Napa - Spring Mountain vs. the 29

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Napa is considered a wine mecca. All the big names, Peju, Beringer, Robert Mondavi, Hall can be found along the 29, St. Helena Road. Napa has built a name for itself and consistently delivers great quality wine.

We reserved a tasting at Cakebread Cellars, which is a wonderful stop on the 29:

Appointment only. You are taken in a small group to tasting area, where you can take your time to analyze the wine, talk about it, ask questions. The wines themselves are wonderful. A full-bodied '08 Chardonnay that is surprisingly their version of "crisp." An '06 Chard that is deemed their "red-wine lover's white". A light-bodied floral, nutty '06 Pinot Noir that has flavors of vanilla and cranberry. An '06 Cab that presents a lot of oak, with hints of strawberry and caramel. An '06 Syrah with layers of dark berries, tobacco, licorice, chocolate, smokiness, oak, pepper, and butter.

Next, we had planned ahead to try wineries in a more low key area, like Spring Mountain, which is off the "beaten path". Call ahead at the different wineries to make reservations (at least 3 days before - these wineries try not to accommodate too many people). It takes a little more effort and research to taste in this area, but the intimacy, slower pace, and smaller crowd is well worth it.

We made our way through the windy hillside, with narrow roads surrounded by trees bending inwards, as if we were entering a mythical forest...


As we pulled up into the narrow uphill driveway, a man tending dirt looked up over his shoulders at us.

"Are you the folks who called yesterday?"


"Ok, let me go wash my hands."

This man turned out to be John Guilliams, owner of the winery. He quickly came back outside with several bottles of red wine and we tasted outside overlooking the vineyard. Just John, Danny, and me.

I looked up over to the Guilliams' home just above the vineyard and imagined waking up every morning with a cup of coffee and taking in the amazing view.

We enjoyed the fruit forward, fleshy, full-bodied, smooth wine as we talked learned the history of the winery and how it came to be. John tasted with us. Gave his honest opinion and even liberally opened up a new bottle when he wasn't satisfied with how the old one tasted. I appreciated John's wine wisdom and environmental knowledge. We had great conversation and great red wines.

Terra Valentine:

A castle-like setting, interesting history, educational tour, and an intimate sit down tasting. Generous pours, and light, gourmet snacks. An '08 Viogner with notes of apricot and brie. The smoky, peppery, smooth '07 Amore (mostly Sangiovese). Their exciting '06 Spring Mountain District blend (mostly Cab. Sav.) that tastes like cherry pie. *sigh*


On the way back down the 29, we decided to stop by some wineries to taste. Although the architecture was amazing (especially at Peju), the experience of winery hopping along this road just did not have the down-to-earth feel of Paso Robles, the enthusiasm of Temecula, or the hospitality of Santa Barbara. Instead, we experienced overwhelming crowds, over-priced tasting fees, and irritable wine pourers, whose mission was NOT to educate, but to get us in and out as quickly as possible. 

When in Napa, I would recommend making appointments to taste in Spring Mountain or Mount Veeder (especially at Rubissow Winery). Yes, it will take more research, planning ahead, and preparation, but the Napa experience you will gain will be phenomenal.


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