A Perfect Day in Napa Valley consists of fabulous wineries, amazing food & lovely scenery. Here’s what to do to make every last second count when you travel to Napa Valley, California.
Hahn Estate Winery in Soledad, California is a family-owned vineyard specializing in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
On the second day of our trip to Carmel, California it absolutely poured on us! We were a bit bummed because we were scheduled for an ATV tour at Hahn Estate. Renee, the Director of Estate Operations for Hahn, and Andy, Director of Viticulture, greeted us at the tasting room and said that although we’d be skipping the ATV part of the tour, there was still plenty to see. Boy was there – This was the single most informative winery visit I have ever had!
Before heading out for our visit, Andy told us a bit about the vineyard. It was purchased in 1979 and is family-owned. Hahn produces 400k cases of wine across their 5 lines – Hahn, Hahn SLH, Lucienne, Smith & Hook, and Winery Selections. There are 20 clones of Pinot Noir growing on the property – All of which go into their Orchestra Block Pinot Noir, which is in its second year of production.
Andy explained that the winds in the area help to build up the skins of the grapes, while the plants around the vines affect the flavoring. For instance, those vines planted near an almond tree tend to have an amaretto flavor – Something I particularly enjoy in my Chardonnay.
Hahn has been certified sustainable since 2008 and uses falcons to patrol the vineyards in the fall, protecting it from critters. The sweeping grounds are truly a sight to be seen (even on this gloomy day).
After a bit of inside information we headed to the barrel room, where the Chardonnay is housed. Renee really gave us a lesson by allowing us to taste the differences in the barrels of wine that are strictly produced by hand vs. those that use machinery to process the grapes.
Even though the grapes are identical, the taste is exceptionally unique. Of course I preferred the taste found in the more expensive way of doing things, all by hand. While that Chardonnay was a bit more smooth, and feminine, the barrel which was produced with the aid of machinery had a bit more of a petrol note and didn’t seem quite as well-rounded.
Tucked into the heart of the Dundee Hills is De Ponte Cellars. It’s not as fancy as some of the other wineries out there – I’m talking to you Sokol Blosser and Stoller. But, the wines are just as good, if not better than those of the popular kids.
De Ponte doesn’t have sweeping, floor to ceiling windows, an expansive patio, or a massive tasting room. Rather, you’ll find it tucked away, amongst the vines in a nondescript small red building. Once inside, you’ll notice the adobe tiled floors, leather couches and small-ish tasting bar. You may not know what you’re in store for.
You’ll notice immediately that it’s a much more personal tasting experience. Because you’re removed from the crowds, the staff has much more time to talk about the wine making process and vintages. They’ll even make time to pet your dog – Sammie is always welcome. The best part? They’ll greet you with their signature wine, the Melon de Bourgogne.
The DFB Melon de Bourgogne ($25), is especially unique. I’ve not seen it poured anywhere else. This wine has a bright acidity and a mineral, salty characteristic. Notes of mango and banana mingle with floral aromas. This wine would be amazing with seafood. We’re always certain to bring a couple bottles home with us.
As a fan of lighter Pinot Noirs, I’m a huge fan of their Clay Hill. It’s nicely balanced, easy to drink and incredibly food friendly. The 2013 vintage is sold out, but be on a lookout for the 2014, being released Memorial Day weekend!
Moving on to the bigger, bolder Pinots, be on a lookout for the Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($44) and the Estate Pinot Noir ($60).
The 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir has refined tannins, hints of toffee and plum, and an elegant finish. Super food friendly from the offset, it will continue to develop over the next several years.
The 2012 Estate Pinot has a much deeper color, along with soft, rich flavors of chocolate, cherry and baking spices. Be sure to set aside a bottle of this one for aging another 8-10 years.
I highly suggest visiting this hidden gem in the Dundee Hills for some truly amazing and unique wines. Their tasting room is open 7-days a week from 11am – 5pm. Tasting fee is $15.
I recently had the opportunity to try some lovely wines from Raptor Ridge Winery and was pulled in immediately by their Pinot Gris. Located in Newberg, Oregon, and just a quick drive from Portland, I decided that a visit to the winery was in order. I rounded up some girlfriends on a Saturday, we hopped in the car, and we were greeted at one of the most lovely vineyards in the area.
Although it was foggy, rainy, cloudy – all things Oregon – on this particular day, we did have a couple dry spots where we were able to step outside and enjoy the lovely views. Scott Shull, founder and winemaker, tells us that on sunny, clear days, there is a fabulous view of Mount Hood.
It was a good day to come – A local musician was playing guitar, Scott was pouring barrel tastings, and the tasting room was quite full. In speaking with Scott, you can easily get a grasp of his true passion for the winemaking process. Up with the sun, and spending hours on the tractor. It’s a job of passion, creativity, and down and dirty hard work. That enthusiasm really comes through in the wines being poured.
We all had our favorites – My friend Meghan and I leaned towards the 2014 Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris ($20), a medium-bodied wine with aromas of orange, apricot and lemon. It was a good vintage for the winery, the ideal weather led to their largest production to date.
Another favorite of mine, and my friend Laura, was the 2013 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45). I’m a fan of light pinots, and especially lean towards the 2011 and 2013 vintages. This pinot gives us flavors of cherry, pomegranate, and plum with a backbone of baking spices and chestnut, and bright acidity.
Deann leaned towards the bigger pinot – The 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir ($45) has a nose of ripe fruits – blackberry, dark cherries, plum, with a bit of licorice and black tea to round it out. (92 points Wine Spectator)
Also, not to be missed is the 2013 Folin Vineyards Tempranillo ($35). While the pinots tend to lean towards the more feminine side, this tempranillo carries the more masculine aromas of tobacco, pine sap, and charcoal, but it’s rounded out with hints of strawberry and cherry as well. Be sure to pair this one with your Mexican food!