Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Ten Days in the Napa Valley Part 2

Ten Days in the Napa Valley Part II
By Jim Bandy

Chateau Montelena

To round out this last update from our fall 2021 trip to Napa, I have three more wineries to share with you. And, next week we will have some travel tips for Napa along with some general observations about the changes since the Pandemic that we think will be helpful for planning your next trip to Napa or Sonoma.

Chateau Montelena:
You may not be aware that Chateau Montelena is still owned by the Barrett family. For over 50 years, they have been responsible for one of the most iconic wineries in the valley. Yes, the winery was nearly sold in 2008, but the deal did not close. It remains a Barrett family concern. While it is a hike up the valley to get to Calistoga and the castle-like property, the reward is definitely worth it.

We had an added advantage of being with our friend Jill, a long-time club member; the reserved parking spot was a special treat since it was raining when we arrived. Since Chateau Montelena has been around for so long, most of you may already know that that they offer a nice array of wines from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling to Cabernet, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel.  We were able to taste almost all of them; the Sauvignon Blanc had sold out. Having had it before, I would be surprised if it was still available.

Of course, the Chardonnay is what made them famous at the 1976 Judgement of Paris. While the vineyards they use today may be different from the 70s' I was immediately impressed with the quality and style, which remains distinctly Burgundian. I would have happily sat there and enjoyed just that wine, but they were willing to pour more, and I couldn’t be rude. Both the Petite Sirah and Zinfandel were also made in a more restrained style. Honestly, the Estate Zinfandel reminded me of why I became a Zin-fan in the first place. And tasting the Estate Cabernet next to the Napa Cabernet, it was easy to see just how different they are. The estate Cabernet was gorgeous, but I would be perfectly happy to enjoy the Napa designation. That enjoyment may be limited, though. Unfortunately, Chateau Montelena lost all of their red grapes in 2020 to smoke damage, so there will not be any 2020 Cabernet or Zinfandel. They also lost their Riesling grapes to smoke but were able to get the Chardonnay harvested safely.

Celani Wines:

This was perhaps our fourth visit to the beautiful Celani (Che-LAH-ni) property in the Oak Knoll district:  Tom and Vicki Celani moved to Napa in the 1980s where they purchased 17 acres of grapes (Chardonnay and Cab Franc) and 120 olive trees. The tasting room is intimate and next door to Tom and Vicki’s home. Wendy Day has been their Director of Hospitality for some time and has always delivered an excellent experience. We tasted their current releases of estate Chardonnay and a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Franc called Tenacious. Both were favorites of ours. Their small production Rosé always sells out very quickly and was not available.  Then we moved to their three Cabernet’s: a single vineyard designate from Mt Veeder, a blend of Mt Veeder and Coombsville, and one last very special one, was their Ardore. A single-vineyard Cabernet from Coombsville, which is just as lush and lovely as the name implies. We have always enjoyed Coombsville Cabernet, and in the hands of Mark Herold, their winemaker, it was a knock-out.

Priest Ranch:

Not all wines with soul come solely from family endeavors. Such is Priest Ranch. Craig Becker and Allan Chapman co-founded Priest Ranch wines in 2006: I wanted to include them in this review because of their commitment to making wine from their vineyards which express the land and honor the vintage. The property and vineyards are located in the eastern Vaca Mountains. We were happy their tasting room was much closer in Yountville, where Val took excellent care of us.

During the tasting, Val helped us learn about the many orientations and diversities this unique property offered, all of which directly affect their wines. They successfully grow Grenache Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, along with Bordeaux varietals, Grenache, and Syrah. The whites were both excellent. but the Grenache Blanc was definitely my favorite! Crisp and flavorful with the bonus of also being reasonably priced.

And their Cabernet blends were solid, well-made, and distinctive. When Val offered to let us taste their 100% Cabernet called Snake Oil, I wasn’t sure what to expect. An appropriate description may be an iron fist in a velvet glove. Being from the 2018 vintage, the tannins were present, but the finish was smooth and silky. Not surprising that Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate scored it 93 points.

Somerston Estate is another endeavor for Craig and Allan. Under this label, they offer single block wines from their estate made only when the vintage allows. We did not taste these on this trip and will need to wait a bit before doing so. Craig shared that they did not harvest any fruit from their property in 2020 due to smoke damage. We were happy we could enjoy the current releases and take some home with us.

In summary, I have no doubt we will continue reading about conglomerates eating up smaller wineries and trying to consistently create a flavor profile regardless of the vintage. For those of us who appreciate the uniqueness of place and influence of weather, other options do exist through wineries like the ones shared in these two segments. I encourage you to seek them out the next time you are in Napa or check out those in the Grapevine Cottage inventory. I know you will be able to taste the passion with which these wines are made.