When national lockdowns abate, and economic trajectories are poised to rise, consider visiting wineries. The owners will appreciate (and need) your business, and you will be ready for great wines with good friends.
Three Napa Valley wineries below highlight current trends within the eno-hospitality business.
One trend is encouraging visitors to slow down.
Scooting rapidly from one winery to another to stand, sip, swirl and spit while listening to a harried host rattle off statistics about oak percentages and maceration times while they pour wine for ten other adjacent visitors is neither fun or enlightening. Instead—visitors should select a few targeted destinations where they can enjoy wine with food (whether nibbles, lunch or dinner) and take time to learn about how the vintages are made, as well as about local landscapes. The world of wine is not just quality and craft—but also about local people, history and geography.
Wineries based in Napa Valley often also produce wines elsewhere—whether in Sonoma Valley or the Central Coast or even out of state. A visit is also a chance to compare local fare with high quality vintages from other locales.
Cabernet Sauvignon still reigns as king of the valley, and the heavily oaked style of a decade ago appears to have receded or vanished, as have hyper-buttery characteristics of Chardonnay (they still differ from their cooler climate Burgundian cousins—which often have more acidic minerality—but are perhaps friendlier with a greater range of foods). And many Sauvignon Blancs from Napa Valley are now shining spectacularly.
There are hundreds of producers within this appellation. Many of these offer food, and some only allow visits by appointment—providing a more personal experience.
According to Valerie Kelleher, the family owns 16 acres, 10 of which are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon in the Oakville sub-appellation. They also source fruit for making other wines.
The Brix Restaurant and Gardens, associated with Kelleher Family Vineyards, was reopened in April of 2019 after extensive renovations. Decades ago this locale was named the Grapevine Inn, and provided guests with a view in the opposite direction—toward Highway 29. Today, the interior is massive and bright and windows face vines as well as the Mayacamas Mountains. There are also private dining rooms for groups. If possible, sit on the porch to sample food with wines (during these days of lockdown, the restaurant has food to go).
Their menu includes healthy and fresh California as well as international fare. Consider their Dungeness crab fondue with braised artichokes, melted leek, gruyère and brie cheese and garlic crostini. Match that with a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc from the Oakville sub-AVA, or a Three Sisters Chardonnay from Russian River grapes. For a main course, try chicken paillard with cauliflower, cherry tomato and artichoke barigoule, and match this with their Brix vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Highlights: Excellent wine and food matching (and advice), brightly attractive dining spaces, soothing views of the Mayacamas Mountains.
Named after its founder who moved to the U.S. from Genoa in Italy in 1899, this winery has produced since Prohibition was repealed in the year 1933. After a two-year renovation, the winery and restaurant opened again in 2019. However, this remodeling is hardly evident from the exterior façade, which retains the original concrete columns and brick work of the original warehouse that Martini constructed in 1933. But once you step inside? Wow. The space is massive, with a ceiling a dozen fathoms away. The interior design is somewhat private club/ancient library style—with thick dark wooden tables and chandeliers.
A tour of the cellar is worthwhile, and includes seeing original wine casks (no longer used) made from redwood.
Tasting sessions include wine, or wine paired with dishes. Servings are poured into specifically designed glasses made for Martini by Riedel.
The five wine/appetizer pairing includes glasses of their Meritage, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon wines from both their Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley plots. The menu includes dishes that include veal and ricotta meatballs, prosciutto and short ribs—prepared by Chef Jeffrey Russell. Fresh focaccia is baked daily in their kitchen and their estate olive oil is produced from trees growing in Sonoma Valley and the Central Valley.
Sommeliers who pour wine will clue you into different types of terroir that distinguish what you sample, and they can also suggest alternative drink and food matches.
Highlights: Stunning interior space, clear explanations of excellent food/wine pairings, impressive tour of ancient cellars.
Located in Oakville—between the vineyards of Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate—and owned by Jeffery Gargiulo and his wife Valerie Boyd (who are also founders of the Naples Winter Wine Festival auction in Florida) the vineyard only provides tastings by appointment at 10.00 a.m., noon and 2.00 p.m. daily. Grapes originate from two properties—Money Ranch Road and 575 OVX. Views from the winery are gorgeous and the landscaping exquisite. The outdoors includes a dining space with a pizza oven, as well as a stage for musicians (Jeff is a guitarist). The winery’s interior includes roof timbers from a local bridge that was dismantled years ago, and a gym floor taken from a local high school in the 1950’s.
The winery has the only southern facing hillside vines in the Oakville sub-AVA and receives a perennial breeze that keeps vines dry and absent of disease. With 62 separate vine picks and French oak barrels purchased from 24 different coopers, their winemaker has a broad range of choice to help fine tune the quality of wines.
Highlights: Private tours with a personal touch, intimate and original winery design, outdoor tour with wines in hand, gorgeous landscaping and views.
Beauty trends The Wines –
Kelleher Family Vineyard. Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. 2017.
Sourced from organic fruit in the Oakville sub-AVA. Aged six months in 90% stainless steel and 10% neutral French oak, this wine from Craig Becker is a silky, snappy, peppery beauty busting with the taste of crisp, tropical fruits.
Kelleher Family Vineyard. Russian River Valley Chardonnay. 2017.
This unfiltered Chardonnay aged in French oak is a silky beauty that includes the taste of lime and nuts.
Kelleher Family Vineyard. Sonoma Coast ‘Ten Grand’ Vineyard Pinot Noir. 2017.
Sourced from fruit within the Doña Margarita vineyard in the Green Valley-Russian River AVA in Sonoma County, this wine is mostly aged in stainless steel. This is light and easy drinking and includes plum and cherry aromas—try matching with fish such as sole.
Kelleher Family Vineyard. Napa Valley Brix Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. 2015.
This Oakville sub-AVA wine spends 24 months in 50% new French oak. It was released four and a half years after harvest—after spending two years aging in barrel and the balance in bottles. In the mouth, a bundle of crackling, luscious fruit. Beautiful.
Kelleher Family Vineyard. Bari’s Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. 2013.
From a small (1/3 acre) plot located behind Brix Restaurant and named in memory of one of three Kelleher sisters. Includes charcoal and black fruit aromas, and is a textured beauty that tickles the tongue with a deep scream of velvet. A memorable wine.
Louis M. Martini Winery. Sauvignon Blanc. Napa Valley. 2018.
Hand-picked fruit is sourced from the Yountville sub-AVA. The wine also includes 12% Semillon from their Monte Rosso vineyard in Sonoma County. Fermented in stainless steel and oak as well as in a concrete egg. This is a clear and refreshing California Sauvignon, with a splash of clean, crisp, juicy tropical fruits on the nose and in the mouth.
Louis M. Martini Winery. Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley. 2016.
This includes small percentages of Petite Syrah and Petit Verdot, aged 21 months in a combination of French and American oak barrels (30% new). Hugely rich aromas of blueberries, cigars and black peppers. This is a mouthful of plumbs with a lingering aftertaste of Oreo cookie. A complex wine made with grapes from six vineyards.
Louis M. Martini Winery. No. 254 Meritage. Napa Valley. 2013.
Made from select hand-harvested grapes taken from Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and Oakville, this is an 81/15/4 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot. Fewer than 600 cases produced. It takes minutes for aromas to emerge, but these include blackberries and olive tapenade. In the mouth, this includes vibrant and energetic dark fruit as well as tastes of oranges and licorice—this will make you salivate.
Louis M. Martini Winery. Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley. 2016.
Made from fruit found all over Napa Valley—including plenty from the Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak sub-AVA’s. Includes earthy aromas and the scrumptious taste may—as one sommelier suggested—remind you of blueberry pie.
Louis M. Martini Winery. Cypress Ranch Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon. Napa Valley. 2016.
This 96/4 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot includes aromas of black fruit and licorice, and is a river of percolating acidity and red currants in the mouth. Pair with beef—where fat and proteins will match the wine’s smokiness.
Gargiulo Vineyards. Money Road Ranch Pinot Grigio. 2019.
Nectarines and mint in the mouth; an easy drinking entrance into late afternoon.
Gargiulo Vineyards. Aprile Super Oakville Red. 2017.
This 97/3 blend of Sangiovese/Cabernet Sauvignon includes juicy and hefty aromas of minestrone and cumin. The taste includes that of plump plums and nectarines, as well as a sliver of lime acidity.
Gargiulo Vineyards. Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. 2017.
This just released 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is aromatically closed until after a few minutes in the glass—when it pushes out the snap of black pepper. Includes a range of tastes—including salty Dutch licorice, plums and cocoa.
Gargiulo Vineyards. OVX G Major 7 Cabernet Sauvignon. 2016.
An 84/11/2/3 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot, this ripe, balanced and commanding wine includes a taste of treacle and a sliver of eucalyptus.
Gargiulo Vineyards. Five Seventy Five Cabernet Sauvignon. 2006.
This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is a fighter and a warrior—commanding and assertive. Aromas include cocoa butter, pepper, leather and mint. Vibrant in the mouth with tastes that include cherries and cocoa. Spectacular.
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