Our seventh annual Cordillera Ranch Cellar Club trip takes us back to Napa Valley, one of the world’s premier wine regions and famous for its prized Cabernet Sauvignon. Each year we try to focus on different wine growing AVAs (American Viticulture Areas) and have enjoyed wines from central California near Santa Barbara, Sonoma and Oregon. Our first two wine trips back in 2012 and 2013 concentrated mainly on Napa Valley from Carneros to Calistoga so it was time to focus again on the delicious wines and primarily big reds known to this region.
This year’s trip was led and organized by Debbie Pepper, Membership Director at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch and “Unofficial Wine Tour Operator” along with the Club’s Wine Director/Sommelier Jeff Cohen, who shared his expertise, made wine selections and pairings as needed and served as co-host assisting our members. This year’s attendees included first-time wine trippers, Sarah and Mark Philpy, Susan and Tom Boehme, Susie and John Long, Susan and Keith Lynch, Ashley and Don Lovingfoss, Pat and Mike Noggle, Jill and Will Detterman, Sally and Steve Grinnell, Tina and Mike Catlin and five-time “veteran guest,” Teri Wenglein.
Our group met Sunday morning in San Francisco and boarded our shuttle for our first lunch/wine tasting at Sciandri Family Vineyards. While enroute on our longer ride from the airport to Sciandri, we enjoyed an “eventful and fun” get-acquainted game with favorite songs and unknown facts from each of our members. While there were many surprising and secret facts revealed, Tom Boehme’s disclosure was perhaps the most unusual and funny. However, you will have to ask Tom because “what happens in Napa, stays in Napa!”
Sciandri Family Vineyards – A boutique family-owned winery located in the newest Napa AVA, Coomsville, in the southeastern corner of Napa.
We were welcomed by second generation co-owner/host Rebecca Sciandri Griffin who entertained us with her family history of farming and wine-making roots that goes all the way back to Italy. While tasting wonderful wines made in the Old-World style, we were served a delicious lunch and also visited with winemaker Don Baker. It was a wonderful introduction to a small family-owned and operated winery who pride themselves on creating wines that are small batch, hand-harvested and handmade.
After checking into our deluxe rooms at the Estate Hotel Villagio, we walked next door to our welcoming Champagne sabering at V Cellars, where four of our members, led by “Samurai” John Long, followed by a very precise Tom Boehme and Keith Lynch and lastly “quick draw” Tina Catlin, learned and exhibited the art of sabering Champagne. We can now expect Cordillera Ranch home parties will feature their talents and those of the rest of the group who wanted in on the action!
The finale for our first day in Napa was a wonderful welcome dinner in the middle of the Villagio Vineyard, equipped with strands of string lights making for a very intimate and picturesque setting. While walking through the vineyard, we remarked that it felt like a scene from “Field of Dreams” where Shoeless Joe Jackson walked out of the cornfields!
Sinegal Estate Winery – A family-owned, historic property located in the renowned St. Helena AVA.
This was a wonderful first tasting of the day, sampling their delicious wines under an arbor overlooking the beautiful grounds encompassing a lake, gardens and vineyards. While tasting, owner David Sinegal joined us, presenting the history of this family-owned estate winery, which was originally the historic Inglewood Estate and is now producing stunning Bordeaux-style varietals.
Chimney Rock – Located in the renowned Stags Leap District on the Silverado Trail.
Here we enjoyed their elegant “Ganymede Experience,” a seated paired wine luncheon named after their Ganymede Vineyard, which is the cornerstone of their famed reserve Cabernet and home to the oldest vines on the estate.
Truchard Vineyards – Located in the Carneros AVA known for producing renowned Pinot Noir grapes.
Truchard Vineyards grows 12 different grape varieties making it one of the most diverse estate vineyards in Napa Valley due to their unique topography. Their wines are 100% estate grown, bottled and produced on property.
We were delighted by owner and former Texan Jo Ann Truchard, who enthusiastically toured us around the property serving delicious Pinot Noirs and other varietals. Jo Ann and Tony, both graduates at the University of Texas, also spent time in San Antonio before heading to California and starting their family-owned winery.
Our group enjoyed dinner at BRIX (a local Napa favorite) as well as more cocktails than wine to change the mood and prepare for much more wine to follow the next day!
Davis Estate – Located in Calistoga with four different vineyard AVAs: Calistoga, Rutherford, Carneros and Howell Mountain.
Truly a trip highlight, we were treated to a tour starting with their historic barn and a “behind the scenes” opportunity to see their cutting-edge 11,000-square-foot cave system. We were then seated in one of their elegant, artfully designed tasting spaces to sample their estate wines paired with charcuterie. Our grand finale — a special preview of their Cellarium (Founders Club Only), named V after their exclusive Phase V wines crafted by master winemaker Phillipe Melka, was an unexpected surprise. This elegant space features sculptured works of art and luxurious furnishings and can only be entered by an infrared hand vein scan for Founders Club Members. And, as a grand finale, we were treated to a tasting of their exclusive, small-lot Phase V Cabernet Sauvignon — wow!
Charles Krug – Located in the St. Helena AVA, this is Napa Valley’s oldest estate winery established in 1861 by Charles Krug then later purchased by the Mondavi family in 1943 and has been operated since by four generations of the family.
We enjoyed a tour of the estate, vineyards and barrel room housed in the historic landmark Redwood Cellar Tasting Room and Hospitality Center while learning about the history of the estate and strolling past Mondavi homes where the children grew up. We enjoyed a wood-fired pizza lunch outside under the trees followed by a private tasting upstairs featuring a variety of great wines. During lunch, we were delighted to meet Rianna Mondavi, granddaughter of Peter Mondavi, Sr. and great-granddaughter of Cesare Mondavi who purchased Charles Krug in 1943. Rianna and her three sisters are known as G4 (four generations all involved in the family business) and was delightful, sharing family history. A wonderful experience learning about some of Napa’s founding wine industry.
Macauley Vineyards – A small production boutique winery, relatively new but has in no time risen to the exalted ranks of Napa Valley wine hierarchy with legendary winemaker Kirk Venge.
Since Macauley has only a small tasting room in St. Helena that could not accommodate our group of 21, we were invited to a tasting at owner Mac Watson’s countryside home where we enjoyed a wonderful tasting outside on his patio under the trees. We tasted an exceptional Old Vine Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We learned that Macauley sources their grapes from renowned Napa Valley vineyards in Rutherford, Atlas Peak, Beckstoffer, Kalon and Bacigalupi Vineyard. The latter produces grapes that are quite literally some of the fruits that put California on the map from the 1974 “Judgment of Paris.” Another wonderful boutique hidden gem winery!
B Cellars – In any given year, B Cellars grapes originate from upwards of eight Napa Valley AVAs and three in Sonoma County. Founded in 2003, B Cellars is a collaboration of two individuals who shared a vision of creating a food-centric winery focused on blending top-notch varietals from Napa Valley’s most legendary vineyards and has been said to be “a craft winery delivering the best wine and food pairing experience in Napa Valley.” Wines are blended from different vineyards as well as different varietals resulting in layers of flavors unattainable from traditional single vineyard, single varietal production, thus known as a multi-vineyard, multi-varietal winemaking strategy.
After a long day we headed back to our hotel in Yountville to change for our elegant wine cave dinner at B Cellars. Upon arrival, we tasted delicious appetizers and wine pairings on the event lawn outside the wine caves, followed by a tour of their wine cave where we enjoyed an elegant dinner affair with wine pairing for each course. The food pairings are made from scratch using ingredients mostly grown on-site from stone fruit orchards, olive trees, a culinary garden and hen house. Herbs and edible flowers are also grown on property creating a true farm-to-table culinary experience paired with delicious wines.
Wednesday – “Revive Day” – everyone enjoyed a day on their own to spa, shop, recreate or relax before our evening dinner together at celebrity chef Michael Chiarellos’ Bottega. After a relaxing day of rest from wine touring, we enjoyed a fun evening with animated conversation and laughter between several delicious, bountiful courses of Italian cuisine and wines. A very nice evening!
ADAMVS – Located in the legendary Howell Mountain AVA in Angwin, crafting timeless mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignons cultivated both biodynamically and organically with a legendary team: viticulturist Michael Wolf, winemaker Jason Valenti and consulting winemaker Philippe Melka.
Our final day began up the storied slopes of Howell Mountain where we were welcomed at the Cypress House, which is magnificently designed with floating cypress logs encased in glass and steel, as well as the private tasting Wine Library — idyllic settings for tasting their beautiful wines. Following the tour, we enjoyed a seated tasting of their elite wines accompanied by charcuterie and had the pleasure of meeting owner Denise Adams prior to leaving.
Bravante Vineyards – Located in the renowned Howell Mountain AVA.
We were graciously welcomed by owners Nancy and George Bravante and enjoyed a picnic lunch in their production barn before touring their cave where we had a seated tasting of their limited production Bordeaux-style wines.
Gandona Estate – Located in the prestigious Pritchard Hill area known for producing Bordeaux varietals that secure the highest score, prices, scarcity and collectability.
Another phenomenal stop to end a fabulous week in Napa Valley, we tasted exquisite wines in their beautiful tasting room spectacularly perched high above the valley overlooking Lake Hennessey. This was another winery with famed winemaker Phillipe Melka — it’s no wonder that this area is a hotbed of high-quality wineries, which are the darlings of savvy collectors.
Hill Family Estate – Located in the Yountville AVA just minutes from town, it is 100% family-farmed, owned and operated, growing fruit for Napa wineries as well their own.
We arrived at our Farewell Dinner at Hill Family Estate with the sounds of a Spanish guitar playing for us as we dined outside overlooking the vineyard and enjoying freshly made paella accompanied by a wide variety of wonderful wines. Owner Doug Hill and son Ryan were our hosts, sharing their history from farmers to winemakers, making us feel at home and part of the family. A truly lovely farewell capping a week of fabulous wine, food, history, camaraderie and most of all, new friends!
Debbie Pepper is the Director of Membership at The Clubs of Cordillera ranch. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.