Jun 182011

As the sun came up on Monday morning, the real work, if you can call it that, for both Conch and Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog was about to begin. Conch was up and out the door shortly after 7AM to check in at Rombauer Vineyards for his first day of work and move into the intern housing.

For me, I spent part of the early morning catching up on work from my real job while waiting for Enterprise to bring a rent car from St. Helena. The week ahead was going to be busy with 15 winery or winemaker meetings over the next six days. This day however was light, two appointments with Sean Sullivan of Sullivan Vineyards and Sharon Harris of Rarecat and Common Dog Wines.

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Rombauer Intern House

Enterprise came by right on time to ‘pick me up” just like the ad says. On the way back to my hotel, Conch called to say he wasn’t expected for cellar ratting duties until Tuesday. So I invited him to join me on my morning appointment and dropped by the rustic vineyard house Rombauer uses for interns (heck of a lot nicer than the intern house in Bottle Shock), to check out Conch’s summer digs.

Even though I had my stylin’ rental Malibu, this was my rock star blogger day. Javier Calerdon of Napa Private Tours had offered to be my driver for the day to give me a taste of the great tour service he offers to guests of the valley. Javier arrived early in new Lexus SUV, so we headed down valley to our meeting with Sean Sullivan at Sullivan Vineyards. I could get used to blogging with a driver and a Lexus.

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Sean Sullivan & Apollo

Sullivan Vineyards is an “appointment only” winery located near Rutherford. They have been producing award winning red wines for over 30 years. This is a beautiful property in a low key “old Napa” way. The wines, as you will see, are exceptional and the folks are very friendly. Put Sullivan Vineyards on your Napa travel itinerary, slow it down, avoid the crowds and sip some great wines. That said….

We were greeted by winemaker Sean Sullivan, eldest son of founder Jim Sullivan, in his iconic farmer’s hat. With a broad smile and strong handshake, Sean took us on a walking tour of the property which includes the beautiful Sullivan family home (Sean’s mother and sister still live there), beautiful grounds, a lush pond and 23 acres of vineyards.

The vineyard is sub-divided into five sections which while contiguous, offer very Wine Blogdifferent soil types and drainage. We strolled through much of the blooming vineyard as Sean pointed out the various grape clones and soil varieties. We also had a few laughs watching Apollo, the winery lab, chase rabbits and other critters through the vines. I can report that much to Apollo’s dismay, no critters were injured during our excursion. Sean pointed out that Sullivan uses a combination of organic, biodynamic and sustainable farming techniques to create their wines.

After our educational walk-about we settled into a little wine tasting under the enormous trees between the winery and the Sullivan home. Nothing like a good Cabernet for breakfast. We sampled through the four offerings from this 5000 case winery. First off was Sullivan’s everyday Cabernet, 2007 Red Ink at $25. A super value, the wine was easy and lush with soft balanced tannins. Later in the trip I had a bottle with roast duck, a superb combination.

We moved through the 2008 Estate Merlot ($50), 2008 Estate Cabernet ($55) and the 2008 Cour de Vigne ($90), a Bordeaux blend. All three of these wines are excellent examples of classic Rutherford wines and each was a medal winner in its own right. Conch and I concurred; our favorite was the Estate Cabernet. A big wine with flavors of blackberries, blueberries, dark plum and dusty mocha. The tannins are very well integrated, never overpowering but provide a solid backbone for a wine to cellar. Sullivan Vineyards’ wines are avaible a few states… So order these from the winery or join their wine club

It was heart breaking to not be able to kick back under the big trees and just enjoy a couple of glasses of this big boy cab. But duty called us down the road. We said our goodbyes to our new friends, Sean and Apollo, jumped in Javie’s Lexus and headed to our next stops. Conch wanted to head back to the intern castle and unpack so Javier and I stopped off a Dean and Deluca for a quick sandwich before meeting with Sharon Harris of Rarecat and Common Dog Wines.

John and Susan Harris each began their love affair with wine in France, before they even met. Their shared lust for the grape brought them together and ultimately to Napa Valley. They are partners in Amici Cellars and for the past couple of years have had their own labels Rarecat Wines and Common Dog Wines. Sharon is more focused on the winemaking side while John puts his energies into grape growing. Both have studied winemaking in France thus the Bordeaux and Burgundian influences are noticeable.

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Sharon Harris

Since there is no tasting room, I joined Sharon and John at the dining room table in their lovely home in St. Helena complete with vineyard and garden views. We began with what are obliviously Sharon’s pride and Joy, Rarecat Sauvignon Blanc ($30) and Chardonnay ($65). Small production and very high quality are the hallmarks of these wines. Personally, I thought they were both outstanding even amongst whites in this higher price range. The Sauvignon Blanc is barrel fermented in neutral French oak and left sur lie, giving the wine a rich creamy mouth-feel without heavy oak. Flavors of soft tropicals, honeydew and citrus with a hint of vanilla cream, really nice.

 As good as the Sauvignon Blanc was the Chardonnay was better. Big and balanced without being overbearing or flabby, Rarecat Chardonnay is a richly golden wine with flavors of red apples, grilled pineapple, Meyer lemon and crème brûlée. It offers a complexity I find in very few Chardonnays. Since this was my last stop of the day and I had Javier to drive, I was able to “fully enjoy” these wines. Nice!

Common Dog is the Harris’s “every day brand.” The three wines all sell for between $16 and $20 and are a very good value. We tasted the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Once again the Chardonnay was the winner, by a smidge. This wine tastes like Rarecat’s little sister, similar flavor profile, just not as big. (Read Review) Frankly, it comes across as more expensive than the $18 price tag. These wondeful wines are in limited production. You can enjoy them by ordering from Rarecat of Commom Dog.

There are few topics in this world I would rather discuss than wine and one of those is Texas Longhorn sports. Note all the burnt orange on the B&B website; that was no accident. Anyway, it turns out the John and Sharon are very involved with the University of Texas Athletic Department and so what better way to finish the day than enjoying these wonderful wines and “talkin’ about the ‘horns.” A great end to a great day.

I would be remiss if I didn’t fill you in on Javier Calderon and Napa Private Tours. If you want a customized tour of Napa, Javie is your man. He is very personable, friendly and knowledgeable. Look to him to provide you with a touring schedule designed around your palate or to comfortably take you to any winery you want to visit. What a great way to tour Napa Valley in a stress-free and safe environment. Contact Javier at javystours@gmail.com .

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