I try to visit Napa at least once a year. I made my annual trek recently and built our itinerary around the Rutherford Dust Society’s yearly Day In The Dust event. Before we arrived in Napa County, however, I had a stop to make in Marin County, at Kastania Vineyards to pick up Pinot Noir for a friend.
You’ll notice the owls on the door handles. That’s because Kastania’s owner and winemaker is Hoot Gibson. Kastania is right off Highway 101 in Petaluma, just south of Santa Rosa. Hoot produces exquisite Pinot Noir, and his winery is well worth the visit. They’re open weekends and by appointment.
We headed north, through my old hometown of Santa Rosa, then headed east, taking the picturesque Petrified Forest Road down into the Napa Valley and headed south on Highway 29. We passed Calistoga and took a left on Larkmead Lane. This was Kat’s first true visit to this remarkable valley, and I wanted her to experience a few of my favorite places. We pulled into Larkmead Winery, admired their garden and neatly manicured vineyard and walked into the tasting room. There wasn’t a soul to be seen. After a few minutes, we determined no one was coming to greet us, so we hopped back in the car and pulled into Frank Family Vineyards.
There’s a sense of stepping back in time when you enter the Frank Family property. It’s no wonder, as its history dates back to the late 1800s. It was in fact, the old Hans Kornell winery, Kornell being the one who introduced methode Champenoise to California. We sat on the spacious deck and were welcomed by Melinda, our hostess during our visit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met winery staff who were wine club members before becoming employees, which is how Melinda got her start. We tasted several wines, the highlights the spectacular Chardonnay, the exquisite Pinot Noir and their velvety Cabernet. It was the prefect beginning to our all too short visit to the Napa Valley.
We took the short drive to the Silverado Trail and headed south before heading up Deer Park Road towards the tiny Arns Winery. I met Arns’ winemaker Sandi Belcher several years ago and we have been dear friends ever since. Her husband John Arns is the vineyard manager, and the Cabernet Sauvignon they produce is world-class. After a nice visit in their turn-of-the-century kitchen, we walked over to the winery and tasted two vintages of her Cabernet and the newly released non-vintage Impromp2 Cab. Sandi has been a force in this valley for decades, and her wines rank with the finest. The four of us headed down the hill for dinner at Farmstead, operated by Longmeadow Ranch Winery. I’ve always loved the food there, and was lucky enough to try Sandi’s first vintage of Sonoma Chardonnay, the ideal accompaniment to oysters on the half-shell.
Our Day In The Dust event was Wednesday afternoon, so we knew we had time that morning to fit in a couple of visits. After breakfast at Oakville Grocery, we made our way back to Calistoga. Our first stop, Venge Vineyards. Kirk Venge’s dad Nils was the first winemaker to receive a perfect 100 point score from Robert Parker. I met Kirk several years ago and the two of us have been friends ever since. I am a huge fan of his wines. We sat on his deck over looking the vines while Eric poured several wines for us, starting with Sauvignon Blanc. We tasted our way through Chardonnay, Sangiovese, his Scout’s Honor blend, a couple of Cabernets, including the magnificent Family Reserve. We said goodbye with a taste of late harvest Zinfandel. Venge is by appointment only and is another stop on my must-visit list.
Around the same time I met Kirk, I was introduced to Tedeschi Family Winery. The tiny winery (2,000 case total annual production) is tucked away in a residential section of the north end of Calistoga. I make it a point to stop in each time I’m in the area, and I touched base with Emilio Tedeschi to let him know we would be coming. We had a few sips in the tasting room before Emilio grabbed a few bottles and led us to a picnic table overlooking the vines. I love everything about Tedeschi Winery. The wines are stellar and the ambiance is hard to beat.
I’ll save the rest of our visit for another time, including Day In The Dust, Domaine Chandon, our incredible stay at Napa River Inn, Tres Perlas, Kieu Hoang and Saintsbury.
Tom Plant launched WINEormous in 2009 and is a member of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association. Based in Temecula, California, he offers intimate winery tours for no more than seven people. Tour details and pricing are available at www.temecula-tours.com. WINEormous is the recipient of the Luxury Travel Guide’s Wine Tour Operator of the Year award for Temecula 2017. Call now to book your Temecula Winery Tour at (951) 907-9701. Ask about special discounts.