- Rating: 96 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $50
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Napa, CA 94558
What is in a name? Well, for some it’s the most effective branding possible. The name “Villaine” is enough to grab any wine collector’s attention. Though, they normally associate it with a Burgundian winery that just happens to produce some of the most expensive wine on Earth (Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti). Though, that association is exactly what the owners don’t want, even though the winery is related to that Villaine! The character of the terroir between the Cote de Nuit in Burgundy and Carneros in Napa are very different and you should expect very different wine because of that. And while the wine isn’t as good as DRC, it also doesn’t cost $20K+ a bottle either. I think what you do get with these wines is old world elegance, finesse, minerality, and a complexity that doesn’t over-index on the fruit character, thanks to the Burgundian traditions applied to Carneros fruit and terroir. Do I recommend you visit? You bet I do…
The families of Villaine and Hyde each got their start in wine separately. Larry Hyde has worked in the vineyards since the 70s and you can likely find multiple books on Aubert’s life story in Burgundy. So what would bring two very different families together? Love, of course! Aubert married Larry’s cousin (Pamela Fairbanks) in 1970 and after 30 years of pursuing their own craft, Larry and Aubert decided to start a venture together in Carneros. In 2002, they brought onboard their current winemaker (Stéphane Vivier) who studied at the the Université de Bourgogne. And with a vision in mind, they built HdV!
HdV is primarily focused on Chardonnay which represents over 60% of their production. Since the expertise of both Aubert and Stéphane lay in Burgundian wines, it makes sense that HdV is focused on the cooler Carneros, allowing them to produce higher acid wines that are similar to what is produced in Burgundy in contrast to the typical ripe Napa Chardonnay. And because the Chardonnay is sourced from older-vine blocks at the Hyde Vineyard (30+ year old vines), each bottle contains character and concentration. They produce a Merlot / Cabernet Sauvignon blend (Belle Cousine) and Syrah onsite as well. It wasn’t until 2012 that they started making Pinot Noir here (remember, they don’t want that “diet-DRC” comparison), but the Burgundian winemaker wanted to make Pinot, so here we are!
The funniest thing we talked about during the tasting was that Aubert didn’t take the idea of co-founding an American winery seriously until he participated in a blind tasting where one of the wines revealed was a Ramey Chardonnay that was made with fruit from the Hyde Vineyard. After that tasting, he finally gave the co-venture some serious thought. Since Aubert is half-the-world away running DRC, he doesn’t have much influence on the day-to-day. He does make a couple trips to California each year where his biggest contribution is helping decide when to pick the grapes, since that is always the most important decision for a winery. Where many wineries index on the brix (sugar) level of the grapes, HdV focuses on picking when the Total Acidity (TA) is just right. And like Burgundy, there is no fining, filtration or additions to any of the wines, ever. What the land offers is what they use in the winery.
Reservations are required for a tasting and just note that it’s pretty much a one man operation during most of the year - the one wine ambassador (Nate Olver) handles all of the phone calls, appointments, emails, etc. This means that everything is done one customer at a time, including the tastings. Though, they wouldn’t be able to fit more than one group of people in the office for a tasting anyways, haha. NOTE: I don’t know if they normally pour this many wines for a tasting, so don’t overindex on the list below. Though, if you show interest and appreciation for the wines, I wouldn’t be surprised if you had the opportunity to taste most of these wines:
- 2016 Napa Valley Le Debut Carneros ($50)
- Even their young Chardonnay (Colera clone) has a rich minerality on the nose. Limestone soil is very important for Burgundian Chardonnay, but there isn’t much of it in Napa (e.g. Mt. Harlan). With the minerality, you also get very fresh ripe-but-light lemon and yellow apple. The mouthfeel is the same way with really good harmony between the acid and ripeness thanks in part to the use of neutral oak. No battonage in barrel and only one remuage. For vines so young, they already display so much character in the wine…
- 2015 Napa Valley Chardonnay Carneros ($70)
- Their flagship wine as it represents 50% of their entire production. The average vine age is around 30 years and they only use the Wente clone to enhance the minerality. More butter on the profile, but still balanced with the acid and the fruit notes. This wine is noticeably rounder and fuller bodied than the Le Debut. I have no doubt this wine can age over a decade and can easily be paired with a meal. I had to purchase a bottle to blind taste with the other greats of Napa.
- 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard ($100)
- It was fun to be able to taste their flagship 10 years into its life. Still fresh on the nose with ripe lemon, butter, and a bit of nut, but not too oxidative. It also sports a really nice golden color. On the palate, the acid has settled down a bit, but the alcohol is 14.2% (it was a riper year), so there is some afterburn on the finish, making this an ideal fall/winter white wine. There is still plenty of life in the bottle and could easily age another 5-10 years.
- 2016 Ygnacia Carneros Pinot Noir ($115)
- Fresh and fleshy red cranberry and strawberry that is not overly ripe/candied like many other Pinots from the valley. 20% new French Oak which gives it a hint of vanilla. The balance between the tannin and body is nice with lift provided by the acidity. This wine evokes a blend of Willamette and Burgundy Pinot, rather than RRV Pinot. Easy drinking and complex thanks to the light earthiness in the wine. I have no doubt that mushroom character will develop with age, making this really attractive.
- 2011 Californio Syrah Hyde Vineyard ($100)
- A 12.5% ABV Syrah from the Napa Valley - I could hardly believe it… Lots of fresh red fruit, some earthiness, and a hint of garrigue character on the nose. The palate leans towards the garrigue character moreso than the red fruit (cranberry). There is a balance between the complexity and integration of the wine, making it really appealing to wine nerds. I must admit tasting this wine harkens me back to my travels in the Cote Rotie area. I wouldn’t be surprised if the garrigue emphasis is due to the vintage conditions of 2011.
- 2007 Belle Cousine Hyde Vineyard ($120)
- 2007 was a great vintage for Napa and this blend of Merlot and Cabernet reflects that well. Explosive nose of red fruit and tertiary character. The acidity is still very bright, but the palate leans more towards the tertiary and is supported by the remaining red fruit. I would not age this wine any longer - the balance is at its peak or slightly past it. I really appreciate them opening this bottle for me though to show what I can expect when the wine is aging. Sure to be a crowd-pleaser among the French lovers.
- 2014 Californio Syrah Hyde Vineyard ($80)
- What a difference three years and different vintage conditions can have. Compared to the 2011, the 2014 has more white flowers, deeper red fruit and a perfume to the nose. Those aromas carry straight through to the palate. The structure of this wine is much bigger as well; the wine has smooth, ripe high tannin and medium(+) acid that are integrating nicely, but are still very noticeable. It’ll take several years before the tertiary emerges to balance the fruit.
- 2014 Belle Cousine Hyde Vineyard ($80)
- Similarly, the 2014 Belle Cousine showed very differently compared to the 2007. This wine is so pretty and feminine on the nose - ripe, developed red fruit that is very seductive and not candied. The balance of tannin/acidity (more acid) leans to the French side and the tertiary notes are just getting started. I think the optimal point for me will be after two more years, right before the tertiary notes stand out. It’s really hard not to drink this wine right now though…
- 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Vine Hill Ranch ($195)
- Only produced between 2013 and 2015 while they had access to the fruit. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon aged in 50% new oak. This wine is just absolutely stunning. The complexity is amazing for a wine this young. The little bit of Brett and Pyrazines in the wine are masterfully done and well balanced with the fruit. This is what good Brett in wine looks like; the French would be proud… You can drink this right now and trick people into thinking that the wine is 10 years old. Me, I would just sniff this wine for days… It was $200 but I felt compelled to buy a bottle - that is how much this wine affected me.
If you are looking for excellent Chardonnay and a French take on Napa fruit, you must visit HdV. It’s rare to find a winery where every wine’s description contains the word “balance”, but that is what HdV offers those that visit. If they serve you as many wines as they did me, the tasting fee will seem like a discounted amount. HdV is also located very close to the town of Napa, so it is very easy to plan meals around the visit. Just remember that this is not the place you want to take a group if you are looking for a winery tour or a place to relax outside for a couple hours. Though the great thing about Napa is that there is a winery for every occasion, so just keep looking! Cheers!!
Rating: 96 out of 100