Chimney Rock Winery In Napa Valley

Chimney Rock Winery is my very favorite Napa winery.

Chimney Rock Winery

Not only do they produce an array of delicious wines (reds including single-vineyard and estate Cabernet Sauvignons and a few white wines thrown in for good measure) but their dedication to providing a top-notch experience for their visitors and customers is second to none.

Chimney Rock was one of the very first wineries we discovered on our inaugural trip to Napa. We have been wine club members for years and have returned for a visit every time we are in the Valley. It’s a sentimental favorite having celebrated anniversaries and the 21st birthday of our daughter, Annie and her friend Hope there.

Last year, our visit to Chimney Rock saved the day after a disastrous experience at another Napa winery with whom we had also had a long relationship.

After feeling most unwelcome at the prior stop, we were greeted at Chimney Rock Winery by this:

Chimney Rock welcome

It was this fabulous hospitality, combined with incredible wines, that gave our friend Ellen the idea to plan a surprise birthday party for her husband John at Chimney Rock Winery during our recent group trip to Napa.

If he had an inkling of what was going on, John certainly didn’t show it. But he may have gotten a little suspicious when our mini-bus pulled into the Chimney Rock parking area and there was not another vehicle to be seen.

We were greeted at the door and ushered onto the lovely patio for a glass of Sauvignon Gris (a cousin aka genetic modification of Sauvignon Blanc).  Bright and refreshing, the perfect wine to kick off our evening.

As we enjoyed the wine we strolled past the vineyards taking in the lovely weather and spectacular views.

We returned to the patio for yummy appetizers and a glass of Elevage, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. This beautiful red blend highlights all that is good about the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.

Fun fact: The Stags Leap District was the first spot designated as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) because of the distinctiveness of the soil which carries through to the wine grown on the land.

Next, we moved into the barrel room, decorated with a simple yet elegant look for our private party.

Chimney Rock Winery Barrel Room

Our first course was brilliantly paired with the Elevage Blanc, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and its close relative (aka genetic mutation) Sauvignon Gris. This white wine blend is perfect for those of us who are looking for an alternative to Chardonnay.

This wine thrives in the shadowlands that exist between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The light will seem brighter, the food will taste better, and the wine will elevate it all.        ~Chimney Rock website

Yes! Yes! And yes!

A talented guitar player entertained us with pleasing background music as we enjoyed our delicious dinner.

Chimney Rock Winery private dinner menu

The main course – paprika rubbed filet of beef – was paired with, what else, the spectacular Ganymede Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. From the oldest vines on the property, this is one of the flagship wines of Chimney Rock Winery.

It exemplifies the balance of power and grace that is so revered and expected of Chimney Rock wines.         ~Chimney Rock website

I couldn’t agree more.

The Chimney Rock Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon was served with dessert (and for the rest of the night!).

Throughout the evening we reminisced about the past, revisited the stories of our 40-year friendship, and raised many glasses to toast the blessings in our lives and to toast those who weren’t able to join us but were there in spirit.

But most of all, we celebrated our dear friend, John, and the very special place he occupies in our hearts.

Let me tell you, this guy is the kindest, most generous and devoted friend one could ever have. It is no wonder that, when his wife, Ellen, floated the idea of a surprise birthday celebration in Napa we all enthusiastically said YES!!!

Treasured friends, gorgeous setting, outstanding food, and extraordinary wine.

It was a magical night – one we will never forget!

Chimney Rock Winery barrel

(A special shout-out to Ellen for hosting this memorable evening and to the Chimney Rock Winery Special Events Manager, Lorena Romero, for creating such a beautiful celebration of our very dear friend.)

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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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Napa: 7 Gems And A Clunker Part 2

Sorry, I had to put on my cranky pants for this post…

Last time I shared with you the magical start of our recent group trip to Napa. Everything about the trip was going along perfectly: great friends, lovely accommodations, delicious wine and fabulous hospitality at the wineries.

But the middle of Day 2, we hit a bump in the road.

The clunker.

Darioush

This is Darioush. Gorgeous, right?

Because of the unique beauty of the place and the historically spectacular wines, we always, always visit when we are in Napa and include Darioush in our “must see” list when asked for recommendations.

We have been loyal members of Darioush for ten years. Of the 2,000+ bottles of wine in our wine cellar, more are from Darioush than any other winery.

So, not to be snooty or pretentious, but you’d think that this type of devotion would bring with it some appreciation.

Apparently, not so much.

Three months before our trip, I called to arrange all of the wine tasting appointments. I know that a larger group (anything over 6 or 8) can be problematic for some wineries and some flat out won’t take a large group.

The folks at Darioush assured me that the size of our group was not a problem and scheduled us for, and I quote,

“a private, guided tasting”.

Upon our arrival, we were told that we’d have to wait for a bit because the large party ahead of us was just finishing up and had not yet vacated the space.

Having been to Darioush many, many times we are quite familiar with the variety of private tasting spots they offer. We were certain that we would be ushered over to the comfy sofas in one of the cozy alcoves or into one of the private tasting rooms.

Instead, 20 minutes after the time of our appointment, we were led to the bar in the middle of the noisy and crowded tasting room. Some of us were seated on one side and the rest around the corner on the other side.

The harried wine pourers filled our glasses, told us what they had poured and moved on to everyone else at the bar.

Not private, not guided, not acceptable.

I later found out that one of the wine pourers, when innocently asked what we would be tasting next, told a couple members of our group, “First you have to finish what is in your glass. We aren’t going to give you a clean glass for every wine. If we did that we’d have way too many glasses to wash.”

Can you believe it?!?!

Perhaps our palates were colored by the lousy experience but we didn’t even enjoy the wine very much. It was the only stop out of the 8 wineries we visited at which not a single person bought wine to ship home.

Now, you may wonder why I didn’t demand better service right there on the spot – ask to be seated in one of the TWO unoccupied alcoves. Afterwards, I wondered that myself. I can only say that I was so shocked by the uncharacteristically bad service that I just wanted to leave.

Because my wonderful mother taught me that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, I was very conflicted about sharing this story.

However, after we returned from Napa, we called Darioush and told them about our epically bad experience. We also withdrew from all of our First Offering Reservations (their equivalent of a wine club) – over 3 cases of wine per year. We received a standard follow up email confirming the cancellation but have never received any sort of follow up regarding our visit.

Darioush Viognier

I think what is most disappointing is that we have loved the wine over the past decade and have had many wonderful and memorable visits to the winery. We will probably keep Darioush on our recommendation list because it is so strikingly beautiful but it might be a very long time before we visit ourselves.

Oh, yuck! I hate being so negative. Happy talk, let’s get back to happy talk!!

Next up, I will tell you about the last 3 stops on our Napa tour which were awesome and fabulous and resplendent with excellent wine.

Time to cleanse our palate from this unfortunate tale and move on to better things!

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