fine and the meat pairing helps clear any remaining tannins in the mouth. Smooth with a solid body and mouthfeel.
- 2016 Petit Verdot
- They blind tasted me at the winery on this wine and I totally nailed it. I did struggle evaluating just the nose because it reminded me of a really ripe Cabernet Franc with the really bright sweet red fruit, hint of black fruit, violets and black pepper on the nose. But when you taste it, you get the flavors of a ripe Petit Verdot. This wine had less fruit than the Cabernets, which gives way to earthiness that is characteristic of Petit Verdots. There is also more tannin that lingers on the finish but is still rounded. Very drinkable with a bigger body.
- 2014 Secret Garden ($225)
- A single vineyard wine from Oakville. The vines are grown in a dried-up gravel riverbed, leading to a higher intensity nose than the Reserve Cabernet and about the same set of aromas except a sweet spice is also present. This brings my brain directly to fruitcake. Lighter with much more minerality and alcohol on the body. The heat lasts through the finish for 60+ seconds. This wine is more distinctive with its character, but I’m not sure it adds enough that I would take over this over two bottles of the the Reserve Cabernet. This also really dries the mouth out with the tannin and needs more time in the bottle. Flavors are sweet berry, spice, chocolate, black fruit, violets and lavender. This plot is more maritime in climate which leads to this wine’s elegance and reduced power.
- 2014 Scholar’s Gate ($225)
- This wine is also made from grapes grown along the rock bed of the property. Very bright with red fruit and blackberry jam, high acid and medium+ tannin making the nose strong and reminiscent of pie. But this wine is less about the fruit and more about the mineral characteristics with integration that currently surpasses the Secret Garden. Initially strong alcohol impact, but opens up with cooked/baked fruit flavors on the palate. Opulent, intense ripe red fruit, thyme, caramel, and other notes round out what I was able to pick up. Plenty of hydro stress here would explain the intensity in this wine.
- 2014 The Vow ($225)
- The nose is very similar to the Reserve Cabernet with less intensity due to the better integration (or lower amount) of alcohol and acid. On the palate, the flavors stay predominantly in the realm of fruit. There are some muted spices and the tannins are more fine than the other two of the Gravel Series. This wine also has slightly more fruit than the others as well. It’s a tie between the Scholar’s Gate and this as to which I liked best. Having the other two first may have thrown off my perception, but I was told later that this was the biggest of the three because its soil is extremely porous.
The pours of the wines (especially the Gravel Series) were a bit smaller than other places and the tasting was also only four wines (the Petit Verdot is not normally a part of the tasting). $75 was a pretty steep price to pay for that experience, hence the lower experience score. Besides that note, the wines were all very good and different compared to a lot of places in the valley. Although I didn’t get to taste the Sangiovese, nor their Super Tuscan, I really appreciated the different wines that had on the menu (e.g. Nebbiolo Rose, Petit Verdot). The wines of the Gravel Series were a great pleasure to taste too and would make a great addition to any wine collection.
If the wines strike you and you’d like to take some home, the good news is the membership program discounts the wines by a good bit and the shipping rates are very good: $15 2-day shipping for a case and $25 2-day shipping for 6-11 bottles. Again, I really appreciated the ambiance and change-of-pace that Round Pond provided. If I am able to find its Proprietary Red for closer to $60, I’m definitely going to pick up a few. So if you are looking for somewhere relaxing to spend some time in Napa and prefer an Italian theme over others (e.g. Hall for its neo-architecture theme), then pay a visit to Round Pond and bring some sunscreen! Cheers!!
Rating: 93 out of 100