Pope Valley Winery – Above the Napa Valley

Pope Valley Winery in the Napa ValleyI am always on the lookout for something different in a tasting room experience, and my visit to the Pope Valley Winery last week was just that. It was a fun and interesting visit and a chance to learn about the Pope Valley, the history of the winery, and chat with the Eakel Family who have been running the winery since 1997.

The winery was established in 1897 and much of the winery looks the same as it did the first day it opened. It was originally named the Burgundy Winery founded by Ed Haus. The winery was built into a hillside and you can still see the rock and stones that form the walls of the bottom two floors of the winery. The top floor is at the top of the hillside. Originally, the grapes were carted up there to be processed and then gravity took over to bring the wine down to the first floor. [Read more...]

Nichelini Winery – 121 Consecutive Harvests

This is the final article on our recent visit to three very different mountain wineries in the Napa Valley. Our first visit was to the Stony Hill Vineyard on Spring Mountain, then on to Ladera Winery on Howell Mountain. Our final winery visit took us south of Howell Mountain to Chiles Valley and to one of Napa Valley’s oldest wineries, Nichelini Winery, atop Sage Canyon Road.

This little hidden winery in the Napa Valley may perhaps be best described as the “The Little Winery That Could.” Through the prohibition era this winery kept chugging and chugging, making wines. Prohibition forced many wineries out of business and a few others survived by making sacramental wines. The Nichelini Winery kept making wines and rumors say that none of it was for the Church. Rumors abound regarding who the Nichelini clients were, and how the family managed to elude the law. Whatever this means, the winery has had 121 consecutive harvests and the family has proclaimed that they are the oldest continuous winery in the Napa Valley. [Read more...]

Ladera Winery on Howell Mountain

This is the second of our three-part series on visits to mountain wineries in the Napa Valley.

We left Stony Hill Vineyard on Spring Mountain and traveled across the Valley on Deer Park Road, then up the mountain turning left onto White Cottage Road to Ladera Winery. Talk about opposites in wineries! Stony Hill’s first vintage was 1952, Ladera’s was 2000. At Stony Hill the winery is still hanging on to equipment used when the winery was first established with no signs of any high-tech equipment anywhere. At Ladera, it is quite the opposite with no expenses spared in this state-of-the-art winery facility. Here you find beautiful stainless steel fermenting and aging tanks, gravity floor crush equipment, and a beautiful and elaborate cave system lined with oak barrels.

Ladera Winery - Ghost Winery Howell Mountain [Read more...]

Mike Chelini is Longest tenured winemaker in the Napa Valley at Stony Hill Vineyard

Last week we toured three completely different Napa Valley mountain wineries. We visited Stony Hill Vineyard on Spring Mountain, Ladera Winery on Howell Mountain, and Nichelini Winery at the summit of Sage Canyon Road. This will be the first of three posts comparing these Napa Valley mountain wineries.

Stony Hill Vineyard on Spring Mountain is one of the oldest wineries in the Napa Valley and one steeped in tradition. Fred and Eleanor McCrea purchased the land in 1943 and released their first vintage in 1952. In 1972, young Mike Chelini began his stint as winemaker at Stony Hill and he continues in that position to this day. He loves his work, the land, and the owners. As he says “Life is good here at Stony Hill Vineyard.” When we asked Mike Chelini if he is the Valley’s longest-running winemaker, he says: “I think I am tied with Bill Sorenson over at Burgess.” Bill Sorenson began his stint at Burgess in 1972, so who knows who started first. Nevertheless, these are impressive careers for both these winemakers.

Winemaker Mike Chelini Stony Hill Vineyard

Winemaker Mike Chelini

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A Visit with Winemaker Vince Tofanelli

It is such a wonderful change of pace to visit a winemaker like Vince Tofanelli. Too often when we visit the Napa Valley we get caught up by the big and the fancy wineries and tasting rooms and tend to overlook the smaller names of the Napa Valley. It is much more fun and a truly rewarding experience when you meet and taste the wines of the small winemaker. We made an appointment with Vince via email to visit his family vineyards on Dunaweal Lane in Calistoga. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate that day and we had to forego the vineyard walk and instead met Vince at Envy Winery in Calistoga where he makes and ages his wines. We went into the barrel room where we tasted his 2007 Zinfandel and 2007 Charbono, and also got a barrel taste of a Grenache and a Petit Sirah that he will bottle and release later this year.

Vince Tofanelli and his Zinfandel wine


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Discover Mount Veeder – Great Day Trip to the Napa Valley

From both the San Francisco Golden Gate and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridges, Mount Veeder AVA is about one hour and 15 minutes driving time. It is the perfect quick wine country getaway for folks visiting San Francisco who want to get a quick glimpse of the Napa Valley. We say visit Hendry Winery, Yates Family Vineyard, and Hess Collection Winery and then go to the town of Napa for a late afternoon lunch.

Mount Veeder is a beautiful and lovely mountain, one of the highest in the Mayacamus Range and was once a blistering volcano. The area is very rugged and the soil and climate vary widely as the mountain elevates to a height of 2600 feet. The first stop on this quick getaway is the Hendry Winery at the base of Mount Veeder. Here you can kill two birds with one stone, because the Yates Family Vineyards uses a portion of the Hendry Winery to make and showcase their wines. To get to Hendry, take Redwood Road off Highway 29 in Napa and head west. On Redwood Road, go to the left when the road splits (about one mile). Continue another 1.5 miles. Watch on the right for the tiny sign indicating the entrance to Hendry Winery at 3104 Redwood Road. If you are not looking carefully and alertly, you will surely miss it. Both Hendry and Yates are open by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead. [Read more...]

Buehler Vineyards — Strange Encounters and Other Napa Valley News

Spring is here in the Napa Valley, the sun is warm, and many of the vines are alive with recent bud break. It is a very enjoyable time to travel to the Napa Valley. Not only does spring bring tourists to the Valley but other creatures as well. We had just finished tasting some delicious Buehler wines and were on our way to the terrace to enjoy a picnic lunch. There it was basking in the beautiful sunshine, a rather long and ominous looking rattlesnake. John Page Buehler was the first to alert us and then quickly raced into the tasting room and returned with a shovel. Page with his handy long shovel was able to corral the snake and move it away from the picnic area. What a man! [Read more...]

Carneros Backroad Adventures

Looking For Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in all the right places, Part One

Why take the tourist route? Here is a backroad gem of a tour where you can see some fantastic views of Carneros and the Napa Valley and avoid busloads of tourists. This trip starts by heading across the Golden Gate Bridge but one can certainly come from other directions, just use the Google map below or your car’s GPS. We are going to begin this trip in Carneros on the Sonoma County side, where Ramal Road on the north meets Highway 121. Coming west on Highway 121, drive about 3.5 miles from the main intersection of Arnold and Highway 121. If you do come from the other direction take good care when you make a left turn onto Ramal Road; Highway 121 is busy and many drive way too fast on this road. [Read more...]

Spottswoode – Where Cabernet Rules

A small group of wine bloggers were invited by the Wine Hiker, Russ Beebe, to a tour and tasting at two well-known and famous Napa wineries. We met at Smith-Madrone on Spring Mountain and then went back down to the Valley floor for an exquisite lunch and tasting at Spottswoode in St. Helena. Visiting Smith-Madrone is always a kick because the Smith Brothers are so laid back and unpretentious. They both make you feel like you are an old friend. I have blogged previously about Smith-Madrone so if you want to know more about them read this post.

This was my first time to visit Spottswoode and to taste their wine. Spottswoode is all about Cabernet Sauvignon, not your ordinary Cab but one to be shared with family and friends for special meals and celebrations. The wine is some of the best Cabernet I have tasted in recent memory. The story began when Mary Novak and her late husband Dr. Jack Novak purchased the property in 1972. The vineyards behind their 1882 Victorian house consisted of a field blend of French Colombard, Gamay, and Syrah, all purchased in those days by Gallo. The Novaks ripped out the vineyards and replanted them with Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. When phylloxera hit, all the vines were gradually replanted beginning in 1988. Originally, the Novaks sold all their Cab grapes and the word was out in the Napa Valley that these grapes were truly special. [Read more...]

Cathy Corison the Queen of Cabernet

Cathy Corison is one of Napa Valley’s first women winemakers and is well recognized by her colleagues as one of the more influential winemakers in the entire Valley. Her Corison Cabernet wines have long been noted for their quality and character. We visited with Cathy at her wonderful winery and vineyards in St. Helena.

We have long been admirers of the barn that houses the Corison Winery. The best view is during Mustard season. The vibrant colors set against the grey siding and the green roof make for an awesome view and a photographer’s delight. The barn is set back from Highway 29 and easy to miss. As one drives along Highway 29, by the time you catch a glimpse and are intrigued by the building it is too late; you have driven past the entrance. By all means turn back at the next chance and pay a visit to Corison Winery. It is traditional Napa Valley. [Read more...]