Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2nd Annual Local Wino Awards

Individual Awards from
Chief Wino's Discoveries in 2010

Every year we like to showcase our somewhat irreverent take on a few of the favorite visits from Napa and Sonoma throughout the previous year. This has become our most popular feature post to-date and this edition is sure not to disappoint....enjoy!

"Best Of 2010" & favorites for the Local Wino Awards:

Vineyard Picnic Spot
O'Brien Estate, Oak Knoll

The O'Brien's do a great job of creating a perfect natural environment to enjoy your lunch and their great line-up of wines while you're feasting on whatever you decide to bring along. Yummy all around!
Honorable Mention: Regusci Winery

Varietal Expression (tie)
Zinfandel - Robert Biale Vineyards, Oak Knoll

Pinot Noir - Failla Wines, St. Helena

Pick your favorites here as you like, but make sure not to miss either one of these stops. You'll be able to taste several versions of each varietal and none will disappoint. Not too many places in the valley can have focus like this. Although they do other wines, these varietals are their 'top-shelf' best offerings.
Honorable Mention: Chardonnay - Elizabeth Spencer

Organic Traditional Practices
Littorai, Russian River Valley

I discovered this on a recent referral and then realized it is a personal project of famed winemaker Ted Lemon who was just voted winemaker of the year for 2010. It has all the special elements you'd want in winery that pays attention to every little detail in the vineyard and the wines reflect it...think classic Burgundy.
Honorable Mention: Ehlers Estate, St. Helena

Tasting With a View
Barnett Family Vineyards, Spring Mt.

Probably a consistent favorite of mine when asked to pick some of my all time go-to best spots in the valley. Between the views, the setting, the wines and the people who work there, I'd be hard-pressed to dethrone this place as my "must experience" to either locals who haven't been or new visitors.
Honorable Mention: Copain, Russian River

Variety and Overall Value
Madrigal Winery, St. Helena

Definitely under the radar with its location, but a pleasant find for combining several varietals in a modest approachable tasting environment. You can find most anything to please the palate, but go for their Petite Sirah and Port...delish!
Honorable Mention: William Hill Estate, Napa

"WOW" Factor
Outpost Winery, Howell Mt.

Ok, to be honest, they had me at gold Aston Martin parked in front of the tasting room and the stunning views. But renowned winemaker Thomas Brown has an absolutely stunning line-up of wines to his credit displayed there and when you pick your jaw up off the ground all you can say is 'WOW!"
Honorable Mention: Long Vineyards, Napa

Oliver's Favorite Spot to Explore

White Oak Winery, Alexander Valley

OK, I'll need to clarify this one. Oliver is our dog and his favorite thing in the world is to be vineyard dog for a day and just run around as "free dog" but still keep an eye on us. When we take him out with us there are only certain vineyards that he can run off-leash and away from roads. White Oak has the perfect setting with all kinds of things for him to sniff, explore and run around. Oh, by the way, LOVE their Zinfandel too!
Honorable Mention: Sullivan Vineyards, St. Helena

One-on-One Personal Experience

White Cottage Ranch, Howell Mt.

There is a special serenity about this place high atop Howell Mt. that just makes you not want to leave. Winemaker Rudy Zuidema and gang do such a good job of making you feel at home taking as much time as you want enjoying and learning about their wines.
Honorable Mention: Allora Vineyards, St. Helena

Multi-wine tasting Co-op Facility
Napa - Ma(i)sonry, Yountville

Sonoma - Timbercrest Farms/Family Wineries, Dry Creek

Cooperative tasting rooms allow you to explore several small wineries/wines in one place and are a great way to discover wines you may never see or find elsewhere. Ma(i)sonry has some great individual collections and flights to choose from all under one roof. The Sonoma Timbercrest facility is more of collection of separate winery tasting rooms that cover a myriad of valley varietals.
Honorable Mention: Vintner's Collective, Napa

Newly Opened Discovery
Napa - Robert Craig Winery, Howell Mt.

Sonoma - Thomas George Wines, Russian River Valley

Robert Craig wines has had their production facility high atop Howell Mountain for a few years but only recently made it available for scheduled tastings. And, we're glad they did. Probably the most spectacular views back southwest over the valley that you'll find. Plus, the wines are all great across the board making for an extraordinary experience.

Thomas George wines in Russian River is in the old Davis Bynum facility (of classic Pinot Noir fame). They have completely redone/updated the place along with building an incredible cave tasting experience that brings it all together nicely.
Honorable Mention: Tamber Bey, St. Helena

High Friendly Factor & Fun Scale
Regusci Winery, Stag's Leap
The gang here at Regusci is never lacking for a good time. The group behind the tasting bar just enjoys life AND being the life of the party with no lack of energy inside or outside on the picnic grounds. Combine that with a great line up of wines and the formula works REALLY well. Cheers!
Honorable Mention: Sequoia Grove Winery, Oakville/Arista Winery, Russian River

Harvest Season Party
Hill Family Estate, Heirloom Tomato Fest, Yountville

Until I can find a party that matches over 40 types of tomatoes, build your own (BLT) sandwich from several types of bacon, great wines, and a fun crowd, this is easily my #1 highlight on the calendar each year. Ryan Hill knows how to throw a party and just make sure not to miss it...period.
Honorable Mention: James Cole Winery, Stags Leap

Overall Best A-Z Experience
Napa - Keever Family Vineyards, Yountville

Sonoma - Chalk Hill Estate, Chalk Hill

I feel so fortunate to have discovered Keever Family Vineyards and this small family operation could not be more of a gem if they tried. Everything down to 'Bones' their zippy vineyard dog makes this one of the most delightful experiences in the valley. It is the first (and only) time I've been able to smell varying toasted un-used ($1k) barrels in the cave just as a reference point in their wine making style. Huge kudos to how they run their operation as a close family.

Chalk Hill recently changed hands to a private group but that has not deterred from creating one of the most pleasurable experiences from garden to table...literally. The organic garden tour that ends up in one of the private off-site dining rooms with foods prepared entirely from the property with perfect wine pairings is one of the most palate friendly delicious lunches I've ever had. There is definitely something to food THAT fresh that makes all the difference.
Honorable Mention: Fontanella Winery, Mt. Veeder

Favorite AVA Expression
Napa - Howell Mountain

Sonoma - Russian River Valley

Not only is Howell Mt. one of my favorite appellations, I also discovered that it is Napa's oldest (first) sub-AVA approved back in 1983. This may account for some of the most distinguishable and richest wines in the valley. Howell Mt. fruit is like no other and surprisingly does more than just great Cabs. Some of the finest Zins in the valley are from here as well...bravo!

Not much more can be said about bevy of Pinots and Chards from RR and it has certainly defined them as the varietals of choice there. Not only are there a ton of new places, they have created some extraordinary experiences surrounding the properties that can have you spend days in that one AVA alone and never get bored.
Honorable Mention: Alexander Valley

Favorite Getaway AVA
Alexander Valley

Two years running and I can't get enough of this valley. The drive, the open spaces, several new spots, a new after wine hours dive bar, and lack of crowds make my list every time. Interestingly enough, it has been growing rapidly as one of my favorite new Cabernet spots with some really well-done efforts from former growers turned wineries that will soon have Napa turning its head.
Honorable Mention: Dry Creek Valley

My Single "I had a moment and maybe need a cigarette now" Wine Taste

Napa - Bremer Family 'Seek' '05 Cabernet

Sonoma - Papapietro-Perry, '07 Peters Vineyard Pinot Noir

I love the folks up at Bremer Family for numerous reasons, but on a recent tasting with some friends, a club member got to request a special wine to be opened - '05 'Seek' Vineyard Cab - and I quickly realized it was my lucky day. Call it timing, that one bottle or just the moment, but this wine was in a a word 'scrumptious'. It made me want to become a club member just to have access to that wine alone.

Papapietro-Perry is known for its wide-range of great, juicy Pinots, but the '07 Peters Vineyard takes the prize for me. Again, so much has to do with the environment and we tasted directly with wine maker Ben Papapietro while strolling around the facility. He's such a jovial fun-loving guy that you can't help but love his wines, but his single vineyard efforts are amazing. A must stop when in the Dry Creek area.
Honorable Mention: '06 Allora Cielo, '07 Salvestrin 3D Cab

That wraps up this edition of Chief Wino's 2010 explorations. As most know, it is really hard to separate from so many great wineries and experiences, but I attempt to summarize somehow for the current year's treks. And, there are many new places I still need to experience in 2011 to make next year's list.

Until the next sniff, swirl 'n sip,