One of the first ten wineries established in the Napa Valley, Chappellet has a long and storied history - from Wine Spectator mentioning one of its wines in the top ten of the past century, to naming and copyrighting the location that people think of when they hear Bryant Family, Colgin, etc. (Chappellet copyrighted “Pritchard Hill”), to producing a consistent 97+ pt wine in the Wine Advocate (their Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon). Chappellet has a fantastic reputation and for good reason - the quality of their wine is very good. I just had to visit Chappellet on my most recent trip, though the reasonable tasting fee also helped. Note that like many other owners in Napa, the proprietar of Chappellet made his money before coming out to Napa and buying land. In his case, he invented the first coffee vending machines, where you would pay to get a cup of coffee automatically dispensed for you. No disrespect to coffee lovers, but I am glad he transitioned to wine!
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.
Plumpjack is a great example of a newer winery on historic land that is producing fantastic wines. Many people in my social wine circle have heard the name, but not much else other than it supposedly makes great wines. As you may know by now, that is alone is enough to pique my curiosity and schedule a visit. It turns out that the legend of Plumpjack started in 1992, when the Lt. Governor of California and a music composer got together and opened a wine store in San Francisco. Those who are Shakespeare lovers may also get the reference to Sir John “Plumpjack” Falstaff from Henry V. When someone told me the reference, I knew I was really going to like this place because the personality of Sir “Plumpjack” is pretty close to my own.
It doesn’t get much better than Lokoya… Not views of the valley below, not the tasting room, not the isolation/attention, and definitely not the wines. I guess the only things to complain about is that they only make four wines (all Cabernet Sauvignons) and that I don’t make enough money to drink these wines regularly. Though, I find myself saying that often for all the best wines. Even with an allocation, I couldn’t get access to the 2015 Mt. Veeder and Howell Mountain, which happen to be my two favorite mountain terroirs of the four they produce from. The other two are their Spring Mountain and Diamond Mountain wines.
I hope everyone is having fun gearing up for Christmas!! This may be a little late on my part, but I wanted to share some Christmas cheer by publishing articles on some fantastic wineries over the next few weeks. That way, people will have all the belated Christmas gift ideas that they need! The first one we are going to start with is Romeo Vineyards. I’m fairly sure that most people reading this have never heard of Romeo Vineyards before. Before I stumbled upon this gem in the town of Calistoga, I hadn’t heard of them either, save one or two deals on Vivino. As one of the few places in the Napa Valley that is open until 5:00pm or later (it’s actually open until 6:30pm!), I thought I would end a day of tasting by visiting this small family-owned winery and trying a few wines. Needless to say, that is not how it went.
Nickel and Nickel is another winery right next to the Highway 29 in Napa. In fact it’s right across the street from Robert Mondavi and next to Opus One, both of which have storied histories, so you know they set up shop in the right place. The styling used for Nickel and Nickel’s logo is also very similar to Far Niente, which isn’t to far away. That’s not a coincidence - the two are sister wineries. While Far Niente is known for its rounded portfolio, Nickel and Nickel has built its reputation through its vast number of single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. Even the single vineyard tasting gives you a preview of less than half (6 out of 15) of the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons on their menu.
As more investment pours into Napa Valley and the large conglomerates (e.g. Constellation Brands) continue to purchase more property and consolidate the industry, it’s getting harder to find quality smaller wineries with that family feel (e.g. Clark-Claudon). Luckily, there is one right off the Silverado Trail that has been growing, slowly but surely these past 5-10 years. This recent visit to Brian Arden was a coming of age for both of us - the last time I visited several years ago, they had just opened their facility on the Silverado Trail and I was just discovering how amazing wine could be. The only thing I can say is “look at us now!”
Frank Family is one of those vineyards that aren’t hyped by the major wine reviewers, but you continue to hear its name talked about on the wine apps (e.g. Vivino and Delectable) and see its bottles in stores, as their wines are nationally distributed. I finally had enough and decided to find out for myself what the fuss was all about. Like many other wineries, it was founded with capital earned in another industry. In the case of Frank Family, it was Hollywood. But not as actors - the owner was President of Disney and the son is currently the President of Dreamworks Studios. And what person in the movie business wouldn’t appreciate good vino? Better yet, what person in any industry wouldn’t appreciate good vino?
Another winery with a storied history longer than most (dating back to the late 1800s) that continues to produce top notch wines is Larkmead. Though unlike many others with the same length of history, Larkmead continues to be a small production winery, choosing to concentrate on quality over quantity as its 2013 The Lark (100pt by Wine Advocate) demonstrates. Its smaller size and simple-but-bright tasting room provides quite the contrast to Frank Family, which is right across the street. Both are located in Calistoga off the main highway, so there’s no reason not to visit either or both.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!! I hope everyone is with family and/or friends celebrating over a nice, hot meal and a good bottle of wine. Since this is a time for giving thanks, thank you, the readers, for following along on this deep dive into Napa wineries with a dose of Willamette Valley as well. Soon, we will have a look at some in France, in case anyone is thinking of vacationing there at some point. Some topics have continuously come up in feedback from you, so I’d like to take some time to write about one of them today: Wine Memberships. Wine memberships is a broad topic and could be discussed in the context of several different segments of the wine industry - e.g. Wine Bars, Distributors/Wine Stores, Wineries. Today we will focus the conversation on memberships as they pertain to wineries, but much of the same logic applies for other membership types.