Day 7 – Napa Valley – Stag’s leap, Honig, Burgess and the Napa Wine Company

What a stunning place this is!  I woke early and sat outside our poolhouse bedroom as the sun came up over the hill to the East.  Sounds of cows, birds and far-distant trucks echoed round and about.  The three resident dogs, Oscar, Toby and Luigi pottered over to say hello.

Stag’s Leap Vineyards (aka S.L.V)

Mark was in charge of choosing our winery destinations today, so we started large at Stag’s Leap, getting there just as the first punters were flooding in.  A Friday, but evidently a popular place.  There wasn’t much room at the tasting bar, so we stood by a barrel top and someone poured our 4 wines from the Estate Collection tasting flight, $30, only available here or via the wine club.  The winery has 98 acres making 5,000 cases of these high-end wines.  First up was their 2008 Arcadia Vineyard Chardonnay, all Burgundian in style, 9 months on oak, fresh, citrus, apple, good long finish. $50.  Then three Cabernet Sauvignons, all single-designate vineyards.  The 2008 Fay spent 18 months on oak, so good plum and cassis on the nose, earthy spiciness on the palate, but a strange astringent finish, $95.  The 2008 S.L.V. was also fruit-forward, 2 years on oak, great colour but that same stark, short finish, $125.  Their final pouring was the 2008 Cask 23, deep colour, black cherry, dark chocolate, with peppery notes, a cleaner finish than the previous two, but punishing, especially @ $195.  Note to self: go try their second label, Hawk Crest (100,000 cases p.a.), which is widely distributed, or their Napa Valley collection   These weren’t for us, which was strangely disappointing.

Honig Winery

We drove across from the Silverado Trail towards Oakville, and arrived at Honig on the valley floor in Rutherford.  Casey, our pourer, was an easy-going young enthusiast for their wines, explaining that we could take our tasting outside onto the sun-drenched patio.  Their first vintage was made back in 1980, on a 70 acre ranch, 50+ planted to vine.  Winemaker Kristen Belair is ably assisted by Brett Adams, making wine from Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, but also Semillon and Muscat grapes.  The loamy soil needs only partial irrigation, and is farmed sustainably.

First of four wines was the 2010 Honig Reserve Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford @ $25, 2,000 cases made.  This was pale yellow, with good crisp minerality, floral notes and a good finish,  Next up was their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 92% CS, plus the remainder made up from Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, aged in American oak, $40.  Dark red fruit, top toasty notes, cherry and plum, balanced, good tannins, smooth.  The 2006 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell Vineyard from a single 10-acre site was too hot, short and astringent for me, dusty almost.  $75.  A luscious finale came in the shape of their 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, $55, Sauternes-style, 6 months on lees, partially fermented on French oak.  25% residual sugar, 12% ABV.  Delicious, sweet, almost cloying, syrupy smooth.  Perhaps this would be better with some blue cheese or a cheesecake, delicious but too lush for my taste.


We grabbed a picnic from a deli in St Helena (remember the raw quail eggs!) and headed up Deer Mountain Road Eastout of the valley.  We had time to lounge in the sunshine before our 2.30 appointment at Burgess, high up above the valley overlooking a reservoir and the Napa river.  Jacqueline greeted us into the cellar where the tasting bar is set up, and we were the only ones there.  She explained the history of the property from its beginnings in the 1880s to Tom Burgess purchasing the land in the late 60s.  He and winemaker Bill Sorenson have been working together here ever since, making 15,000 cases off 115 acres over 3 sites.  Tom is semi-retired now, but his son Steve is getting involved more and more with production and blending.  Their 3 growing sites are spread across Napa – one here in this beautiful Swiss/Italian-feeling farm, volcanic soil, Cab, Petite Syrah, Cab Franc; one the other side of Howell Mountain, an old river bed, Syrah; and the third down near Yountville, organic, alluvial, Merlot & Grenache.

We started with their 2008 Grenache, brilliant purple, fresh raspberry jam, spice and clove, fabulous finish, $25.  2007 Syrah was Rhone in style, pronounced, oaky, smoky, 40% French/60% American oak, red fruit, $28.  2007 Merlot was packed with black cherry, with a hint of mint, round and full, $28.  Their flagship 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is newly released, toasty, spicy, vanilla, $38, good.  Next a release from their library of wines, a 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon, $68, so good we had to buy a bottle.  European in style, plum, strawberry, earthy, full, utterly delicious.  This was the Cabernet Sauvignon we had been hoping for, and perhaps we just like ours a little maturer.  Last up was a big 2007 Estate Vineyards Reserve Bordeaux Blend, $80, a really big, complex wine, spicy, rich, gorgeous length.  This is a delightful winery to visit, settled into its hillside and very comfortable in its own skin.  Sometimes going off the beaten track reaps rewards, and this certainly did in spades.

Barrel tasting with winemaker and owner of 'Eponymous', Bob Pepi

Napa Valley Wine Company

Eponymous wine maturing on French oak in readiness for blending and bottling

We beetled back down the valley towards Oakville to meet Bob Pepi, our university chum’s husband, at this bonded warehouse that offers custom crush-facilities.  In continuous operation since 1877, under several different identities (Inglenook has its winery here once), it now also houses a tasting room displaying 24 small wineries’ produce on a rotating basis.  Situated adjacent to Opus One, this is a great spot to attract passing punters, and I can see exactly why Bob markets his wines here.  The staff were professional and friendly, with great indepth knowledge of each wine they poured.  But before we got into the wines, Bob took us of a tour of the facility itself, where the whole process from grapes arriving into the sorters and crushers, to the bottling and new screw-top processing machinery.  It was a fascinating glimpse into the front line of wine making, and Bob was good enough to finish with a barrel-tasting of his 2011 Merlot, Cab Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – I hadn’t done this in a long, long time, so fun to be up close and personal with such young, fruity wines.  We then retired to the tasting room to try Bob’s Eponymous wines, but we were having so much fun, I failed to take any notes!  Suffice to say, these are well-made, beautifully balanced, complex offerings – and a bottle of his Cabernet Sauvignon went down extremely well over supper later down in Napa at L’Angele with my meal of veal sweetbreads and pork cheeks.

This had proved a fascinating, rewarding day – the people involved in wine-making here are happy farmers and master blenders, its an art form needing dedication and creativity.

About Lucy Ewing

Revivalist wine professional

Posted on February 4, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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