wine country

Day 2 – Napa Valley

After waking up and heading for a run in the Sonoma Valley State
park, just down the road from our lodging in Glen Ellen, we headed to the Glen
Ellen Grocery for a small to-go breakfast and a few bottles of water for the
day ahead.

Day 2 was our day to explore the Napa valley. Primarily we stayed
in northern Napa, above Yountville, around the St. Helena/Oakville area. We
took the Oakville Grade road over from Sonoma to Napa which is a fun very windy
road over the mountain that seperates the two valleys. The road just begs to
be driven in a Ferrari, not in our Mazda rental car. haha After you cross the
mountain you are graced with beautiful views of the Napa vineyards. Check out
the picture below.

Stop 1 – Grgich Hills

Grgich has a lot of history behind it, as their winemaker Miljenko
“Mike” Grgich was responsible for make the winning white at the
famous 1976 Paris Wine Tasting. He worked for Chateau Montelena at the time,
but he as definitely brought his experience and expertise with him to his own
winery at Grgich. Grgich believes in Biodynamic farming, and working in a way
that sustains an environmentally friendly vineyard environment, which he believes
is the only true way to sustain long term growth. He actually paid a visit to
the tasting room to say hello, what an experience.

Their were fives wines up for the tasting but we got a couple of extras thrown
in. First up was the 2005 Fume Blanc, a great classic style showing honeydew
melon, pineapple, mineral and not too acidic; very yummy. Second was their 2004
Chardonnay which was medium bodied with subtle oak, lemon and apple. Third,
was the 2003 Zin (100% Estate Grown), fairly light bodied with raisiny fruit
flavors, and a slight peppery finish. A great “beginner” Zin. Fourth
up was a wine not on the tasting sheet was the 2003 Miljenko Old Vine Zin made
from 115 year old vines. This had a great full bodied mouthfeel with rich blackberry
fruit flavor, extremely smooth and a nice chocolate finish on the back palate.
Very Yummy! Next was the 2002 Merlot, classic cherry aroma and flavor, dried
cocoa and a smooth long finish. A great Merlot. Sixth was the 2002 Cabernet
which had just been released, very peppery for a Cab Sauv, lots of great raspberry
and was still a little tight on the finish. It was just release about 1 month
ago. Although it was slightly out of order she did let us taste the 2003 Chardonnay
Paris Tasting Commemorative Napa Valley-Carneros. Wow this was a great Chardonnay
– beautifully complex with tons of subtle oak and nutty flavors, pear, apple
and little bit of honey. Very good, but we couldn’t fork over the $110 price
tag. Yikes!

For the day, we took home only a bottle of the 2002 Merlot which is only available
from the tasting room. We actually have a couple bottles of Grgich Cabernet
here at home, and both that and the Chardonnays are fairly easy to find as well
as the Fume Blanc.

Stop 2 – Sullivan Vineyards

Sullivan wine tastings are by appointment only but don’t let
that scare you away, they have great wines and a beautiful facility and welcome
anyone wanting to taste their wines. Sullivan is fairly small by Napa standards
only making around 8000 cases (maybe 6000 my note scribble was a little fuzzy).
They gained major notice in the mid 80’s for their Cabernet Sauvignon and have
continued to make outstanding wines. First up for tasting was the 2005 Chardonnay,
great apple and pear aromas, flavors of toasted nut and good acidity. Pink Ink
was the second wine of the day, which was a dry Rose that was a free run juice
of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was very nice. Next up was there Red Ink,
a blend of Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. A delightful easy drinking
red, again very nice for the price. The 2003 Merlot came next, Cherry and canned
pineapple on the nose, earthiness and great long finish. To compare we also
got to taste the 2003 Merlot Reserve which they only make 200 cases of. Great
Cherry aromas with blackberry on the palate, and a touch of cinammon on the
finish- it definitely was a better Merlot than the non reserve, but it came
with a hefty price tag. We had the same horizontal tasting with the Cab. Sauv.’s
tasting both the 2003 regular and reserve editions, both were excellent, the
non reserve had light fruit flavors of red raspberry and a bit of asparagus
on the tounge, but was extremely smooth and yummy. The reserve had darker fruit
notes of Blackberry and cinammon, with a finish of dusty tannins, that was too
overpowering but could use some more age. We also tasted the Coeur de Vigne,
which was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot primarily with a splash of
Cab Franc and Petit Verdot thrown in. It was really good with tons of layered
fruit, nice tannic structure and smooth slightly spicy finish. MMM Our tasting
associate let us try blending options to see if we could make a better blend
with the Cab Sauv. and Merlot, Megan and I decided on a 70/30 mixture….ours
wasn’t as good but definitely a good effort. haha We also had a special taste
right out of the barrel of the 2006 vintage of Chardonnay, it was good, still
all bubbly and yeasty from fermentation. Sullivan was really fun, and it is
another definite recommendation for a trip to Napa.

Lunch – St. Helena

For lunch we ate in St. Helena at Pizzeria Tra Vigne. Ohhh,
it was good I highly recommend it. Cheap good pizza with interesting topping
combinations, and a good ambience for catching your breath and refreshing the
palate for more wine tasting.

Stop 3 – Caymus

Most people have heard of Caymus, they are very famous for their
Cabernet Sauvignon. We are huge fans of their wine, although we can’t afford
very much of it, this is our second trip to the Caymus Winery. Their tastings
are free and by appointment only, they have 2 per day and both times we have
been scheduled for the 1:00pm tasting. You are seated with a group in a beautiful
room around a dining table, where the glasses for the 3 wines you will be tasting
are displayed in front of you. We had 6 other people tasting with us, which
is fun, because it is always fun to discuss the wine with more people around.
Our tasting guide was Laura, and in addition to the tasting gives a good history
of how the Wagner family came to create the Caymus winery and be as well known
was they are in the Napa Valley. First up for our tasting was the 2001 Sauvignon
Blanc (only available from the tasting room), which is made slightly different
than most Sauv. Blancs. First, it is aged (notice the 2001 vintage) and second,
it is oaked. It is a very good, wine but this vintage almost tasted more like
a Viognier to Megan and I. A nose of honeysuckle and apricot, apricot, lemon
and a slight toastiness on the palate, and a great rich mouthfeel with nice
acidity. Second, was the 2004 Zin (only available from the tasting room also),
and is done in “Charley style” after Charles Wagner which equates
to a rich and supple wine. The nose was full of black fruit, spices and nuts,
on the palate we were treated with raisiny dark cherry and plum, and a slightly
hot, full bodied mouthfeel and a long finish. We asked if there was anything
blended in and they said a very small amount of petite syrah. WOW!! Third is
a wine that is not normally on the tasting sheet at Caymus, and that is the
Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, normally it is the current release of
Cabernet Sauvignon which is also fabulous! But today the 8 of us were lucky
because we were poured the 2003 Special Selection, and holy cow was it amazing.
The nose was fantastic with Raspberry, pomegranite and cinammon; tobacco, black
raspberry and earth on the palate, and the mouthfeel was just weighty in the
mouth, smooth and long on the finish. It is just a great experience at Caymus
everything is top notch, and the tasting experience is cozy, informative and
delicious…you can’t beat that!!

Vines at Caymus

Stop 4 – Pride Mountain

Pride Mountain is located just outside of St. Helena on the
top of Spring Mountain and their winery is a Napa address but since their property
stretches over the mountain they have vineyards both in Napa and some in Sonoma.
Hearing a podcast of Bob Foley is what first drew me to the name of Pride and
their wines. Listening to him talk about his philosophy of winemaking, taking
a very wholistic approach from the vineyard to the cellar, I became interested
in tasting his wines. Well the tasting did not dissappoint. First was the 2005
Napa Chardonnay, nice honey apple and slight oak, very well balanced and great
Chardonnay. 2005 Cabernet Franc was next, it was 75% Cab Franc and 25% Cab Sauv.
Excellent cherry, earth and rose on the nose, cedar “warm” fruit and
silky mouthfeel. Third was the 2004 Merlot 100%, with dark cherry fruit, slight
toasted notes and a smooth finish. 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (100%) was next with
black raspberry, tobacco, and cinammon notes with very long finish. Really outstanding.
We got a sneak peak at the 2004 Cab Sauv that had only been released to wine
club members, and it was still a little young, but had a nice spicy fruit character
to it. Another special addition was the Mistelle de Viognier, an apertif that
was fortified with Graten. Pretty high residual sugar but it was a fun sipper,
with lots of floral notes and the sweetness wasn’t overpowering or cloying.
For the day we took home the Cabernety Sauvignon and the Cabernet Franc. The views from Pride are great, the tasting room staff was fun and jovial, and the wines were fantastic, truly a don’t miss on your Napa trip. They do require an appointment also, but again don’t let that scare you off.

Vines at Pride

Last Stop of the Day – Hess Collection

We primarily went to Hess for their great art collection, although
we have had their wines and have liked them, we heard that they had a great
contemporary art collection. So we headed back down the valley towards downtown
Napa to get to Hess. We decided to check out the gallery first as it was closing
in 30 minutes. The art was amazing, lots of big name contemporary artists, Megan
was in heaven….great art and wine in the same place!!! After browsing the
wonderful we headed down to the tasting room, for a few sips although our palates
were fried. We tasted 7 wines – 2005 Chardonnay (oak, pear, light bodied), 2004
Chardonnay (honeysuckle, pineapple, well balanced, yummy), 2004 Artesian Zin
(fruity, light body, cinammon, cocoa) 2004 Small block Cab Franc (rapsberry,
cherry, dusty tannins), special treat – 2002 Lion Reserve with 98% Cab Sauv,
1% Malbec, 1% Petite Verdot (lots of fruit flavor, excellent full body, and
very smooth) We probably would have taken this home, but it was over $100 and
we had already purchased one that pricey from Caymus. We also tasted the 2004
Petit Verdot and the 2003 Cuvee which was also very good, the black fruits,
spices, good structure and nice complexity. Our choice of the day was the 2004
Chardonnay, a really fun well balanced Chardonnay that we can’t wait to drink.
I highly recommend Hess, the wines are good and if you are into art, the collection
is awesome, and the grounds at Hess are really worth seeing as well.

Entrance to Hess

After Hess we headed back down the road to Sonoma, back to the
Glen Ellen Inn to rest before dinner. We didn’t have far to go as we had decided
to eat at the Glen Ellen Inn restaurant. Dinner was excellent and the restaurant
was quiet and cozy, just what we needed after a long day of tasting.

Stay tuned for Day 3

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