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 www.bottlerocknapavalley.com or www.ticketfly.com 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.

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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. http://www.robertsinskey.com/visit

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.

duckhorn

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.

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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.

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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

cave-carianne

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.

chateau-montredon

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.

Grgich Hills and Robert Mondavi 2013 Blessing of the Grapes

Mike Grgich savors Fume Blanc

Mike Grgich savors Fume Blanc to toast the harvest

What a wonderful experience to witness this annual tradition at two Napa Valley wineries this last Friday, August 30th. The blessing of the grapes is a tradition at both Grgich Hills (37th year) and at Robert Mondavi (48th year). Father Gordon Kalil from St. Helena’s Catholic Church gave the blessing at both ceremonies.

We had the opportunity to be at Grgich Hills at 10:00 for the blessing of the grapes and later at 11:30 for the blessing at the Robert Mondavi Winery. Two ageless legends of the famed Napa Valley were on hand to welcome visitors, staff and members of the media.

Blessing of the Grapes at Grgich Hills

At age 90, Mike Grgich may be slowing down a bit physically but his delivery of words is inspirational. In this short video, Mike Grgich gives us his words of wisdom about the Napa Valley and his Grgich Hills wines.

Blessing of the Grapes at Robert Mondavi

Still lively and energetic, Margrit Mondavi is the face of the Robert Mondavi winery. She is charismatic and always a great ambassador for the wines and foods of the Napa Valley. We also heard from winemaker Genevieve Jennsens. But it is really Margrit who garners all the attention. In her comments, she made mention that when we sip our Fumé Blanc at lunch the spirit of Robert Mondavi is in that glass of wine. His influence stills rings forth at the winery and throughout the Napa Valley. On a lighter note she quips on the health aspects of wine: “There are more old winemakers than there are old doctors.”

Following the blessing of the grapes, the invited guests were treated to a wonderful lunch. Even more meaningful is that each member of the staff at Robert Mondavi was also in attendance at the luncheon. It’s a magical scene to sit and look out onto the famed To Kalon Vineyards at Robert Mondavi.

Genevieve and Margrit

Genevieve and Margrit

The 2013 Harvest

Interestingly enough, we heard a contrasting view of the 2013 harvest from the winemakers at Grgich Hills and Robert Mondavi.

At Grgich Hill, assistant winemaker Ivo Jaramez says that this year’s harvest may even be better than the 2012 harvest. On the other hand Genevieve Jennsens, winemaker at Robert Mondavi, indicates that the harvest for Mondavi may be a challenge; the early harvest requires more attention to the winemaking process. Still, she is optimistic and is looking forward to rest of the 2013 harvest.

With the blessing of the grapes, we hope that both wineries have a very successful year throughout the 2013 harvest.

Father Gordon

Father Gordon

Rolando Herrera – Mi Sueño Winery

Our weeklong adventures continue in the Napa Valley with a tour and tasting at Rolando Herrera’s Mi Sueño Winery, and then a visit to the busy Oxbow Public Market in Napa.

misueno

Rolando Herrera

Rolando Herrera is a winery owner, winemaker, and wine entrepreneur. We met Rolando as he was tasting barrel samples at his Mi Sueño winery located in an industrial center in the Napa Coombsville area. The story of Rolando Herrera has been well told. At 17, he was hired by Warren Winiarski to do odd jobs at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. It was not Rolando’s intent to get into the wine business, but just to make enough money to enable him to graduate from high school. He received promotion after promotion and eventually became the Cellar Master at Stag’s Leap. He was with Warren Winiarski for ten years and, with his winemaking skills honed, he went on to be assistant winemaker at Chateau Potelle and head winemaker at Vine Cliff. At Vine Cliff he began making his own Chardonnay using Burgundian winemaking techniques he’d learned while at Chateau Potelle. His first vintage of Mi Sueno was 1997. Three years later he received a phone call from the White House saying they wanted to serve his wine at a State dinner for Mexican President Vicente Fox. In 2007 he purchased the warehouse and set up his winery operations. He owns and leases vineyards in Coombsville and other parts of the Napa Valley, as well as the Russian River Valley in Sonoma, that supply Mi Sueno with high quality grapes.

We tasted through several wines including two delicious Chardonnays, one from Carneros and the other from the Russian River Valley. In the reds, his Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coombsville area is a standout. Our favorite wine of the entire delicious tasting was a wine of a somewhat unusual blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. The wine is called El Llano, named after Rolando Herrera’s hometown in Mexico. Almost 4000 cases of this wine are made annually, most of which are purchased by the Hillstone Restaurant Group. The very popular Rutherford Grill is one of the Hillstone restaurants.

The most impressive thing that we came away with in our visit to Mi Sueño was the jovial and cheery atmosphere among all the staff members. It must be an exciting and rewarding place to work. It looks like one big happy family.

bottle-mi

The Oxbow Public Market

We visit the Oxbow Public Market whenever we visit the Napa valley. Never have we seen the Market so busy with customers. This is a good sign that the economy is booming in the Napa Valley. We ate our lunch at Ca’ Momi and enjoyed a Porchetta Panini and a glass of the Ca’ Momi Zinfandel. So tasty together! We hope that large numbers of shoppers and diners continue to visit Oxbow. If you have not been to Oxbow, put it on your list of things to do in the Napa Valley.