BEST OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH NAPA TASTING ROOMS
After having visited numerous renowned wineries, many of us are looking for the hidden gems within the Napa Valley. Good wines are certainly valued, but the entire experience a winery provides leaves guests wanting to return and telling their friends and family to visit. Each winery listed in this article has some special draw, whether it’s art, architecture, ambiance, gardens or compelling history.
I conducted an informal poll seeking wine enthusiasts’ favorite wineries and coupled the results with my own picks to produce a short list of can’t-miss experiences that you could almost miss while driving in wine country. Criteria for inclusion are that the winery:
- is relatively unknown
- is not readily found or can be easily missed
- is small or medium-sized (meaning any of the following: low-to-medium case sales, small-to-medium “feel”, smallish or medium-sized facility)
- offers a special draw
- does not require an appointment, for a seamless trip
Signature wines and the tasting room experience are discussed for each. Regardless of the perks, beauty or caliber of wines, most enthusiastic comments came from respondents when the people were the attraction. Establishments immediately exude an upbeat ambiance when their staff obviously loves meeting people, are experts at what they do and are knowledgeable about their wines.
1. The Winery: ARTESA VINEYARDS & WINERY
The Draw: BOLD ARCHITECTURE AND STUNNING VIEWS
Signature Wine/Varietal: PINOT NOIR
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: $10-$15
By far, the most extraordinary approach to any out-of-the-way tasting room is that of Artesa Vineyards & Winery. Innocently exiting Highway 121 to Old Sonoma Road in Napa, you will drive back-country roads lined with fields of wildflowers and eventually follow signs into the entrance of the winery. But it keeps going. And going. At some point, you believe you are visiting a castle on top of a hill. What you do confront is an architectural wonder: a building and grounds that are, themselves, modern art. The reflecting pool renders its water as glass. The winery structure is built into the side of the hill and has been compared to an art museum.
Interiors are reminiscent of the 1960s, with bold colors, angular, clean-lined furniture and graphic paintings hung throughout. The gift store offers items mirroring the interior design – lovely and sleek – for the person who has everything.
Crowds ebb and flow, but tasting room staff keeps up. Dan May, for example, expertly dances among patrons, attentive to each, while ardently describing the wines and winery. He is fond of saying his 22-year experience as a counselor at Stanford Children’s Hospital gave him the skills to deal with adults on vacation who sometimes act like children. His five-year history with Artesa has made him a cheese guru, qualifying him as host for the winery’s weekly “Vino con Queso” (wine and cheese pairings). Administration staff claims that, without a doubt, Dan receives more fan mail than any other hospitality worker.
Artesa’s excellent collection comprises pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, albarino, pinot noir, merlot, syrah, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo and sparkling wines. But their elements red is especially lovely, with a blend of cabernet franc, syrah, tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon and grenache. Their Estate Pinot Noir, which garnered 93 points from Wine Enthusiast, is classic for the grape, while their upper tier Limited Release Carneros Pinot Noir is bigger and inkier.
Artesa’s 2004 Reserve Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was recommended by Playboy magazine as Best Wine Under $50.
Enhance your visit by upgrading from the $10 basic tasting to a Reserve and Limited Release Wine Flight for $15 or a glass of Grand Reserve Sparkling Wine for $10. Make an appointment for a vineyard tour, held daily at 10:30 a.m., and taste grapes off the vine while sipping some bubbly. Or book a Vino con Queso pairing on a Saturday or Sunday at 11:30 a.m. and enjoy artisan cheeses paired with reserve wines.
2. The Winery: BURGESS CELLARS
The Draw: THE PEOPLE
Signature Wine/Varietal: MERLOT
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: COMPLIMENTARY
Talk about winding roads! With Burgess Cellars as your destination, you will think you’re on your way to camp in the mountains, not taste wine. After completing the drive up lovely Deer Park Road in St. Helena, the entry to the winery is more like a private road to a cluster of hidden, upscale homes. However, having arrived at the cul de sac, the old wooden door recessed in a stone wall definitely connotes “winery”. Park just around the corner, and enter the tasting room to the left.
Inside, the winery is very small and a bit dark, giving you the cozy feeling of being in a much older winery. Barrels surround you. The atmosphere is quiet and low-key. On weekends, you will be greeted by Michael Miller.
Including this winery in the article is cheating, since visits are by appointment only, but you can try dropping in on a weekend. Unless he is already entertaining a large group, you will be welcome. Do make an appointment on weekdays.
Burgess Cellars’ owner Tom Burgess wants visitors to benefit from the one-on-one experience they receive when the host pays close attention to each person, and Michael Miller agrees. Like teachers with over-populated classes, winery personnel can’t give guests proper care in overloaded tasting rooms.
Michael Miller started his wine industry career at Robert Mondavi in 1978 and has performed just about every winemaking task. He’s worked in the cellar, the vineyards, participated in the harvest and the press, has done berry sampling and manned midnight pump-overs. After he left Mondavi, he worked at various wineries before coming to Burgess, where he has remained for the past three years.
To his credit, Mr. Miller refrains from discussing the particular qualities of each wine, and waits for guests’ responses while joking around and having fun. In keeping with Tom Burgess’s vision of a laid-back, non-intimidating environment, this wine veteran does not force tasting notes on clientele. Every palate is different and will pick up unique aroma and flavor notes.
With cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah and a red blend in the lineup, Burgess Cellars is known for its merlot, and it delivers. Rated 90 in Wine News, the 2004 vintage grapes come from its Oak Knoll estate vineyard, imparting the black cherry quality classic for merlot. The wine is rich and deep, good for sipping or supping. What an excellent value at $22 per bottle!
Another winner is the Enveiere, a classic meritage containing cabernet, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot, all from their Howell Mountain estate vineyard. The juice undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation (the process whereby tart malic acid is converted to softer-tasting lactic acid) and is aged in French oak. This wine throws a party on your tongue, with layers of spice, lingering fruit and lonnnng finish. A wine epiphany.
Michael Miller reflects on his like-mindedness with proprietor Tom Burgess. The goal is to offer quality wines on a small scale with fair pricing. Couple that with an inviting, peaceful atmosphere, delightful conversation and complimentary tasting. Good times.
3. The Winery: CARTLIDGE & BROWNE WINERY
The Draw: THE VALUE
Signature Wine/Varietal: CHARDONNAY
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: COMPLIMENTARY
Yet another unexpected journey to a winery leads to Cartlidge & Browne. Were it not for the eye-catching billboard on Highway 29 announcing its presence off Green Island Road in American Canyon, you would think you were only entering an industrial area sprinkled with business parks.
But take that turn, head straight down, and when you dead-end into Jim Oswald Way, one clue reveals a winery: vineyards. At the end of the street, with flowers edging the cul de sac, the terrain stretches out to the horizon. To your left, contained in an industrial-type building, is the winery.
Inside, you may meet gracious Tasting Room Manager, Meghan Purvis. She has been in the wine industry for two years and very much enjoys her position there. It shows. She comments “My personal introduction to the wine industry has been one of the best accidents I have ever had. I couldn't be more happy with my discovery of the wine world. I truly enjoy talking to people about the wines and answering all those questions that they may not have wanted to ask at the larger tasting rooms. Cartlidge and Browne is an outside-the-box thinking company and that in itself keeps our day-to-day interesting.” Meghan admires the owners, the long-term winemakers (Paul Moser and Rebecca Scharding) and appreciates Cartlidge & Browne’s wine selection. With good reason.
Cartlidge & Browne offers a little of everything at a great value: sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, syrah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and a unique red blend named Rabid Red. (Incidentally, the label was derived from a painting by Jack Delaney entitled Self Portrait. If you look closely, the dog has human eyes.)
Tasting is complimentary, and the collection is friendly and fruit forward; drinkable now. At $10-$15, these wines will surprise you. Robert Parker featured the winery in the February 25, 2008, issue of Business Week! “Despite the enormous influence of California’s wineries, too few specialize in premium wines at value prices. One that does is Cartlidge & Browne.”
Meghan notes that C&B is known for its chardonnay, which has been produced since the establishment of the winery in 1980. The blend of grapes from different vineyards can be up to 80% barrel fermented and 100% malolactic complete, depending on the vintage. Malolactic fermentation (explained in Burgess above) is the process whereby malic acid is converted to lactic acid, resulting in a creamy, buttered popcorn taste in white wines. This chardonnay has classic citrus and tropical fruit flavors balanced with creamy, leesy tones.
Just about every wine made by C&B is 100% varietal, which adheres to one of their standards, maintaining varietal correctness. Other standards set by C&B are to craft dry wines that are food-compatible, to keep the alcohol percentage lower than latest industry trends (most of their line is under 14%) and to exceed expectations with their high quality.
Enrich your experience at the winery by attending special events like Cheese & Jazz, Carne Asada, Art Gala and Harvest Festival!
4. The Winery: CLIFF LEDE VINEYARDS
The Draw: IT’S A GETAWAY: wine, sculpture garden, art gallery, luxury inn
Signature Wine/Varietal: POETRY CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: $20-$60
Cliff Lede Vineyards can be counted among those intimate wineries located away from the busy wine mecca of Napa Valley. You will enjoy the restored 1913 Craftsman-style building (situated on the Yountville Cross Road) and its relaxed atmosphere.
You may be hosted Ross Workman, a classy gentleman who will carefully explain the wine lineup and kindly answer questions. Mr. Workman is a retired attorney and energy industry executive who has been in the wine industry for ten years, working for ZD Wines and Caymus Vineyards before coming to Cliff Lede. His rich work experience and extensive education have transferred nicely to his current passion. Mr. Workman’s boundless thirst for knowledge is evidenced by his completion of classes in viticulture, winemaking, sensory analysis, cellar management and more.
Canadian businessman Cliff Lede established his namesake winery in 2002, purchasing 60 acres of vineyards in the Stags Leap District, where he grows Bordeaux varietals sauvignon blanc, claret, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah. The winery also offers sparkling wines made by S. Anderson, the winery that previously occupied the site, until it runs out.
Lede’s flagship wine, Poetry Cabernet Sauvignon, earned 94 points from Wine Spectator for its 2004 vintage: "Enticing aromas . . . and blackberry flavors are bold and delicious, yet this is elegant and stylish, even turning delicate. Ends with firm, ripe, integrated tannins. Best from 2008 through 2018 . . ." (October, 2007) Not a bad start for such a new winery.
Your $20 tasting consists of four wines, usually including sauvignon blanc, claret and cabernet sauvignon. The claret is the best value at $35 per bottle, smooth with low tannins and unusual aromas of fig, cassis and oolong tea.
For $40, you get a tour through the vineyard and winery followed by a seated tasting in the private club room.
For the ultimate experience, pay $60 for all of the above plus a comparative cabernet sauvignon sampling from four sub-appellations, a barrel tasting of Cliff Lede Stags Leap District Cabernet and pairing with artisan cheeses.
After your tasting, peruse the lovely gardens, which are peppered with fun sculptures from Mr. Lede’s personal collection.
Then enter the art gallery to view rotating exhibits of work by both world-renowned and up-and-coming artists.
Consider arranging your tour of off-the-beaten-path wineries so that you end your day at Cliff Lede Vineyards, then spend a night at the Poetry Inn. Mr. Lede’s luxurious getaway, situated on Poetry Vineyard, features a swimming pool, outdoor massages and the opportunity to select rare wines from the private cellar. Your stay includes a three-course gourmet breakfast for a great start to another day of wine tasting in the Napa Valley.
5. The Winery: THE HESS COLLECTION
The Draw: HISTORIC WINERY AND MINI MUSEUM
Signature Wine/Varietal: MOUNT VEEDER CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: $10-$50
Like the drive to Artesa Vineyards and Winery, your excursion to The Hess Collection seems to go on and on, although it’s really only 15 minutes out of Napa on Mount Veeder. You won’t mind, though, first being surrounded by stunning forest beauty, and then approaching the historic, old building formerly occupied by the Christian Brothers. Proprietor Donald Hess completely renovated the property in 1986.
Standing outside the building, you might feel transported back in time, but when you enter the tasting room, there are modern art touches foreshadowing the art gallery you’ll want to see when you finish tasting. However, inside the winery, you still get the feeling of being in a notably old place as you stand around a beautiful maple bar in the historic stone distillery building. Only one word describes it: COOL.
Two very busy tasting room staff may be found early on a Saturday, efficiently and cheerily serving the many visitors lucky enough to find Hess. Erin Bradley, full-time schoolteacher, has worked for the winery for five years and has been in the industry for twelve years, including work at Napa-Sonoma Visitor Center in American Canyon. She loves that the winery is off the beaten path and comments that visitors are always amazed when they see it. Hess is “a gem on top of a mountain”.
James Schull has worked for Hess part-time for a year and a half and is a retired school teacher. Hess provides the venue and artsy atmosphere he loves. James balances his job at Hess with travel abroad.
A standout wine is the Dry Creek Zinfandel (as opposed to the Mendocino Zinfandel, available for sampling in a side-by-side tasting). The Dry Creek version is not a typical fruit bomb, but wonderfully smooth and earthy. The Mendocino is no slouch either. Possessing more fruit punch than the Dry Creek, this zinfandel also shows sweet spices and nuances of pepper. The Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, Hess’s flagship, is brilliant, with dark chocolate and berry flavors balanced with chewy tannins. Hess also makes a fine pinot grigio, chardonnay and petite sirah.
After tasting, visit the modern art gallery on the second and third floors. Artwork is from Donald Hess’s personal collection, thus the winery’s name. Mr. Hess has regularly been attracted to particular pieces, then to the artists, to whom he pays special attention – sometimes for years. Work ranges from headless, life-size figure sculptures to giant photo-real portraits. With the fascinating variety, you can’t say that the collection is dull.
Add to your total experience by booking one of Hess’s available tours. The Tour of the Palette includes a guided journey through the gallery coupled with three wine-and-food pairings for $50, Thursday through Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. The Cheese and Wine Pairing tour comprises four wines paired with artisan cheeses at $35, reservations required.
6. The Winery: HONIG VINEYARD & WINERY
The Draw: CASUAL ATMOSPHERE, CALIBER OF WINE
Signature Wine/Varietal: SAUVIGNON BLANC AND CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: $25.00/person for classic tasting, $30.00/person for Eco-tour and Tasting, $60/person for Reserve Tasting. ALL TASTINGS REQUIRE PRIOR APPOINTMENT (Prices as of 9/26/16)
From the outside, Honig Vineyard & Winery looks like a small office building converted into an attractive house. Despite the intimate impression it gives, this Rutherford operation produces 60,000 cases a year, which are distributed to restaurants and retailers all over the country.
Honig only makes sauvignon blanc and cabernet, but a slender list leaves time for experimentation and creativity. Carrying two styles of sauvignon blanc exemplifies that point. Admirers depend on the grassy style of the first, a classic sauvignon blanc. The second is done in chardonnay style (although the winery hangs posters sardonically disdaining chardonnay), aged in oak for a creamier sauvignon blanc. The result is interesting and delightful.
The $25 Classic Tasting includes Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, a library selection and Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. and a bonus wine.
Honig Vineyard and Winery has it all: brains, beauty, taste, humor and even altruism. Their sustainable farming program is admirable, with focus on giving back to the earth more than they take. Eco-conscious practices in the vineyards include reducing water consumption; using organic pesticides and fertilizers; planting cover crops to provide a habitat for beneficial insects and to return nutrients to the soil; and adding nesting boxes and perches to attract predators to control rodents and harmful insects. Inside the winery they use environmentally friendly cleaning and sanitizing solutions, conserve water and recycle to reduce the amount of trash going to landfills.
Finally, Honig’s atmosphere is laid-back and fun. A sense of humor is evident in a display of wacky posters and a line of irreverent postcards featuring employees dressed up in outrageous attire.
7. The Winery: MINER FAMILY VINEYARDS
The Draw: THE PEOPLE AND THE WINES
Signature Wine/Varietal: ORACLE RED BLEND
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: $10-$30
The Miner Family Vineyards’ tasting room is located on the second floor of a tall, ivy-covered building , tucked into the eastern hills of Oakville. Without signs pointing the way, you would never know a winery inhabited the space, and upon entry, the inside is clean, modern and attractive.
Tasting room staff is affable, especially Austin Gallion, who expertly describes the character of Miner’s wines. Austin has been well educated in the subject of food, with a BA in Culinary Arts and Food Writing from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. He practiced his culinary craft in Ireland and France, developing a special interest in wine-and-food pairing. This passion led him to Napa Valley, where he worked for Ken Frank, chef and owner of La Toque (see article regarding La Toque and Ken Frank). Three years ago, La Toque sommelier Scott Tracy referred Austin to his friend, Dave Miner, and Austin has been with Miner Family Vineyards ever since.
If you like old-school chardonnay, try Miner’s Napa Valley version. This is a delicious balance of butter and fruit, due to the fact that 50% of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation. As mentioned earlier, this process produces a creamy taste in white wines. Miner also carries a chardonnay for which 100% of the fruit undergoes malolactic fermentation; this wine regularly sells out within the first few days of release.
Although all of Miner Family’s wines are first-rate (they also make sauvignon blanc, viognier, rosato, pinot noir, merlot, sangiovese, syrah, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and petite sirah), their signature red blend, The Oracle, elicits an Ahh moment. Rich and smooth, unforgettable. Fruit is sourced from the Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa Valley, and the blend changes each year, depending on the quality of the various grapes. For example, the 2004 vintage contains 52% cabernet sauvignon, 26% merlot, 21% cabernet franc and 1% malbec, whereas the 2003 version contains 52% cabernet sauvignon, 31% merlot and 17% cabernet franc.
When planning ahead, schedule a tour of Miner’s cave and production facility, offered by appointment only for $20. For $30, treat yourself to a Grand Cru Tasting, which includes samples of their premium wines served in varietal-specific glassware from Riedel.
At Miner, you get a lot of bang for your tasting buck, with access to most of their current releases for $10, as well as side-by-side comparisons of several varietals, whether differing by vineyard or vintage.
8. The Winery: REYNOLDS FAMILY WINERY
The Draw: THE PEOPLE
Signature Wine/Varietal: PERSISTENCE RED BLEND
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: $20
When you visit Reynolds Family Winery, don’t be fooled by its tiny entrance, which does not foreshadow the rich, open feeling inside. When perusing the property, you will see it is quite large, surrounded by ten acres of cabernet sauvignon vineyards; however, the winery is classified as small, producing only 8000 cases per year. Formerly a 100-year-old chicken ranch, the property was converted to a Tuscan-style winery in 1994 by owners Steve and Suzie Reynolds, with the first vineyard plantings in 1996 and first vintage released in 1999.
If your server happens to be Dee Hall, you are in luck. With a little encouragement, she will entertain you with storytelling in a charming Australian accent. Hailing from Melbourne, it was love that led her to this well-hidden winery. She met Dominic, proprietor Suzie Reynolds’ brother, while he was on vacation on Dee’s home turf. He later invited her for a tour of California, during which they married. As a new member of the Reynolds family, she relocated and quickly became a significant part of the family business. Back home, Dee had been more a beer-and-bourbon lover, but her concentrated on-the-job training has left her with a palate that can no longer tolerate wines under $10.
Reynolds Family Winery’s wine list includes chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet sauvignon, but the star is Persistence, their signature blend of 60% cabernet sauvignon, 15% merlot, 15% cabernet franc, 8% syrah, 2% petit verdot, which combines dark berry, chocolate and exotic spice flavors for something really different. Another standout is the Carneros Pinot Noir, with pomegranate, a hint of cinnamon and a long, velvety finish. Dee will treat you to a comparison of this pinot noir to their Russian River Pinot Noir, enthusiastically explaining their differences, with an appreciation for both.
Once finished with the basic tasting, inquire about Steve Reynolds’ other wine projects: THIRTEEN, Naughty and Naughty Bubbly. All three brands are produced by Steve with different sets of partners. Be sure to notice the innovative bottle designs while at the winery.
THIRTEEN is a blend of grapes from each of Napa Valley’s thirteen appellations, using grapes from vineyards that are the best representatives of their respective areas. The website, www.13appellations.com, further explains the concept.
The Naughty line, which includes syrah, zinfandel, cabernet franc, a cabernet blend called Racy and a dessert wine dubbed Sticky, was created with the idea that wine is just wine; it shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Visit www.naughtycellars.com for the details.
Naughty Bubbly is a radical new domestic champagne in stylistically forward packaging created to embody the Las Vegas lifestyle. See more at www.naughtybubbly.com.
After tasting, enjoy a picnic at tables overlooking the pond on the property.
9. The Winery: TREFETHEN FAMILY VINEYARDS
The Draw: THE PEOPLE
Signature Wine/Varietal: HāLo CABERNET SAUVIGNON
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: $10-$20
Trefethen Family Vineyards’ inviting, 19th -century building, declared a historical landmark in 1988, has an immaculate face and is surrounded by lovely flowers. The spacious tasting room is decorated with comfortable, rich, dark furniture, but sunlight streaming through the perfectly placed windows uplifts the atmosphere.
Visitors are immediately greeted by an exuberant hostess, then attended by tasting room staff. Julie Goodwin can explain the Trefethen wine lineup knowledgably and enthusiastically. Hailing from North Carolina, Julie worked in restaurant and club management for many years, eventually creating wine lists and arranging tasting events. “I learned a great deal about wine from the bottle to the table; however it was an incomplete picture. I wanted to know more about wine from the vine to the bottle.” Not long after arriving in California, she worked at Newton Vineyard in St. Helena for several years, then joined Trefethen in 2006. She has worn many hats in the wine industry, and has achieved Wine Educator and Merchandise Manager status at Trefethen. “I chose Trefethen because it is a family owned winery rich in history and of course…the wonderful wines!”
Trefethen’s wine list runs the gamut - riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, late harvest riesling and several blends. The chardonnay is a really good compromise between fruit and cream. The reserve cabernet sauvignon, with low, balanced tannins, is drinkable now. Not one grape comes from anywhere but Trefethen’s own vines. This is a portfolio of delicious wines.
The winery also produces a trio of fun wines: Double T, Quandary and s.i.n. Double T refers to not only the two Trefethens, owners John and Janet, but for the style of trellis on which the vines are trained, known as “double T”. This red blend is fruit-forward with chocolate on the finish. Quandary is an unlikely, but delicious, blend of viognier, chardonnay and riesling. s.i.n. is a rosé of pinot noir, created as a light accompaniment to summer fare.
Trefethen’s signature cabernet sauvignon, HāLo, was named after the founders’ children , Hailey and Loren, who grew up in the middle of Trefethen’s Hillspring Vineyard where the wine’s fruit is sourced. This cabernet is lushly textured, full of dark fruit flavors and roasted coffee tones.
Choose from two different tastings: the Estate includes six wines for $10, and the Winemaker’s Reserve offers four library wines for $20. Call ahead to reserve a 30-minute tour of the landmark Napa winery.
You will find staff friendliness to be infectious, encouraging visiting strangers to talk to each other and amplifying the jovial atmosphere. The employees are impressive in their ability to provide such an environment.
10. The Winery: ZD WINES
The Draw: THE PEOPLE AND THE WINE
Signature Wine/Varietal: PINOT NOIR
Winery Tasting and Other Fees: $10-$40
You might miss ZD Wines while speeding along the Silverado Trail in Rutherford, for it sits below the level of the road. But turn around. Vineyards frame the appealing building, located on a six-acre parcel purchased in 1979.
Enjoy the lovely, airy tasting room and the friendliness of the staff, two of whom are Brittany Mobley and Geoff Wharton. Young Brittany will proficiently explain the character of the wines, as well as the winemaking. Brittany has worked at ZD for one month, but is surprisingly adept at her new job and good with people. And why not? She’s a psychology major minoring in business, and plans a career in wine marketing subsequent to graduation from St. Mary’s College in Moraga next month.
Tasting Room Manager, Geoff Wharton, has worked for ZD Wines for three years. He served in the tasting room part-time for the first year and a half while running his own business. “When I started, I knew what wines I liked and that’s about it. I enjoyed it so much, I now work full-time as the tasting room manager.” He credits the De Leuze family (co-owners) with his increased wine knowledge and providing a great place to work. His enthusiasm for wine even transfers to his hobby: home winemaking!
ZD Wines was founded as a Burgundy house in the late sixties by Gino Zepponi and Norman De Leuze (thus the ZD name), and their primary production continues to be chardonnay and pinot noir. Eventually, the winery branched out by planting cabernet and syrah, as well. ZD owns 33 acres in Carneros and six acres in Rutherford, their estate. Pinot noirs are the stars at this winery.
Compare ZD’s Carneros Pinot Noir to their Reserve Carneros Pinot Noir, both aged in French oak, although the reserve was aged five months longer, for a total of 15 months. Both versions are heavenly. The Carneros Pinot Noir lives up to its full potential: classic, complex, captivating. The Reserve is rich and full-bodied with soft tannins balancing the fruit and a remarkably long finish.
Opt for the $10 Traditional Tasting (four wines) or $15 Premiere Tasting (two premium wines). Consider reserving a space at the Wine and Cheese Pairing Seminar for $40, offered every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Instructors acquire cheeses from local artisans to attain delicate, yet strong pairings with ZD’s wines.
Napa Valley is home to hundreds of wineries. If you visit any of the establishments listed here, you will stumble upon other great wineries as you go. For instance, The Hess Collection is located on Mount Veeder, where you can also visit Mayacamas Vineyards and Wing Canyon Vineyard.
Group three or four visits and enjoy an appointment-free day, using the list below as your guide.
WINERY GEMS GUIDE
4) Cliff Lede Vineyards
1473 Yountville Cross Road
Yountville, CA 94599
5) The Hess Collection
4411 Redwood Road
Napa, CA 94558