Intimate Micro-Experiences in the World of Wine, Food, and in the Art of Relaxation
Life is Sweet in Napa Valley - Part One
November 22, 2018
"God is in the details."
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
NAPA! One single word and some many images come to mind. A kaleidoscope of intimate micro experiences in the world of wine, food, and the art of relaxation. "The most delectable wine I ever tried was in a tasting room in Napa at...:" "The best meal of my life was this one night at French Laundry..." "I went there for a weekend of wine tasting and never left the Valley..." These are stories you hear from each individual person you encounter along the Silverado Trail...
About of a month ago my ES partner in crime Kelly Grace Thomas and I drove up to the Valley to celebrate her impending nuptials, hunting for those micro experiences. The immersive wine and food stories that inspired the Thomas Gals to become a food writers in the first place!
And with 400 wineries with tasting rooms in the Napa Valley (600+ if you include Sonoma) you can definitely get lost in the details.... Kelly and I chose (guided by the AMAZING Beau Wine Tours) locally petite experiences (no parking lots with tour buses for us). These experiences were as cherished as you get, every winery adventure we encountered produced 10,000 cases or less.
Intimate experiences are the heart and soul of the Valley (these people are essentially simple farmers... in some of the most expensive real estate in the world). And to focus on their stories properly, this tale is split into two separate articles. It's just that big of a tale for the Thomas Gals!
So here's to life being delicious, all your stories being postcard worthy, and "the most delectable wine I ever tried was in a tasting room in Napa at...:"
Beau Wine Tours
Our morning began by meeting our driver, Titus, from Beau Wine Tours & Limousine Service in front of the Mount View Hotel in Calistoga (but more on that in the next article...). Our tasting adventures were also curated by Beau, who provides private Napa and Sonoma wine tasting tour experiences that are unique to each client's taste and wine preferences for the past two decades.
Beau Wine Tours & Limousine Service long-lasting relationships with vintners and winemakers in this region are the key to unlocking exclusive access to the road less traveled. Whether a wine novice, or an experienced collector, Beau Wine Tours custom tailors the right tour for their guest (and they did a FAB job as you'll see throughout this article). It's ABSOLUTELY these personal experiences and one-on-one connection that sets them apart!
As their guest, Beau Wine Tours pampered us with their signature chauffeur services. Because a driver is a necessary part of experiencing Napa when imbibing glass upon glass of Chardonnay to Cabernet! ;-)
Gliding up and down the Silverado Trail from the boutique wineries of Yountville to the silky smooth Cabernets of Stags Leap District to the jammy fruit flavors of Calistoga we got to know the Valley inside and out!
Our first sipping adventure of the day was Hestan Vineyards, at their tasting room in Yountville. Hestan Vineyards is a family-owned estate on the eastern slopes of the Napa Valley. Their carefully-tended 110 acres are blanketed with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec producing 5,500 cases per year.
At the door we were met by Michelle, an Australian expat getting her wine ya ya's out in the Valley and Grant, a self proclaimed "Cork Dork." Hestan Vineyards was born from the culinary passion of Stanley Cheng and his wife, Helen. Hestan is an amalgamation of Helen and Stan's names (like Brangelina, but with the marriage intact..). Stanley pioneered hard-anodized cookware in the 1970s. The Meyer Corporation produces high-end, heavy-duty, customizable appliance from breakfast to back-of-house to the backyard. "If you see him, please thank him for me," pipped Kelly.
Taken together, Meyer affiliate factories comprise the world's second largest cookware manufacturing operation, producing over 100 cookware lines distributed in over 30 countries. The factories employ more than 6,400 people, manufacturing more than 42 million pans per year on average. Retail partners include William Sonoma and Rachel Ray while the commercial side includes the cooktop grills at French Laundry and Bouchon.
For Hestan, their wine labels are a side hustle passion project. Winemakers Jeff Gaffner and Thomas Rivers Brown translate these varietals into award-winning, limited-release wines for the Hestan, Meyer, and Stephanie labels. Each has different techniques: Thomas Rivers Brown (whose name sounds like a country music jam band) who creates the Hestan and Meyer lines, is a purist who does believe in any blending. In the past 15 years Brown has made more than 25 wines that have received perfect scores from Robert Parker Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. (He's not sure of the exact number, which seems in character for this laid-back Southerner..). Winemaker Jeff Gaffner fully embraces the art of mixing varietals crafting the two labels named after Stan and Helen's children: Stephanie (their only daughter) and Vincent Christopher (named after their two boys)..
As Grant pointed out, wine is the opposite of food, the grapes don't lie. They can't be covered over with spices. Most crucial decision is how to pick in that 48 hour window. And the person in charge of that decision and everything else is Angel Camarena, who has overseen the viticulture at Hestan Vineyards since planting the first vines in 1996. Since then he has personally overseen every aspect of vineyard development and maintenance, in addition to managing the balance of the estate's 237-acre ranch property.
Angel is appropriately named! Living on the property since the vines were planted, last year he fought the Napa/Sonoma wildfires like a captain going down with the ship. Three times the cops came to remove Angel from the Hestan property for his safety and all three times he hid from in the vines he'd known for over twenty years ago. Angel saved the Hestan Vineyards (and neighbor's property) that night. This year when his daughter got into an Ivy League school, Stan reciprocated by telling him not to worry about paying the bill!
Some of our favorite moments at Hestan included the wines:
Hestan Chardonnay (2011) Citrusy lightly oaked Chardonnay brought straight from the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Clean and crisp, this wine is a tightrope of buttery and bright. It's plaid J. Crew shorts and a white yacht club sail. Perfect late September picnic vibes. Oh, and it's been served at the White House 3 times now!
Vincent Christopher Pinot Noir (2015) Valentine's Day in a glass! Hestan's only non-estate wine grown on the Sonoma Coast at a 1200 foot elevation. It's a Pinot that drinks like a Cab. This wine walks into a room quietly and soon becomes the most desired talked about guest. This wine sits and speaks with you; knowing your secrets in a most tender beautiful way.
Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (2014) This is a November campfire wine, a "opulent and Hedonist" drink. Hestan's Flagship Cab., it received 96 points by Robert Parker Wine Advocate. With triple black fruit flavors, it's Edgar Allen Poe in a bottle, full of dark velvet and echoing beauty.
Taylor Family Winery
The next winery Titus chauffeured us to was Taylor Family Winery, home of the tagline: three generations, one passion. There we sat down for a "Family Meal" of wine and cheese at the family's "Treehouse" with Pat "Nana" Taylor (Grandmother) and Danielle (Granddaughter). Like every family there were some strong opinions: "Nana believes Chardonnay is the Fountain of Youth," was one of the first statements out of Daniel's mouth! ;-)
The Taylor Family has deep roots in the Napa Valley, as their Patriarch, Jerry Taylor was a fifth generation Napa Valley farmer. Their story began when Pat and Jerry Taylor (who were married for 59 years) purchased the estate in (what would become) the Stags Leap District in 1976. They knew they had picked the right location when Lillian Disney (Walt Disney's widow) bought the property right next to them. The original vineyard was planted by their family in 1980. Pat and Jerry sold their grapes to various wineries before becoming Vintners.
In 2002, their daughter, Sandy and her husband, Phil, approached them about starting a winery. Jerry Taylor told her that he would be happy to grow the grapes and drink the wine, if she would do everything in between. Sandy found those terms more than agreeable, and at that point, Taylor Family Vineyards was born. "We planted all the originals vines by hand, immersed in the dirt and rocks."
Transitioning from Farmers to Vintners was a huge change. For the family, it has been a wonderful change, as it allows three generations of Taylor's to work together. In the beginning, Sandy ran the winery by herself, relying on her background as a controller in the wine industry and occasional support of her family. Today, Sandy works with her Mom (Pat), her husband (Phil), her brother (Mike), her son (Tyler), and her daughter (Danielle). Working for the winery is the second career for all family members involved. Taylor Family Vineyards is truly a family business. Their winery is completely family operated, with no non-family employees, but they do not have a professional winemaker in their family and are honored to work with their two consulting winemakers, Gustavo Brambila and Kristy Melton.
The ultimate boutique wine, Taylor Family Winery produces only 2,000 cases a year. Because all their sales are through their wine club, they know that every member has had a direct connection to a member of their family. This one degree connection translates to a devout brand loyalty: their Rosé sold out within 2 hours of them posting it online. "Our customers consider themselves extensions of our family, they use our wines for special occasions and tag us in it," noted Danielle.
Which is true even of the Thomas Gals as we used their Five, Six, Seven to celebrate our first family dinner the day after Kelly got married to Omid! ;-)
Some favorites from our time at Taylor Family Vineyards include:
Hillside Chardonnay (2016) "People look down on Chardonnay, but it's all that Nana drinks." Rich with bright acidity this wine is 100% Chardonnay. A Hipster Chardonnay, it's the one that everyone wants to be drinking. Friendly with notes of green apples and cloves. Not oakey, not steely, but where balance is the key.
Five, Six, Seven (2015) A family favorite that represents the five generations of the Taylor Family. A blend of varietals (Cabernet, Cab Franc, and Petit Syrah) and families. When making this wine every year, the entire family sits down with the winemakers to decide the perfect blend of varietals that makes their family's representation in a bottle. This wine with it's bright plum fruit speaks of lip perfect underage wisdom. The metal industrial labels are hand applied (to 90 cases individually...).
Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (2014) Their Flagship wine from the hillsides of their family estate in the Stags Leap District. Luminous notes of Blackberry and Cocoa Powder, it's flavors dancing with brilliance.
Off The Beaten Path:
After Kelly's and my time with Nana and Danielle, our treehouse picnic lunch arrived. It was the perfect autumn al fresco dining adventure, tailored (pun intended) by Stephanie Brown of Off The Beaten Path, a styling, planning, and catering company that focuses on the natural beauty of Napa.
Off The Beaten Path focuses on al fresco farm-to-table dining using only locally sourced seasonally inspired product. They celebrate quintessential wine country celebrations in nature set between the earth and sky, such as a farm, vineyard, private home, or even a mountain top.
Kelly and my scrumptious meal included fabulous dishes such as classic charcuterie of meats, cheese, and marinated olives, a fall corn tomato salad with basil and balsamic dressing, and an amazing crunchy creamy cucumber avocado salad (THE BEST!!!)!
Everything is locally sourced, even the flowers in the arrangements. Chef Lori Glad is the picnic expert, even growing a lot of the ingredients used in their catering. For picnic simplicity. Off The Beaten Path's offerings are primarily family style foods. "We focus on the experience by making the meal visual and fun as well as the best food you will ever eat. We are approachable foodies who know the importance of amazing food!"
Kat Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Edible Skinny, a site dedicated to making your life postcard worthy. She is also the CEO of the creative media company This Way Adventures. You can find more about both brands at http://www.thiswayadventures.com