If you want to see a property that has it all, put Kenzo Estate on your list. Nestled in the hills above the valley at 1,550 feet, Kenzo Estate encompasses 3,800 acres, five times the size of New York’s Central Park. This is one of largest winery estate properties in Napa Valley, but despite its size, is still under the radar for most visitors to the area. The grounds are incredibly beautiful as well as the winery, but it’ll take you two gates to get here. Once you enter the second gate, a beautifully manicured vineyard with rolling hills welcomes you— a sight to behold! The winery soon appears after you drive through the vineyard. Elegant, modern with a touch of Asian minimalism. From the grounds, to the winery and cave, owner Kenzo Tsujimoto spare no expense. As founder of Capcom, Kenzo has been a highly respected icon and entrepreneur for decades in Japan. Kenzo Estates was meant to be a retreat in the hills above Napa Valley, but soon became an acclaimed winery estate thanks to the dream team he recruited. Kenzo hired famed viticulturist David Abreu to lay out the vineyards, Heidi Barrett as winemaker and partnered with Thomas Keller of Michelin-rated French Laundry for food pairings. If you’ve seen the movie “Bottle Shock,” Heidi is the wife of Bo Barrett and winemaker for Screaming Eagle where her wines have earned at least three 100-point score by Robert Parker. These are amazing wines, but not cheap. Kenzo Estate makes seven wines, which are all rated above 93 points by Wine Enthusiast. My tasting included:
1. 2017 Asatsuyu, Sauvignon Blanc
2. 2017 Yui, Rosé
3. 2016 Rindo, flagship Red Blend
4. 2016 Muraski, Cabernet-based blend
5. 2016 Ai, Cabernet Sauvignon
I fell in love with the Ai, which is their boldest wine in the portfolio and a wine meant for aging. On the palate, you can taste the dustiness, black pepper and black fruit.
Go wine shopping and you’ll most likely see “Reserve” on the aisle, but that term doesn’t carry much weight as “Estate.” For a label to use the term “Estate,” the wine must abide by specific rules set by the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). Not only must 100% of the grapes be crushed and produced onsite, the winery and vineyard must be in the same viticultural area. A great example of estate-grown wine is the Trefethen Family Vineyards. Nestled in Oak Knoll District between Napa and Yountville, this is the first winery you’ll pass when leaving Napa.
Family-owned for over 50 years, every vintage is still crafted with grapes grown in their own vineyard including Chardonnay, Cabernet, Merlot and Riesling. Usually any winery that is estate-grown will charge more for the wine, but Trefethen wines are reasonably priced with their famous Chardonnay priced less than $40 a bottle. Fun factoid: Trefethen’s 1976 Chardonnay earned them the “Best Chardonnay in the World” at the 1979 Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris. If you’re looking to build a collection of wines that will be an investment in the future, this is a great place to start since all but two of varietals can only be purchased at the winery. Cheers!
As you venture up the winding road on rural Pritchard Hill located up on a hillside west of the Silverado trail, you’ll be led to Chappellet Winery (elevation ranges from 800 to 1800 feet). Here, you won’t find an Italian villa or French chateau. Instead, you’ll walk into an elegant, but understated winery made of wood designed to fit in with the gorgeous trees surrounding the winery building. Once you’re in the barrel room, you get a better sense of how big the winery really is.
Surrounding the wooden barrels are various artwork painted by children of Donn and Molly Chappellet, founders of the winery in 1967. Molly, 90-years young, still lives on the property and the family is heavily involved throughout the winemaking process. The Chappellet family chose to trademark the name “Pritchard Hill” to have exclusive right to use the name on their labels. #artwine
Now let’s talk about their wine! The total production of Chappellet wines is close to 50,000 cases each year, kept small to ensure quality control. Despite the small production, their wines are priced reasonably (by Napa standard) from $49-$85 a bottle. We tried:
1. 2018 Chardonnay: lush and creamy with hint of Meyer lemon followed by a long rich finish.
2. 2018 Pinot Noir: intense dark fruit with earthy smoky taste with hints of coffee.
3. 2018 Signature Cabernet: rich and concentrated with flavors of dark berries, spice and vanilla.
4. 2017 Cabernet Franc: fruity and spicy notes, supple and complex finish— my favorite!
Chappellet remains one of the first wineries to plant cover crops as a method for soil conservation and erosion prevention. Since 2008, the winery produce 100% of their energy through solar modules to offset use of electricity.
Anyone who has been to Napa Valley, raves about Joseph Phelps and I couldn’t agree more! Located on the east side of Napa Valley and close to St. Helena, Joseph Phelps is one of the early wineries in the region founded in 1973. There are so many wonderful things to say about this place. For starters, the property is one of the most picturesque I’ve seen in Napa wine country. From the breathtaking vineyard views to the high ceilng to house tall tanks, it takes the tasting experience to a high level (literally). Even better, this winery is one of the few in the area that has a large commercial kitchen and a culinary program with seasonal cuisine to pair with Joseph Phelps wines. The tasting is by appointment only, but once you’re in, you can certainly take your time and enjoy the experience. The staff is highly knowledgeable including Casey, who gave me a private tasting of the following:
1. 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, 7 months in French oak
2. 2017 Chardonnay, 13 months in French oak
3. 2017 Pinot Noir, 13 months in French oak
4. 2016 Cabernet, 18 months in French and American oak
5. 2016, Insignia, 24 months in new French oak
My favorites are the Sauvignon Blanc and Insignia. During the early 1970s, wineries were focusing on single varietal wines, but Joseph Phelps had a vision and created a blend made from multiple Bordeaux varieties. Insignia was the very first proprietary Bordeaux-style blend grown, produced and bottled in California. The very first vintage of Insignia was from 1974. Since then, this premium Cabernet Sauvignon has quite a following among passionate wine enthusiasts and collectors. Insignia goes for about $200-$250 a bottle depending on the vintage. So if you’re a serious Cabernet Sauvignon drinker, this is something you must put on your list!
Who else loves Caymus wines? Known worldwide for producing extraordinary Cabernet for decades, the brand is still 100% family-owned by the Wagners. The family was not originally in the winemaking business, but decided to give it a try in 1915. Their business was successful until 1920. All winemaking facilities suffered until Prohibition ended in 1933. To hedge against future restrictions, the family chose not to brand under their name (as you’ve probably seen most prestige Napa brands do). Instead, “Caymus” was taken from a group of Native Americans who lived in the Yountville area. The vineyard is still the home base of the Wagner family and you might actually find some members pruning vines on the farm (at least that’s what our host told us. The Wagner Family story is certainly appealing, but what really earns them loyalty comes down to consistency— the quality exceeds the price you’re getting from the product. Let’s talk about their wines! Our tasting included:
You can find the Cabernet Sauvignon local wine shops, but the Zinfandel is exclusive to their winery. It’s heavier than your typical Zin with a depth like a Cab without all the tannins. And of course, their Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. As the label implies, this wine focuses on only the highest quality lots from the vineyards, which then in turn receive additional barrel aging. Despite being a young wine, the Cab drinks very well alone. Highly aromatic fruit flavors balanced with a supple finish. It’s the only wine in the world to earn “Wine of the Year" by Wine Spectator Magazine. With the extensive distribution network, there’s no need for a wine club. Even so, we left with three cases and complimentary wine glasses (yours to keep when you taste).
Finding wineries built as a French chateau or Italian villa isn’t rare in California wine country. What’s rare is coming across one modeled as a Persian palace right in the heart of Napa! If you’re a history buff, you’ll appreciate learning about the ancient Persian civilization brought into modern times with the architecture, art and wine at Darioush Winery.
Sitting on the east side of Silverado Trail, the winery’s design is a tribute to the ancient city of Persepolis, the capital of the First Persian Empire. It took nearly seven years of planning and construction before the 22,000 square-foot winery opened in 2004.
The story behind the founder is truly remarkable. From a humble beginning as an immigrant from Iran, Khaledi Darioush was an engineer turned successful entrepreneur turned winery owner. He not only owns several Napa wineries, but is the Chairman of K.V. Mart Company, a chain of 23 markets. Khaledi’s passion started at a young age watching his father make wine. Together with winemaker Steve Devitt, he was committed to producing Bordeaux-style wines and is an avid wine collector. I could spend this entire post talking about his private wine collection, but let’s go over the wine we enjoyed from the tasting. See below:
1) 2019 Viognier, $52
2) 2017 Duel, Shiraz Petit Verdot, $62
3) 2016 Shiraz, $78
4) 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon, $108
5) 2016 Sage Vineyard Blend, $175
In general, Darioush wines are on the aromatic side especially the Shiraz and Cabernet Signature. The 2016 Shiraz shows aromas of rose petals, black cherry and bacon. My favorite is the Cabernet Sauvignon. Full bodied, concentrated and dense, this drink carries an elegant tannin structure across the palate with Asian spices on the nose. The early vintages of the Cabernet Sauvignon was among the top 100 by Wine Spectator. Fun factoid: Khaledi Darioush’s home is located just steps from the winery. When he visits, the flame from the entrance is lit on.
If you’ve seen Netflix’s “Wine Country” starring Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph of SNL, you’ve probably spotted Artesa. The winery first opened its doors in 1991 under the ownership of the historical winemaking Spanish family, Codorníu-Raventós. This contemporary hilltop estate rest above high sea level in Carneros and offers an unobstructed view of San Pablo Bay. It was a clear day so I was actually able to see the San Francisco skyline from the winery!Before the name was changed to Artesa in 1997, it was called Codorníu Napa when the winery focused only on sparkling wines. Now, true to their Spanish roots, Artesa produces Albarino and Tempranillo wines. We t
If you’re looking for wines that are heavily oaked, Artesa wines will definitely suit your palate.
If you’ve seen the movie “Bottle Shock” it might not shock you that I’m standing in front of Chateau Montelena. Breathtaking in size, the building is reminiscent of a medieval castle, built from large thick rectangular stone blocks and covered in ivy. A brief history on Chateau Montelena Winery. First, the romantic name is actually a contraction of Mount St. Helena coined by the grandson of the original founder, Alfred Tubbs (the street is named after him). Originally intended as a barrel-aging facility, the Chateau was built in 1888 and unique for its time since the majority of wineries were constructed of wood. The stone walls aren’t just for aesthetic appeal, but the thickness actually provides natural insulation against outside heat or cold. Viticulture practices here include dry farming and periodic thinning of the vines throughout the growing season to produce maximum concentration in the grapes. In fact, during harvest, bunches are picked by hand! This is done during the wee hours of the night to preserve the flavor of the grapes.
If you haven’t seen “Bottle Shock,” the movie inspired by the current owner of Chateau Montelena, read on for the cliff notes’ version. British wine merchant named Steven Spurrier organized two blind tastings for Chardonnays & Reds from California vs France to be judged by a panel of French judges. In a shocking twist, California wines won both categories and “The Judgement of Paris,” as it came to be known, launched New World wine onto the international stage. The bottle that won the Chardonnay category was a 1973 Montelena — crisp and minerally focused.
I’m actually holding their Zinfandel, which I highly recommend if you like a light, fruit forward full sip. The winery also produce Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a blend with Merlot and Cabernet Franc, but Zinfandel was our favorite so we brought home the 2016 and 2018 vintages. If you can’t make a trip to visit the winery, you can find some of their wines at Total Wines Make sure to sip it while watching the movie. Cheers!
Ageability is an integral part for a world-class estate and so today I’m taking you to Quintessa in Napa Valley! Built into the wooded hills on the west side of the Silverado Trail, Quintessa’s unassuming entrance underscores their “less is more” philosophy. Their winery doesn’t fill up acres and acres with a massive hospitality center, but kept chic and elegant like walking into a wine spa. This “less is more” philosophy is also reflected in their wine portfolio. They make only one red wine and it’s a blend of some or all of the five varietals grown on the estate. Wine is processed using a gravity flow system where grapes are funneled from the upper deck of the winery to the fermentation tanks and caves below, all naturally cooled by the earth.
Our host Mike drove us through the property on a golf cart to the scenic views of the Rutherford appellation overlooking the vineyards, which was simply breathtaking! We stepped into the pavilion to a table decked with high quality stemwares for the tasting (I appreciate the personalized touch with the tasting notes). We started with a splash of the 2020 and 2019 Illumination, their proprietary Sauvignon Blanc, which was a blend of Sauvignon Musque, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion. Opening with notes of pink grapefruit and Meyer lemon, I tasted flavors of guava and orange. Next came the heart of the tasting, a side-by-side comparison of the 2018 Quintessa, their current release, and a selection from their library, the 2016 Quintessa. The 2018 is a blend of 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Carmenere and 1% Petit Verdot aged 20 months in French oak barrels. This is full-bodied wine carries a creamy finish with round tannins and flavor of dark chocolates. The 2016 vintage actually has 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, taste less robust with lush tannins and a softer finish. Not wanting to wait longer for the aging, we opted for an even older vintage, the 2014 Quintessa. It’s a bit pricey at $250 a bottle so definitely a bottle you want to save for that special occasion!
Looking for a chic, modern and classic Napa winery? The wall ceilings to my right is actually wood from old wine barrels! Considered as one of the great historic Napa estates nestled in the Stags Leap District, Clos Du Val (pronounced kloh-deu-VAHL) was founded in 1972 by John Goelet, one of the pioneering French winemakers to come to Napa Valley. Clos Du Val in French means "small vineyard estate of a small valley". Over the years, the winery expanded its vineyard holdings into the Carneros AVA.
Ask about the Judgement of Paris and Clos Du Val ranks well at that competition. It was the 1976 blinding tasting of Cabernet Sauvignon where the U.S. topped French wines. Clos du Val placed 8th among the judges in the California Cabernet Sauvignon vs. red Bordeaux. In fact, it was their first vintage (1972) that was one of only several Cabernet Sauvignon selected for competition. Now let’s talk about their wines! My tasting included:
For the Cabernet Sauvignon, what a difference 10 years makes! Tasting the 2016 against the 2006, the tannins has totally mellowed out, but fruit flavors are still there. But my favorite was the Petit Verdot. The flavors start with black fruit, but then transition to earthy and savory notes after the high tannin kicks in to dry your palate. Definitely a wine to pair with a grilled NY steak.
If you can only visit a few of wineries in Napa, the Hess Collection needs to be on your list. It’s a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the drive. Once you’re there, you’ll quickly notice the vine-covered exterior old stone and spacious white museum, which holds a large collection of contemporary art by 20th century artists such as Francis Bacon and Andy Goldsworthy. Just imagine you’re at the SF MoMa only you’re up in the hills of Napa!
Located on Mt. Veeder, this winery has a rich history that predates prohibition. The Christian Brothers first bought the property in 1930, establishing a school and winery before Donald Hess (the owner and avid art collector) began leasing from the winemaking Brothers in 1986. At elevations of 1,000 to 1,600 feet, the microclimate of Mt. Veeder produces wines that’s very different from the Napa Valley floor. The steepness of the angle gives the vineyards benefits of more direct sunlight.
Hess offers several unique experiences: wine blending, ATV tours and chocolate pairings. Shout out to Cesar, who was an amazing host! He was fun, approachable and passionate about the wine. After a tour of the barrel room and surrounding landscape grounds, I went upstairs to a beautiful room overlooking the storage tanks for a private food wine pairing prepared onsite. Everything tasted amazing! My tasting of 8 wines included:
1. 2018 Mt. Veeder, Pinot Gris
2. 2018 Napa Valley, Sauvignon Blanc
3. 2018 Russian River, Chardonnay
4. 2016 Napa Valley, Red Blend
5. 2016 Rockpile, Zinfandel
6. 2014 Mt. Veeder, Cuvee
7. 2016 Mt. Veeder, Malbec
8. 2016 Napa Valley, Cabernet
My favorites are the Pinot Gris and Cabernet. At $30 and $50 retail, respectively, the bottles are reasonably priced given the quality. Fun factoid: The late comedian, Robin Williams, owned 639 acres in Mt. Veeder that included an 18-acre vineyard and 20,000-square-foot home.
Even if you’re a wine novice, chances are, you’ve heard of Duckhorn. Founded in 1976 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, Duckhorn Vineyards was among the first 40 Napa Valley wineries at the time. There are 800+ wineries in Napa and Sonoma counties today. Despite the ownership is now with a private equity firm, the quality of the wines remain top notch including its flagship Three Palms Merlot. This iconic wine played a key role in establishing Merlot as one of North America’s great varietals. In the 1990s, Merlot enjoyed widespread popularity until “Sideways” was nominated for an Oscar in 2004. In that movie, Pinot Noir was revered whereas Merlot was not. Since then, Merlot has slowly crawled back from the “Sideways Effects.” In 2017, Wine Spectator selected Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot as wine of the year for their 2014 vintage. Now let’s talk about the wines! My tasting of 6 wines included:
My fav was “The Discussion”, which has a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. If you’re a member, you can customize your wine shipments across seven of their wineries: Duckhorn, Paraduxx, Goldeneye, Migration, Décoy, Canvasback and Calera.
If you prefer big, bold Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, put HALL on your list. Not only will you be getting top notch wines, the property and art collection is definitely worth the visit. The interior and exterior of the estate are filled with art installations from artists all over the world including a 35-foot tall gleaming metal statue of a rabbit sculpture as you enter the driveway. Now a brief history on the winery. Before founding HALL, Craig and Kathryn Hall were accomplished individuals in various fields. After a stint as Ambassador to Austria, Kathryn returned back to her roots (literally!). Her family had been grape growers in Mendocino County for decades. In 2003, the couple acquired the historic St. Helena Bergfeld Winery and reopened as HALL in July of that year. The winery produces 41 different wines, most of which are exclusive to the winery. Three of their vintages (2010, 2013, 2014) have received a rare perfect 100 rating from Robert Parker. Now let’s talk about the wine! The HALL current releases tend to have a bit more age compared to current releases at other wineries with the red wines often seeing 20 to 24 months in oak followed by up to a year bottled before being released. As such, tastings are often of wines four years after their vintage date. We tasted four Cabernets from the 2016 vintage:
My favorite is Ellie’s (named after Craig’s mother) who is an artist. The label you see is actually her artwork.
Wine tasting isn’t just about drinking the vino. It’s about the experience that makes it enjoyable and memorable. Here in Napa Valley and Sonoma, you can find nine estates built as a chateau or castle. Behind me is the only authentic medieval Tuscan castle and winery built in America Castello di Amorosa. Known as “Napa’s castle,” Castello di Amorosa features five towers, 107 rooms (95 of which are devoted to winemaking and wine storage), an enormous Great Hall with replica Tuscan frescoes, 8,000 tons of hand-chiseled stones, a drawbridge, dungeon, torture chamber, and even a medieval church! Construction took 15 years to complete and finally opened doors in 2007. The winery produces all kinds of wine including: Barbera, Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir and Super Tuscan Blend. They’re well known for their Reserve Cabernet and Reserve Chardonnay, which have won numerous awards. You’ll need to visit the winery in person or order online because the wines are sold directly to consumers.
A trip to Napa Valley would not be complete without a stop at Domaine Chandon. It’s a must-see when you’re in Yountville. Founded in 1973 by Moet and Chandon, Domaine Chandon was the first French owned sparkling producer in Napa Valley. If you’re craving a glass of bubbly Domaine Chandon needs to be at the top of your list; not only for their sparking wine, but spectacular landscape! From the moment you drive onto the 300-acre property, enter into the parking area, you’ll immediately feel a sense of ease and peace with the garden and oak tree surroundings. The property here is simply breathtaking! It’s as if you’re in pure euphoria while sipping.
If you’re a fan of red blends and enjoy sipping wine at your own pace sitting under the trees in a casual chic atmosphere, look no further than Paraduxx. In case it’s difficult to pronounce the name, it’s easier if you think of their sister winery Duckhorn and the two ducks on the label. Think “pair of ducks” = Paraduxx. Founded in 1994, Paraduxx focus exclusively on blends. What makes this winery unique is that the vineyard blocks are dry farmed, which means no irrigation is needed because the grapes have the water needed from sitting along Rector Creek. Now let’s move onto the tasting! Whereas most wineries offer individual pours throughout the experience, you get all the wines upfront along with a small selection of tasty cheeses and crackers. My tasting included four blends:
Everything paired so nicely with the wines! Informational cards accompany each glass of wine so you can read more about what you’re tasting. The grapes are sourced from vineyards onsite as well as Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain. My favorite is the 2016 Atlas Peak blend. This full-bodied blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon and 43% Sangiovese has just the right tannin structure to enjoy alone or with food. An added bonus if you’re visiting Paraduxx? They’re pet-friendly so you and your fur baby can enjoy the scenery and sunshine together.
If you’re halfway between Napa and Calistoga, make make sure to stop by V. Sattui. Voted “Winery of the Year,” it shares the same owner as Castello and has everything you need: wine tastings, a market, picnic tables and gorgeous views. If you love cheese, you can sample the cheesesj (try the truffle cheese!) before you buy. Lots of wines (60+ wines) to taste and it’s $20 for a sampling of 5 winesMy fav is the 2018 Dry Riesling for its spicy citrus nose and sweet jammy flavors. The Sattui wines are not sold in stores so great reason to visit the winery directly for a tasting!
Are there second chances at true love? How to find a good man and keep him?
After a night of drinking and the dreaded walk of shame Katie needs a road trip and an intervention with her girlfriends. Four attractive, successful women yet they can’t find and keep good men. The high school boyfriend that wasn’t going anywhere opens up like a well-aged wine after it is decanted. Magic in the Napa air may lead to a second chance at true love. A humorous and heartwarming story about friendships, frenemies and understanding men. Sex in the City meets Crazy Rich Asians in this page turner.
When Sex and the City Meets Crazy Rich Asians in the heart of Wine Country.