Napa Valley Wineries: Domaine Chandon in Yountville, California

Surprisingly, in all my visits to Napa Valley when I was living in Northern California Wine Country my first two years, I had not visited Domaine Chandon.  It wasn’t until one of my closest friends came to Napa for her wedding (aka “elopement ceremony”) and we went wine tasting the following day.

Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley

Domaine Chandon is located in the Napa Valley and practices the traditional French sparkling winemaking practices established by their French Champagne house founders centuries ago. The history of champagne dates back to the late 1600′s with its discovery by none other than Dom Perignon. In the mid 1700′s, Moet and Chandon was founded by Claude Moet in Champagne, which ultimately acquired the Benedictine Abbey. In the 1970′s the chairman of the board of the parent company of Moet-Hennessy looked to California expansion and Domaine Chandon was born, with its first release in 1976. In 1977, the visitor center opened, making it the first French-owned sparkling wine venture in the U.S.

Chandon visitor center grounds

Chandon has 1,000 acres in Yountville, Carneros, and Mount Veeder that impart their own characteristics in the soil — important elements in both still and sparkling wine production. The regions’ characteristics are:

  • Yountville – slightly warmer climate produces riper Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, contributing to the richer more robust style of the reserves
  • Carneros – one of the best grape growing regions in California, the cooler region produces excellent Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier
  • Mount Veeder – Known for the steep, well drained slopes on the Mayacamas Range, produces small, intensely flavored Chardonnay grapes

Domaine Chandon French Oak Barrels

Red wine in the barrels

The three main grapes that go into sparkling wine might surprise some – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are pretty mainstream, but the Pinot Meunier is a unique one to many California wine lovers. It’s a close relative of Pinot Noir and is the most widely grown grape in the French Champagne region. The flavor is similar to a Pinot Noir but is said to be a bit earthier, with almost a nutty flavor.

Wall of bottles at Chandon

Domaine Chandon offers an excellent tour which I highly recommend as the grounds are beautiful and it was very interesting to learn about sparkling wine production. If you are interested in just a tour with no tasting, it is $12. The sensory tour and tasting has gone up to $32 (it was $30 when I was there).  I highly recommend this tour as you get a private sit down tasting of five wines — it’s a very pleasant and interactive environment.

 

Chandon tour

Chandon grounds

Chandon grounds

Once you’ve completed your tour, there are several tasting flights to choose from. We did the Brut flight which was pre-chosen for our group. Chandon features California Sparkling Wines, their exclusive wines (limited production), their Etoile collection which is a highly coveted cuvee, and their still wines one of which was included in our tasting flight.

 

James, our guide, preparing our wine tasting on the terrace

Bread is served at sit down tasting

After finishing your tour and tasting, make sure to check out the art that fills the grounds, Salon, and Etoile Restaurant. The art exhibits feature local artisans’ work and if there is something you are interested in, we were told everything was for sale.

I am not sure whether he is still there or not, but James was our tour guide.  He is very knowledgeable, personable, and one of the better winery guides I’ve had during my travels.  If Brock still works in the Salon, he’s another fun one!  He will help in selecting the perfect wines to take home with you.

Domaine Chandon

1 California Drive
Yountville, CA 94599
(707) 944-9400
Website: www.chandon.com

Sonoma County Wineries: Hop Kiln Winery in Healdsburg, California

I stumbled on this winery quite by accident when driving through the Russian River Valley with a friend.  We were on a “Guy Fieri foodie road trip” and we were instantly drawn in by the unique grounds that seemingly appeared out of nowhere as we rounded a curve — detour time!

Hop Kiln Winery in Sonoma County

Located in the Russian River Valley area of Sonoma County, Hop Kiln is situated literally on a California historic landmark. This property has been a working ranch since the mid 1800′s.

Hop Kiln is a California Historic Landmark

Hop Kiln was built in 1905 to process hops that flourished on farms in the sunny, cool weather of Healdsburg. In the mid 1950′s, the hops industry suffered due to an invasive fungus, causing Hop Kiln to become idle. Although grapes were grown on the ranch since the 19th century, the wine was only produced for family use until 1975 when the historic barn and kiln were converted to a bonded winery.

In 2006, they introduced a premium label, referred to as “HKG” and began replanting 248 acres, which now house mostly Burgundian style wines — 44 acres of Pinot Noir, 16 acres of Chardonnay, and 6 acres of Pinot Grigio.

Miniature Hop Kiln Winery in the duck pond

Hop Kiln is overseen by vineyard manager, David Smith, and winemaker Chuck Mansfield. Mansfield is definitely one winemaker to watch as he’s achieved some serious results for someone who hasn’t even celebrated his 30th birthday yet!

With the HKG label, Hop Kiln produces two labels now.  While the HKG wines are the premium estate offerings, Hop Kiln wines are known for both red and white wines.  They have created several proprietary blends like Thousand Flowers, Rushin’ River, and Big Red.

When I was there, they were offering four free tastes of the regular Hop Kiln label wines, but that may have since changed since my visit was quite some time ago.

Hop Kiln Tasting room

Hop Kiln has won many awards over the years for their wines

Aside from all the wines, Hop Kiln features a wide selection of gourmet food items — over 60 items! From unique mustards to creative olive oils, the options are almost overwhelming.  Their pestos are among some of the best you will find.  Just to give you an idea of what awaits you, here are some of the mustards that were available when I was there:

  • Cognac and Pepper
  • Crunchy Cranberry
  • Curry
  • Horseradish
  • Jalapeno
  • Merlot and Chocolate (sounds weird but loved this one)
  • Raspberry Jalapeno
  • Sake Wasabi (excellent)
  • Sweet Garlic
  • Tropical Mango
  • Zinfandel and Garlic

Hop Kiln Mustards

Hop Kiln features Chef Renzo Veronese, who was born in northern Italy, and he oversees the wine and food program at Hop Kiln. He has a starring role at all winery events and can provide recipes to accompany all their artisan food offerings!  Chef Renzo also works at their sister property nearby, Kenwood Inn and Spa — a Conde Nast award property.

Olive oil and other artisan foods available

Make sure to check out their website for various wine pairing recipes from Chef Renzo!

Visit Hop Kiln Winery in Healdsburg, California

Hop Kiln Winery and Tasting Room

  • 6050 Westside Road
  • Healdsburg, CA 95448
  • Phone: (707) 433-6491
  • Email: info@hopkilnwinery.com

HKG Glen Ellen Tasting Room

  • 13647 Arnold Drive
  • Glen Ellen, CA 95442
  • Phone: (707) 938-7622
  • HKG@hopkilnwinery.com

Website: Hop Kiln Winery

Wine Tasting in Napa Valley: Heitz Cellars in St. Helena, California

With so many wineries in the Napa Valley, how do you know which ones to visit?  Normally, I visit my usual places but we decided to do something entirely different this time — just pick all new places and see what happens (it has long been a goal of mine to visit every winery in Napa, so no complaints from me!).  Brett decided on Heitz because we have seen some of their higher end wines available in Taiwan so it would be nice to try them in person before spending several hundred dollars for them over there.

Heitz Cellar Sign

Heitz Cellar in St. Helena, California

Ironically, there was a group walking out of the winery who were also in town from Taiwan…perhaps that was a good sign already!

Once inside, the tasting room had such a warm and inviting feel.  It was much smaller than many of the other wineries in Napa, which was nice.  It felt more like a family owned place and less like the “rounding up cattle” feeling you get at the larger places in town.

Heitz Tasting Room

Inviting interior of Heitz Tasting Room in St. Helena, California

Heitz Cellars was founded by Joe and Alice Heitz in 1961.  They purchased their first 8 acres just south of St. Helena and in 1964, they acquired a 160-acre vineyard property in the eastern hills of St. Helena.   Joe Heitz had quite a presence in the wine world already after earning a master’s degree in Enology from UC Davis and is the one to thank for launching the Department of Enology at Fresno State College!  Joe passed away about 10 years ago, but the winery remains family owned and operated, a positive quality lost on many of the larger, corporate owned powerhouses.

The winery’s focus was on Cabernet and they have produced some incredible wines throughout the years.  One of the signature wines is the Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet that has been produced since 1966!  It has become one of the best known Cabernet Sauvignons around the world — revered for its unique mintiness and rich layers of complexity.

Here is a look at all the types of wine Heitz Cellars currently produces:

Napa Valley Zinfandel

Heitz Cellar's Napa Valley Zinfandel

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Martha’s Vineyard
  • Trailside Vineyard
  • Bella Oaks Vineyard
  • Napa Valley Cabernet

Chardonnay

Sauvignon Blanc

Grignoliono

Zinfandel

Port

We tried all the wines they had open for tasting and not surprisingly, we loved everything.  Obviously, we did not get to try the Martha’s Vineyard for tasting but fell so in love with the other Cabs that we bought one, along with a few other bottles!

If you are visiting the Napa Valley and have never tried Heitz Wines, be sure to stop in and enjoy.

Heitz Cellar Tasting Room and Hours:

436 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena, CA (707)963-3542

Daily from 11:00am until 4:30pm – no appointment necessary.  Closed on Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

More photos of the Heitz Cellars grounds and tasting room:

Heitz Cellar Wines

Heitz Cellar Wines

Vines outside of Heitz Cellars

Grapevines outside Heitz Cellar's Tasting Room

Heitz Cellar St Helena

Visit Heitz Cellars in St. Helena on your Napa Wine Tasting Trip

Heitz Cellars Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blanc from Heitz Cellar

A Visit to Waterstone Winery’s Tasting Room at the Taste of Oxbow in Downtown Napa, California

During one of my many visits to the Napa Valley, Brett and I accidentally stumbled upon Waterstone Wines while at the Taste of Oxbow Center in Downtown Napa.  We had finished a delightful lunch at the new Taylor’s Refresher and were stopping in at Gustavo Thrace across the street when I spotted a sign for Mahoney’s tasting room, whose wines I’ve tried several times.  After finishing our visit to Gustavo Thrace, I brought my husband next door to Mahoney to try their Syrah I love so much.  Turns out, the tasting room features wines from both Mahoney and Waterstone.  Although we had to be up in Calistoga for a cooking demonstration in 2 hours, I certainly was not going to miss an opportunity to try some new wines!

 

Mahoney and Waterstone Wines

Waterstone Wines and Mahoney are separate wineries, but they share the tasting room space.  Not a bad idea given the cost of real estate in Napa and it is a great way to get more exposure for both wineries.  I have to say – I was very impressed with all the Waterstone Wines we tried.  My favorite by far was their 2004 Reserve Cabernet.  This wine is very complex – from the subtle oak nose and the instant burst of fruit on the palette, to the smooth, long, lingering finish.

Who is behind Waterstone Wines?

Waterstone Winery is a collaboration between winemaker Philip Zorn and wine executive Brent Shortridge.  Formed in 2000, this is still a relatively new and up and coming player in the field of longtime wine greats.  Their vision for Waterstone was simple and proved to be “fruitful” – make luxury wines at affordable prices.

Using their network of Napa Valley contacts, Zorn and Shortridge focused on the wine making process itself versus searching for land and facilities.  Using intelligent sourcing resources, they neither own vineyards nor facilities where the wine is made.

Types of Wines Offered by Waterstone Winery

At the time of my visit, Waterstone was offering:

  • Chardonnay
  • Merlot
  • Syrah
  • Pinot Noir
  • Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Mahoney Cabernet

Their vast experience and directed focus on the Napa Valley viticultural nuances have resulted in a superb offering of wines.  Although every wine we tried could’ve easily come home with us – the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is my current favorite, hands down.   We are not the only ones who think this wine is a great find – the 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve received 91 points from Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Taste at Oxbow: Downtown Napa Tasting Room

The tasting room has a really modern design, with more classic wine country touches throughout.  The tasting room was designed with green in mind and features sustainable elements – chemical free paints, energy efficient light fixtures, and organic retail items.

To taste wines here, you pay either $10 for four wines, or you can even order by the glass!

The tasting room is located at:

708 First Street (corner of McKinstry Street)

Napa, CA

(707) 265-9600

Hours:  Sun – Thurs: 12pm – 7pm and Fri-Sat: 12pm – 9pm

Mahoney Vineyards: www.mahoneyvineyards.com

Waterstone Winery: www.waterstonewines.com

Taste at Oxbow Center: www.tasteatoxbow.com

El Dorado County Wineries: Lava Cap Winery

Lava Cap Winery in Placerville, CA

Lava Cap Winery in Placerville, CA

Lava Cap Winery is located in El Dorado County in the Sierra-Nevada foothills, about an hour east of Sacramento. Volcanic eruptions from now extinct volcanoes coated this area in lava, much of which has disappeared through erosion. During the California Gold Rush era, miners found the richest gold-bearing gravels were under a thick layer of volcanic rock which they named “lava cap”.

After the gold rush, a pear ranch was started in the 1860′s and ended up being one of the highest productivity rates for pears in all of California. Geologist and UC Berkeley professor, David Jones, bought the land in the 1970′s and after testing and research, found the soil underneath the ranch consisted of volcanic rock, possibly what suited it well for growing fruit.

Sign Explaining Lava Cap Soil

Sign Explaining Lava Cap Soil

The soil in this region has definitely given Lava Cap Winery a distinctive edge on bold flavors and intense aromas. I was introduced to their Sangiovese a couple of years ago and fell in love with it. Shortly thereafter, I paid a visit to the winery to check out their other wines and look into the wine club. I tried every wine (except two) on their tasting and reserve menus and thoroughly enjoyed each of them, which is saying a lot since I tried 16 different wines that day!  

As with most vwineries, the wine club is the way to go. Their wine club features 20% off single purchase bottles, invites to events, and free tastings of their reserve wines. They are one of the most decorated winery in the El Dorado appellation which doesn’t come as a big surprise!  But what is surprising is the low price of their great selection of wines – most are $20 or less!

Lava Cap is known for their small lot production, especially of red Bordeaux varietals, Petite Sirah, and Zinfandel.  Currently, they offer a few whites, like Suavignon Blanc, Viognier, Chardonnay, and a large selection of reds.  Some of their other reds include Barbera, Cab Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and several Cabernet Sauvignons.

El Dorado County wineries are truly hidden gems and Lava Cap is definitely one to check out!

Lave Cap Winery

Lave Cap Winery

Lava Cap Winery
2221 Fruitridge Road
Placerville, CA 95667
(800) 475-0175
(530) 621-0175
www.lavacap.com

Volcanic rocks found on the winery property

Volcanic rocks found on the winery property

Looking out to the vineyards at Lava Cap

Looking out to the vineyards at Lava Cap

Napa Wineries: Andretti Winery

View of the winery from the parking lot

View of the winery from the parking lot

Andretti winery is definitely a fun vineyard to check out on your Napa wine travels. It is owned by racing legend, Mario Andretti, and longtime friend, Joe Antonini (former CEO of Kmart). Many people are not aware that wine was Andretti’s second passion and he finally saw that come to life in 1996 when they founded the vineyard. Their consulting winemaker is Bobi Pepi – of the Robert Pepi Winery in Oakville.

As with most Napa wineries, there is a charge to wine taste unless you join their wine club which is not a bad deal. I was a member of the winery for a few years now and was never disappointed with any selections. This is the only way to get invitations to the winery events, most specifically the annual dinner with Mario Andretti himself.  Many years ago, my father, who was in the custom painting business for a bit, painted one of Andretti’s first helmets.  He left the industry many, many years ago but I grew up hearing some amazing stories of great racers, and Andretti was obviously one of them.  I had wanted to join the wine club in hopes of bringing my Dad to one of the events where Mario was attending.  Ironically, I was never available when the event would come up!  I would probably still be a member of their wine club, but gave most of them up when I moved abroad several months ago. 

Fountain at winery entrance

Fountain at winery entrance

The winery grounds are beautiful and very Tuscan themed.  Tucked away off Hwy 29 on Big Ranch Road, don’t blink or you might miss the entrance sign!  The beautiful grounds are not immediately visible from the road which just adds to the feeling of being in Italy.  Wander around behind the tasting room a bit and take in the beautiful scenery on your visit.   

The ornate outdoor walkways around the grounds

The ornate outdoor walkways around the grounds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andretti offers three collections of wine – their Montona Reserve Series, the Napa Valley Series, and the California Selections Series. While all are quality wines, I would recommend paying the extra to try the reserve wines. The Montona series is named after Mario’s childhood home and are very limited quantity wines, offered first to wine club members. The port is one of my favorites!!

Steel fermentation tanks

Steel fermentation tanks

They do offer tours and other private wine pairing classes but you must call ahead for reservations and availability. Individual tastings run about $10 pp.

Welcome to Andretti Winery

Welcome to Andretti Winery

Andretti Winery
4162 Big Ranch Road
Napa, CA 94558

Open Daily: 10am – 5pm
888-460-8463
707.261.1717
Fax: 707-259-6776
www.andrettiwinery.com

Calistoga Wineries: Vincent Arroyo Wines

Meeting Vincent Arroyo back in 2003

Meeting Vincent Arroyo back in 2003

I stumbled upon Arroyo winery many years ago after an article appeared in Southwest magazine on the top 5 lesser known vineyards to hit in the Napa region. Although the magazine article brought a lot headache due to a huge increase in visitors for a short while, some loyal wine lovers were created as well.

Vincent Arroyo is a very small production winery with an annual case production of about 8,000 of seven different varietals. He pretty much was a one man show for awhile and when you’d visit the tasting room (which was right across from his house), you’d meet him. The last time I was there for an event, he obviously had quite a bit of help and the place was packed – they were offering golf cart shuttle from the street back to the barrel areas!

My signed bottle of 2000 Greenwood Ranch Petite Syrah

My signed bottle of 2000 Greenwood Ranch Petite Syrah

His signature wine is the Petite Syrah which almost always sells out prior to even bottling. You need to get on a waiting list for it but trust me, it’s worth it! In addition, he produces a Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and several red blends. Their signature Petite Syrah is developed into several different bottlings: Napa Valley Petite Syrah (blend of their many vineyards), 2 vineyard designated ones – Greenwood Ranch & Rattlesnake Acres, Winemaker’s Reserve Petite Syrah (barrel aged for 34 months) and a Petite Syrah Port.

One fun element to Vince’s take on winemaking is his dogs get in on the action! Each year, he features a special wine named after one of the dogs. The first year I met Vincent, he was working on J.J.’s blend! JJ runs around the vineyard and loves to run and jump on the barrels, especially to retrieve his tennis ball! Both JJ and Bodega were featured on the Napa Dogs winery calendar in 2007!

Vincent Arroyo hosts several events each year that are worthwhile to check out (if you can get in!!)

Vincent Arroyo at Barrel Sampling Party in 2008

Vincent Arroyo at Barrel Sampling Party in 2008

- Barrel Sampling Event – Last Saturday of February each year (free). Opportunity to taste all the wines still in the barrel and sample delicious food!

- Open House – First Saturday of May each year (free). They bring out the previously released library wines which have been sold out for people to try! This is an opportunity for people to see how their wines are aging.

- Winemaker Dinner – First weekend in May (reservation only, $$)

- Arroyo Open – August (fee -$$). The winery holds the Arroyo Open in St. Helena every year. Unique challenges at various holes, and a catered buffet dinner paired with wine.

-Amigos De Arroyo (unk). This is “THE” event if you can get in. Every October they get a group together to harvest and hand pick grapes, transport them back to the winery for stomping. Once all the work is dine, feast on paeall prepared over an open fire and drink some of his best wines. Each member of the group will eventually receive 2 bottles of wine they helped make once it has been bottled AND they are all listed on the label as winemakers! This is obviously a very popular event and you must be entered into a lottery to even have a chance at participating!

Barrel Sampling Party 2008

Barrel Sampling Party 2008

NOTE TO VISITORS WANTING TO TASTE: You MUST call ahead for an appointment now! For groups of 6 or less, the tastings are still complementary as far as I know. For groups of 7 or more, the fee is $5 per person. Please be respectful and make reservations ahead of time versus showing up direct at the winery.

Napa Valley Wineries: Franciscan Winery

Entrance of Franciscan Winery

Entrance of Franciscan Winery

The first time I had a wine from Franciscan was actually a few years ago while living in Las Vegas!  While enjoying a wine pairing dinner at the Stratosphere’s Top of the World Restaurant, one of the courses was paired with the Franciscan Chardonnay.  Normally, not a huge fan of white wines in general, I instantly fell in love with it’s unique flavor.  It had the buttery flavor of a Chardonnay but it was very fruit forward.  The memory of that wine stayed with me and I made sure to visit Franciscan on my next trip to Napa.

The Wall of Magnificat

The Wall of Magnificat

Franciscan is located in Oakville, right on Highway 29.   Founded over 30 years ago, Raymond Duncan and Justin Meyer were there for the beginning of this Napa stronghold, with the 1975 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Agustin Huneeus became involved in 1985, concentrating on a commitment to small lot wine making and introducing their Bordeaux style blend, the Magnifcant.  Another two years later Franciscan made more headlines by producing the Cuve Sauvage, the first Napa Chardonnay produced fermented with wild yeast. Today, Janet Myers is Franciscan’s winemaker and has excelled in staying true to their signature: bold wines with rare combination of rich, vibrant flavors yet fine, supple texture.  Working with Mondavi and other leading vintners around the world, she has brought that knowledge to Franciscan, creating some incredible wines.       Some of my favorites: 2006 NAPA VALLEY CHARDONNAY (Rated 89 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine)

  • Appearance:  Pale lemon yellow
  • Aroma:  Pretty stone fruit and ripe pear, with lemon peel notes.  Layered aromas with enticing minerality, hints of cream and vanilla, and crisp apple undertones.

    Brett and I in the Franciscan Tasting Room

    Brett and I in the Franciscan Tasting Room

  • Flavor:   Fresh and lively, yet good richness and body.  Layered flavors of lemon and golden delicious apple, pineapple, and toasted oak.  The round mid-palate extends to a lingering crisp finish and bright citrus flavors, minerals and sweet oak.
  • Composition: 100% Chardonnay
  • Appellation:   Napa Valley
  • Oak Aging:   8 months sur lee, French and American Oak
  • Alcohol:  13.5%
  • Release Date:   December 1, 2007
  • Retail:  $18.00 USD

2007 SAUVIGNON BLANC (Rated 83 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine)

  • Appearance: Pale Yellow
  • Aroma:    Citrus, melon, and fig
  • Flavor:    Fresh and lively.  Vibrant, layered flavors of lime, lemongrass and melon with hints of minerality on a crisp, elegant finish.
  • Composition: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
  • Appellation:   Napa Valley
  • Alcohol:   13.5%
  • Release Date:  March 1, 2008
  • Retail: $17 USD

Franciscan Winery 1178 Galleron Lane, St. Helena, CA (707)967-3830  10am-5pm Different tasting flights available, but plan for at least $15.  There are discount coupons online and at Franciscan’s website.

Franciscan Winery in Napa Valley

Franciscan Winery in Napa Valley

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