Napa Valley in early spring does not always offer the most hospitable weather. Though the valley can be flooded with spring rains, it is not flooded with tourists. On weekdays you feel like you have the whole place to yourself. The restaurants are full but not overflowing, the tasting room staff has plenty of time to educate, no need to elbow people out of the way to get to another pour and even winemakers have time to chat. Early spring in Napa does have its benefits, so join us at the Ceja Vineyards Tasting Room and Titus Vineyards Winery, two of our new favorite stops.
Ceja Vineyards Tasting Room in Downtown Napa
Ceja Vineyards operates a cool chic tasting room that feels more like a hip wine bar. We have enjoyed Ceja wines before (Read Reviews) so we were excited when we happened to drive by and find the Cejatasting room nestled among an area of eclectic shops and trendy restaurants. We walked into the sounds of Latin jazz and funk to be greeted by a very friendly and knowledgeable Javier. The room features a sleek bar but off to the side, under a huge mural that depicts the history of wine and the Ceja family, are luxurious sofas and chairs creating a more intimate setting.
Ceja Vineyards is the epitome of a family winery and the first Mexican-American owned winery in the valley. The Ceja family owns 113 acres of vineyards and sells most of the grapes to other premium winemakers. However, they do produce about 7,000 cases of their own signature wines.
As we were enjoying the fruits of the Ceja family’s labor (all puns intended) in walked Amelia Ceja to work behind the bar. We’d seen Amelia in some of her many wine and cooking videos so we felt like we knew her already. Amelia, it turns out, is just as fun, passionate and welcoming as she is in video. We had a great time learning the Ceja story and enjoying the wines at the same time. It doesn’t take long before you are part of the Ceja family.
Here are a couple of tips. Ceja makes some wonderful limited production sparkling wines so give them a sip. Recently the Amelia opened an eclectic Latin American fusion restaurant around the corner, Bistro Sabor. We didn’t get a chance to stop in but the local buzz is great.
The days before the Premiere Napa auction are filled with winery parties and we did our best to attend as many as possible. Didn’t want anyone to feel left out, you know. Our first party on Friday afternoon was “Titus, Tomatillos and Tacos” at Titus Vineyards. Being the good Texas boy that I am; salsa, tacos and great wine are right up my alley. Also we had just come from a morning of tasting a three year retrospective of twenty wines (lots of swishing, spitting and judging wines you’d rather be kicking back and enjoying) at the CIA Culinary Institute. Of the Cabernets we tasted, Titus had come in second to the always amazing Shafer Hillside Select. My friend, that is good company so we were excited to try the other Titus offerings and enjoy more of the Cabernet without the required spitting.
Titus is another family vineyard and winery located on Silverado Trail just north of St. Helena near Duckhorn. Phillip Titus serves as winemaker while his brother Eric oversees the vineyard and business operations. The property was purchased by their parents, Lee and Ruth in 1967. Before Phillip began making wine, they produced grapes for wineries like Krug, Beaulieu, Quail Ridge and Pine Ridge.
We arrived at the quaint white wood-sided farmhouse that serves as the tasting room and were greeted by both Phillip and Eric. An acoustic guitarist was playing softly in the background and wines were being poured. I really don’t know where to start with these wines. They are so well made, complex and utterly delicious. The Cabernets were attention grabbing, the Zinfandel was like sitting down with an old friend and the Petite Sirah was rich and spicy. We stood around and chatting with Eric about the wines and the history of the vineyards while enjoying a wonderfully spicy homemade tomatillo salsa with tomatillos grown on premises by the vineyard manager.
I’m saving the best for last. Being a sucker for a great Cabernet Franc, I thought I knew the best one in the valley but I may have been wrong. Eric warned me that his Cabernet Franc would become my new favorite and he was right. You may be wondering about the Taco part of the party. Just out the back door of the house was a taco truck handing out sumptous “shut your mouth” tacos. The Cabernet Franc and chorizo taco were such a complex, sweat inducing and ultimately satisfying pairing; I’m still talking about today.
Titus does not have a public tasting room, so it you want to taste these highly rated wines, you’ll have to give the Titus boys a call at the winery.