Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Napa's R.L.T.

As I've discussed before, I've been fortunate to be in a position to explore the Napa region at my leisure while now living here. On occasion, whether a full day off or not, I will pop in to a winery close by to do a quick tasting here and there just for the experience of the wines themselves...you know, market research for my, uhem, er, uh, work at the wine bar...(wink, wink). I actually do believe in knowing the product more intimately as I discuss or sell at my work regularly.

However, when I am gearing up for a full day of wine tasting, I much prefer going with the "Road Less Traveled" (RLT) route via making appointments (or private tastings) and getting off the beaten track as they say. There are so many places to see that you would not normally know about or even think to look for much less find...these hidden gems are the real gold in the hills here in Napa. So, for those few that actually take the time to read my blog, I will uncover some of the areas in and around Napa that you should explore on your next trip out.

Napa RLT Wineries or tastings:

Vintners Collective - downtown Napa on main street
A collaborative effort of 16-20 boutique wineries to expose small facilities that do not have tasting rooms. A nice efficient way to 'visit' all these fine wines in one place.

Napa tasting rooms/bars - downtown city of Napa
Downtown is booming and the tasting rooms/shops are cropping up all over with certainly more to come as they continue to complete the restoration. In addition to the mentioned above, there are another 1/2 dozen rooms/bars that carry several wines by the glass for your exploration.

Mt. Veeder - west of downtown Napa in the hills
I love this little appellation and the wines that come out of here. Not too many places to see, but the ones that are there are worth the drive. Names like - Hess Collection, Hendry, Mt. Veeder Estates and Yates to name a few.

Southwest Napa/S. Sonoma - Hwy. 121 in and out on the way to San Francisco
You could spend a whole day here and taste some great wines, shop, have lunch, pick up gifts and visit an olive press all in one swoop. Names like - Cline, Jacuzzi, Saintsbury, Oberon/Folio - and a must stop in at Viansa winery and Italian market place on the way out.

Napa East - several side streets east of downtown
Only a small spattering of wineries, but well worth the trek. Places like Jarvis, Palmaz, Faust, Frazier - all are making good wines and provide unique experiences.

Lake Hennessey - east on Sage Canyon road NE of Napa
Just one big WOW! for this area. Between the elevations and hills, the lake, the micro-climates and the fun roads, this ranks as one of my absolute favorite areas so far. Not to mention the big names producing major big wines you only hear legendary stories about. Although many are private and not open to the public at all, there are a few accessible ones that are a must see. Producers such as - Chappellet, Girard, David Arthur, Kuleto Estates, and Nichelini. Some others like Bryant family and Colgin that make some of the world famous "cult cabs" are private.

Mayacamas Mountains/Spring Mountain - hills northwest of Rutherford/Oakville
This quite populous area is pretty accessible and produces some phenomenal wines as well as some great tasting experiences. Many are appointment only, but many are readily accepting of walk-ins as well. Names like - Anamoly, Spotteswoode, Spring Mt. Vineyards, Mayacamas winery, Cain, Marston, Juslyn, Barnett, and Keenan - are all making some spectacular wine now and opening up their doors for tasting more and more.

Howell Mountain - northeast Napa/east of St. Helena
Some of my favorite mountain wines come from Howell Mt. I just love the expression of the fruit from this area and it is home to some truly fine wines. Producers such as Viader, Ladera, Neal Family, CADE (Plumpjack), Burgess and Bremer Family are all very worthy of this appellation.

So, there you have it...just a small sampling of some of the outer areas of Napa to be explored. Next time out to our storied land, take some time to make appointments ahead of time and you will not be disappointed by getting off the beaten path. This RLT will not only expand your choices when visiting, but you will learn so much more at the heart of real wine making by these spirited smaller producers.

As the saying goes, "so much wine, so little time", could not be more appropriate as I continue to find these gems along the journey. And, this is just Napa. Sonoma is 4-5 times larger and more expansive than Napa...and they produce/grow much more than Napa overall. I knew I started this adventure too late...guess I'll die trying to fit 'em all in...what a way to go out though...sigh!

Until the next sip...swirl ya' later!

Chief Wino

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