We knew it was just a matter of time. The Napa Valley is the elephant in the room, the 600 lb. gorilla. When Laura and I planned our first major road trip together, we knew we had to wind up in the Mecca of the California Wine Country. It was an early 4 am wake up call in Paso Robles. We had a 10:00 appointment at Cain Winery and many miles ahead of us. We entered the Napa Valley and drove through Napa, Oakville, Yountville, Rutherford and St. Helena before finally turning on to Langtry Road and up Spring Mountain. Autumn in Napa Valley is simply magical. The colors are beyond description and the air is crisp and clean. We met Holly Evans-White who welcomed us and gave us a tour of the property and what she calls the most magnificent view of the valley. I know we didn’t see one to match it during our visit.
Jerry and Joyce Cain purchased the property in 1980 and brought on partners Jim and Nancy Meadlock six years later. The Cains did envision making wine on the property, but didn’t have any idea how successful their property would become. They actually had a jelly garage built, thinking the wine would just be a part time thing. The Cains sold their interest to the Meadlocks and moved to Arizona. Chris Howell is the General Manager and Winemaker and clearly has his own vision. His focus is on quality wine and he has no time for any of what he considers to be trivialities of the industry. He wasn’t there when we visited, but I look forward to meeting him on another visit. To get a sense of his philosophy, check this link out.
We stopped in the tasting room and tasted the NV6 Cain Cuvé, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc with a touch of Petit Verdot, the 2005 Cain Concept made with the best available fruit from Rutherford and Oakville, the same varietals but with Cabernet Sauvignon the dominant fruit, the 2000 Cain Concept Library and the 2005 Cain Five, with Cabernet Sauvignon again leading the way and 2% Malbec added. Cain’s wines are superb and a visit there is unforgettable. Cain isn’t easy to get to and you definitely need an appointment to visit. They regularly turn down 100 – 300 requests weekly. San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Matt Cain wanted to visit and was initially turned down because the only reason he wanted to go was that his last name was the same as the winery’s. He eventually did wind up visiting. We met vineyard manager Ashley Anderson and were extremely impressed by her passion for work. She clearly loves what she does. Our visit to the valley was off to a wonderful start. We headed down the hill and followed Holly’s advice and had lunch at Taylor’s Refresher. Think a burger joint with a wine list and you’re on the right track.
Next up was a visit to Viader, the result of Delia Viader’s vision. Delia grew up in Argentina and developed a palate for Bordeaux style wines. She came to the United States to get a doctorate in philosophy and then obtained a business degree. In her late 20s she heard that the property she now owns was for sale. With the help of her grandfather as an investor and advice from her mom “let’s make wine”, the project began. It took ten years to put enough money together to open a winery. There was much work to be done, including extensive hillside blasting. Delia’s master plan is the blueprint for everything they do. From the beginning she wanted to use Cabernet Franc as her primary blending grape, an idea scoffed at initially, but it has worked out very well. Viader is truly a family business. Delia’s daughter Janet handles sales and marketing, son Alan is the winemaker with his mom and daughter-in-law Mariela (Alan’s wife) is the Executive Chef. Viader wines, from the “V” Petit Verdot/Syrah blend, to their Cabernet Sauvignons and their DARE line including a magnificent Tempranillo are beautifully crafted. The views at Viader are breathtaking as well, with steep vineyards and heavenly panoramas.
We were eagerly anticipating the next stop of the day: Jarvis Winery. Not only have we enjoyed their wines, they have a remarkable reputation and we had heard the tour of the winery and caves was incomparable. I’m sorry to say our visit didn’t live up to the hype. The property is stunning. There are lakes on either side as you walk from the parking lot to the winery. The entrance, a huge arched door, is more than impressive. When we entered, Laura asked if she could use the restroom. She was escorted to the back and needed to be “checked in” by security and her hostess had to wait outside for her to finish. William Jarvis made a brief appearance and we started the tour. No doubt about it, Jarvis Winery is magnificent. Their caves are immense and they’re designed like a wagon wheel with spokes going out from the center. There’s a waterfall. We passed William’s office, a massive door adorned with embossed grapes vines and his name. We entered the crystal room, home to the grand collection of crystals William and Leticia have collected from around the world. From there we entered the grandiose ballroom where they hold events for their wine club members. Someone remarked “it’s like Willy Wonka.” I agree and for me that’s the problem. It’s all too much. Give me some quality wine in nice surroundings and I’m happy. We finished in the tasting room and had several of Jarvis’ wines (no doubt about it, they are outstanding) with cheese and crackers. Here’s the second thing we had a problem with. They’re serving $100+ wines in small glasses, like something you’d expect at Denny’s. I’m sorry, I just don’t get it. If you want to see grandeur and taste some wonderful wines, check out Jarvis. It’s just too over the top for our tastes. There would have been more photos, but no cameras are allowed inside the caves.
We called it a day, grabbed some decent Mexican food in town and called it a night. This was going to be the end of a three part series, but there’s too much to share about our trip to Napa. There will be two more segments.