Day 2 of Tasting – Del Dotto

It’s been crazy since getting back from California. Cases and cases of wine have been arriving. It was my birthday this past weekend and I had several guests in town to celebrate. Now I’m trying to fall asleep so I can catch an early flight, but it’s not working out…maybe a blog post will help.

Our last tasting in Napa Valley was at a winery called Del Dotto. They have two locations: St. Helena and Napa. The Napa location has their historic caves, which were and dug in 1885. The St. Helena location was modeled after a Venetian estate and opened in 2007; it’s the definition of Italian opulence with mosaics and marble everywhere.

The caves themselves are just as opulent as the rest of the vineyard. All of the stonework was inspired by real places in Italy, from the diamond pattern on the walls to theIMG_6562stonework on inlayed in the floors. The stone pattern on the floor is actually the same design as what’s in St. Mark Square in Venice.

It’s not just the ambiance that makes Del Dotto incredible, but it’s the service and attention to detail.

Immediately upon checking in, we were greeted with some fantastic Rosé. As we sipped our wine, our “guide” came over to meet us. Before heading into the caves, we were given a brief overview of the vineyard and what makes it unique. At Del Dotto, they make small batches of wine using barrel flavors to differentiate each batch. It turns out that every region in France produces Oak barrels with a very different flavor profile. Del Dotto will make the same blend of wine, but differentiate each batch by using barrels with different toasts or from different regions. The result is a highly customizable wine. If you know you like a specific barrel’s flavor profile, Del Dotto can provide you with a list of all of the blends they produce in that barrel type.

What may have been the best part of the experience was the end. On one of Del Dotto’s vineyards, it turns out there are wild boars. It’s not just a couple there, they’re like deer in New England; hunting is encouraged, so they make charcuterie. At the end of the tour, they give all of their visitors homemade olive oil, fresh charcuterie, cheese and a pizza.

Because Del Dotto is a winery, it’s illegal for them to sell food; if you tried their charcuterie, you’d know how unfortunate this is….I could have bought the whole case.

If you ever go to Napa valley, stop by one of their vineyards for a cave tour! You won’t regret it.



Day 2 of Tasting – Silver Oak


AHHHH Silver Oak…my favorite. When planning a trip to Napa, this was priority numero uno for me. While the views were not as impressive as Joseph Phelps, the winery was still very impressive.

After after a fire in 2006, the Duncan Family (owners) decided to tear down the facility and rebuild. The result was a beautiful stone structure, which opened in 2008.

Our experience at Silver Oak began with a tasting: The Twomey Experience (pronounced too-me). We tried a Pinot Noir and Merlot from Twomey, the Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, and the Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley (my longstanding personal favorite).

Just like Silver Oak has two locations, Twomey also has two winery locations. Unlike most vineyards in Napa (Twomey included), Silver Oak uses 100% American Oak barrels instead of French Oak; it’s a key ingredient, which gives their wine its wonderfully oaky flavor. Below, you’ll see a photo that says A&K Cooperage; it’s the company who makes all of Silver Oak’s barrels. On our tour, we found out that this company went on the market last year. Silver Oak was worried that a bourbon company would purchase the company and limit their supply of barrels, so the Duncan Family purchased the company instead. Everything will remain the same, from the operations (including the employees) to the barrels produced (including output); the only change is that the barrels will say “The Oak” instead of “A&K Cooperage”.

After viewing their barrels, we saw their historical room. Buried in the floor of the historical room was a time capsule, which had a bottle of every vintage they produced until the time the capsule was made. Lining the walls was a history of the vineyard in photos. It showed changes in their label, how their name was formed, and even the price of their wine in 1972 – the dream ($6.00/bottle). We finished the tour by seeing their event room, production facility, and ending back in the lobby.

The lobby was the best part of the tour in my opinion; it’s where the owner’s library is located. It’s a huge glass room filled with Silver Oak; the oldest I saw was 1997, but I’m sure some dated back even further. Now what I’m not sure of is what I like more: I was able to hold a 6 liter bottle of Napa Silver Oak or that you could buy wine from the owner’s library, adding $10 from the base price for every year it has aged beyond the current vintage.

I didn’t buy a case of Silver Oak because it’s much cheaper to get it on sale at the NH State Liquor Store; however, I did buy a case of the Twomey Pinot Noir and a 3 liter bottle of Silver Oak (the 6 liter Napa Valley was sold out). As a bonus, they gave everyone a wine glass to bring home from the tour.



Day 2 of Tasting – PlumpJack

Yesterday, we started the day off at a small winery called PlumpJack. It had mixed reviews, but it was on my mother’s list and they are a partner to Hotel Yountville. As a partner of the Hotel, we were able to get a free tasting there.

After breakfast, we jumped back in Santa’s Red Sleigh and drove over to the Vineyard. There are plenty of signs, so just follow them; left, right, left, right, right…there were so many turns before finally pulling up a gravel road and reaching what looked like a double wide trailer in the woods. It had a cool, rustic feel to it; I thought, “Maybe this will be a hidden gem like Corison”.

When we entered the tasting room, we began talking with a gentleman about the history of PlumpJack. When he mentioned they were the first vineyard to start bottling high end vintages with a twist top, I knew I should have run then. The Cabernet was by far the best, but 93 points and worth $104…definitely not.

I’d like to say this was the worst visit of them all, but we had one today that was worse in terms of experience. From a wine standpoint, Plumpjack had the worst. You can definitely pass this up when you plan your trip.




Day 1 of Tasting – Corison Winery

Straight from Joseph Phelps Vineyards, we rushed over to Corison Winery. Luckily, it’s only 5 minutes away from Phelps, or we would have been late. It’s a tiny vineyard that is regarded as one of Napa’s best kept secrets; as an aside, our host at Phelps used to work at Corison.

Due to the time of year, the vineyard looked a bit sad in the front. The back on the other had was still beautiful; it’s exactly what I’d expect from a small family vineyard.

During the tasting, we were brought out back and given the full history of Corison Winery. It was started by a woman named Cathy Corison; she was one of the first female wine makers in Napa Valley. She began her career by working at several well known vineyards before purchasing her vineyard. She knew she wanted a very specific terroir, which was produced by a very specific soil type. In her research of vineyards to purchase, she came across a topography map of Napa Valley that outlined the soil types throughout the region. As she was driving around and would see a vineyard for sale, Cathy would pull over and consult the map. Eventually, she saw the plot of land that Corison currently sits on for sale. There were a few problems though: 1) The vines were old, which means they probably had a disease which affects the growth and fruit bearing ability. 2) The vineyard could not be legally classified as a vineyard due to minimum size restrictions. 3) The vineyard was vastly overpriced.

So how did Cathy solve these issues?

Well, the vineyard was owned by a Frenchman, who purchased the lot thinking he would be the next Robert Mondavi. Unfortunately for him, he had very little success at making wine. He put the place on the market, but it sat for quite a while. Cathy decided to low ball him and give a bare dirt offer. He hadn’t had an offer on the place in 8 years, so he accepted. Problem solved.

While the property was in closing, Cathy called the family who planted the vines; it turns out, they had planted a variety of cabernet sauvignon that was resistant to the disease she was worried about. Problem solved (it also gives her the 3rd oldest Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Napa).

Next, Cathy looked at the history of the plot of land to deal with the size. It used to be part of roughly a 21 acre vineyard, which was later sub divided. Her plot of land was 9.8 acres and the other plot was just over 10 acres; it didn’t add up. She had the city come out and survey her property again. It turns out that the access road on the property was not included in the original survey; once she had it re-surveyed, she had just enough acreage to be reclassified as a legal vineyard. The access road added .03 acres to the property, putting her .01 acres over the minimum. Problem solved.

From here, Cathy was able to build Corison.

Inside the winery looks like a warehouse with barrels stacked everywhere; it is not a luxurious experience by any means.

We tried a White, a Cab Franc, and 2 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. I’d been warned that the Vineyard’s young wines have some bite, but they mature beautifully. During the tasting, I found this could not be more true. I personally hated the white; it was sickly sweet, like a Riesling.  The Helios was good; completely drinkable, but not worth $75 if I were to drink it right now. I’d say $50-$60 is what I would value the wine at if I were to drink it today. Between the tasting and advise from local wine connoisseurs, I know what the wine can be in a few years. Due to the nature of Corison’s wine, it’s a bit rough when young, but drinks like a $250 bottle after 5 years. If you buy it and sit on it for a few years, it could double in value (and be well worth the $75 in my mind).



The cabernet really showcased how the wine opens up with age. We tried a  Napa Valley 2010 and a 2006. Both of these were excellent, but the 2006 was an elegant wine. They were both medium-light bodied wines, but the 2006 had a beautifully balanced acidity to it. It was smooth and velvety; it hits you first with rich, dark fruit and finishes with a nice cocoa.  The 2010 was a great wine, but it could still benefit from further maturing. It was a bit more of a traditional cabernet. It was medium bodied with a deeper fruit to it. It finished with a bit of minerality and more acidity than the 2006. I can’t wait to get my hands on a bottle of the Kronos Cabernet (the grapes are sourced 100% from her vineyard instead of select partners in St. Helena and Rutherford).

The commitment to be a wine club member is so low that I signed up. The tiers are Select (12 bottles/year), Premier (18 bottles/year), and Cellar (24 bottles/year); I chose the mid tier plan at 18 bottle/year to split with my mother. She is a big Wine-O (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree); between us, we can easily do 18 bottles. It will also be a few years before we can really start enjoying the wine from the club shipments, so we purchased some 2006 Cabernet to tide us over until then. Now that I’m a club member, I’m excited to be able to try the Kronos Cabernet; the 750ml always sell out to members before hitting the market.







Day 1 of Tasting – Joseph Phelps Vineyards

After lunch and a quick nap, we went back out for round 2 of wine tastings. On the list for the afternoon were Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Corison Winery.

We hopped in Santa’s red sleigh (aka the giant, red Yukon we rented) and headed off Joseph Phelps Vineyards to start. It’s very easy to drive by if do not know where you are going. The GPS will tell you it’s on your right, but actually you’ve already driven past the road used to access the vineyard. Once you find the road the vineyard is off of, you venture down an extremely windy and narrow access road. After about 1/4 mile, the road opens up a bit, and you get your first taste of the vineyard. The tasting rooms and terrace sit high up on the hill, overlooking the Estate. There are various grape varietals covering the property, and an olive grove between the founder’s cottage and the tasting rooms. Apparently Joseph Phelps makes a great, peppery olive oil (who knew).

Map of the Joseph Phelps Napa Estate

As you pull up the access road and approach the driveway, you are surrounded by fields grape vines and olive trees lining the driveway. Your breathe has already been taken away by the time you reach the parking lot, yet you know you’re in for a treat (it’s Joseph Phelps after all).

As you approach the structure, guests now walk through a wooded path and under what looks like an arbor before arriving at one of the best views in Napa. The structure looks like a massive wooden barn that was renovated into lodge; it just so happens that is partially true. The tasting facility was renovated and just opened in May of 2015. We later found out that this structure used to be their production facility, and the arbor that you walk under is actually old train trellis that was slotted to be demolished. Joe thought the trellis was beautiful, so he had his team take it down and re-assemble it by hand in front of the vineyard; unfortunately though, Joe passed away a month before the renovation was complete.

The inside of the structure is just as breathtaking as the outside. It has a very sophisticated, yet rustic decor to it – polished concrete, exposed beams, wood everywhere with leather furniture – upscale rustic, it’s exactly my style.

The tasting was extremely informative and the staff are some of the most friendly people I’ve ever met. While one person is assigned to your group, everyone who works there makes you feel like you’re a part of the Phelps family; the experience is anything but transactional. While the wine can be pretentious, they make it feel approachable (even the $250 bottle of Backus). You talk about where you’re from, what Vineyards you’re going to, what wines you like and dislike, the history of a wine…the list goes on. On top of the personable experience, you’re also able to try wines that are not distributed.

Similar to our experience at Cakebread, part of the tasting consisted of trying two Pinot Noir side by side. The purpose was to show how location plays such a huge role in the wine’s flavor profile. Every factor, from grape type, to composition, to aging was the same in the Pastorale Vineyard and Quarter Moon Vineyard; the grapes were even grown in the same region.The only difference between the two wines was 1 mile in location, yet two very distinct wines were produced.

My two favorite wines from the trip are ones that Phelps does not distribute. In order to purchase them, you need to call the vineyard directly;the first is a 2013 Viognier made from 100% viognier grapes. Normally, a viognier is very acidic; however, this was an incredibly smooth wine that will only improve with age. In its perfect balance is the most incredible aroma; it smells of honeysuckle and sweet peach, yet has a very different flavor profile. The wine is not sweet, but instead is a medium bodied, fruity white. It’s one of the most well balanced and versatile wines I’ve ever had. It’s not too dry, not too acidic, it’s not too sweet…it’s perfect.

The other wine I loved was the Cabernet Sauvignon from their Backus Vineyard. When you think of a full bodied, big, bold oaky red, you thin of this wine (even without ever tasting it). It’s made of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot; this mix is then aged for 24 months in new French oak barrels. It was “liquid gold” as my mother would say. Even though it drinks beautifully now, sit on these for 5 years and it will be one of the best wines you’ve ever had.

Finally, after trying 8 wines (the Napa Cab while touring the tasting rooms and 7 during the tasting), we headed out to the terrace. I can only imagine what the view looks like during harvest season with the green leaves and purple grapes, and during the fall when the leaves all turn orange. It was so serene without any leaves, I think I could die happy then and there if the season was right (a beautiful view, belly full of excellent wine….yep, not a bad way to go).

Needless to say, we bought several cases of wine to ship back home (some to drink and some to sit on for a while). If you head out tho Napa, be sure to make an appointment here; they can be expensive, but it’s well worth it! Ask for Chris Gerstenfeld if you do.




Day 1 of Tasting – Cakebread and V. Sattui

Today was very much up in the air. When we found out that most Vineyards in the area required an appointment, I began scrambling to arrange the trip for the family. As of 9:30AM this morning, we only had 2 of 16 Vineyard appointments planned; by 10AM, I had 8 locked in. Unfortunately, several we wanted to visit are completely booked up or partially closed for the season: Shafer, Failla, Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Camus, Cliff Lede.

Today, we started at Cakebread Cellars. As we drove by, my mother shouted “OOO, Cakebread! I’d like to go there”. I’ve never been a huge fan of their wine, but I’ve only had their lower end vintages. I figured since one of the vineyards we were supposed to go to today (Failla) was unable to accommodate us, I could make it work in our schedule. From the outside, it looks beautiful. Once we were inside, I have to say I was quite underwhelmed with the experience.

The grounds where the vineyard sits look great, but pale in comparison to some other vineyards. It isn’t because of the size of their production, but rather that their land is scattered throughout the Napa Valley; we were able to see was only a fraction of their estate.

Inside, we had a Reserve Tasting and saw their white wine production. While Tyler was great, the wine left something to be desired. It wasn’t bad, but was it worth $40…probably not. I did like how they gave you their standard Chardonnay and Cabernet before trying the Reserve wines. I also liked how they poured each wine in a new glass so you could compare them all side by side.

After Cakebread, we went to V.Sattui. Unfortunately, they only do tours Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 1PM. We already had appointments booked during these times, so we settled for a tasting and lunch from their deli.

I think the tasting at V. Sattui was the best value. For $20, you were able to try 6 of their reserve wines in the tower. It was highly customizable, but focused on big reds. There were two whites, a few Pinot Noir, a Petit Sirah,  Zinfandel, and a bunch of Cabernet.

I focused my tasting on the Cabernet; however, I did try a white. I drank the Carsi Chardonnay, Paradiso Blend, Preston Vineyard Cabernet, Vittorio’s Vineyard Cabernet, Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet, and Mt. Veeder Cabernet.

The Chardonnay had nice butterscotch undertones in the finish.

The Paradiso Blend was a very light bodied wine with black cherry and tobacco as the prominent flavors.

The Preston was a light to medium bodied that was very leathery. In the aftertaste, you also got a bit of cocoa. I felt the need to be in a leather wingback chair with a cigar in my hand while drinking this.

The Vittorio was medium bodied and extremely earthy. All of the grapes used in this wine were grown in front of the winery, unlike some of their others. Personally, it was too earthy and mineralistic for me.

The Morisoli uses the same grapes as the Preston; however, their vines are across the street from Preston’s. As a result, the flavor profile is completely different. It’s still a medium bodied wine with a velvety texture, but it has a truffle/earthiness to it, along with a dark red fruit flavor.

The Mt. Veeder was my favorite here. It’s a dark, bold, full bodied cabernet. It’s incredibly smooth, and also very dry. In terms of flavor, it hits you with over-ripe fruit (plum specifically), yet it isn’t sweet.

From the tasting we went over to their deli barn. It’s an AWESOME store, so even if you don’t do a wine tasting, the deli is certainly worth a visit. We poked around there after the tasting; it has a great cheese counter, fresh bread, pre-made sandwiches, olive oils, vinegars, truffles…the list goes on forever…It was a dream come true. We bought bread, cheese, salami, sandwiches, etc and had a picnic outside. I have no idea what my sandwich was called; it began with a B and consisted of house cured meat, mozzarella, pesto, and fresh bread. If you go, this is a must try!

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of Day 1.




Wine Country: The Dream List

We arrived yesterday and are in California through the first; yet that isn’t enough time. Our plan was to have a low key vacation where we mosey through a variety of tours and tasting at several vineyards; it turns out that you need an appointment for many of the ones north of Napa (Yountville, St. Helena, Rutherford, etc). While researching the endless vineyards out here, I came up with my dream list. By no means will we get to them all, but it was a good starting point. Unfortunately, Camus and Shafer were all booked up; below is our tentative schedule followed by the dream list.

The Itinerary

Day 1-St. Helena
V. Sattui
Joseph Phelps
Failla Wines

Day 2-Yountville
Plump Jack
Silver Oak
Miner Family Vineyards
Stags Leap Wine Cellars
Beaulieu Vineyard (BV) – If time permits.

Day 3-Napa
Andretti Winery
Truchard Winery
Artesa Vineyards & Winery

Day 4 – Sonoma
Gloria Ferrer
Small Local Vineyards


The Vineyards-Dream list

Plump Jack
620 Oakville Cross Rd,
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 945-1220
Open: 10AM-4PM; No reservation needed

Failla Wines
3530 Silverado Trail N
St Helena, CA 94574
Known for: exclusive wines; pinot. Try the spotlight tour.
Open: 10AM-4PM; By Appointment
Cost: $20 Tasting, $30 Cave Tour, $50 Spotlight Tour

Artesa Vineyards & Winery
1345 Henry Road
Napa, CA 94559
Known for: Their grounds (Modern Architecture) and Pinot Noir
Open:10AM-5PM, last pour at 4:30; Tours 11AM-2PM
Cost: $25 (5 Wines; $12 to add sparkling), $30 tour

Burgess Cellars
1108 Deer Park Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
Known for: Relaxed Atmosphere, inexpensive. Merlot
Open:By Appointment
Cost:$20 tasting fee

Miner Family Vineyards
7850 Silverado Trail
Oakville, CA 94562
800.366.WINE (9463)
Known For: Oracle Red Blend and Caves (Try Grand Cru Tasting)
Open: 11AM-5PM; By Appointment
Cost: $25-$100 (up to 90 minutes)

ZD Wines
8383 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA 94558
Known for: Pinot Noir
Open: 10AM-4PM; tours by appointment only
Cost: $40 tasting, $75-$115 Tour + Tasting; Abacus tasting is $900 and accommodates up to 6 guests

V. Sattui
1111 White Ln
St Helena, CA 94574
(707) 963-7774
Known for: Wine club, “deli”
Open: Tours 1PM F-Sun, by appointment; Main Tasting from 9-6, no appointment; Tower Tasting, 11-5PM Sa-Sun by appointment; Private Cellar and Gold Room are Members only.
Cost: $30 tours; $15-$20 for tastings

Beaulieu Vineyard (BV)
1960 St. Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573
(800) 264-6918 x 5233
Known For:
Cost: $20 (tasting only; $35-$50 (tour + Tasting)

Domaine Chandon
1 California Drive
Yountville, CA 94599
Known For: Sparkling Wine and Beautiful Grounds

987 St Helena Hwy
St Helena, CA 94574
Known For: Cabernet Sauvignon
Open 10AM-5PM; By Appointment
Cost: $55

1250 Cuttings Wharf Road
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 257-5300
Known For: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

1991 St Helena Highway
Rutherford, CA 94573
Known For: Owned by Coppola Family.
Cost: $50 (tour + wine and cheese pairing)

6154 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA 94558
(707) 944-2877
Known For: Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon
Open:10AM-2PM M-F; By Appointment
Cost: $55 (90 minutes, 5 wines)

Stags Leap Wine Cellars
5766 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA 94558
Open: 10AM-4:30PM
Cost: $25-$40 (tasting only); $60-$95 (tour and tasting)

Stags’ Leap Winery
6150 Silverado Trail,
Napa, CA 94558
(800) 395-2441
Open: 10AM-2:30PM; By Appointment
Cost: $55

Silver Oak
915 Oakville Cross Rd
Oakville, CA 94562
(707) 942-7026
Known For:
Open: 9-5 m-Sa, 11-5 Sun
Cost: $25-$60 per experience (can combine multiple experiences to include various tastings and a tour)

Truchard Winery
3234 Old Sonoma Rd
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 253.7153
Known For: Small Batch Wines
Open: M-Sat; By Appointment
Cost: $30 (Tour and Tasting)

Joseph Phelps
200 Taplin Road
St. Helena, California 94574
(800) 707-5789
for private, contact Nicole:
(707) 967-3721
Known For: Insignia
Open: 10AM-3PM M-F, 10AM-2:30PM Sa-Su; By Appointment
Cost:$75 (regular)-$125 (private)

Gloria Ferrer
23555 Highway 121
Sonoma, CA 95476
Known For: Champagne & Wine Caves
Open: 10AM-4:45PM; last seating at 4:15
Cost: $35-$60 per experience (can combine multiple experiences to include various tastings and a tour)

Open: Daily; by appointment only
Cost: $40; 45 minute tasting

Andretti Winery
4162 Big Ranch Road
Napa, CA 94558
Known For: Pinot Grigio
Open: 11AM-2PM; no appointment needed except for barrel tasting
Cost: $15-$45

Schramsberg Vineyards
1400 Schramsberg Rd
Calistoga, CA 94515
(707) 942-4558
Known for: Sparkling Wine Caves

Twomey (Calistoga)
1183 Dunaweal Lane
Calistoga, CA 94515
(707) 942-2489
Known For: Single Vineyard Merlot
Open: 10-5 M-Sa, 11-5 Sun; Tours By Appointment
Cost: $15-$20

Twomey (Healdsburg)
3000 Westside Rd
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 942-7122
Known For: Single Vineyard Pinot Noir
Open: 10-5 M-Sa, 11-5 Sun; Tours By Appointment
Cost: $10-$25

Pride Mountain
3000 Summit Trail, Santa Rosa, CA 95404
(707) 963-4949
Known For:
Open:10AM-3:45PM; By Appointment. Summit Experience on M, W-F from 10:30AM-2:15PM; By Appointment
Cost: $20 (45 minutes) – $75 (90 minute Summit Experience)

Dry Creek
3770 Lambert Bridge Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(800) 864-9463 x106
Known For:
Cost: $30-$50; Bocce available for groups of up to 16 for $150 by appointment. Call 800-864-9463 x103

Stay tuned! I’ll be posting photos and reviews of the Vineyards we end up going to.