Note from Jeremy: Perspective is everything, especially on a topic as vast as wine. As I continue to refine the wine trip experiences, it’s important for me to reflect on what went well and what needs improvement. Orri participated on the last trip I organized and graciously volunteered to share his perspective on the experience both for my and your benefit. I have divided his submission into multiple posts (by day), but otherwise, they are unedited. Without further ado, the first day as recounted by Orri!
It’s fitting that Beringer was my very first winery membership. Although the brand has been bought/sold a few times, it is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley (established in 1876). Over the past 140+ years, it’s been responsible for many “firsts” in Napa as well as the US Wine Industry at large, and has grown into a true powerhouse. I had been to several Napa wineries before, but this was the first one that really left me in awe and raised my expectations for quality wine. If you are like me, your first foray into wine came from the shelves of Trader Joes and other grocery store chains. One of those $7 bottles I brought home was Beringer, so when I first saw that there was a tasting for $40, I thought to myself that they were crazy. Little did I know.
Heidi Barrett’s personal label. You would think that the prices would rival all the great titans in Napa. Guess again. Designed with the next generation of wine drinkers in mind, not the CEOs that love buying $500+ bottles, Heidi finds amazing deals on quality fruit and transforms it into exceptional wines at affordable prices for the consumer. Though, she could definitely sell the wines at much higher prices if she wanted to, as evidenced by the Wells Fargo CEO having a La Sirena Private Tasting just before us… La Sirena doesn’t have an allocation or membership program (there’s no need since they sell out of everything), but they do have a mailing list you can sign up for to be notified when the new vintages are released for purchase.
As you dive deeper into the world of wine, you start to build a mental portfolio of wines that you’ve liked and attempt to correlate them, hoping that it will give you an indication of whether you’ll like another wine or not. One of those correlation factors is the winemaker as many have a distinct and profound influence on the wines they produce. One of my favorites is Heidi Barrett, the First Lady of Wine. For those who are unfamiliar with the legend of Heidi Barrett, please do yourself a favor and look her up. She was the first winemaker at Screaming Eagle (new releases retail at $3000 a bottle) and has worked with several highly-acclaimed wineries during her time in Napa. Currently, there are only a few that still count her as their winemaker/partner. Fantesca is one of those lucky few and currently home to her only Chardonnay (until she releases another under her personal “La Sirena” label later this year).
Some places can seem intimidating due to the energy, focus, and exclusivity of the winery in their drive to produce amazing wines, which also brings high scores. With the high scores comes high prices due to supply/demand, which increases the exclusivity and continues the cycle. Spring Mountain bucks that mindset while still producing nice old-world style wines, thanks to the resources of its owner and his desire to make wine unique to their terroir, rather than aiming for what wine reviewers desire. And you get to enjoy the wines from the comfort of outdoor lawn chairs, staring at Spring Mountain (this is quite a sight/site).
UC Davis, Class of ’74. That’s really all you need to know. Alright, a little more explanation - the Viticulture and Enology Department at UC Davis has been #1 in the US for a long time and continues to produce some of the best winemakers in the country. The Class of ‘74 was especially great - it was this class that really started to turn Napa into the high quality wine paradise that it is today, especially after the Judgement of Paris in 1976 propelled Napa wine into the spotlight. If you are interested in learning more about the Judgement of Paris, its easy to find lots of articles about it on the internet. There’s even a movie about Chateau Montelena winning the best white wine (Bottleshock).
Many places in Napa will tout the location and contour of their vineyards / hillsides as reasons they are able to produce great wines. Jericho Canyon is a different beast altogether. If you’re lucky enough to secure a tasting reservation here, you’ll discover a beautiful canyon that seems sculpted by Mother Earth herself for growing amazing fruit. This is one of the reasons why famous wine personalities have either bought their fruit for their own wine (e.g. David Ramey) or work as consultants to help make the Jericho wines (e.g. Michel Rolland). I highly recommend making a 10AM reservation – the morning fog rolling over the top of the hills is an amazing, picturesque scene for photography enthusiasts!
First, I’d like to thank you, the readers, for joining me on my journey through the wine world. We are first starting out with some Napa wineries, but will soon see reviews on wineries/wine bars from Virginia, Oregon, and other locations. In the meantime, I wanted to take some time to touch on putting together a wine trip itinerary, as I hope you will feel inspired to take your own trips after reading my reviews. What follows is an analysis on my recent Napa Valley trip with friends and advice I’d give my past self.
There are many beautiful places in the world where you can drink fantastic wine. One of the reasons Napa Valley remains a top wine vacation destination is the diversity of its wineries, from the styles and varietals produced, to the architecture and feel of the winery itself. Darioush is a prime example of that diversity. When people ask me to refer them to a beautiful, culturally inspired winery with solid wines that reflect that culture, Darioush is one of the first that come to mind.
I can say unequivocally that Kapcsandy has been my favorite wine tasting so far in the Napa Valley. Although it lacks many of the aesthetics that you may come to expect from Napa wineries, imagine all of that energy and precision being focused on the wine instead (their website is the first indication of this philosophy). It shows in every wine they make and all of the 98pt+ ratings that the world’s premier wine reviewers heap on them. So why isn’t this winery more famous like Screaming Eagle, Lokoya, Scarecrow, etc? I can imagine there are many opinions on this, but my personal opinion on this is their blue collar nature in doing great work rather than advertising. Other contributing factors include their small production and wine collectors buying up all their wine as soon as its released.