November 28, 2023

Spring Pilgrimage


Life tends to get so hectic that one often does not have the chance to slow down and enjoy the simple things. Fortunately, I was able to take some time this month and go exploring with a trip to the San Francisco Bay including a few jaunts up to Napa Valley. I’ve not been to Napa wine country in some time, so it was nice to visit a few colleagues, relax with the scenic views and beautiful spring weather, and of course enjoy a few glasses of excellent wine along with a bevy of foodie’s delights.

For this month’s topic, I bring you highlights from the Napa Valley.

It may seem small on a map, but Napa is a collection of many different worlds from a wine sense. You go from the cool climate southern end in Carneros, known for Pinots and Chards, up to the hot Cab and Zin vineyards in the north around Calistoga. In between is a wide range of microclimates giving one distinct wine style after another.

My personal preference of late is the southeastern portion of the valley running from Rutherford down through the Stag’s Leap district as you head towards the town of Napa. The region is known for its Cab, Sauv Blanc, and Syrah in particular. The style is not as opulent as the powerful Oakville and Rutherford Bench Cabs just to the north and west, but a little more refined with a character similar to Bordeaux or the classic Napa wines of the past.

One stop in particular I looked forward to was a visit with an old classmate at Cliff Lede Vineyards. I’ve been a fan of this winery for several years, and the quality has remained present through three winemaker transitions over the last five seasons (all of whom were classmates coincidentally). The current captain at the helm is Remi Cohen, with over a decade of experience in the vineyards and wineries around Napa Valley.

Cliff Lede has a reputation for Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and it was the latter in particular I was looking forward to as the 2012 vintage was being filtered for bottling as I arrived, which provided me a chance to try the first full product under Remi’s guidance. Top to bottom the wines were excellent. I was also pleased that the tasting room includes an expanded selection of white wines courtesy of their sister property Breggo Cellars in Boonville. That 2012 Sauv Blanc has a nice crisp front with green apple and lemon citrus character. A jump in Semillon percentage added to the blend this vintage gives a nice round mouthfeel and balance to the wine. Look for it to hit the retail market sometime around summer, when I recommend enjoying it with some nice, light, grilled seafood on a hot day.

My next stop of note on recommendation from the tasting staff at Cliff Lede was Hartwell Vineyards just down the road toward the Stag’s district. Once again, Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc were the features, and this small property delivered. A nice, light, crisp Sauv Blanc opened the flight, followed by one that received a little aging in neutral oak for a rounder, richer finish. Both were exceptional. The Cab was earthy and spicy with a nice tannin structure and long finish. Hartwell may not be easy to find in retail, but snatch it up if you do.

The other property that really stood out during the trip was an impromptu visit to Reynolds Family Winery. I was just heading up the Silverado Trail with a little time to spare, and something about this place called out to me. I’m glad it did as the winery had a nice selection of Pinot, Chard, and Cab from the Carneros and estate vineyards. The Pinot was earthy and delicate with outstanding balance. The Chard was lively and bright, and makes an excellent choice when the weather is warm. The Cab had that distinct Stag’s spice that I so enjoy. Overall, a highly recommended label if you can get your hands on any.

It was close to eight years since my visit to the valley. The selection has grown quite a bit, and many of the pieces get shuffled around, but it’s hard not to enjoy life when you’re amongst beautiful rolling hills with great views and an outstanding glass of wine in your hand. Thank you to all the friends and colleagues who played host for making my return enjoyable. Drink responsibly.

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