In Vino Veritas, Napa Style!

For all of you wine lovers out there, you are going to want to read this one! (Part 1)

After spending a wonderful, action packed week in Southern California visiting with friends and family up and down the coast, I was happy to pack my bags and head north to the Napa Valley for some relaxation and great wine! I typically try to make a point to get to wine country at least 4 times a year (once per season) for research/business purposes, so I was happy that I was able to extend my Southern California trip to include some time Summer-time fun in Napa.

My liquid journey begins at 4:45am on Friday: the alarm goes off, ugh- way too early, but then I remember I am going to several fantastic wineries later that day so I leap out of bed with a smile on my face and hop in the shower. Around 5:30am, I convince my younger brother to give me a lift to the airport…he is not thrilled but managed to get out of his cushy bed to drop me off. I arrive at John Wayne Airport in Orange County by 6:00am and head to the gate. (Side Note: If you ever find yourself flying to San Francisco to visit the wine country, I highly recommend Virgin America…not only is it a cool airline, but the prices are hard to beat!) Just as I woke up from a very short nap, my flight (only 56 minutes later) arrived at SFO. I gather my bags and head to the rental car location. The morning was off to a great and smooth start--or so I thought! Unfortunately, I took forever to get my rental car, so much so that I missed my first appointment at Etude winery scheduled for 10am. Thankfully, they were able to accommodate me on Monday morning instead, nice people!

My first (new) stop was Staglin Winery at 11:30am in Rutherford (a sub appellation (AVA) of Napa). I was greeted by Collin Casper, the Director of Hospitality with a glass of the 2007 Salus Estate Chardonnay. A nice clean wine with balanced acids and hints of citrus, pear and honey. Salus is the Roman goddess of health and well-being-and the term Salud or Cheers derives from it. So, it was only fitting that this was the first wine I tried on my 4 day Napa adventure. Collin then walked our group out to the vineyard where we admired the fruitful vines, the olive trees and the construction of their new visitor’s center.

Back inside we were handed a second Chardonnay, 2006 Staglin Estate, before we started our walk through the chilled wine caves. This wine was quite different then the first wine, much more complex with vanilla and buttery notes with floral hints. After we took a tour of the cave system, which is home to their annual Music Festival for Mental Health, we were seated at a large table to continue our tasting.

As Collin poured 2 different Cabernet Sauvignons, he mentioned that Michel Rolland is their acting wine consultant--that guy is everywhere! Stay tuned for more on Mr. Rolland, as I am planning to do a larger piece on him soon, he seems to pop up all over the place- like a “Where’s Waldo” of the wine world! The first Cab we tried was the 2006 Salus Estate- 100% Cabernet--with a nose of plum, chocolate, and cassis. Nice, but still a bit closed, perhaps another year or so in the bottle and it will round out great! Cab #2 was the 2005 Staglin Estate- I got a bit of the Rutherford dust on the nose with tobacco, black tea, spice and rich berry. This one was more my style- yum! Rutherford is known for its well drained soil with a composition of gravel, loam and sand with volcanic deposits marine sediments, making it a great location to grow Cabernet!

As the tasting came to an end I noticed it was lunch time, and I had just enough time to hit Bouchon in Yountville before I went to my next winery! I opted to sit at the bar since I was alone and didn’t really feel like doing the “table of one” thing. The scene was bustling with a mix of locals and visitors alike, I pulled up a chair next to two Frenchmen enjoying conversation and Rosé. I immediately ordered a glass as well since it was turning out to be a very hot day in the valley (temps reached 105 degrees) and what better way to enjoy a casual lunch then with a chilled glass of pink wine! After reviewing the menu for a minute, I decided on the Quiche Florentine. It looked lovely and included a side mixed green salad-a perfect lunch! The quiche was delicious, it was like little pillows of fluffy eggs, cream and cheese melting in my mouth, almost like a savory crème brule. The crust was flaky, yet dense--so good! Mr. Thomas Keller is a genius!

When I was finishing up my lunch, the gentleman next to me received his lunch- the Moules au Pistou. The smell was intoxicating, rich with garlic, basil and white wine- I almost regretted that I didn’t order it. Luckily the man saw me eyeing his dish, and graciously offered to share. I gladly accepted, as I just had to try one mussel to see if the smell was as good as the taste--it was! That is one thing I love about dining alone at a bar, you definitely meet some friendly people.

At 2pm I met with Stéphane Vivier, Winemaker for HdV Wines in Napa. He is an interesting, profound and extremely passionate fellow with many stories to tell for someone being relatively young in the wine world. But from what I saw, he loves his job and said that he is humbled by making wine.

HdV-a family venture between Hyde Vineyards of Napa Valley and Aubert & Pamela de Villaine of Burgundy, France. They have a very rich wine history, over 200 years in the new and old world, so I was excited to try their juice! They utilize “Green Viticulture” a term they coined, which references sustainability, as they are not organically certified.
Stéphane, explained the characteristics of the vineyard as he took us through an intricate wine tasting. The first wine we tried was the2007 De La Guerra Chardonnay, which was a Chablis style of wine—refreshing, balanced, crisp with melon and honey notes-- it was fabulous! Hyde Vineyard is in a perfect location to grow Chardonnay, as it has cooler temperatures with marine influences. The second wine we tasted was the 2006 HdV Chardonnay, which comes from 30 year old vineyards. Nice wine with clean notes and great mouth-feel. This wine was not fined, racked or stirred during the fermentation process. Our 3rd wine was the 2006 Syrah (100%)-- it was an elegant, soft wine with a bit of earthiness and nice fruit. The last wine we tasted was the 2005 Belle Cousine (Larry Hyde and Pamela de Villanie are cousins) – a blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet- with note of chocolate, tobacco and cherry with a round finish. These guys are making some great wines-- I encourage you to check them out!

My last stop of the day was Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga. All I have to say is, wow! This place was unreal-- literally a 121,000-square-foot-castle in the middle of the Napa Valley, equipped with a drawbridge, hand-painted frescoes and torture chamber--taking 15 years to build.

I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the place, as well as meeting with Dario Sattui (owner, also owns V. Sattui winery in St. Helena), Brooks Painter (Winemaker) and Jim Sullivan (Communications Director) over a few glasses of wine.

My first thought was that the wine was probably subpar as this place was too much of a fantasy land to make serious wine-- but I was wrong, they had some very nice wines coming from their Diamond Mountain property! They only make about 15,000 cases of the 16 varietals they produce and all of the wine is sold directly through the winery (no distribution). We tasted a number of wines but the few that stood out included the 2002 Il Brigante, which is an approachable Cab and Merlot blend- with refined notes of cherry, currant and chocolate; and the 2005 Reserve Cabernet, which had the typical Diamond Mountain characteristics of herbal notes (eucalyptus, sage), and ripe berry fruit making it a very balanced wine. These two wines and the experience of the castle made it a perfect ending to my first day in the Napa Valley!

Just as I left the castle I got a phone call from my friend Mia, she made dinner plans for us at the Martini House in St. Helena, yum! Maybe this would be the perfect ending to my first day in the valley!
Please Note: This is going to be a 2-3 part series--way too much great info to include in one piece! Stay tuned for day 2-4 in the coming days!



  1. Fantastic!! Loved this and I am passing it on the Pearce family!! XOXO

  2. What adventures you are having! xo

  3. Em,
    Great blog! I'm posting it on our website.