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Napa Valley Wine

Before I visited Napa Valley at the beginning of this month I definitely did not have the proper appreciation for the region’s wine. I came from a workplace that revered European food and drink so the focus on domestic products was somewhat lacking. But Napa is also a great place to produce wine because it has a near perfect climate for grapes; very warm, dry days and cool nights. In this environment the grapes don’t ripen too quickly. It also has about seventeen distinct soils that define the region. (You may hear people refer to these combined elements, geography, climate and geology as terroir.) And the smaller, artisinal vineyards in Napa are producing some of the best, if not most well known, wines in the world. I am sure you know some of the bigger players such as Opus One and Silver Oak, but as with almost anything, once you start producing in larger quantities you inevitably lose some control and lose some quality. In wine this translates to taste and flavor. Don’t get me wrong. When you consume a bottle from one of the larger vineyards you are going with a solid, safe choice. You are also paying additional money for the brand’s name. And it may not be a wine that you would call outstanding. I suggest you look for a wine from one of the smaller vineyards.

Below are some of my favorite picks from my trip. You are more likely to see them on a restaurant wine list than a wine shop, but wherever you see them you will know you have a great bottle.

David Arthur Vineyards is located on Pritchard Hill about 1200 feet above the valley floor in St. Helena. Pritchard Hill is one of the best places to grow grapes in the valley. Besides sitting above the fog line that engulfs the valley in the morning, it has the highest iron content soil in Napa as it is literally a hill made of rock. Here the vines work extremely hard to get their nutrients from the soil. The harder the vines have to work for nutrients the better the grapes, which may be counter-intuitive to what you might think. Keep your eye out for their Merritagio, a Cabernet and Sangiovese blend that is a great value for the price, and Elevation 1147, a Cabernet from grapes grown exactly 1,147 feet above the valley floor. Learn more here:

Ovid is a little further up Pritchard Hill from David Arthur. It sits about 1400 feet above the Napa valley floor. They produce their own blend of Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot in addition to a Syrah. Learn more here:

Anomaly is a family owned and operated vineyard located at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains in St. Helena. Although they are not actually on the mountain Anomaly likes to pack their vines in tightly so they are fighting for nutrients in the soil to intensify the flavor of the grapes. They produce one Cabernet a year a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Learn more here:

Hourglass has some extremely easy drinking wines. I like their Hourglass Cabernet better than the Blueline, the Hourglass has more flavor and character, but both are easy drinking. The Blueline was probably the easiest drinking wine I had on the trip. In addition to their two Cabernets they have a Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec. Learn more here:

V Madrone produces just 500-700 cases of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon each year from their estate vineyard and approximately 200 to 300 cases each of Chardonnay, Old Vines Zinfandel and Petite Sirah that are sourced from select Napa Valley vineyards. It is as small and controlled a vineyard as you will find. In particular the Old Vines Zinfandel is a standout. To me Zinfandel always had a stigma attached to it but it is making a come back of sorts into higher end of wine. One thing I learned is that you want a high ratio of skin to flesh in grapes and the older vines produce smaller grapes with more intensely flavored skin. That is why the older vines produce intensely flavored wines. This definitely comes out in the old vine zinfandel grown in the area. Learn more here:

If I had to choose one vineyard that stood out on my trip it would be Forman Vineyard. The wines are fantastic and very well priced. The vineyard is located on Howell Mountain in St. Helena. Rick Forman personally makes all of the wine himself and was the man behind Sterling Vineyards before this venture.The 2009 and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon are rated 95 and 98 respectively by Robert Parker. Also, if you do not like the commonly found big buttery Chardonnay commonly found in Napa then Forman’s Chardonnay will fit the bill. It is a white burgundy style Chard that is non-malolactic with a subtle, elegant oak. Learn more here:

Happy Eating (and Drinking),


P.S. I highly recommend arranging for transportation to and from the vineyards. I used Jack Fuller Jr. from Personalized Transportation Service.

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