- Rating: 96 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $65-$125, depending on Tasting Experience
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Napa, CA 94559
Hudson Ranch is truly a ranch in every sense of the word: the amount of land it encompasses (~2000 acres), the livestock and gardens they maintain on the property, the living quarters built for workers and their families, etc. It’s truly a wonder. Though with all the resources and new equipment they have, it’s baffling to me that they are aiming to produce no more than 8000 bottles of wine a year. They do sell a good amount of fruit, but only to the best producers (e.g. Aubert, Kongsgaard, and Kistler). And with the amount of wine they do produce, their quality and scores are off the charts; the 2016 Little Bit scored 99pts from The Wine Advocate, while the 2015 Old Master and the 2016 Ladybug both scored 97pts. Regardless of the scores they received from others, tasting the wines myself, I’d put them in the Top 3 in the Napa area. And at their price point, it’s the best QPR Chardonnay around. A must visit if you are heading to Sonoma.
I found out about Hudson Ranch in a roundabout way. Kongsgaard wines are one of the cult brands in Napa, up on Atlas Peak. I’ve been on the waiting list forever for a chance to purchase their Chardonnay and try it out. When I learned that Kongsgaard produced one of their Chardonnays from Hudson’s vineyards, that John Kongsgaard was also Hudson Ranch’s consulting winemaker, and that Hudson Ranch took tasting appointments, I had to sign up and make it the first stop of my day on the way to Sonoma. Now that I am finally off the wait list at Kongsgaard, I still purchase more bottles of Hudson Ranch each vintage, even though they are a relatively unknown brand to collectors compared to collectors. That’s how impressed I was with the Hudson Chardonnays. I can’t speak highly enough of them and encourage those that are ABC drinkers (Anything but Chardonnay) to give these wines a shot. They are delicious, but in a much different way than Hyde (HdV) or Burgundian Chardonnays.
Driving up from San Francisco, it’s relatively quick to get to Hudson Vineyards compared to the wineries in Napa as it is located straight west from the town of Napa, which itself is south of most wineries. Hudson is also on the way to the town of Sonoma, so make it the first stop of your day (unless you want to instead go see the morning fogline from Hanzell at 10am which is also great). The drive to the winery is like any other as you meander your way on a private road through the vineyard up to their facilities. But once you make it to the facilities, be prepared for a different experience than most.
When you are, you will be greeted by your wine ambassador with a glass of the White Study, which is composed of varietals traditionally found in Italy, near the Alps in the Veneto region. After looking at a map of the grounds and discussing the absurd amount of land that Lee Hudson owns in the area, you’ll get a tour of their garden and the facilities (see the pictures for some examples of the sights you’ll see). The garden looks like it’s filled each day with fertilizer (but the soil itself looks poor) and the equipment and facilities look brand new. You could definitely see them becoming a large producer of wines in the region, but that’s not their goal. Lee Hudson is from Texas and has that ranch mentality at heart where he is happy tending to his land and vines, moreso than producing large volumes of wine and focusing on profit. John Kongsgaard helped talk Lee into making some wine, but low volume and only the highest quality. And everything about the newly-built facilities screams quality and a high price tag. Luckily, the latter isn’t true of their wines…
Tasting the wines, it felt like we had stumbled upon a great secret of Sonoma. Here is a ranch that grows tremendously high-quality grapes, selling the majority to producers that make $125-$150 bottles from those grapes, and yet they produce wines from some of their best for $85 a bottle. And according to some critics, they can outscore those other bottles and be called out as the best white wines in Napa. The only negative is that their low production means that you need to be aggressive in signing up for their mailing list and purchasing the bottles you want on release, because they do tend to sell out quickly on their website.
You can read about each of the wines on this webpage: https://hudsonranch.com/our-wines. And by clicking the picture of each wine (do not right-click and open in a new tab), you’ll be able to see the technical sheet for each wine. Without further ado, these were the wines that we were able to taste. Again, please note that these may note be the same bottles offered for your tasting. We specially requested the Little Bit and Ladybug chardonnays be included even though they were sold out at the time. So be sure to call and ask/negotiate what you’ll be able to sample before you arrive.
- 2018 White Study ($36)
- A Fruili (Northern Italy) blend of Ribolla Gialla, Friulano, and Chardonnay that displays yellow fruit and high, crisp acid. Since we were walking and sipping this wine outdoors, I didn’t have a chance to take thorough tasting notes, but it’s an interesting blend uncommon in Napa/Sonoma that can serve well as an apertif before moving onto the heavier Chardonnay varietal wines.
- 2016 Little Bit Chardonnay ($85)
- Hugely pronounced stonefruit (peach/apricot), ripe yellow fruit (apples/pears), and tropical fruit (mango/melon) with butter, cream and vanilla. Thanks to the cooler climate, this slow ripening Chardonnay has impressive acidity to balance the medium(+) body and opulent fruit/MLF flavors. There is such aging potential here and it takes a little while to open up in its youth. But this wine is an absolute powerhouse. Even though our group normally prefers Burgundian-styled Chardonnays, this was our favorite over the Ladybug. Elegant, but powerful and present. I bought nearly a case of this wine it was so good…
- 2016 Ladybug Chardonnay ($85)
- The nose is a quite a bit lighter in intensity with lighter yellow fruit, citrus, and crisp stonefruit. The palate has medium(+) intensity with yellow fruit (apple/pear), cream, and butter. The acidity presents itself more here (the vines were quite vigorous and they had to drop 30% of the fruit in green harvest) and there is some more lemon/lime type flavors rather than the riper development of the Little Bit. That makes this wine lighter for easier drinking. This wine likely will appeal to a broader category of wine drinkers than its sister.
- 2016 Phoenix ($65)
- Pronounced, perfumed aromas of deep-but-bright fruit-driven (but not candied) red fruit that includes cherry, plum, strawberry, kirsch, and black cherry in the medley. Medium bodied, medium(+) ripe but grippy tannins. Slighly less ripe red fruit on the palate with black pepper providing a strong undertone and toast, cedar, and other wood notes rounding out the palate. This wine needs 5-10 years to smooth the tannins and fill out the body a bit.
- 2015 Old Master ($125)
- Deeper nose with more black fruit than the Phoenix and some freshness reminiscent of fennel. A Right-Bank Bordeaux blend mostly composed of Cabernet Franc and the rest Merlot. Pronounced intensity on the palate with a perfume of fruit that hits you hard and fast. On the mid-palate and finish, ripe but fresh red fruit with some hints of black fruit in the background. The tannin is medium(+), ripe and grippy which pairs well with the fresh medium(+) acidity. Again, this wine needs 5 years to round out the tannin and body, but has greater potential than the Phoenix because of the extra depth, concentration, and riper flavors to pair with future tertiary notes. There is also some toast and baking spices that come out on the finish.
- 2013 Syrah ($90)
- After 6 years, the fruit is already tapered back in intensity on the nose with tertiary notes blended with the deep red fruit in medium(+) bright intensity. The palate has red fruit, tertiary character, and is drinking very smoothly. The wine was served perhaps a little warmer than it should have been, but I purchased some bottles of the 2016 to watch the evolution over time myself.
- 2018 Grenache Rose ($32)
- Whole cluster and fermented in a concrete egg. I was surprised by the higher acidity and minerality to go with the fresh strawberry, stonefruit and salinity. This wine is lighter in intensity and tasting it at the end (it was a spur-of-the-moment bottle) was probably a disservice to how it would be perceived as the first wine in the tasting. Still, very different than other Roses in the area and our group bought some to enjoy later.
The $65 tasting fee, which won’t be reimbursed based on your purchases, can seem a bit steep compared to the other tasting fees in Sonoma and even Napa. Though, if you can ensure your tasting lineup looks similar to the above, you won’t be disappointed. In addition, being able to try possibly the best Chardonnays you will ever have is an opportunity that is hard to pass up. It was for me when I was finalizing my reservation. So the next time someone talks about Sonoma not being able to compare with Napa on quality, be sure to send them here and follow up for their reaction. Cheers!!
Rating: 96 out of 100