Being the obsessive planner that I am when it comes to wine country trips (and, let’s be honest, life in general), I planned out our Thursday itinerary a couple months in advance, and pulled together the small details last week:
The fog lifting on Howell Mountain
Al and I agreed that the best wine of the day was CADE’s Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, the whole CADE experience may have been the best of the day. We drove up the winding hill to Howell Mountain while the morning fog was still settled in the valley. When we arrived, we were seated at a long table with 8 other guests and led by David, our very knowledgeable and charismatic host. He told us all about the history of CADE’s organic foundation, and how it is a brainchild of PlumpJack, which was originally started by San Francisco’s former hottie mayor and apparent wino, Gavin Newsom. The PlumpJack Group recently opened another venture, Odette Estate (they bought the Stelzner property). The name “Odette” comes from Odette Kahn, a French panelist of the famous 1976 Pairs Wine Tasting. The story is, she voted for the Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and when she found out it was a California wine she demanded that her ballot be returned. I look forward to visiting Odette Estate on another trip.
Tasting Menu, before I scribbled notes all over it
Light fixture above the table at CADE
At CADE we tried the 2011 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Napa Cuvee Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009 Howell Mountain Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, and the 2010 PlumpJack Oakville Syrah. While I liked all the wines (with the Syrah being my least favorite), the Howell Mountain Estate Cab blew everything away. Aromas of graphite and chocolate are followed by flavors on the palate of black cherry, dark chocolate and espresso. The low acidity and round tannins offer a light dusting on the fresh finish. They only make 700 cases (total production is 12,000), and half are bottled with a Stelvin Closure (screw top)
while the other half uses a biodynamic cork. They sell the wine in a two pack ($300), one with a cork and one with a screw top. Al and I were very curious about if and how the wines would be different after several years of aging. Unfortunately it was very much out of my price range, but I’m so happy that we got to try it. After the tasting we were led into the barrel room, where we got to see part of harvest happening just outside. It was a good opportunity for some photos and to learn more about the barrels and the aging process. I would recommend the CADE experience to anyone who is looking for a unique Howell Mountain experience.
Steel barrels for Sauvignon Blanc
Red-stained barrels in the cave
Howell Mountain in the Fog
After our visit at CADE, Al and I drove down the mountain to one of our favorite St. Helena tasting ro0ms (where I am also a member): Casa Nuestra. The tasting room is a little yellow house at the end of a gravel driveway. They also have picnic tables for lunching and a pen in the back with two very friendly one-year-old goats, Elvis and Col. Parker. The staff at Casa Nuestra is also very friendly and knowledgable with a great sense of humor. Between the two of us, we tried most of the wines on the list. My favorite (that I had not tried before) was the Tinto Oakville, which they do a small production of and is only available at the winery. Al’s favorite is the Petite Sirah, which he says is the best of the varietal he has tasted from California. After our tasting we sat outside and enjoyed a glass of our favorite wines with our sandwiches from Oakville Grocery – Al got the ham and I got the roast beef. Perfection.
Elvis is very photogenic
Casa Nuestra Tasting Room
Next stop: Joseph Phelps Vineyards, with one of the most beautiful views in Napa Valley. Upon arriving to the tasting room, Al and I were led to the back patio where we had our “Terrace Tasting.” The weather was unseasonably warm that day, but there was a cool breeze hitting us as we looked out over the 25 acres of estate vineyards. We started off with their 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, a medium bodied white with flavors of citrus and melon. We also tried the 2009 Freestone Pinot Noir
, the 2009 Syrah from Larry Hyde & Sons vineyard, the 2009 Insignia
, the 2005 Insignia
(available by request only for an extra $15) and the 2010 Eisrebe
(ice wine). I love the Pinot, but the Syrah was a little harsh for me. After tasting the 2009 Insignia my brother and I agreed that it made is crave something with more age on it, so we promptly requested to share a taste of the 2005, which was outstanding and will only get better with more years to come. We thoroughly enjoyed our time on the terrace, and took lots of photos of the view. It was a very memorable first time at Phelps for both of us (my dad has been a big fan for many years).
25 acres of estate vineyards at Joseph Phelps
After Phelps we headed South a little to Sage Canyon Road, which winds around Lake Hennessey
, eventually leading to the turn off up to Pritchard Hill
and the home of Chappellet. They are currently in the middle of a serious construction project that will feature a new barrel room, making their current barrel room a larger tasting room (currently the tastings take place in the small barrel room adjacent to the office). We sat at a long table with 10 other guests and enjoyed several small tastings, including the 2010 Chardonnay, 2009 Clone 7, 2009 Las Piedras, 2009 Napa Valley Zinfandel, 2009 Petite Sirah, and 2009 Signature Cabernet Sauvignon. Needless to say, we had a very generous hostess. My favorite of all the wines was the Clone 7, but I also loved the Signature Cab and the Las Piedras. Everything was silky smooth, with a hint of smoke and spice to balance out the fruit. I wish we could have spent more time their talking to our hostess, but we didn’t want to be late to our fifth and final stop!
We got to Mumm in the nick of time to enjoy some flights on the outdoor patio, as well as a small glass each of the Cuvee M Red and the Sparkling Pinot Noir – two of my favorites. The sparklers were refreshing and bright, with my favorite being the Brut Rose. Al and I also opted to purchase a “thank you bottle” of the coveted 2005 Devaux Ranch sparkling wine to give to our gracious hosts at the guest house. I always find Mumm to be the perfect place to end a day of tasting, and this time was no exception.
Dueling Sparkling Reds: Sparkling Pinot Noir and Cuvee M Red
The Sparkling Flight at Mumm
After resting at the beautiful guest house for a bit, we called our ride to pick us up for dinner at Cook, recommended to me by Annie P. We decided to bring a bottle of 2007 Joseph Swan Zinfandel that I purchased during my Labor Day trip to Russian River. The waiter took one look at it and knew to open it right away to breath. Al and I decided to start with some vodka martinis while we waited for our wine to open up. We shared the lightly fried calamari with aioli and grilled lemon, and we each had a salad to start. Al got the organic greens salad, while I opted for the hand made mozzarella Caprese (obvi). There was a special of handmade linguine with mussels, clams and shrimp which we both couldn’t resist ordering – but everything on the menu looked fantastic! Surprisingly enough, the seafood pasta went pretty well with our Zinfandel. We were too full for dessert, but I definitely plan on going back to Cook again and sampling some other delicious things from the menu.
After finishing our delicious meal, we left the restaurant and rounded the corner to find our taxi service waiting to take us back to the guest house, as promised. What incredible service!
View of the Guest House and Vineyards in St. Helena
It was truly a perfect day in wine country (predominantly St. Helena), and I was so thrilled to share the experience with my smart and funny brother. He is a blooming wine geek just like me, and I know our father must be proud.