DAY 3 AND 4 IN NAPA, SONOMA VALLEY

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> DAY 3: Starts at Diamond Creek Winery. WOW what a magnificent piece of property to grow grapes! Nestled into steep hills, this vineyard has a natural spring and their own man made lake. We were greeted by Cidy, a lovely host that I had met at the Fountainbleau during South Beach Food and Wine Festival earlier in the year. They only have three wines for most people to taste but what a threesome: Red Rock, Volcanic Hill, and Gravelly Meadow. All of these wines grow on 44 year-old vines with roots often 30 feet deep so they don’t starve for water.

The 2009 Volcanic Hill can only be described as a mouth full of joy!  The 2010 Gravelly Meadow is a 300 case production– so virtually impossible to get–but if you like Bordeaux grown in Napa, this would please your soul. To show how well their wines age, Cidy very kindly opened a 2003 Volcanic Hill…..the fruit was like black cherry candy while the structure and complexity was truly amazing. This 03 tasted like a young baby. BTW, Lake Vineyard is their 4th wine but you didn’t hear it from me!

As a side note: Cidy presented us with an aesthetically beautiful and delicious cheese pairing to accompany the wine. All cheeses were locally made and finished with a fresh fig in a balsamic reduction. Heaven!

We finished the day with the lovely sisters:   Far Niente and Nickel &Nickel (N&N).  Both wineries make great wines but are vastly different.  Far Niente makes 4 wines:  Chardonnay, Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and the great Sauterne of California:  Dolce.  The first thoughts that came to mind upon tasting the Dolce were “delicious” and “liquid gold”.  Interestingly, and just for the record, the ‘07 was the best wine I tasted at both wineries.

The wines at N&N are mostly one hundred percent grape varietals.  The Merlot was a very good wine that shows how under-appreciated this grape is in California.  2011 Enroute Pinot was smoky-bramble with cherry fruit and a long, lush finish.  It reminded me very much of a Premier Cru from Burgundy. 

Although we tasted several 100% Cabernets,  I thought the ‘09 CC from Rutherford was an extremely special wine.  I’m beginning to really appreciate the fruit from Rutherford!

 

Day 4:  The last day started early at Caymus Vineyards…. one of the really special wineries in Napa. It was founded my Chuck Wagner at age 19, and is now slowly moving into the capable hands of his children.   In 1972, Charlie Wagner,  Lorna Belle Glos Wagner and their son, Chuck, built their winery among the vines planted on the family’s ranch in Rutherford, California  (the center of the Napa Valley). Just a short time later, in 1975, the Wagners produced their first Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, which remains the only wine to have twice been named Wine Spectator’s “Wine of the Year” (1984 and 1990 vintage).  

The winery now makes several different types of wine but their bread and butter are still the two Cabs:  The Caymus Cabernet and The Special Select Cabernet (which is 90% Cabernet).  Depending upon the year, I think the regular Cab can be better than the Special Select.

Caymus also makes world class Pinot Noir Meiomi and 4 different Belle Glos wines:  Dairyman, Clark & Telephone, Las Alturas, and Taylor Lane.  These are all big Pinot’s… I call them Pinot on steroids!

The surprise wine for me was the Zinfandel.  This was a lovely Zin with Raspberry, Clove, White Pepper and a spicy, long finish.  Easily one of the top 3 Zin’s that I have ever tasted. 

As a side note: Rosanne Acquistapace, our tasting guide was not only very familiar the wines but put together a cheese selection that was paired perfectly with the wines….and all readily available (Dean&Deluca,Whole Foods and Wms. Sonoma). Thank you!

 

Just when you think  you have seen the best piece of property and the best view in Sonoma and Napa , you arrive at Hanzell Vineyard  and quickly realize you  haven’t seen anything yet!  . 

Founded in 1948 by James David Zellerbach, who was not only involved in the design of the Marshall Plan but asked to implement it in Europe by President Truman .  While leading this forward-thinking and compassionate effort, Zellerbach was also at the helm of his highly successful business; Crown Zellerbach. It was during this time that J.D. Zellerbach discovered and purchased his first fourteen acres of private, oak woodland on the steep hillside of the Mayacamas Range, overlooking the town of Sonoma. 

As Mr. Zellerbach made his money in the Chemical business, he was in a perfect position to hire an accomplished chemist – Mr. Webb – as his winemaker.  It turned out to be a great decision!  For fifty years Hanzell has been the home of great innovation and invention:   from the first-in-the-world stainless steel fermenters and the first controlled malolactic fermentation, to our current day one-ton tankitos and clone and rootstock trials.

Our 90 minute tour and tasting of this great property was directed by Ryan Hortum, an extremely knowledgeable and engaging person who provided us with all of the historical details of Hanzell and more.  With total respect for the winery  I must add that after a two hour tour they only had 2 wines for us to taste! You can just imagine how thirsty we were after two hours of not drinking wine in wine country!  There are reasons for this:  first they only produce 5,500 cases of wines a year and second they only make 6 wines in total (3 Pinots and 3 Chardonnays).  Although 2011 was a very challenging year for every winery in California,  Hanzell lost 40% of their fruit hence the absence of Pinot Noir for us to taste.  

The 2 Chardonnay’s were fabulous and more than made up for it!  2011 Sebella  Chardonnay  was youthful with floral notes, green apple and good acidity,  with a lemon/lime finish.  2010 Hanzell Chardonnay had green apple on the nose,   very creamy honeysuckle on the mid palate and finally notes of pear with a rich lone finish.  If I closed my eyes and didn’t know any better I would think that I was drinking Chassagne  Montrachet from Burgundy.

Overall Sonoma and Napa Valley will continue to produce world class wines for the foreseeable future.  The scenery, the food and the people make the wine that much better!  It was another GREAT time…..!

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