Cairdean Estate Winery | The Complete Package in Napa?
I have driven past the Cairdean Estate Winery several times yet never fully appreciated the scale and quality of the project. The modern structure that’s visible appears relatively understated and unassuming from Highway 29. Simply passing by you would never guess that newly completed Cairdean Estate Winery is actually a fairly expansive compound replete with one of the more complete, all-encompassing visitor experiences in Napa Valley.
Sure, you could come just to taste their award-winning estate-grown Cabernet Franc, or to grab a gourmet coffee (or bloody mary for that matter) at Butterscots Cafe, where the warm, welcoming aesthetic draws inspiration from a European kitchen. You could also do your best to resist the carefully curated, luxurious, checkbook-draining temptations on display at the Redolent Mercantile.
Lokoya is a place that’s quietly tucked away along the Mayacamas Mountains in Napa Valley, in-between Mount Veeder and Spring Mountain. Meaning “the place where the geese fly over”, the area is remote and serene. There isn’t much happening here… unless of course you know where to look.
I had the good pleasure of meeting Suzanne Phifer Pavitt of Napa Valley’s Phifer Pavitt Wine this past week in Washington, D.C. Despite juggling a rather busy schedule (having just left a meeting with superstar restaurateur Jose Andres and his Master Sommelier Andy Myers) she took the time to personally introduce me to her Date Night Cabernet and the story that inspired it.
Suzanne has become quite adept at not just tackling a busy schedule, but also overcoming obstacles. She spent 14 years working for Chicago tech firm Comdisco in high tech equipment leasing, as one of only two women on a team of over 70 men. Needless to say, she is no push over and oozes an endearing combination of passionate determination and southern charm.
Wren Hop Vineyards | Crafting Pinot for Cab Lovers
Google “Wren Hop” and amongst the results is Google’s own description as a ‘Place of Worship’. So you might understand my confusion after looking for directions to a winery that was the top recommendation of Nora Mahan, a well-connected travel concierge for American Express’ destination club Inspirato.
While Wren Hop Vineyards might not be a place of worship in the traditional sense, you might not find this to be such a gross mischaracterization after you visit and taste through their portfolio. To be frank… I’d be surprised if you didn’t find yourself worshiping their Pinot Noirs.
Davis Estates Winery | A Changing Landscape in Calistoga
This renovated historic barn at Davis Estates is a California Historic Landmark
As the epicenter of America’s evolving and increasingly interesting wine scene, Napa Valley is the hottest place to be – and having its namesake on your label lends quite a bit of cachet and prestige in the marketplace.
Being so sought after has translated to the highest prices nationwide per buildable acre, with prices ranging from $150,000 all the way up to $2 million. While it’s still primarily an agricultural-centric region, long gone are the days of diversified crops in this fertile valley – today the cash crop is the wine grape – and it thrives here.
The views of Napa Valley below from Smith Madrone Vineyards
Something From Nothing | The Beginnings of Smith Madrone Vineyards
Tucked away at the very end of Spring Mountain Road lies Smith Madrone Vineyards. Situated at the highest point in the Spring Mountain District, its steeply sloped mountain vineyards reach grades of up to 34% at elevations between 1300 and 2000 feet.
Notable and familiar neighbors include Bothe Napa Valley State Park directly to the North, Barnett Vineyards immediately to the West and Keenan Winery lies due South.
The history of the property dates all the way back to the 1880 when a man by the name of George Cook secured a land grant authorized by then President Chester A. Arthur and planted vineyards and olive trees on the estate.
But when Stu Smith discovered this special parcel of land, with its expansive views of Napa Valley and rocky, well-drained volcanic soils, the existing vineyards were in disrepair and the property was still mostly just a forest!
Amizetta Winery | Come for the View | Stay for the Wine!
The views from Amizetta Winery
The year was 1979 when Amizetta and Spencer Clark discovered the very special parcel of land that was to become Amizetta Vineyards and later house Amizetta’s Estate Winery. With a dream of producing world-class wines in Napa Valley, they searched extensively for the perfect location with hillside exposures like those they had seen during their travels throughout Europe.
Upon arriving on my recent, unexpected and serendipitous visit to the Amizetta Winery it took no time at all to understand why the Clark’s fell in love. With commanding, panoramic views of Lake Hennessy below nestled into the green mountain landscape coupled with promising hillsides soils composed of rocky ‘sobrante loam’, Amizetta Winery came to fruition in 1985.
If you’re quest for exquisite wines has brought you to Napa Valley – you’re in luck. There are so many great wines coming out of Napa that it can be distracting. But if you prefer to make your discoveries in a stylishly appointed tasting room benefiting from one of the most stunning views in Napa Valley, Ovid Winery makes quite the argument to ditch Highway 29.
Best Wineries in Napa Valley – Castello di Amorosa, CADE Estate & Palmaz Vineyards
Winter in most places isn’t terribly beautiful or comfortable, unless of course you’re in Napa Valley! My partner and I were married on 12-13-14 and on the 27th of December we made a trip to Napa Valley to celebrate our honeymoon. We chose to stay at the beautiful Carneros Inn in Napa.
The lounge chairs outside of the Hilltop Restaurant at The Carneros Inn
Because we were mostly kicking back and celebrating, I wasn’t planning on doing any write-ups like I might normally do. Having said that we were fortunate enough to visit some pretty special wineries and I felt compelled to share these amazing spots with you! Ranging from spectacularly touristy to just plain spectacular, the following are some of the Best Wineries in Napa Valley we visited during this trip.
So you’re thinking of doing some wine tasting? There aren’t many more enjoyable ways to discover new wines while learning about the fascinating world of wine-making. So whether it’s your first wine tasting experience, or you’re already a veritable connoisseur I hope that you find my Guide to Wine TastingTips and Etiquette helpful!
Before you go– Guide to Wine Tasting Tips and Etiquette
Have a game plan. Some wineries require appointments, while others are perfectly happy with walk-in visits. It helps to have an idea of where you might want to visit and to have mapped out locations. Some wineries in Napa are nearly an hour apart, for example.
Avoid brushing your teeth, chewing gum or drinking coffee within a few hours of your tasting. These activities can seriously interfere with the taste of a wine.
Dress the part: No, I’m not talking about wearing a suit, but casual sophistication goes a long way.
If you just want to get drunk, shots are probably a better bet.
Transportation: If you’re planning to visit more than a few tasting rooms and not utilizing the dump bucket, consider a designated driver or hiring a town car/tour guide.
Think about lunch ahead of time. It can be really fun to find a bottle you love, purchase it at the winery and then enjoy it there with a pre-packed picnic. Some wineries offer small bites for purchase while some serve 5 course lunches with wine pairings…
Tasting fees range from complimentary to very expensive. I recently heard of a winery that charges $500 for its wine tasting. In my opinion a tasting serves the purpose of introducing a customer to a winery’s offerings, and thus if a purchase is made it should be waived however this is not always the case. It’s best to visit the winery’s website to see what their policy is.
It never hurts to search for tasting deals or coupons in advance of a winery visit. Many wineries will feature ‘2 for 1’ tasting promotions or even free tastings when you ‘check in’ at their winery on social media. But don’t let these promotions dictate your entire itinerary, or you might be missing out on some great spots like these wineries I’ve visited.
In my experience when a winery advertises “Complimentary Tastings” the wines either sell themselves, or they are accompanied by a hard sell.
Don’t show up 10 minutes before the advertised closing time and expect a great wine tasting, and that’s if they will even serve you. Most tasting room professionals are finishing up with existing customers or are trying to close down by that point. Your best bet is to allow at least 30 minutes before scheduled time.
While Tasting– Guide to Wine Tasting Tips and Etiquette
Don’t be afraid to try strange sounding wines/wine varietals. You might be pleasantly surprised!
Tasting room staff can be a wealth of knowledge regarding not just the wine they are pouring, but about other wineries and restaurants in the area. If you’re polite and friendly, you might just get some great insider tips.
Speaking of the tasting room staff… try to avoid treating them like bartenders! This happens more often than you might think…
There should be a ‘Spittoon’, or dump-bucket on the tasting bar. It is perfectly acceptable to taste and then spit the wine out into the spittoon. If you don’t like the wine, don’t hesitate to pour the rest into the spittoon. The staff won’t be offended!
If you don’t like the wine, it’s best not to bash it, especially in front of those pouring it. It’s likely that a lot of hard work went into producing it, not to mention how many innocent grapes were sacrificed.
Often a winery will allow you to share a tasting. Just ask, especially if you would like to taste but are concerned about the cost of the tasting.
Don’t hesitate to ask for another pour of a wine, especially if you’re considering making a purchase.
As you leave – Guide to Wine Tasting Tips and Etiquette
If you like a wine, by all means buy it! You will likely regret it later if you don’t, especially if that wine is a winery only release or is not distributed. It doesn’t hurt to as if this is the case. Having said that – if the wine is well distributed, there is a good chance that you will be able to find it less expensively at a retailer. It might seem counter-intuitive, but wine is always more expensive right at the source!
You will likely be asked if you would like to join The Wine Club. The costs as well as the details of each wine club vary greatly from winery to winery. My recommendation is to read the fine print and only join a wine club if you really enjoyed the wines; don’t sign up because you felt obligated or pressured to do so. Selling wine club memberships is very important to many wineries and they often reward members with great perks such as free tastings, discounts on additional wine purchases and even great parties.
It never hurts to tip the tasting room employee who helped you, especially if he or she was especially informative or helpful.
Last but not least, don’t take the wine tasting experience too seriously! If you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re either doing something wrong or you might not like wine!