My wine travels around the world are off to a strong start. I have recently returned from the world-renowned Napa Valley of Northern California. Known for its dazzling cabernet sauvignons, French-like chateaus, and historic beginnings, Napa has become a truly special place.
Just 50 miles north of San Francisco, lies this wonderfully diverse region flanked by mountains and drenched in sunlight. Although it was beginning to feel like fall on the East Coast, my days in Napa were hot and dry. Between the heat, the copious amount of wine, and the ivy-covered chateau, I felt like I had transported back to the Mediterranean Coast.
With a long list of legendary wine destinations, I have come to discover that Napa certainly has something for everyone. This, of course, did not make planning my itinerary easy. With just two days to soak in all the Valley has to offer, I tried to expose myself to completely different yet quintessential Napa vineyard experiences.
Herb Lamb Vineyards:
After a quick touristy pit-stop at the Golden Gate Bridge, my long-lost best friend, Hallee, and I were wine country bound. Driving along in our red Jeep, windows down, and radio on, I couldn’t help but marvel over the endless vines running alongside the road and up through the mountains.
We cruised north on the Silverado Trail as we made our way to St. Helena for our first wine tasting appointment. Thanks to a connection I had made while working the 2015 Newport Mansions Wine and Food Festival, I had luckily scored a private wine tasting at Herb Lamb Vineyards located in the foothills of the Howell Mountain.
Relying on a hand-drawn map, we drove up a windy, one-lane dirt road to uncover this tucked away paradise. A wrought iron gate edged the property as we rang the bell and began to ascend the hillside to meet our hostess.
We were greeted by warm hugs and wagging tails from Jennifer Lamb and her black lab, Camo. I immediately felt like I was home. She invited us in her beautiful house overlooking the seven-acre cabernet sauvignon vineyard. Her wrap-around porch was furnished with an inviting hammock and homey wooden table already set with all the fixings for a proper wine tasting.
A selection of artisanal cheeses, fresh figs, and fruit filled biscuits were the perfect accompaniment to her amazingly complex wines. As we took in the view, Jennifer poured her flagship wines one by one. Among the wines was my personal favorite, a crisp and tropical 2015 Sauvignon Blanc. Its bright acidity and pronounced notes of apricot made it the ideal wine for the hot afternoon.
Robert Mondavi Winery:
No trip to the Valley is complete without a visit to Mondavi, the birthplace of the modern American wine industry. Celebrating its 50th year, Mondavi is one of the most historic wineries in the United States and is a major reason for Napa’s prestigious reputation in the world of wine.
Hallee and I enjoyed a twilight tour through the winery and vineyards, with tastings of reserve wines along the way. I felt like we were getting served a slice of history with each wine we tried, an absolutely perfect combination.
While all wines were delightful, the one that stood out the most to me was the 2014 Fumé Blanc. Interestingly, Robert Mondavi was one of the first to use the name “fumé blanc” (now a synonym for sauvignon blanc). It is very reminiscent of the French Loire Valley and I loved its vibrant citrus nuances and fresh mineral finish.
Castello di Amorosa:
Another icon of Napa Valley is Castello di Amorosa, an authentically-built, medieval Tuscan-style castle and winery. Sitting high on the western hills atop 170 acres, the Castello makes you feel worlds away. Thirty years in the making, this fabulous structure now features 8 levels (4 of which are underground), over 100 rooms (95 devoted to winemaking), and oh yeah its own dungeon and torture chamber!
Our guided tour departed from the Great Hall at noon and we spent nearly 2 hours exploring this behemoth gem. We climbed 1 of 5 defensive towers to take in the sun and views before meandering through the labyrinth of barrels in the cellar below. The barrel room conjured up memories of my study abroad days, exploring dank caves of old Tuscan wineries. Ancient Roman cross-vaults straddled the ceilings while dimly lit chandeliers just barely illuminated the rows upon rows of French oak barrels.
We enjoyed a barrel tasting of a 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon. Although very young, the wine showed so much potential: earthy with a little bit of spice and an overwhelming blackberry/cranberry finish.
The tour concluded in a private chamber where we sampled 4 whites, 3 reds, and 2 sweet wines. I gravitated towards the Italian-style reds during the tasting, enjoying the 2012 Sangiovese and 2012 Il Barone in particular.
The final wine destination of the trip was very near and dear to my heart for several reasons. Mainly, our tasting was led by a former colleague and great friend of mine from Newport Vineyards who has recently moved to the area to pursue his wine career. Secondly, Duckhorn specializes in Bordeaux varietals, particularly merlot, which happens to be my preferred style of wine.
Duckhorn offered a very unique wine tasting experience that I have never seen before. Glass of sauvignon blanc in hand, Hallee and I were led to our own private table on the covered porched. My good friend, Geordy, vividly described each wine as he poured it into our many Riedel glasses. The expansive vines were the perfect backdrop as we sipped and caught up.
Geordy graciously shared over 9 wines from the Duckhorn portfolio and I found each one to be distinctive and enjoyable, namely the 2012 Discussion. This Bordeaux style cuvée is bold and elegant and is what comes to mind when I think of Napa Valley. The 2013 Carneros Merlot was a hit for me as well. It was not “soft” or “juicy” as some merlots tend to be, rather it was well structured and comparable to a cabernet.
As a parting gift, Geordy handed me a bottle of Goldeneye Brut Rosé from Anderson Valley. Let’s be honest, what girl doesn’t love bubbles and pink?
Napa far surpassed any and all expectations I previously had. Girl’s Napa Weekend was a success and I miss the wine, sun, and electric vibe already.