Our 5th annual Cordillera Cellar Club trip took us back to the wineries of Napa Valley, which we had not toured since our first and second wine trips beginning in 2012.
Although this was our first winter trip, Napa Valley was beautiful as mustard season was in full bloom, the valleys were a lush green and our resort was a fairyland of moss-covered trees. Previous trips were during summer months, with our third trip focusing solely on the wineries of Sonoma and our last trip to Santa Barbara’s central coast region where we recreated our own Cordillera version of an exclusive Sideways (the wine movie) tour.
This year, we took a page from the famous wine movie Bottle Shock about the historic 1976 Paris blind tasting of Chateau Montelena which put California at the forefront of the wine world. It was in Paris in 1976 that the who’s who of the French wine and food establishment gathered for a grand tasting at the Inter-Continental Hotel. Four white Burgundies were tasted against six California Chardonnays. When the scores were tallied, the French judges were convinced that the top-ranking white wine was one of their own. In fact, it was Chateau Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay, rated above all other wines! The results proved that Chateau Montelena could produce some of the world’s finest wine and that the California wine industry had come of age.
Our trip began on Sunday when we all met in San Francisco, and was hosted once again by Debbie Pepper, Membership Director and “unofficial wine tour operator.” We had many veteran Members from our previous trips, including Warren and Lettie Goehringer, David and Gail Sanders, Benjamin and Selena Pena and Kathy Shelton. Enjoying their first Cellar Club trip were Todd and Tara Dunn, Kurt and Amy Pennington, Joe and Sandra Hegyesi and Jeff and Ann Boies. We were also fortunate to have member guests John and Tracy Herrmann join us, as well as Teri Wenglein, a veteran of three previous wine trips and our “unofficial” trip photographer.
Enroute from the airport, we stopped at Italics with a cave tour followed by a delicious catered wine lunch paired with their estate wine and blends in their lovely estate home in Coombsville just east of Napa. While quietly unknown, Coombsville was discovered in the 1990s when many well-known up-valley wineries expanded their productions building their brands on Coombsville Cabernet. We were welcomed with Texas-style hospitality from Taylor Martin whose father and grandfather, Mike and Ken Martin, became owners in 2014 when they sold their large Texas producing company (citrus, onions and melons). The Martins entered the Napa wine scene by acquiring the label 13 Appellations from vintner Steve Reynolds, as well as 71 acres in Coombsville, and began producing their Bordeaux varietals along with Appellations, blended from each of Napa Valley’s other AVAs.
After leaving Italics, we stopped at Domaine Chandon where we toured their beautiful grounds and experienced and compared several vibrant sparkling wines. Ending our day with sparkling wines was a perfect toast to our first day in Napa before heading to our exclusive lodging at Calistoga Ranch, an Auberge Resort and our “home away from home” for the next five days. We absolutely loved the lodging experience where everyone enjoyed their own 1,200-square-foot lodge with wonderful amenities, including indoor/outdoor fireplaces and a private outdoor shower.
Day 2 began with the historic Chateau Montelena where we were treated to a unique and extraordinary private tour and tasting experience, learning the history of Jim Barrett’s vision of creating a First Growth standard of Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Even though it was Chardonnay that made history, it’s today’s Cabernet Sauvignon that makes the real statement. We started with a 2007 Chardonnay followed by a vertical of four vintages of the acclaimed Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Our history lesson complete, we headed over to the well-renowned Gotts Roadside where we were welcomed and treated by our hosts from Trinchero Family Estates to all the “Gotts favorites,” — a smorgasbord tasting of their famous burgers, sides, salads and every kind of milkshake imaginable! After this delicious gorging (truly), we were treated to a tour and tasting at Trinchero’s beautiful culinary center in an exquisitely appointed private room where we learned the history of the Trinchero family and how they became owners of some of the most sought after vineyards in Napa and a portfolio of more than 45 global wine and spirits brands.
We made a quick stop at Dean & DeLuca’s to spend a little time before heading up the winding road where Kuleto Estate sits magnificently on the mountaintop overlooking Lake Hennessey and Pritchard Hill — and another winery owner with Texas roots… Bill Foley of Foley Family Wines. Our grounds tour was cut short due to intermittent rain but we enjoyed the beautiful views and a lovely catered dinner and wine tasting featuring their 2013 Estate Chardonnay and Cabernet.
Day 3 began with a very special tasting and visit to Quintessa. Our Quintessential Quintessa experience began with a unique cave and winery tour featuring the winery’s eco-sensitive design integrating nature and winemaking with a gravity flow process. Grapes are crushed on the winery roof and flow into the fermentation room below. Sitting at the foot of the Vaca Mountain range, the winery is a natural mosaic of hills and valleys with a variety of soils and microclimates producing beautiful wines. Later, we hiked to a private pavilion overlooking Dragon’s Lake with sweeping views of the vineyards below. There we tasted two extraordinary library vintages, two block samples and their current release — starting with 2010, a 2013 current release, block samples from two different vineyards and their 2015 Illunination. What a wonderful way to start our day!
Not to be outdone, we next enjoyed another extraordinary lunch and tasting experience at Round Pond Estates just down the road in Rutherford. We started with an intimate and informative estate garden tour learning about the “farm to table Il Pranzo” luncheon, which included a guided tasting of their estate grown artisan olive oils, red wine vinegars and estate wines followed by our delicious meal with paired wines. The experience was the perfect combination of fresh air and fresh foods on the covered terrace overlooking the vineyards.
Our last stop of the day was the perfect ending to a perfect beginning at Reynolds Family Winery where we not only enjoyed wonderful wines, but met owner Steve Reynolds and learned about his interesting journey from dentist to farmer to wine grower/operator and now owner of a full-time family business. Just south of Stags Leap, the growing conditions here are ideal for producing big, rich, complex wines and Reynolds’ 9+acres are planted solely in Cabernet Sauvignon. However, Steve also sources fruit from multiple vineyards throughout the valley to produce other blends, as well as Pinot and Chardonnay. We thoroughly enjoyed the barrel tasting and Steve’s red blend Persistence, Reynolds Reserve Chardonnay and Cabernet, Merlot and the tasting favorite, of course, Steadfast! We ended our day at LaTravigne in St. Helena for a casual pizza and Italian fare before heading back to Calistoga Ranch.
Day 4…. ahhh… our “rest and revive day.” Most of the guys played golf at Silverado Golf Resort while everyone else stayed at the resort to enjoy Calistoga’s relaxing spa facilities before heading to St. Helena for a little shopping. The evening dinner was at PRESS restaurant in St. Helena…. everyone’s favorite dinner as it has been on previous trips! We also sang Happy Anniversary by phone to Robbie Shelton who was unable to join Kathy for the trip — a fun, fun evening!
Day 5 featured two stops — the first of which was Castello di Amorosa, the only authentic medieval (13th century) Italian Tuscan castle and winery built in America. We entered this amazing castle by drawbridge and began our tour. The castle is over 121,000 square feet, including an enormous Great Hall with two-story replicated Tuscan frescos painted by Italian artists and a 500-year-old fireplace… a history lesson in murals! We especially enjoyed the dungeon and torture chamber which contained original torture devices that were horrifically on display along with original knight armor and so much more… a true museum. We also toured the underground chambers with ancient Roman cross-vaulted ceilings and arguably the single most impressive wine barrel room in the U.S. We thoroughly enjoyed our reserve tasting in one of the barrel rooms which featured Italian-style varietals including a Super Tuscan, Sangiovese and a late harvest Sauvignon Blanc as well as a Spumante, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, followed by lunch.
Our last, but certainly not least, visit was an impressive Chateau tour and tasting at historic Inglenook, originally founded in 1879. In 1975, after many changes in ownership, Francis and Eleanor Coppola purchased part of the historic Inglenook Estate, and in 1978 produced the first vintage of Rubicon, the estate’s flagship wine. In 1995, the Coppolas purchased the remaining part of the original property and Chateau, restoring the estate to its historic dimensions. We toured the grounds, barrel rooms and the exquisite Chateau, so lovingly revitalized under the Coppolas ownership. The Centennial Museum was truly amazing, showcasing movie memorabilia and Oscars from many of Coppola’s film, as well as a ‘48 Tucker sedan from the movie Tucker. Our grand finale was a private reserve tasting in the South Barrel Room overlooking the exquisite terrace and Chateau grounds with wine educator and Master Sommelier Anthony Mueller. Great history, great education and great wine!
Our trip concluded on Thursday with a cave dinner at Calistoga Ranch where we toasted the end to another fabulous trip, making new friends and lasting memories. Come join us on our next wonderful wine adventure!
Debbie Pepper is the Director of Membership at The Clubs of Cordillera Ranch. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 830.336.9000.