Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Scenes From Napa: Day 2

We made an aggressive start to our second day in Napa with a 10:00am tour and tasting at Far Niente Winery. Far Niente was founded in 1885, abandoned at the onset of Prohibition for nearly 60 years, and subsequently purchased and restored by Gil and Beth Nikel in 1979. A “wine educator” (ours took his title quite literally, acting more like a school teacher annoyed by his students rather than an enthusiast sharing his love of wine) began our tour by guiding us through the 40,000 square feet of wine aging caves, followed by a short walk to the Carriage House where we caught a glimpse of the family’s classic car collection (four people vanished from the tour at this point- I can’t blame them as I also found this portion of the tour unnecessary), and concluded with a tasting of 6 wines paired with French and Californian cheeses (including the Dolce- an expensive dessert wine overhyped by our wine educator from the moment we stepped foot in the door).

An ice covered tank in Far Niente's wine aging caves

The Dolce is aged in a separate, gated off area in Far Niente's wine aging caves

The Abbaye de Belloc from France was paired with chardonnay; the San Joaquin Gold from California was paired with cabernet sauvignon; the Bleu d'Auvergne from France was paired with the Dolce

After Far Niente Winery we made a quick stop at PlumpJack Winery where we sampled four delicious wines, including a crisp, fruity sauvignon blanc bottled under the CADE label, a winery falling under the PlumpJack Group’s umbrella.

CADE's sauvignon blanc at PlumpJack Winery

Off of the Tasting Room there is a comfortable deck overlooking PlumpJack's vineyards

Grapes at PlumpJack Winery

Our friendly, knowledgeable driver Tom recommended a short stop at Steltzner Vineyard after PlumpJack; we were glad he did. Steltzner Vineyard’s June 28, 2009 tasting menu including a rosé of syrah named after the proprietor’s daughter (Napa seems to produce quite a few wines named after the vineyard owner’s children- a great way to be memorialized!), the only pinotage to come out of the Stags Leap District (the winemaker refers to it as a pinot noir on steroids), a spicy malbec, a deeply colored merlot, and a smoky cabernet sauvignon.

Tom, a driver with Magnum Tours, recommended Steltzner Vineyards

A welcome sign in front of Steltzner Vineyard's Tasting Room

Aaron Feaver, Steltzner Vineyard's Retail Sales Manager, writes the day's tasting menu

The fourth tasting on Sunday’s agenda brought us to Forman Vineyard, established in 1983 by sole proprietor Ric Forman. We toured Forman’s dark wine caves and were provided with many generous glasses of refreshing chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon that had been aged in new French oak barrels. Before heading to our next stop we were thanked by a smiling Ric Forman, hand outstretched, coming in from a day spent working in his fields.

The view on the road to Forman Vineyard

Directions to Forman Vineyard's Tasting Room

French oak barrels in Forman Vineyard's wine cave

At Forman Vineyards

We finished the 100 degree day at Eagles Trace, a 26 acre family owned vineyard located in Conn Valley. In the cool comfort of Eagles Trace's wine caves we were privileged enough to sample a wine currently being aged in a French oak barrel (it will be available to the public in 2012). We also compared wines that had been gassed several days prior to our visit against wine from bottles opened before our eyes. The experience, thanks in large part to the magnetic personality of Dick (our Eagles Trace guide), made for a memorable end to our second day.

Rows of vines at Eagles Trace

Barrels of wine in Eagles Trace's caves

Taking a sample of wine directly from an aging barrel

Eagles Trace merlot, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and Latitude 38

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