Last weekend was the first annual Morrison Family Wine Weekend in Napa Valley! My mother and brother came into town on Thursday and we met my father in Napa on Friday morning. We booked an apartment through airbnb.com, right off Main St. in St. Helena. It was the perfect location for my family because it was central to all the wineries, and walking distance from all the restaurants in downtown St. Helena. It also easily fit all four of us, and it was a cozy apartment with comfortable bedding and beautiful artwork. If you have not used airbnb.com before, I highly recommend it for trips to wine country – or anywhere, for that matter.
With a little help from my father, we narrowed down the wineries we wanted to go to, dedicating all of Friday to the Valley Floor (mainly Silverado Trail) and all of Saturday to the Spring Mountain District. I had made appointments and laid out our itinerary about a month in advance, confirming everything a few days prior and making any necessary adjustments. Below is the schedule that we ended up going by on Friday:
7:45am – my car leaves San Francisco, en route to Napa via 101
9:00am – stop at OAKVILLE GROCERY to pick up sandwiches for lunch
9:50am – arrive at SHAFER for 10am reservation for seated tasting
11:30am – taste at CHIMNEY ROCK, not reserved, taste at our leisure
12:15pm – reservation at BALDACCI with picnic lunch during tasting
1:00pm – reservation for seated tasting with light apps at ROUND POND
2:00pm – quick tasting at CASA NUESTRA
2:30pm – reservation for tasting at FAILLA
3:30pm – reservation at VIADER
5:00pm – meet for drinks with friends at CINDY’S BACKSTREET KITCHEN
8:00pm – dinner at FRENCH BLUE
We agreed that we may have set our sights (and tolerances) too high on Friday, and probably had a little too much to drink before dinner. But we hit up some great spots and it was a beautiful day on Silverado Trail.
The highlight of the day was definitely the seated tasting at Shafer, though it was a bit difficult to start out at 10am with such bold wines. We arrived at Shafer and were led to a big open room with a long table, where we were joined by 6 other guests and the hostess. Each table setting had five full glasses of wine and an official Shafer pen and notebook with all the tasting notes and history of the winery (that we got to keep).
For $45 per person, we tasted everything from their current release: the Red Shoulder Ranch 2010 Chardonnay, the Napa Valley 2010 Merlot, the Stags Leap District “One Point Five” 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, the Napa Valley “Relentless” 2009 Syrah/Petite Sirah and the pinnacle of Napa Valley splendor, the Stags Leap District “Hillside Select” 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. I absolutely loved the Relentless, which is no surprise because the 2008 was recently named Wine of the Year by Wine Spectator. The wine was lush, rich and velvety with a touch of sweetness, possessing a softness that Stags Leap wines are known for. Of course, the Hillside Select was fantastic. I actually was given a second glass by Doug Shafer, himself because my first glass had two very happy fruit flies floating in it. The tasting was a great experience, and the wines we tried were definitely worth the $45 price tag, but a little too expensive for me to take home with me.
I was particularly surprised by how much I liked Chimney Rock. My mother and brother shared a tasting, while my father and I each opted for the Reserve tasting, which included the Sauvignon Gris, Elevage Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Stags Leap Cabernet and Elevage. Our hostess also poured us some wines from older vintages that were not listed on the tasting menu. My father and I were so impressed by the selections and affordable prices that we decided to go in on a joint club membership (using my industry discount, and shipping the wine to his office). It was a successful visit, indeed.
Our second favorite stop of the day was the relaxed tasting at Baldacci, just down the road from Shafer in the Rutherford District. We were able to sit outside with our delicious sandwiches from Oakville Grocery and enjoy the wines while we had lunch. Our favorite wine that they offered was the Four Sons; this was especially sentimental for my father as he comes from a family of four brothers, so he bought a few bottles. We even met one of the youngest Baldacci brothers, who runs the marketing at the winery. The experience was a nice change of pace from Shafer, and I will certainly be back another time to try some more Four Sons!
We all agreed that Round Pond was a delicious tasting with stunning views of the valley floor. My mother and I particularly enjoyed the Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc, and the paired “bites” that they give you for each wine were delicious, but small – don’t expect a meal! I also really enjoyed the Rutherford 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, of which my father graciously purchased a bottle for me. This is a great winery for larger groups, and I could have seen myself spending an entire afternoon at Round Pond soaking in the sun – but we had an itinerary to stick to!
Casa Nuestra is a family favorite, so even though it wasn’t on the original itinerary we were happy that we could squeeze in a quick tasting before Failla. While my mother napped in the car, my father and bother and I speed tasted through the current offerings at Casa Nuestra, and did a side by side tasting of their Tinto St. Helena and Tinto Oakville (very limited production). I picked up my club shipment while my father walked away with a few bottles for himself.
Our next stop was just across the road at Failla, where small groups can enjoy a private or semi-private tasting in the game room, library or living room of the Failla house. Although they do require a reservation, the tasting is very casual and relaxed. They serve four wines from their current collection, including a selection of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their different vineyards. If you’re lucky, they might have some Syrah on hand for you to taste.
The only winery that we weren’t quite impressed by was Viader. We found the staff to be somewhat lackluster, and none of the wines really stood out from one another. However, the views from Howell Mountain were gorgeous and provided for several family photo ops.
Back in St. Helena, the drinks at Cindy’s Backstreet were tasty and the staff was friendly and accommodating. We shared some Oysters Rockafeller and vegetarian flat bread with our friends before departing for dinner. We initially had reservations at Cook, but when we were forced to wait thirty minutes after the time of our reservation, we opted to walk down the road to French Blue where the staff was much more courteous and the food was delicious. I dined on their signature dish, the trout, which I had been craving since my last visit to French Blue with my brother in October. All in all, a great ending to a fully-packed day of wine tasting.
I wouldn’t recommend hitting up seven wineries in one day to anyone! But my father was only visiting for so long and we were on a mission that we needed to accomplish. Looking back, we probably could have cut out Failla since we had all been there at least once before. Either way, it was a great start to the weekend and I couldn’t wait to hit up Spring Mountain the next day.