Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> A Visit To Napa Valley Part III

A Visit To Napa Valley  Part III
Doug & Linda enjoy wine country in the fall of 2011

By the end of our third day in Napa, we realized that we could have christened this the "California cave tour" since almost every winery we visited possessed one. Our first stop on the third day was Quintessa, another cave dwelling winery located in the heart of Rutherford right on the Silverado Trail. Quintessa is yet another monument to that old Napa adage, "to make a small fortune in the wine business, start with a large fortune." The winery is located on 280 acres, with 170 acres planted to Bordeaux varietals to make just one wine, a Meritage blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Carmenere.

Our tour began with a nice hike up to the ridgetop above the winery where we had a bird's eye view of the vineyards and surrounding landscape. In 1989, this was the last large parcel of undeveloped land in the Rutherford Appelation when it was purchased by Chilean born Agustin and Valeria Huneeus. Agustin, a former CEO of Conch y Toro, Chile's largest winery, and then as the leader of Fransiscan Estates in Napa Valley, and Valeria, a microbiologist turned viticulturist, used their vast wine experience (and a lot of money) to help them transform it into a world class winery.

The winery itself is state-of-the-art with no expense spared. From the crush pad above, to the winery carved into the hill below, everything is gravity fed. They were in full harvest mode the day we arrived and, as you can see by the number of workers sorting the incoming grapes, their attention to detail is astounding. At least when you pay $132 for a bottle of Quintessa, you know you are paying for the extra effort. The facility is expansive with stainless steel and French oak for every occasion. It is the kind of facility that must be a winemaker's dream.

Led by our very capable tour guide, Mo, we concluded the visit with a vertical tasting of multiple vintages, each unique and excellent in its own way. Visits are by appointment only...visit their website for details.

Owner, Ray Coursen, moved to California in 1983 and started his career as a cellar worker at Whitehall Lane, where he eventually rose to winemaker. In 1987, he made his first Elyse wine, and in 1997, purchased a small winery and tasting room in Rutherford that he still occupies. No caves, no massive selection of stainless steel tanks, no fancy tasting room here....this is old school. Who needs glycol cooled stainless steel fermentation tanks when you can use plastic picking bins placed in the driveway, toss dry ice in to cool it, and punch down by hand.



We had always heard about Ray's technique, but this time our friends, Kurt and Cathy, were able to actually experience it. Linda and I were in the tasting room talking to Ray, and when we emerged, his winemaking intern, Mike, had Kurt and Cathy helping him punch down tubs of fermenting Zinfandel. Talk about "hands on..." But then again, at a much earlier visit to the winery, Ray actually cooked us sausages on the grill for dinner while we tasted way too many wines! And did I mention that Elyse probably has more 90 point plus scores from Robert Parker than Quintessa and Darioush combined? You don't need a billion dollars to make great wine.

Completing our tour of Rutherford was Flora Springs, a family owned winery producing Estate bottled wines in the heart of Napa Valley. Flora Springs was a ghost winery, when it was purchased by Jerry and Flora Combs in 1978, and today a 3rd generation of the family is taking the helm. Again, harvest was in full swing and the action on the crush pad was intense, yet they allowed us to poke our noses in everywhere and take photos. And, yes, Flora Springs has their own caves that date to the 19th century and are used to hold the barrels aging their Bordeaux varietals.

Our host, Jason, was perhaps the most knowledgeable and passionate guide we encountered on the trip. There was no intimate piece of historical knowledge that he did not seem to know about the winery, and no corner he couldn't show us. From the crush pad to the barrel tasting, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit, and he was ready for us to taste more wine when he had to leave for our next appointment.

The facility is relatively small, but beautiful and seems to land somewhere in the middle....definitely not quite Quintessa, but way more advanced than Elyse. The vineyards are extensive, and all of their grapes are estate grown. And they; too, produce some first rate wines. My favorite is their Trilogy Bordeaux style blend. They maintain a beautiful, ultra modern tasting room just south of St. Helena, no reservations are necessary there, but also offer tour and tasting options at the winery, which are much more interesting.

Napa is Napa, where California wine started, and where it seems to have reached its somewhat pretentious peak. But the honesty is still there, real people making great wines that compete in a world class market. And it is still a great way to spend a week...Disneyland for adults!