Time for Wine: A Visit to Napa Valley
In a 1976 wine tasting competition featuring notable French wines and Napa Valley wines, to everyone’s surprise, the Napa Valley wines came out on top.
This was the first time that New World wines had competed – and won – against Old World established wines. It was then that Napa Valley wines were put on the map.
Today, Napa’s wine culture is known around the world. Not only does Napa consistently make some of the most coveted wines, but it is also of interest to scientist. Napa’s climate resembles that of a Mediterranean climate, which only 2% of the world boasts, and is said to enable the highest production of quality wines.
Despite the heartbreaking forest fires that threatened Napa late last year, the region is filled with vibrant greens and rows of promising harvest. Very few wineries suffered damages, though charred trees are still visible off in the distance. Napa was beautiful and thriving and I’d like to share with you my favorite Napa wineries you may not have heard of. So grab a glass of wine and take notes!
SILVERADO VINEYARDS – Best Atmosphere and Hosts
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Founded by Diane Disney of the Walt Disney family, Silverado’s tasting room features a floor to ceiling window showcasing magnificent views of the Stags Leap district. No surprise as to why this winery was already bustling at 10:30 a.m., the tasting room boasts grandiose views of its vineyard and the rolling Napa Valley hills, while a veranda surrounded by a tiered flower wall greets you and offers fresh air. The winery is not only a beautiful oasis, but also home to art, both fine and fun (including prints of Disney characters, like Ratatouille holding a glass of red!). Every detail in this winery was well-thought out, from the fine Portugal cork to hand-picked upholstery in the great hall. Old New York City street cobblestones line the Wine Club terrace ground, and solar panels are used to conserve energy. Silverado wines are given just as much attention to detail, if not more. Comprised of six vineyards, Silverado is able to make a variety of wines each offering a different taste from wine country, including its impressive SOLO Cabernet, which is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. The hosts and atmosphere at Silverado will leave you feeling energized and animated, as will its wine.
Must Try: Limited Release 2013 SOLO Cabernet Sav | 2016 Chardonnay
PINE RIDGE VINEYARDS – Best Private Experiences & Caves
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The Pine Ridge Estate is nestled between rolling hills right off of the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District. Considerate of its effect on the environment, Pine Ridge uses natural means of protecting its grapes and has implemented a drip irrigation system to control water use. If you visit Pine Ridge, do not limit yourself to the tasting room. Though cozy, Pine Ridge shines best in the darkness… of its caves, that is. Enter Cellar 47, a VIP tasting venue carved out of solid rock, complete with relaxing couches, dim-lit lighting, and art. The location is truly unparalleled. Enjoy a guided wine and food tasting with food prepared by their in-house chef and experience what it truly feels like when wine compliments food. As for wines, Pine Ridge creates Cabernet Sauvignon’s from its vineyards in Stags Leap, Howell Mountain, Oakville, and Rutherford, each one encapsulating a different wonder of the Napa Valley. Visiting Pine Ridge gives you the added bonus of trying one of their exclusive wines, which include Petit Verdot, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Rosé.
Must Try: 2014 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
DAVIS – Best Architecture
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Located in Calistoga, this family-owned winery should not be undermined. Purchased in 2011 by Mike Davis, the vineyard farms grapes from its vines planted in Calistoga, Rutherford, Carneros, and Howell Mountain, each providing different landscapes and elements of grapes. Designed by Howard Backen, famed architect, Davis’ hospitality center is rustic and modern, with tall ceilings, a commercial kitchen, and outdoor terrace facing west across Napa Valley. If visiting on a rainy day, opt for a food and wine pairing near the fireplace with bites from the Executive Chef. The grounds also feature a completely renovated barn, with fireplaces, plush couches to rest, and large tables for group tastings. While every guest is treated like family, Davis Estate’s exclusive membership club gives you perks that will make you feel like royalty. Centered around the Phase V wines created in limited quantities, all members have access to the Phase V Cave Room, called the Cellarium, which is a cave accessible through state-of-the-art vein recognition and every member’s hand will grant them access. In the center is a glass enclosed room with a large round table and enormous modern chandelier. Davis Estate’s current releases include traditional selections, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon, but also includes a Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and dessert wines, including late harvest Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.
Must Try: 2011 Petit Verdot
BRASSWOOD– Best Sensory Experience
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From its sensory room to its kitchen and bakery, Brasswoodhas something for all of your senses in one location. Brasswood’s tasting room is beautiful and sleek but if you’re wanting a more intimate setting, head to their cozy Den for a private tasting. While sipping on one of Brasswood’s Coombsville Bordeaux varietals, a roaring fireplace will welcome you and stained wood walls might convince you of a secluded cabin up north, rather than a winery in Napa. If you’re more of a hands-on learner, Brasswood is the place for you. It has its own sensory room, which allows you to smell, touch, and even taste the different complexities its wines offer. If you’re hungry, head to Brasswood’s on-site Bar + Kitchen, providing a rustic – yet welcoming environment, complete with bustlingvisitors and locals alike. If there’s too much to see and no time to sit down, head to Brasswood’s Bakery, also on-site, and try one of their famous chef’s pastries. Before you leave, do not forget to visit the caves, stretching out over 17,000 square feet and try some of their amazing wines. This winery really has it all.
Must Try: 2016 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
CHIMNEY ROCK – Most Unique Wines
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Nestled in a South African-inspired country house, Chimney Rock harvests from an impressive 119 acres of vineyards in Napa Valley. Focused on sustainable viticulture, Chimney Rock is also forward-looking in its unique tasting wines through experimenting all that Stags Leap District has to offer. Head through Chimney Rock’s tasting room to its patio, where you’ll sit between the beautiful stucco design and admire the Stags Leap Palisades hillside. For a more intimate setting, check out Chimney Rock’s barrel room, where they offer a number of different tastings and private events. Faithful to the Stags Leap District, Chimney Rock explores the immense characteristics that this one by four-mile-long area has to offer. If you’re looking for elevated Stags Leap wine with consistent, high-end production, Chimney Rock will surprise you and your taste buds.
Must Try: 2014 White Pebble Cabernet Sauvignon | 2013 Elevage
BLACK STALLION WINERY – Best Range of Wines
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Rather new to the Napa scene, Black Stallion’s grounds are rich with history. Previously home to Silverado Horseman’s Center, including riding trails, stables, and an arena,the grounds now strewn with grape varietals still pay homage to its equestrian roots. Black Stallion’s tasting room centers around a large circular bar, with fireplaces and plush chairs throughout. The tasting room offers an enormous selection of wines, some of which you will only get to try here. If interested in getting to know the grapes on a more personal level, Black Stallion offers a demonstration section, where guests can touch, smell, and taste the different grape varietals used in Black Stallion wines. A private tour will show you around the barrel aging cellar and the beautiful grounds of the vineyard. If you’re pallet appreciates a wide range of wines, a stop at Black Stallion is a must.
Must Try: 2014 Bucephalus
CUVAISON– Most Relaxing
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Established in 1969, Cuvaison is not your typical Napa Valley winery. Swap out the rich mahogany and fireplaces for a floor-to-ceiling modern camp placed right in the center of a robust vineyard and you’re at Cuvaison’s tasting room in Carneros. Cuvaison’s winemaker, Steven Rogstad, has produced high-quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for over 30 years and they seem to keep getting better. In the mood for something bolder? Cuvaison owns Brandlin Vineyard, an exceptional estate producing small-batch, but big flavor wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel. This sleek tasting room will feel like a breath of fresh air and is definitely worth a stop (and a sip!).
Must Try: 2015 Pinot Noir | 2013 Brandlin Zinfandel
LEDE FAMILY WINES – Best Art & Music
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What do Napa Valley, Rock & Roll, and Poetry all have in common? The Lede Family. Cliff Lede, owner of Lede Family wines and the Poetry Inn, combined his love of wine and music and created this one-of-a-kind winery right in the Stags Leap District. You might even say he was born to run this place. The winery sits at the foot of the Twin Peaks Ranch and has a tasting room and White Room for more intimate occasions. If you love classic rock, head “Backstage” to Lede’s VIP room, draped in eclectic art showcasing musicians and funky artwork, or just come hang out and enjoy the music. Backstage you’ll try Lede’s amazing wines from the Napa region, including Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Lede was able to expand its wine selection by purchasing acres in the Anderson Valley, which produces high-quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as part of the FEL wines. If you’re willing to take a walk on the wild side, try Lede Vineyard’s “Rock Block,” the annual mash-up of two of the best vineyard blocks from the vintage, each one appropriately named after titles of Lede’s favorite rock songs. Whatever your wine or music preference, Lede Family Wines is a great place to relax and come together.
Must Try: 2013 Songbook Cabernet Sauvignon
ALPHA OMEGA – Best Outdoor Scenery
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Cascading fountains will greet you on your way into Alpha Omega and is a perfect entrance for this winery. Despite the cozy feel and greeting from its experts, Alpha Omega’s winery is grand in the most reserved sense. The tasting room boasts high ceilings, wood walls, and large windows allowing natural light and beautiful views of Napa. For a more private experience, Alpha Omega’s barrel loft homes both a rustic and elegant feel. The best view at this winery may have to be the Vineyard Terrance, where guests can enjoy Alpha Omega’s beautiful fountains and views of the Mayacamas Mountains. Alpha Omega’s winemaking mimics the elevated luxury you get from the winery. Blending the best Old World and New World wine making techniques, hand-harvested blocks are blended to perfection. Alpha Omega current signature wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Proprietary Red, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Consider yourself a sommelier? Visitors can also taste wines from the most famous winery in Napa, Beckstoffer To Kalon, planted in 1868 and which creates unparalleled Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Alpha Omega’s views, wines, and hospitality surely make it one of the best wineries to visit in the Napa Valley.
Must Try: 2014 Proprietary