“Behind the Vines” – wining and dining our way through Napa and Carneros was the theme of our second annual Cordillera Ranch Cellar Club wine trip! Launched last year, the Club boasts over 100 Cellar Club Members of which 23 wine-loving aficionados embraced five days of exclusive behind-the-scenes wine tasting, fine dining and vintner education. Hosted and put together by Jeff Cohen, Cordillera’s own wine expert, and Debbie Pepper, Director of Membership (and unofficial Wine Tour Operator), the trip featured exclusive boutique wineries and vineyards, many of which are not open to the public.
Leaving from San Francisco on Sunday morning, the group arrived in Napa at noon to begin our trip with a wonderful welcome lunch and tasting among the lovely flowering gardens at Swanson Vineyards. Our gracious hosts, Clark and Elizabeth Swanson, added a very special personal touch by dining with us and serving a delicious lunch, wonderful wines and making us feel like welcome friends! Later that evening, our evening reception dinner at Groezinger Estate at the Villagio Inn & Spa began with champagne sabering before dinner and more wine. For four consecutive days thereafter we toured three to four wineries/vineyards per day with stops for a three course lunch and fabulous dinners by night.
Monday’s schedule highlighted wineries specializing in Napa Valley Sauvignon Blancs and Cabernets at Honig Vineyard & Winery in Rutherford, Phifer Pavitt in Calistoga, and an amazing cave tour and tasting at Hourglass where we viewed an interesting display of area vineyard terroir highlighting the different soil types of various varietals and vineyards. Highlighting the day’s dining experience was a truly fabulous several-course catered lunch on the picnic grounds of Alpha Omega, where we also tasted fabulous wines accompanying each course – definitely a memorable group favorite for sure! After a very long day of tasting great wines we stopped in St. Helena for Italian fare and pizza on the outside garden of La TraVigne Pizzeria before collapsing at our hotel that evening.
Tuesday’s trip included our trip highlight visit to Morlet Family Vineyards in St. Helena hosted by gracious owners Luc and Jodie Morlet. Luc Morlet, hailing from a fourth generation French winemaking family, wowed our group with his meticulous presentation and tour of their impressive and lovingly restored winery dating back to the 1800s. Luc’s years of knowledge of taking old world principles and adapting them to California truly epitomizes the “Morlet style,” resulting in a beautiful balance of wines which are harmonious in their intensity, richness, complexity and refinement! Hard to follow, yet very special in its own right, we headed to another wonderful lunch and wine tasting of Palazzo wines on the lawn of owner Scott Palazzo’s private residence. Scott’s engaging and energetic passion for his wines made for a thoroughly lively and fun experience, not to mention another delicious four-course lunch with perfectly paired wines. Our last stop of the day was a vineyard tour at Salvestrin, where we sampled deliciously tempting appetizers and sweets paired with wonderful wines. Our day ended with a quick stop at our hotel before heading out again for a six-course gourmet dinner and wine pairing at the elegant Auberge du Soleil with a sunset champagne toast to start the evening.
After three days of fabulous wines and food, Wednesday was a welcome “free day” after a late morning wine tasting at Hill Family Estates followed by lunch at Redd. After lunch, everyone went their separate ways enjoying either golf, hot air balloons, spa, shopping, resting and yes….believe it or not…some went for three more wine tastings!
Our final day on Thursday we headed for Pinot Noir country in Carneros with a truly delightful visit to Truchard Estate Vineyards, hosted by the charming owners Jo Ann and Tony Truchard, native Texans growing up near LaGrange. While tasting their delicious wines, Jo Ann shared the wonderful story of how they became vineyard owners and eventually acquired 400 acres selling their grapes to more than 20 premiere Napa Valley wineries in addition to their own very special estate wines. Jo Ann gave us a very personal vineyard tour along with a tour of their amazing 10,500 square foot wine cave. Our next stop was another lively and engaging vineyard tour at Bouchaine Vineyards where Greg Gautier, Vice President of Wine Production and Sales for Bouchaine, as well as owner of Gauthier Select Vineyards, treated us to several barrel tastings, allowing us to experience wines before and after blending for a uniquely interesting and educational tour. Walking through the vineyards, we examined leaves of different varietals and growing techniques and had another interesting perspective on the nuances of all aspects of winemaking. Our tour ended with another delicious catered lunch as we tasted delicious Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs from both Bouchaine and Greg’s own select vineyard.
Last but certainly not least, we ended our day at Palmaz Vineyards where winemaking and aging take place within the living rock of Mount George, in a flawlessly engineered maze of tunnels and lofty domes. The height of the wine cave is equivalent to an 18-story building, providing the vertical range needed for true gravity-flow winemaking. This gentle treatment allows the finest nuances of flavor to develop naturally – the result is a complex, elegant wine. After touring, we ended our day tasting the unique “hand-made” quality and rare elegance of Palmaz’s signature magnificent reds in the heart of the domed cave. Very special wines appropriate for a special ending to our last wine destination.
Our farewell dinner at Press, a favorite destination from last year’s trip, was held under the stars on the terrace. We toasted a memorable week of fabulous wines, lunches and dinners in settings as special as their menus, personal and engaging tours with vineyard owners and viticulture education, and most importantly, newfound camaraderie laced with unforgettable fun, laughter and group bus sing-alongs featuring our own Cordillera rendition of “YMCA”!
Hope you join us next year for another fabulous trip and a new wine destination!