Napa Wineries At Harvest Time

Our college gang had so much fun on our 2015 trip to Napa that we decided to return for a visit this fall. Napa wineries at harvest time!

Everyone was on board, quite excited to revisit some of our favorite wineries and discover some new ones.

We were even more excited when our pal, Ellen, decided to plan a private surprise birthday party for her husband at one of our favorite Napa wineries. More about that soon.

In planning our Napa 2016 adventure, we decided to take a slower pace and schedule only two tastings per day. It worked out very well and no one suffered from wine tasting fatigue.

Believe it or not, it’s a thing. The struggle is real.

We visited…

Chappellet Vineyards

Chappellet produces a variety of wines including, in my opinion, one of the best Napa Cabernet Sauvignons for the price. They also bottle Molly Chappellet’s favorite – Chenin Blanc – which is light and delicious.

Chappelet

Chappellet was such a hit on our last trip that several of us became wine club members. As wine club members we were able to get all of the tasting fees comped and we were able to use the gorgeous picnic area overlooking the entire valley.

view from Chappellet

Timing was on our side as we had the added treat of getting to see some of the harvesting machinery in progress.

Some people become weak-kneed in the presence of a Maserati. My grandsons go crazy over road construction vehicles. Show me a de-stemming machine that is separating the precious grapes from the leaves and stems and my heart just sings.

Chappellet harvest

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Have you heard of the 1976 Judgement of Paris? It’s the story told in the movie “Bottle Shock” – American wines beat French wines in a blind tasting competition shocking the French and putting Napa on the map.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars  holds the proud distinction of producing the 1st place Cabernet Sauvignon at the Judgement of Paris.

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (not to be confused with Stags Leap Winery) describes its wines as “Iron fist in a velvet glove.” I think this is quite accurate.

The Cask 23, Fay and S.L.V. Cabernets we tasted are big, bold and need to be cellared for a while. Because we know and love the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon, we asked our guide if he would pour some for us. He did and, as a result, he sold a bunch of bottles.

My advice to you, if you want to taste something – ask. It usually works out well for both sides.

Lewis Cellars

We scheduled an open day to allow everyone to relax or do whatever they wanted to do.

About half the group chose to stay home and watch the Notre Dame football game. The rest of us chose to “Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame” by raising a glass while wine tasting.

Lewis Cellars is owned by former Indy car racer, Randy Lewis, his wife Debbie and son Dennis. A real family affair.

Lewis Cellars

Lewis makes a variety of wines including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and blends. And, they do it all very, very well.

This tasting experience is small and intimate (limited to 6 people) and truly is all about the wine. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions and learn. Oh, and to taste some killer wines.

Andretti Winery

Carrying on our race car theme and, because our pal Elizabeth has a family connection to Mr. Mario Andretti, we added this winery to our unscheduled day.

Andretti Winery

If the folks at Disney were to add a Tuscany section to Epcot’s Italy, I believe it would look a lot like the Andretti Winery. The grounds are beautiful and very true to the theme.

Although the wines were not my favorite of the trip and we had an unusually cranky guide, it was well worth the stop.

Silver Oak Cellars

Silver Oak Cellars makes two wines: a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you are a fan of Cabernet, you should definitely put Silver Oak on your list of Napa wineries to visit,

Silver Oak Cellars

Three fun facts about Silver Oak:

Unlike most wineries who use French Oak barrels, Silver Oak ages their wine in American Oak barrels. Silver Oak is so dedicated to this that they bought the Missouri cooperage from which they have been sourcing barrels so that they can be guaranteed a steady supply.

Silver Oak barrel

Silver Oak worked with their cork supplier to develop a process which results in better corks. The industry average for “cork taint” is 4%. Silver Oak’s average is a mere one-half percent. This saves them money and gives us more reliably excellent wine.

Silver Oak ages their wine in bottles MUCH longer than everyone else. Look at the Napa Cabernets on the shelves of your wine store today. You will see lots of the 2014 vintage and maybe even some from the 2015 vintage. Silver Oak won’t start selling their 2012 vintage until February of 2017.

Who needs a wine cellar when Silver Oak stores the wine so long for you.

Just kidding…. Let’s not get crazy. We still need a wine cellar.

Cliff Lede Vineyards

Peter and I had previously tasted their wine but we had never visited Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa.

About 15 minutes into our tour, I turned to another member of our group and said, “I see a new wine club in our future.”

And I was right.

Cliff Lede (pronounced Cliff Lady) produces a variety of wines under their named label and their secondary label “Fel”.

Cliff Lede High FidelityI know that wine scores shouldn’t be considered the only basis on which to determine the quality of a wine but when an expert like Robert Parker tells you that a wine (2013 Cliff Lede Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon) is PERFECT…as in 100 points… you take notice.

And when you see that the rest of their library of wines sports scores like 96, 97, 98 and 99,  you think, “Maybe these folks know what they are doing.”

And, you join the wine club.

Three fun facts about Cliff Lede:

The winery uses an optical scanning machine for sorting the grapes. The machine takes countless pictures per second, analyzes the pictures for size, blemishes, wrinkles, etc., rejecting the losers and letting only the most beautiful and perfect grapes pass.

Cliff Lede optical sorter

(Thankfully, Cliff Lede does not optically judge their visitors based on size, blemishes or wrinkles. All are welcome – no one gets rejected.)

As an homage to the owner’s love of music (heavily weighted on classic rock) each vineyard block is named after a favorite song or album.

Cliff Lede Abbey Road

Aren’t we clever? I bet we were the first to think of posing this way.

And, the winery owns The Poetry Inn, a spectacular hotel comprised of only three rooms and two suites. Sandy at You May Be Wandering wrote a great post about her stay at the Poetry Inn. Check it out.

Napa 2016 was a big success. We revisited some of our old, favorite Napa wineries and discovered some new ones.

Who has suggestions for us for Napa 2017?

Do not drink and drive!

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Napa: 7 Gems And A Clunker – The Finale

Now that we have cleansed our palates from the disappointing stop at Darioush and accepted their subsequent apology, I’m happy to report that the final three tasting experiences on our Napa trip met, and even exceeded, our highest expectations.

The next stop was Chimney Rock where we were greeted, ushered into a private room and seated at a table set with glasses for each wine we would be tasting and this:

Chimney Rock welcome

Talk about making us feel welcomed!

Chimney Rock is owned by The Terlato Wine Group. Terlato is a worldwide importer and marketer of wines. They have full ownership of seven wineries and are partners with several more.

You may have seen Chimney Rock or other Terlato wines on Top Chef.

Visiting the beautiful Chimney Rock winery you would never suspect they had a giant corporate umbrella hanging overhead. The tasting room and grounds are so warm and welcoming they make you feel like you are at some small, family owned winery.

chimney rock winery

Chimney Rock is probably known best for their killer Cabernet Sauvignons. They make a range of single vineyard Cabs that each beautifully represent the area of Napa Valley from which they come.

As you can see from the VERY WELCOMING menu card, we had an opportunity to taste an array of wines ranging from a white blend to awesome Cabernet Sauvignons. I’ll let you in on a little secret…we even got to try a few wines that were not on the list.

Chimney Rock is truly one of my very, very favorite wineries and, as a lover of classic and delicious Napa Cabernets, holds a special place in my heart and in our wine cellar.

I love them and they love me back.

We started our last day of tasting at Chappellet Winery.

Chappelet

Located high up on Pritchard Hill with stunning views of Napa Valley and Lake Hennessy, Chappellet is a winery worth visiting.

We started our experience with a taste of Chenin Blanc and worked our way through a Chardonnay and a Zinfandel while strolling the facility and grounds with our uber knowledgeable and interesting guide.

After the tour we sat at a table amid the aging barrels and tasted a few more wines.

Because we had a birthday girl in our group and because her darling daughter had called ahead to let the folks at Chappellet know, we were treated to a taste of Chappellet’s flagship wine The Pritchard Hill Cabernet. Yum and Yum!

Chappellet is a great name to know because they make excellent wine at a price point that is a bit lower than many of their Napa brethren and they are fairly widely distributed.

We wrapped up our visit with lunch on Chappellet’s picnic meadow.

Chappellet picnic

The final stop on our vacation was at Hendry Wines.

The experience at Hendry is like no other. Definitely one I would recommend, especially if you are a student of wine and wine making.

George Hendry has a degree in nuclear physics from UC Berkley. He spends his time crafting excellent wine and designing particle accelerators. No big deal…

The Hendry family has farmed the same Napa land since the 1930’s. George grew up on that land, gaining a deep understanding and appreciation for every acre. Today Hendry wines owns 114 acres divided into 47 individual blocks.

The facilities at Hendry are not at all flashy. In fact, the first time we visited we drove by the place 3 times before noticing the sign marking the driveway.

Hendry Wines

That’s it. That is how you know you have arrived. I kind of love the simplicity.

George and his team apply an almost scientific approach to making wine – but in the best possible way. And, with great success.

It really is tough to adequately describe the uniqueness of the Hendry visit. We were lucky enough to be led by George’s right-hand gal and “Jan of all trades” who has a knowledge of everything from the dirt through the final bottled product. Jan’s husband, Jeff, is George’s partner in the cyclotron business.

George, who lives on the property, was putzing around and popped in to say hello and answer questions.

Just a regular guy who happens to make great wine and also particle accelerators.

Hendry produces lots of different kinds of wine in their 47 blocks which makes the tasting experience quite rich. White wine lovers will appreciate the balance of reds and whites on the tasting menu.

My personal Hendry favorites are their Albariño, Pinot Gris, Primitivo and Zinfandels.

hendry bottle

In addition to chronicling the wine tasting, as I looked through photos for this post, these stood out:

spaghetti bolognese

Peter making spaghetti bolognese

Omelette and frittata made by Ernie.

Omelette and frittata made by Ernie.

pizza

Byff assisting Ernie with pizza for the grill.

grilling

Guys grilling steaks.

The guys take good care of us. I’d say they are keepers.

Our Napa 2015 trip was a great success. Lots of great wine, great food and great fun with dear friends.

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