Wine tasting in Los Angeles

wine tasting in los angeles

Wine tasting in Los Angeles at the San Antonio Winery

Wine Tasting in Los Angeles

My son Dave lives in the Los Angeles area, and when we visit  him we inevitably end up wine tasting in the big City. Remarkably, Los Angeles does have a winery, one where wine is produced and bottled. We have been there just once, but it is a fascinating spot. There are many venues in L.A. where one can taste and learn about wines.

We highlight a few of these  and,  if you have a favorite, please comment and tell us about it.

San Antonio winery

The one and only winery in Los Angeles

The one and only winery in Los Angeles

The San Antonio Winery is the one and only winery operating in the city of Los Angeles. Little did we expect to find any wineries in this city. The San Antonio Winery began operation in 1917 and is now in the fourth generation of the Raboli Family ownership. Apparently, vineyards once were part of the landscape along the banks of the Los Angeles River. Now nothing resembles a vineyard or a grape in the area. However, the  winery is still making wine, getting grapes from family-owned vineyards in Paso Robles, Monterey, and the Napa Valley. The family also has long-term contracts with various well-known wine growers in California. Besides a tasting room, there is a restaurant and memorabilia posted on the walls that give a glimpse of the winery’s past. Visitors to the winey in downtown Los Angeles can not only taste wine but tour the winemaking facilities. Check the San Antonio Winery Website for complete touring and tasting details.  The San Antonio winery, within the past couple of years, opened a tasting room in Paso Robles. The Raboli Family has a number of vineyards in Paso Robles, so this is an ideal location to showcase their wines produced from Paso Robles grapes.

Silver Lake Wine Shop

silver lake wineThis lovely neighborhood wine shop focuses on wines from small-production wineries throughout the world. They have a very nice selection of boutique California wines. The Silver Lake Wine Shop has tastings on Sunday afternoons, and Monday and Thursday evenings. The Sunday tasting is very popular and requires a reservation. For a $20 tasting fee, there are four wines and an aperitif paired with appetizers. Check the Silver Lake Website for details.

Vinoteca Farfalla

This is a very fun and popular wine bar in L.A. Vinoteca Farfalla offers several wines by the glass or full bottles of wine from an extensive list of choices. One of the issues that all wine bars have is keeping their wines fresh. We noticed at Vinoteca Farfalla that they have dispensers that keep the opened bottles filled with an inert gas that keeps the wine from spoiling. One interesting aspect of this wine bar is the food menu of small plates available. The menu offers both Brazilian and Italian fare.  The place is very festive and was crowded on our Monday night visit.

Colorado Wine Company

The Colorado wine bar is open every night and offers wine, sparkling wine, beer, and even sake. At the Colorado Wine Company there are lots of wines under the $25 mark. The spot is popular and also hosts many events and activities.

Wally’s Wine & Spirits

Wally’s is a huge wine shop in L.A. with a starting date of 1968. Each Saturday Wally’s conducts a wine tasting from 1 to 4 pm. The tastings are $10 per person and reservations are made online. See Wally’s Wine & Spirits Website for complete details.


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    Julie at Goosecross Cellars

    Wine, for me, is all about the experience and having fun with old friends and new. Goosecross Cellars, a family-owned winery in Yountville, delivers on both excellent wines and plain, old wine fun! The ideal wine experience for me includes more than delicious wines. The experience is also about wine education, approachable staff and lots of great conversation. Goosecross sets the bar on all three in my book.

    The tasting room at Goosecross

    The tasting room at Goosecross

    The Goosecross Cellars tasting room is always full, and, yet, they make sure that every guest feels like a VIP.  If they know your name or recognize you, they will greet you loudly. It almost feels like you have entered into an episode of Cheers.   They have a menu of different tastings, but be prepared to try wines that are not on the tasting list.  They will invite you to try other wines on hand and tailor the tasting to your personal preferences.  The Goosecross crew also loves to joke around with its visitors and expects to be harassed back.  For example, on a recent visit to the winery, I received the nickname “Puddin.”  I always like to come to Goosecross as my final winery, because I know that I will end the day on a positive note and get great recommendations for dinner.

    This fun and approachable atmosphere sets the stage for their award winning wines.  Whereas I am not a sommelier or well-versed in viticulture and enology, I do know what characteristics I like in a wine.  My personal favorite is the 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is a smooth, special occasion Cab that is great paired with food or enjoyed by itself.  Goosecross also sells a special order, chocolate-dipped bottle of the Howell Mountain Cab.  The 2011 Cabernet Franc is another of my recommendations.  Cabernet Franc is usually a blending wine, but this one stands on its own.  Goosecross also makes a number of white wines that turned me into a white wine drinker as well.  Their Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs are crisp and delicious.  I also like the sweeter 2011 Orange Muscat.  All three are perfect for a warm summer day.  Goosecross’ wines are also typically ready to drink.

    If you are so inspired, their wine club structure has a level for everyone.  You can join the two, four, six or twelve-bottle club.  Goosecross also hosts great members’ events.  Recently, I attended the Winemakers BBQ.  This event welcomed new winemaker, Bill Nancarrow.  It was both family friendly and fun for couples and singles.  They had a bouncy house for the kiddos and an upbeat country band playing for the duration.  The evening included four wines (2012 Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 Estate Chardonnay, 2011 Zinfandel, 2009 State Lane Cabernet Sauvignon) and a catered barbecue.  Winemaker, Bill Nancarrow, visited each table, poured the wines and talked with each guest.  It felt like the party was at his home.  Goosecross really knows how to celebrate a relaxing summer evening with great wines, good food and excellent company.

    Next time you are driving along the Silverado Trail, turn off for a visit to Goosecross Cellars.  You will not be disappointed!

    Goosecross Cellars is located at 1119 State Lane in Yountville.  It is approximately 200 yards off of the Silverado Trail and 300 yards from downtown Yountville.  Their tasting room is open seven days a week from 10:00am-4:30pm.

    goosecross tasting room


      Hall Wines leaps forward with winery iPad technology

      image Hall winery

      Revel Systems winery iPad technology at Hall Wines

      The next time you stop in at one of Hall Wines tasting rooms, there will be something new to ponder at the counter: iPad tablets used by customers and staff to simplify the purchase and shipping of Hall wines. Hall instituted the Revel Systems iPad point-of-sale solution two weeks ago and all appears to be working nicely. According to Revel System CEO Chris Ciabara, Hall has taken a giant leap forward, integrating all its technology systems into one easy platform that can be used on Apple’s iPad tablet. Will other wineries in the Napa Valley and other wine regions jump on this technology?

      The Revel System provides the Hall winery and staff versatility for making quick sales and enabling customers to order wines on the fly. This could be in the tasting room, on a vineyard tour or at a special tasting event. The Hall staff can check inventory and other data from the field. Image yourself tasting a wine as you walk along the vineyards. You like it, you order it on the iPad, and when you get back to the tasting room your wine package is waiting. The software also has a ship-compliant component to decipher all issues at that end.

      I have seen some limited use of the iPad in a few wineries that I have visited. Andrew Murray, in his Santa Barbara County winery, uses the iPad to take your order and swipe your credit card, but I think that is just about it. Kathleen Inman has something similar in Sonoma County for visitors to read tasting notes and place an order. We shall see how this works out and how many other wineries adopt iPads in the tasting room for all transactions.

      revel ipad

      Revel Systems winery iPad Technology

      BottleRock Napa Valley is a “go” for a second year

      The BottleRock music concert returns to Napa in May with a new producer and a terrific lineup. Tickets are now on sale. Last year’s event was very popular with some 35,000 people attending. Here is your chance to combine wine tasting, food and music. Take a look at what is happening at BottleRock Napa Valley 2014.

      Tickets are on sale now for this event being held May 30 through June 1, 2014. Single day passes are $149 per person, and can be purchased at or or charge by phone at 877.4.FLY.TIX (435.9849). 3-Day ($279), VIP 3-Day ($599) and Platinum Passes are also available. Check the BottleRock Website for complete details of this extravaganza.

      image of the cure

      The Cure performs on Friday, May 30th


        Eco-Friendly Wine Route

        Ten years ago only a handful of wineries in the Napa Valley used any solar power or practiced any sort of eco-friendly farming in their vineyards. Today that has changed dramatically. Many wineries in the Napa Valley can boast that they are eco-friendly in some fashion: certified organic, sustainable, biodynamic, Napa Green or solar powered.

        For those wine country travelers who would like to visit some of these wineries, we have designed an Eco-Friendly Wine Route. We are listing five wineries that have extensive eco-friendly practices, in addition to making some very delicious wines and providing visitors with enjoyable experiences in the tasting room.

        The Eco-Friendly Wine Route

        • Robert Sinskey – Biodynamic
        • Honig Winery – Sustainable
        • Round Pond Estate – Sustainable
        • Frog’s Leap – Organic, sustainable
        • Casa Nuestra- Organic

        This wine route is centered around the Silverado Trail that runs along the eastern side of the Valley. Use the map below as your guide for getting to the wineries that you would like to visit on this trail. Always check the winery’s website for tasting-room hours and for booking tours.

        Robert Sinskey Vineyards

        We begin our wine country getaway at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. The winery is located just north of Oak Knoll Road at 6320 Silverado Trail. It is on the right as you drive north. Robert Sinskey is a certified biodynamic winery and uses solar power. The terrace is a wonderful spot to sip some wine and take a look at the beautiful valley floor. Tasting is $25 per person including the appetizers from the Vineyard Kitchen. Tours are available by appointment.

        Honig Winery

        “Family owned, sustainably farmed, and solar powered” is the slogan at the Honig Winery. This winery officially had its start in 1984 and is one of the first in the Napa Valley to start a program of sustainable farming. It has been a model for other wineries in California. To visit and hear about sustainable farming, you will need to make an appointment. If the weather is nice, you will sit outside and taste some delicious wines. We are particularly fond of both of the Honig Sauvignon Blanc labels, the Napa Valley and the Rutherford. “Sustainable” is a somewhat vague term, but essentially means that whatever farming is done does not deplete the land. Everything in some form finds it way back to the soil. “Sustainable” also means that the vineyards will keep the staff working long term.

        Honig Tasting

        Honig Tasting

        Round Pond Estate

        Round Pond is one of the new kids on the block with a first vintage date of 2002. The MacDonnell family owns the winery, olive oil plant and the vineyards. 95% of the grapes are sold to other wineries with the remainder allocated for the production of Round Pond Wines. “Sustainable” is the operative word at Round Pond, which has one of the most exciting views for a wine tasting. The patio is where you reserve your spot and enjoy a variety of food and wine pairings. The gardens, of course, are organically farmed.
        Check the Website for the various tasting options.

        The Terrace at Round Pond

        The Terrace at Round Pond

        Frog’s Leap

        Frog’s Leap is another of the pioneering eco-friendly wineries of the Napa Valley. The winery has two different tastings for tourists, plus a fantastic hour-and-a-half tour that we suggest you take. It is very informative. The tour is impressive and demonstrates what each and every winery in the Napa Valley should be doing to preserve the environment. The tours are at 10:30 and 2:30, but you must call ahead to book your tour.

        Frog's Leap

        Frog’s Leap

        Casa Nuestra Winery

        For our last winery, we head up north almost to Calistoga to the Casa Nuestra Winery. This is another family-owned winery. This is a bit of a change of pace from the other wineries. Casa Nuestra is very small and on the funky side. It is a very fun tasting room to visit. The winery has been committed to organic farming for almost two decades. The winery also uses extensive solar power. The wines at Casa Nuestra are atypical of Napa Valley wines. Here you will find labels like Verdelho, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Tinto and Symphony. During the week you can probably just pop in and be able to taste wine. Weekends are busy, so be sure to call ahead to book an appointment.


          Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index

          sign for tasting room

          How much $$ for tasting?

          You’re heading to the Napa Valley and wondering how much to figure on tasting room fees for your travel budget. You are not alone. Our readers will often email us asking questions related to tasting room fees. What should I expect in tasting room fees on our vacation? Are the fees the same from winery to winery? Are there any tasting rooms in Napa that do not charge a fee? Where can we get a discount or two-for-one tasting coupons? This got me to thinking how much tasting room fees have increased over the years. There was once a time when no winery in the Napa Valley charged customers to taste their wine. I have no idea how much tasting room fees increase each year. I’m sure someone out there has done a reliable study, and that is more likely a survey for industry wine folks. I want something as a gauge for the wine country traveler who visits our Website looking for that information. I decided to devise a quick and easy, but unscientific, Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index, one that I can update a couple of times per year. It will be interesting to do a chart year to year on the increases in these wine-tasting fees. At the very least, the Index will give a ballpark figure when someone asks how much the tasting fees are in the Napa Valley.

          Napa Valley Wine Tasting Fee Index

          For the index I decided on a nice, easy, round number of ten wineries. I decided that, since most folks travel Highway 29 when visiting the Napa Valley, to focus on wineries between Napa and Calistoga on this road. I selected wineries on this route that are highly visible and popular. They are all open daily and visitors can pop in any time that the tasting room is open.

          sequoia grove

          Sequoia Grove – $15 for wine tasting

          Just about every winery in the Napa Valley has a range of tasting options. Reserve tasting, library tasting, food and wine pairing, barrel samples, and a tour and tasting. For each of the selected wineries, I am tracking only the tasting fee for a basic, or lowest priced, level of tasting. Currently, these are the established tasting room fees as of February 2014 at these ten wineries for a basic tasting.

          • Alpha Omega – $25
          • Beaulieu Vineyards – $15
          • Beringer Wines – $20
          • Grgich Hills -$20
          • Louis Martini -$15
          • Peju Province -$20
          • Provenance – $25
          • Rutherford Estate – $15
          • Sequoia Grove – $15
          • Whitehall Lane – $15

          Doing a calculation, the average Napa Valley tasting fee for a basic tasting is $18.50. Five of the wineries charge $15, three at $20, and two at $25.

          I always remind readers that there are ways to save on tasting room fees, especially in the Napa Valley. Check with your hotel concierge, who will more than likely have two-for-one tasting coupons. You can always share a tasting with your partner. I find that the host will pour a tad more than if it was just one person tasting. A few wineries will waive the tasting fee if you purchase a certain dollar amount of wine. For budgeting purposes, use the Index to estimate how much to set aside for tasting fees depending on the number in your party and how many wineries you plan to visit.

          Provenance - $25 for wine tasting

          Provenance – $25 for wine tasting


            Do you really need a tasting room appointment?

            tasting room sign

            Open daily, no appointment

            Tasting room appointment

            In short, the answer is no! We visit the Napa Valley numerous times a year and hardly ever make an appointment. In our travels to the Napa Valley we find three different tasting room scenarios.

            The first are the wineries with regular visiting hours throughout the week. There are a plethora of Napa Valley wineries open daily, some starting as early as 10 AM. Most are open by 11 AM and stay open until 4 or 5 PM. Just enter the tasting room and belly up to the tasting bar. If you look at our list of suggested Napa Valley wine routes, the majority of those wineries have regular tasting room hours and no reservations are required to do a normal tasting of wines.


            Tasting room appointment recommended

            The second situation are wineries that are relatively new to Napa Valley and are subject to newer Napa County regulations for tasting rooms. These require that the tasting rooms entertain visitors by appointment only. You may see a sign outside saying “Open by appointment only,” but in reality anyone can pop in and taste wines. Use your cell phone and call and explain that you are just outside the tasting room, and more than likely you will be invited to come in and do some tasting. Our guess is that these regulations are an attempt by the County to control congestion in the Napa Valley.

            A third set of wineries, and very much in the minority, truly do require visitors to make a reservation to taste or tour. These wineries tend to be small, boutique, high-end, and not staffed to take in numerous visitors.

            Appointment required

            Appointment required

            When planning a trip to the Napa Valley, it is best to peruse the Website of each winery you want to visit and check on the section for visiting the winery. This is the best way to get the latest information.

            If you are interested is a special tasting, a group tasting, a tour, or food pairing, more than likely you will need to call the winery and make a reservation. Two helpful winery reservation Websites are the Cellar Pass and Vino Visit. They have each contracted with a set of wineries to do all the booking work for the winery. They both work like Open Table does for restaurants. Both of these services do make a commission on each booking, so only a few wineries are using these services. The rest rely on folks hitting the website, emailing or phoning.

            If you look at our Winery Finder/Trip Planner you will be able to see which wineries have regular tasting room hours and those that are open by appointment only. Always double check with the wineries, because they often change tasting room hours. Another good thing is to find out the cost of a tasting. If you are on a budget, tasting fees can add up quickly.

            Your best course of action when visiting the Napa Valley and its many tasting rooms is to spend some serious planning weeks before your scheduled visit.


              Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

              First-time visitors to the Napa Valley are often bewildered or overwhelmed. When should we go, where should we stay and dine, and most often which wineries are the best ones to visit? Let’s tackle these dilemmas one at a time.

              Napa Valley Wine Route Planning

              Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

              Navigating the Napa Valley Wine Route

              When should you visit the Napa Valley?

              In my book, anytime is a good time to visit the Napa Valley. No matter what time of the year, the Napa Valley has something special to offer the wine country traveler. In winter it is the mustard, the cover crops, and the bare rows of vines that delight. Spring brings bud break and wildflowers. Summer brings the warm weather and full growth to the vines. Fall means harvest of the grapes followed by the fantastic autumn colors in the vineyards. Yes indeed, any time of the year in the Napa Valley is a good time to visit.

              image of calistoga

              Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga

              Where should you stay and dine?

              The main towns for lodging are Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. We like each town; they all offer something different in lodging and dining. We recommend you lodge within walking distance of dining. When you can walk to restaurants there are no worries about drinking and driving. In Calistoga, there is a free shuttle that runs most of the year. It will bring visitors to restaurants, wineries, and shopping and then pick you up when you are done. There are three cab companies in the Napa Valley, so taking a cab is a great option if you cannot walk to a restaurant. Yountville has the most-noted restaurant scene with five Michelin star restaurants, all within a few blocks of one another. Check our list of recommended restaurants for Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga.

              image of bottega

              One of Yountville’s many fine restaurants

              Which are the best wineries to visit?

              We recommend that visitors to the Napa Valley Wine Trails visit between 3 to 5 wineries in one full day. More than that and you will miss something and mostly likely imbibe too much of the good life. There are over 400 wineries to visit in the Napa Valley and, if you are visiting the max of ten wineries in a two-day excursion, how does one seriously decide on which of these 400 wineries are the most enjoyable to visit?

              image of clos pegase

              Clos Pegase

              You can visit the best wineries in two different ways. One way is to follow one of our ready-made wine trails. Or you can mix-or-match the wineries within our Napa Valley wine trails. A second way is to head over to our Winery Finder and search for tasting rooms and wineries according to your likes and dislikes. The winery finder will enable you to select the best wineries to visit by various criteria. If you want boutique wineries that are family owned and have a picnic area, the winery finder narrows down the choices for you. It is a very handy tool for the first-time visitor or ones who visit the Napa Valley every few years.

              Lastly we encourage you to watch this informative short video on Napa Valley Travel Tips.


                Blending wines at Castello di Amorosa

                14 years to complete

                14 years to complete

                Castello di Amorosa

                The last time we had visited Castello di Amorosa was in May of 2007, shortly after it had opened to visitors. The winery was nearly completed except for a few landscaping details. Tours were fun but there were a few kinks to be worked out. Today all looks good as tourists flock to see this amazing castle and winery owned by Dario Sattui. It is a marvel! We were invited to Castello di Amorosa for a media event on Thursday, November 14. It was an event where each member of the wine blogging community tried our hands at blending five wines into a Super Tuscan wine.

                The Great Room prepared for the blending event

                The Great Room preparing for blending event

                We met in the Great Hall and, as you can see in the photo, the Great Hall features fresco paintings with brilliant images and colors that immediately catch your eye. All the important people were present to lead us through our blending exercise. This included the man himself, Dario Sattui, a very tall man dressed Italian in style. Flanking Dario Sattui was winemaker Brooks Painter, associate winemaker Peter Vellano, consulting wine maker Sebastiano Rosa, CEO Georg Salzner, and VP of Marketing Jim Sullivan. What a treat to be surrounded by all these wine gurus.

                image of brooks painter

                Winemaker Brooks Painter with Dario Sattui

                First we learned what constitutes a Super Tuscan wine. In the 1970’s a group of Tuscan winemakers wanted to produce wines outside of the very detailed restrictions of the Chianti area. They felt they could make better wines by using other varietals along with the Sangiovese grape. They made various blends adding Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to make their Super Tuscan varietal. Today these wines made in Tuscany have their own official designation, IGT. This designation denotes wine of high quality and characteristically these wines are big and bold, and they command steep prices. The Castello di Amorosa winery makes a Super Tuscan Reserve they call La Castellana. We tasted the 2007, 2008, and 2009. They were all very delightful and elegant wines. They are pricey wines but deservedly so. It takes the best grapes, barrels, and attention to make a distinctive Super Tuscan.

                Blending a Super Tuscan wine

                It was our task to take five different barrel samples of the 2012 vintage and make our own Super Tuscan wine. We had a Sangiovese, two different Merlot samples, and two different Cabernet Sauvignon samples. This was my first taste of red wines from the fabulous 2012 harvest. Folks are raving about this harvest as being one of the best in many years. I must say that the barrel samples we tasted were quite delicious and in particular the Sangiovese. I can’t wait to try this wine. This Sangiovese juice will be bottled in June and perhaps released in 2014.

                Because I liked the Sangiovese so much I decided to make it the prominent portion of my blending experiments. In the first try I used 50% Sangiovese and equal parts of Merlot (Carneros) and Cabernet (Rutherford). I made a second blend but this time, 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet from the Rutherford AVA. This one was my favorite and quite excellent in my humble opinion. One thing the blending exercise emphasized to me was that winemaking to a large extent is part art. It is a creative activity requiring expertise in taste, experience, and imagination. All in all, the blending exercise was a great educational experience.

                The blending session was followed by a gourmet lunch and the chance to continue tasting the fine wines produced by the Castello. As we concluded, each wine blogger was presented with a lovely bottle of the 2010 Sangiovese to enjoy at home.

                I was amazed to learn that all the Castello di Amorosa wine is sold online, at the winery, or to the wine club members. That means you will not find the Castello di Amorosa wines in any wine shop. If you want to sample the wines, mostly Italian style of wines, you must visit the winery to get started. The winery at this time of the year is looking spectacular. The fall colors of the vines make the castle look even more brilliant. General admission is $19 per person, free for wine club members, and includes a tasting of five premium wines. Tours are $34 per person, followed by a tasting of five premium wines. The winery is open daily and reservations are recommended. Check the Castello Website for more information.

                Brilliant fall colors at the Castle

                Brilliant fall colors at the Castle


                  Comparing Wine Tasting in the Rhone Valley to the Napa Valley


                  We have just spent a wonderful week in the Southern Rhone Valley, roaming the vineyards of this beautiful land and visiting several wineries. I could not help but compare our experiences in the Rhone Valley to that of our broad travels in the Napa Valley. As I visited the Rhone Valley wineries, I was wishing that the Napa Valley wineries would offer some of the same amenities I experienced while visiting this spectacular wine country. I think that if the Napa Valley adopted some of these practices, the experience would improve for wine country travelers.

                  Most of the wineries in the Southern Rhone Valley offer visitors a tasting of wines without any fees. Tours usually require an appointment and fees are often charged for the tour.


                  Each staff member we have encountered in our travels was warm and friendly but, most importantly, extremely knowledgeable. They knew how each bottle of wine had been produced from start to finish. I was amazed at how they mentioned food matches for each wine and related it to their own cooking at home. This was not rehearsed by any means, but spontaneous and heartfelt.

                  The most amazing aspect of a Rhone Valley tasting room, and perhaps elsewhere in France, is the selling price of the wine. When visitors purchase wines from the Degustation (tasting room) the price of the wine is discounted from the regular sale price that you would find in a wine shop. At one winery the discount was 15% for all wines. It is not unusual for locals to drop into a winery and carry out a case. A case of wine in France holds six bottles of wine. Nice and easy to manage! In the Napa Valley wine is sold at full retail price, unless you are a wine club member.

                  Speaking of wine clubs, it appears that wine clubs in the Rhone Valley do not exist. We asked at one winery about a wine club and our host was quite surprised at this concept. No wine clubs, no sales push at any winery we visited. They were just happy to welcome visitors.

                  Many wineries, not all, were equipped with high-tech dispensing machines that we often see in wine bars. These machines prevent the wine from oxidizing. Just about any wine is available for tasting. I often hear in the Napa Valley, “We have these four wines for you to taste today.” In the Rhone Valley it is, “Which wines would you like to taste?”

                  I have not seen any large tour buses at any time in our wanderings. Occasionally, we will run into a wine tour guide, but perhaps with only four people in the car.

                  I love the Napa Valley for it great wines, dining and beautiful scenery. But what I do not like are the high tasting room fees, the high cost of wines, and the pretentious atmosphere that every now and then surfaces.


                    Charter Oak Winery – something different in St. Helena

                    There are said to be over 400 “brick and mortar” wineries in the Napa Valley. The typical Napa Valley winery has a lavish tasting room, along with merchandise for sale. It can almost be said, once you have seen a few tasting rooms in the Napa Valley, you have seen them all. We are always on the lookout when we travel to the Napa Valley for something much different than the normal tasting room experience. We certainly found that at the Charter Oak Winery in St. Helena. Proprietors Robert and Layla Fanucci have an interesting combination of skills. In the tasting room in an old Victorian bungalow in St. Helena, Robert showcases his wines while Layla creates a unique style of painting on canvas.

                    Charter Oak tasting room and art gallery

                    Charter Oak tasting room and art gallery

                    Robert learned how to appreciate and make wine from his grandfather, Guido Ragghianti. When his grandfather died in 1986, Robert inherited the home and all the winemaking equipment, including a 100-year-old basket press. That press is still used today along with many old fashioned and artisan winemaking techniques, the same that Robert learned from his grandfather. In the Charter Oak wines, natural yeast is always used and the wines are unfiltered and unfined. Most of the grapes are sourced from the Napa Valley and some from the famous Louis Martini Monte Rosso Vineyards. Robert’s grandfather always made between 400 and 600 cases of wine per year, and today 600 to 800 cases are made at the Charter Oak Winery.

                    basket press charter oak

                    Basket press used today in making Charter Oak wines

                    The tasting consists of four to five wines and a tour of the small and cozy winemaking facility. Since this is also Layla’s art studio, you also get a tour and look at her latest works of art. A tour and tasting is $20 per person, by appointment only.

                    The wines are all excellent and very well made, balanced with complex flavors. These wines are big and bold. Those who like a lighter style wine may not enjoy these wines, but those who love a full-flavored wine will thoroughly enjoy these. The Old World Field Blend was our favorite and priced at $58 a bottle.

                    Both Bob and Layla are graduates of San Francisco State University. Robert is an attorney and Layla taught music for years until her career took an unexpected turn. While searching for an original painting for her living room, she gave up looking and decided to paint one herself. Her friends who saw it were very impressed and encouraged her to paint more. She decided to quit teaching and paint full time. Earlier this year Layla and her art were featured on the cover of our alumni magazine. As fellow SFSU Grads, the article peaked our interest. And as you can see in the photo, her internationally renowned artwork is something that is quite different. The daughter of an architect, Layla paints layers of famous cities over one another.

                    Layla's artwork

                    Layla’s artwork

                    Layla’s beautiful book, “Layla Fanucci: City of Dreams Unabridged” by Valerie Gladstone, is available at the Winery and online.

                    There are several wineries in the Valley that do combine wine and art, but this winery is quite different from any others that we have visited.