The Napa Valley contains just over 400 wineries in a narrow corridor 30 miles long by only a couple of miles wide. Their grapes benefit from a magical combination of microclimates and diverse soils. Having taken the advice of the Hideaway Report wine concierge, we selected four premium boutique wineries to visit. There, guided by friendly staff, we were able to discover the subtleties of each vintage and unlock the mysteries of their terroirs.
This mountain winery is located on the forested west side of the Napa Valley, way up Spring Mountain Road, roughly equidistant from St. Helena and Calistoga. We were greeted by Marcelo and a flute of Ruinart Champagne. Legendary architect Howard Backen built the massive winery in a medieval style with a California sensibility, with a crenelated gray stone tower. We entered through a gothic arch and inside found a vast reception hall with library-like alcoves and seating areas illuminated by light filtering from huge quatrefoil windows. A floor-to-ceiling retractable glass wall afforded views of the valley below. We tasted a flight of four Cabernet Sauvignons, three of them from adjacent slopes and the fourth from the Howell Mountain appellation on the eastern side of the valley. Despite being very high in alcohol, (14%), these super dark reds were so well-structured that they displayed subtle variations in their deep fruits, spices and hints of cocoa, toffee and cedar.
3787 Spring Mountain Road, St. Helena. Tel. (707) 948-1968
This handsome property is located on the western side of the valley and is set on 40 sloping acres of alluvial, well-drained soils at the foot of the Mayacamas Mountains. An attractive 1880s Victorian mansion, protected by an impressive gate, is surrounded by manicured gardens. After touring the grounds, we tasted the estate’s products in a separate manor, a well-proportioned historic stone building, located a short walk away. Having crossed the wine-production area, we were guided to a bright tasting space, where four glasses awaited us: two Cabernet Sauvignons (the 2016 Estate and 2016 Lyndenhurst), the Field Book Syrah and a Sauvignon Blanc. Before the tasting, our host explained the organic winery’s specific field practices. The estate Cabernet was balanced and elegant, the Syrah had extra spice, and the Sauvignon Blanc was fruity and ethereal. All displayed a characteristic sweet, grassy note.
Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery
1902 Madrona Avenue, St. Helena. Tel. (707) 963-0134
Less than half a mile from the Silverado Trail in Calistoga, one of the most pleasant wine country roads, Eisele Vineyard lies at the end of a tree-lined driveway, tucked into the eastern hills and enclosed by vineyards on three sides. The 38-acre biodynamic property was recently purchased by Artémis Domaines, a group founded by the French Pinault family, which invests in some of the most prestigious wineries in the world, including Château Latour. At the main residence, our host explained the origins of the four wines that we were going to taste, pointing out the characteristics of the estate’s 13 distinct terroirs. We began with a sampling of the Cabernet Sauvignon, the estate’s flagship wine. The delicious 2014 vintage exhibited characteristic flavors of cassis, blackberry, cedar and chocolate, with a lingering mineral finish. Cabernets from the Eisele Vineyard are highly regarded for being substantial but not heavy, as well as for their ability to age for decades. In contrast, the lighter 2014 Altagracia is a Bordeaux-style blend that is an expression of the eastern parcels of the Eisele Vineyard, complete with fruit sourced from other Napa Valley vineyards. Eisele’s fresh and energetic Sauvignon Blanc is also from the eastern side of the property, where the hills provide protection from the afternoon sun. Finally, the deep and mysterious Syrah gave us further insight into the estate’s remarkable terroir. After a superb experience, we left this friendly place with real regret.
2155 Pickett Road, Calistoga. Tel. (707) 942-6061
Our last tasting was at Ovid, one of Napa’s new superstars. A 15-minute drive up Pritchard Hill on the east side of the valley led us to a 1,400-foot-high mountaintop. The winery’s 15 production acres are divided into 1-acre blocks, each with a different varietal. Reaching the crest line, we came to the dramatic glass, wood and concrete winery, another work by Backen. Through an expanse of clerestory windows, we could see a state-of-the-art facility, with gravity-fed bins leading to steel-and-concrete vats. In addition to staff busy with racking and filtering, chemists and biologists were engaged in oenological research. The cheerful director of hospitality led us to a large glass-enclosed tasting room, from the balcony of which vistas extended for dozens of miles. We tried four vintages: the flagship Ovid Napa Valley, a measured and complex Cabernet Sauvignon; the Hexameter (Cabernet Franc); the Loc. Cit. Cabernet Sauvignon (produced from two adjacent blocks); and the estate Syrah. Though powerful, the wines were not heavy or syrupy, but consistently atmospheric and refined.
255 Long Ranch Road, St. Helena. Tel. (707) 963-3850