You can read up on the background of Bevan Cellars and prior vintage tastings in in this article HERE. The first thing you may notice about this article is that I dropped the rating, compared to my last tasting here. The change is primarily due to the number and quality of the wines used for this tasting; they were not up to the standard that was set during my previous visit. We were also given the remnants of bottles opened the previous day to taste, rather than being able to taste fresh bottles. In a couple cases, the pour was smaller than other bottles because the amount available wasn’t enough. Make no mistake, these are wines of the highest quality, just not served in their best condition.

I’m surprised there aren’t more movies/videos on wine in the world today. Maybe people are too afraid to rock the market like the movie Sideways did to Merlot and Pinot Noir. One of the more recent ones to hit Netflix is the special “Decanted”, which follows and interviews a few winemakers from Napa. It starts with an interview of Heidi Barrett in her helicopter (awesome), but a majority of the movie revolves around the creation of a new winery that I hadn’t heard of before. Since I had been to almost (if not) all the other places featured or discussed in the special, I decided I needed to make a reservation and visit this new winery. I’m glad we did as we found some great wines and had a fun tasting experience in their wine cave!

While only 14% of the winemakers in Napa today are female, there are several that I follow who I consider to be in the upper-tier of best winemakers in the country, if not the world. If you’ve read most of my articles, you’ll know that I have a love affair with the wines of Heidi Barrett. The wines of Helen Turley (at Marcassin) and Celia Welch (at Scarecrow) are a little out of my price range currently (I want to try them so badly…), but the wines of Cathy Corison and Helen Keplinger are right up my alley. While I’ve done articles on Heidi and Cathy, I haven’t been able to visit Helen yet. I’ve had some of her personal label before and really like her wines at Carte Blanche. She’s even worked with Heidi at Kenzo Estate in the past! So I decided to take our group for a visit. Luckily, she has a tasting room in downtown Napa and her husband, who is also the Wine Director for Carte Blanche, helped get us setup for a tasting with their wine ambassador.

When you think about the historical wineries of Napa, you may think of Beringer, Inglenook, and others. Cult collectors will surely name Mayacamas near the top of their list. LeBron James, the wine connoisseur of the NBA, took the Cleveland Cavaliers to Mayacamas during a bonding weekend to enjoy the wines and educational experience. But you don’t need to make a reservation for $100pp and drive 30min from the town of Napa to enjoy the wines of Mayacamas. Thanks to a recent trend of wineries in hard-to-commute locations, you can visit the newly-opened Mayacamas wine bar in downtown Napa for a tasting of their current releases ($35pp). And if you’d like, you can include some back vintage Chardonnays and Cabernets as well ($60pp). All while being able to walk to dinner afterwards. Sounds too good to be true, right?

You can read up on Kapcsandy’s history and prior vintage tastings in this article HERE. Although there is no membership club you can sign up for with Kapcsandy, they do have a benefit programs you can qualify for based on your purchases. Since my tasting group loves and purchases as much Kapcsandy as I do, we try to make a trip once a year to taste the new vintage. And I can’t say enough about Kapcsandy - it is my favorite winery experience in Napa, if you can afford it and meet the requirements for the tasting (see the previous article for details).

Kieu Hoang was a nice stop to unwind after a long day of tasting. The views from the balcony are great, the wine and tasting fees are affordable, and the wines themselves are pleasant and easy to drink. Though, if you asked me whether I would visit the winery again, the answer is likely “no”. It wasn’t the most memorable experience, the wine ambassador wasn’t the most engaging, and the wines did not ship well (a large percentage of the bottles we shipped back to DC were faulty - not just one or two). People have asked me why I wouldn’t give a winery a second chance. My response is that there are ~425 wineries in Sonoma. I will not likely be able to taste at all of them in my lifetime, so why bother trying the same one twice, especially if I didn’t like it the first time?

When you visit wineries for tastings, you may notice that a majority have a theme to them, likely due to past influences, and the owners will try to enhance that theme by incorporating art and/or architectural design (e.g. Round Pond and Tuscany, Cliff Lede and Rock-and-Roll, etc.). I have never before visited a winery like Donum Estate where the Art experience matches or even exceeds the tasting experience. And while the Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs (especially the Pinot) are well-regarded and rated, I think a good portion of the tasting fee ($95) goes towards your museum ticket to tour the sculptor garden. And even though the tasting fee may seem pricey, Donum is always fully booked at least a month ahead of time. So if you decide that you want to visit, be sure to book your reservation far in advance as there’s no guarantee they will have space for your group!

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.

Nils Venge is a household name in the Napa Valley. He’s consulted for wineries such as Groth, Saddleback, Carter Cellars, and was even the first American winemaker to receive a 100pt score for a wine (earning it for his 1985 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Robert Parker). It turns out that the winemaking talent runs in the family, no doubt also the hard work and perseverance required to be a successful winemaker. Venge Vineyards is run by Nil’s son, Kirk. And while Kirk doesn’t quite have the same resume and reputation that his father does, I have no doubt that he will garner it in the future. The quality of the wines in the tasting communicate that quite clearly. So consider yourself lucky that you can enjoy his wines at affordable prices until that happens!

You can read up on Beringer’s history and prior vintage tastings in this article HERE. As a Private Reserve member of Beringer, I try to get out to the winery once a year to taste the new vintage. And the wines made enough of an impact on me that I wanted to write a separate article to cover the 2015 vintage. This is not just because 2015 was a great vintage. 2015 was the first vintage fully produced by their new winemaker: Mark Beringer. After spending years honing his craft at Duckhorn, Mark came back home to take the reigns. And what a difference this has made on the wines Beringer producers…