I miss the bygone days of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Those days before fanciful wineries, hospitality directors, rock star winemakers, iPhone wine apps and glossy winery maps with hundreds of tiny dots. Some of my favorite memories date back to our travels in the early 1980’s when we would drive up back roads and cross roads never knowing what tiny winery would be around the next curve.
But what I miss most are the unexpected and hands-on experiences that today seem rare, indeed. I recall fondly meeting Charlie Wagner, Founder of Caymus Vineyards, who tried to discourage us from a tasting by demanding we spend time touring his post-harvest, rain-soaked muddy vineyard. The stop turned into hours of education and a new respect for the farming aspect of winemaking. I miss moments like the time we randomly stopped into the new (now corporately owned) Folie à Deux Winery only to be asked by the founders (two slightly crazy psychiatrists) to help press the last of what became their 1983 vintage.
And then there was the ponytailed cannabis-aromaed gardener who found himself the winemaker of a now defunct Sonoma winery after the previous winemaker had quit mid-harvest. We barrel tasted through his wines; all barely drinkable. Then we got to one last Chardonnay barrel. The gardener-turned-winemaker said, “Dude…now this one I forgot about and didn’t do nothing, no yeast or anything and a couple of months later, shit, it was wine. I guess they forgot to teach him about native yeast fermentation in the “crash crush” course he had taken a few months earlier. And yes, Dude…it was his best wine.
So we are on a quest over the next year to find intimate winery experiences that hearken back to the essence of those earlier days when a trip to wine country was a journey rather than a destination. For those who wish to explore, learn and maybe on occasion even get a little dirty, these will be the stops for you. For those who want a wine country experience filled with “notch your bedpost” names like Opus One and Harlan in an effort to make your friends envious; stop reading now. Most of the boutique wineries we will explore together you will have never heard of (some I had not heard of before my visit) and your friends won’t get excited until they taste the wine you pour from your newly discovered winery gem.
The wineries we are set to explore most likely will not have a public tasting room and you will need to make an appointment, especially in Napa Valley. This is due mainly to the 1990 Winery Definition Ordinance that among other things, restricted wineries opening after its inception to be “by appointment only.” However, in some cases the winery’s production is so small and the wines so well regarded there is no need for a full time tasting room. Some of the wines from these boutique producers will be quite affordable while some will be expensive. The one thing they will all have in common is an intimate and unique experience with folks passionate about the wines they produce.
So join us on our intimate journey of undiscovered Napa and Sonoma… Here are the blog posts from best boutique winery experiences we’ve had so far…
Jericho Canyon Vineyard – A Unique Vineyard Adventure
Smith-Madrone Vineyards and Winery – The Real Deal
Kelly Fleming – Living the Wine Country Dream
Meet Winemaker Cathy Corison of Corison Winery