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Napa and Sonoma Counties, 2016 – The Best Experiences

Posted by on September 29, 2016

When you visit any areas producing wine, the things you remember most are not necessarily the WINE.  The experiences enjoyed while visiting wineries, looking at the wonderful scenery, and taking in the local cuisine, remain in your fond memories for years.  This year, we planned well enough ahead to get some great private tastings and hands-on and up-close-and-personal visits.  I highlight just of few of them here:


Krupp Bothers/Stagecoach Vineyard

Our guide, Dan, picked us up for the morning’s adventure at the Soda Canyon Deli on the Silverado Trail.  Dan drove up Soda Canyon Road to the Stagecoach Vineyard in a 4WD SUV.  Soon, we learned why.  The drive up to the top of the estate required a rugged off-road type of vehicle.  But the drive up the dusty trail rewarded us with spectacular views of the Stag’s Leap AVA and vineyards.  20160720_103210

Occupying parts of the Atlas Peak and Pritchard Hill AVAs, Stagecoach Vineyard is nearly large enough to be its own AVA (600 acres planted!)  The terrior varies with differing types of soil, mesoclimates, and elevations, thus allowing for the growth of many varietals on the property including:  Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and others.



Dan provided us with a very good lunch from the Soda Canyon Deli as we enjoyed a few of the current releases from Krupp Brothers.  The Krupp Brothers 2013 Chardonnay is a winner ($65) as is the 2012 Synchrony blend ($135) and 2010 Veraison Cabernet Sauvignon ($85).

Call ahead and reserve the full experience with lunch and tastings inside of the vineyard!


Robert Biale Vineyards

I just love it when I get to meet the winemaker.  By chance, I got a rare opportunity to meet Robert Biale while visiting his tasting room in Oak Knoll.  He told us about the family vineyard nearby this location and that his family grew Zinfandel and has stayed with it throughout the years.image

I asked him to comment on the current vintage and the growing season (2016).  He said he will have to work for this vintage, but it will be good.  This seems to be the consensus throughout all of Napa.

As a special treat, we were allowed to taste a few rarities from small case production lots including:  Founding Fathers’ Zinfandel 2014 ($32), Limerick Lane Zinfandel – Russian River 2014 ($62, vines circa 1910), and his estate Sangiovese ($45, planted 1935).

You can’t really call ahead and plan a meeting with Mr. Biale, but give it a try and see if he’s there.  He’s a great winemaker and he loves to talk about wines.


Flora Springs

No appointment, end of day.  Not really expecting the red carpet, but we still got it.  Having only tasted (and loved) the Trilogy blend, we were allowed to taste the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines blended into the Trilogy.

It was very tough deciding between these lovely Cabs, but try as we might, we made a decision, a consensus.  1.  Wild Boar 2013 ($125) – edged out #2 by a nose.

Very interesting notes of smoky BBQ, cocoa.  Exciting mid palette, a bit wild, I really dig it!20160721_154250


2.  Out of Sight 2013 ($125) – more herbaceous and  a bit softer.  Long finish, perhaps the best of the singles to put in the blend as it offers maturity and finish.

3. St. Helena Rennie 2013 ($150)

Pricey, but offers bold sage and rosemary notes.  Very neat strong Cab but still soft tannin throughout.

4.  Holy Smoke 2013 ($125)

Feels smoky, thus the name.  Whole mouth feel, explosive up front, but finishes soft and long.

5.  Flora’s Legacy 2013 ($150)

Complex, lots going on.  Herbs and barrel influences, a blend of some of the above big boys.  It’s good, but bring your credit card.  Hold it for a few years.



I had no room for new wine clubs.  Really, I’m fill up here.  That is until we visited Hall.  We had the “Cab Experience” in the restored Bergfeld Winery building on the estate.  Experience Cabernet, we surely did.   It is a fine thing to taste each of the vineyard cabs separately.  One will find distinct differences between the Diamond Mountain (green herbs, baking spices, pie crust, and large structure), Mt Veeder (more old world on the nose, less acidic and tannin, fruitier), and St. Helena (Bergfeld Estate).

The blends get better with price point, of course.  The Kathryn Hall blend was the only one I’d tried prior to the visit.  The 2009 and 2010 were poured during the visit.  I believe the 200920160722_111713 is ready now, but the 2010 shows promise for the cellar.  At $225, it’s a prized pony, or so I thought.

The Bishop was poured as a bonus.  A rare treat, this is a blend of the finest of the vineyard selected grapes from Diamond and Howell Mountains.  I dubbed this an “Opus One Killer” at the tasting, which raised a few eyebrows from the peanut gallery.  Pricey ($350!) it’s something to behold with an opulent nose of dusty briar, blackberries, pie crust, and rosemary.  Fully round in the mouth, it’s a nearly perfect Cab.  I believe you wouldn’t cellar this too long, but one could.  It’s structured, but certainly isn’t crying for time.  It’s big, fruity, herbaceous, dusty, and full.  One of the greats.

Needless to say, we joined, especially after learning we could also get shipments from the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay house of Walt.


Williams Selyem

Always visit your wine club estates when in the area.  Tastings are usually comped, if not, much reduced.  I like that the folks there are usually trying to upsell you futures or current release stuff.  Well, we got the full monte at Williams Selyem on this trip.  We got vintage library stuff (2004 Westside Neighbors Pinot Noir) which was superior in flavors and nose.  This makes me rethink how long I’m holding these bottles before opening!  20160725_123302

A rare treat indeed came with the pouring of the sparkling Dekane Blanc de Noir.  Surely one of California’s great sparkling wines, a large format version accompanied us home, tucked safely away in our suitcase.

Note we had the place to ourselves and had a placard on the table reserving the space in our names.



Long Meadow Ranch – Farmstead Restaurant

Don’t go hungry now, gotta eat sometime.  Very conveniently located within the vines of the St Helena AVA is Farmstead.  This is a farm-to-table restaurant that fills the gastro need after a big day of wine consumption.  We agreed on the same dish – the California arborio rice with wood grilled summer squash, Brentwood corn, mushrooms and pistou (yes with the farm egg).  Oh yeah, we had a Walt Chardonnay with it, of course.20160722_172508

Get there are soon as you’re done with the wine tasting for the day and you might just beat the crowd.  This is a place for the locals to gather, so plan accordingly.  Do check this place out!

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