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Napa Valley Wine Tour

August, 2006

Naturally I wanted to visit some wineries during our stay in the Napa Valley. I planned to see many of them, but work got in the way, as did RV repairs, etc. so I had about 5 weekday afternoons, and one Saturday, in which I visited 10 vineyards Ė and of course, tasted their wines.  You'll find them listed below in alphabetical order with a brief comment on each.

First a few general comments:

Wine Prices: I enjoy drinking wine that tastes like $25 a bottle, but only paying $7 to $12 for it. You canít do that in Napa Valley. I didnít find any exceptional bargains. Some of the same wine is available in grocery stores and wine discount stores around the country for 1/2 the price. Typical prices at the vineyards were $18 to $40 for whites and $24 to $80+ for reds. There were very few exceptions on the lower end.

Good Values: I did find what I believe were good values on some really great wines, many of which are not distributed at retail but must be purchased on site, or through the wine club, or in restaurants. Buying in quantity (often as little as 3 bottles) earned a discount, and joining the wine club gets you 15% to 20% off.

The Wineries

1. August Briggs, Calistoga www.augustbriggswines.com

Highly recommended if youíre in the area. Itís a smaller vineyard, wine tasting is free, the staff is friendly and fun, and the wine is great but a little expensive. Outdoor picnic tables right among the vines.

2. Bennett Lane, Calistoga www.bennettlane.com

This is my personal choice for "Best Overall". Itís a small vineyard, and their magazine ad says they have the "Friendliest tasting room in Napa Valley". I agree.  They also have "Red Wine and Chocolate Saturdays" combining two things I like. 

The winemaker Ron Hunter dropped by, which was an unexpected treat and I enjoyed talking with him. He was formerly VP of Winemaking at Sterling Vineyards. Now, having made his mark on the wine world, he is focusing on family and great wine here at Bennett Lane.

Their white wines are good, but their reds are really fantastic.  Several have scored 90 to 93 in Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits. I tasted them all, including the Primus Cabernet (lucky for me, they had opened a bottle for a special group and had some left).  They were all great, right down to the Maximus, a blended red which they call a "feasting wine".  I enjoyed it as much as the more expensive ones.  Yummy.    

Bennett Lane winemaker Rob Hunter, tasting staff Stephanie & Myla -- I'm in back

3. Calistoga Cellars, Calistoga www.calistogacellars.com

Friendly place and good wines. They had some of the better prices of the vineyards I visited. The wines were good, but you can buy them for less at a wine discounter or the grocery store. Their 2003 Napa Valley Zinfandel was rated 93 points by Wine & Spirits Magazine. I liked it but it didnít knock my socks off.

4. Clos Pegase, Calistoga http://www.clospegase.com

One of the ďdonít miss itĒ wineries. They have a great staff that enjoys having fun with wine and customers. Go for the tour and tasting, itís fun and informative. They have lots of art all around, on the grounds, in the tasting room, etc. and several great sculptures, including my favorite, a large 19th century marble Bacchus. Wines are very good, and thereís a nice picnic area.

5. Conn Creek Winery, St. Helena http://www.conncreek.com

At first look youíd think this is a small or mid-size local vineyard, but not so. Theyíre owned by Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates, the same company that owns Columbia Crest and Chateau St. Michelle.  Donít hold that against them. The tasting room staff enjoys their job and itís a fun stop, wine is very good.

6. Cuvasion Estate, Calistoga http://www.cuvaison.com

Cuvasion has a tasting room that I visited on Silverado Trail near Calistoga and another in Carneros. Itís a nice place for a picnic, attractive landscaping, small gift shop, good wine, etc.

7. Mondavi, Oakville http://www.robertmondaviwinery.com

Most of you have had a Mondavi wine at one time or another. Theyíre a giant producer, and they make some very good wine. However, I was disappointed with my visit. Yes, the grounds are beautiful, lots of art, etc. Yes the wines are good. But it was such a circus and so impersonal with the big crowd.  I went on a Friday afternoon, so Iím sure it would be a little better mid week, but even worse on a Saturday.  You expect this at a big tasting event, but not at a winery.

8. Napa Wine Company, Oakville  http://www.napawineco.com

Crowded tasting room, and nobody seemed to care that another customer had arrived. It felt like I was at Wal-Mart, but without the low prices. I decided to skip it.

9. Sterling Vineyards, Calistoga http://www.sterlingvineyards.com

A real treat not to be missed. Even though itís a major winery, and they draw a big crowd, they have created a great experience for visitors and I enjoyed it a lot.

The visit starts with a tram ride up to their hilltop location. You get a great view of the valley from the tram, and from the overlooks and decks of their winery and visitor center. Thereís an informative self-guided tour with narration by the senior wine makers on wide screen TVís at key locations.  During harvest (in another month or so) you can watch the whole process from elevated observation areas.

The tasting room, although crowded, was very well organized. Itís a seated tasting, and you can choose to sit inside, or outdoors. They also have a ďclub roomĒ where you can taste their reserve wines, and itís quite nice as well. Thereís also a large gift shop.  Check out all the photos I took, click on the one below and a new window will open.  Also, take a look at their web site and do the virtual tour.

Entry to Sterling Winery -- Click photo for more

10. Summers/Villa Andriana, Calistoga http://www.sumwines.com

Small winery, nice grounds, good wine, worth visiting.

 

 

PHOTOS -- more pictures of Napa Valley Wineries are HERE

 

Visit my Wine Blog Page HERE

 

Hereís a link to find all the wineries in the Napa Valley. http://www.napavintners.com/wineries

 

 

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