Undiscovered Napa and Sonoma

Oct 282013
 

Jericho Canyon 2The drive north of Calistoga along the Old Lawley Toll Road toward Jericho Canyon Vineyard really feels like undiscovered Napa. Even with a GPS the tiny entrance is easy to miss. We arrived on a sunny Sunday morning and were greeted by Paul, the winery mechanic (really, that’s his title) as he walked from his tomato garden. He pointed down the dirt road around the modest home, once occupied by the whole Bleecher clan, but now the abode of son, Nick. We came to a red barn which serves as both a tasting room and the façade to their remarkable wine caves.

Here we were greeted by second generation vintner Nick Bleecher and Tara Hole. The experience to be had at Jericho Canyon other that their blockbuster wines, is the Polaris Tour and tasting ($75). With Nick and Tara we jumped into a Polaris 4-wheeler for a truly unique tour along the steep vineyard trails of Jericho Canyon Vineyard. With 40 acres planted on the 140 acre site before the restrictive 1991 Hillside Ordinance, the vineyards cling to the steep hillsides and offer spectacular views. The tour is an education in vineyard management and winegrowing with plenty of fun thrown in. Be sure to bring a camera for the hillside vineyards and vista shots of the Palisades and Mt. St. Helena. Check out the photo gallery. Continue reading »

Oct 202013
 

Sonoma WineriesI 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…

Experience Bucher Vineyard – Exceptional Wines and Vines from Extraordinary People

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