On a recent jaunt to Northern Napa Valley with some girlfriends, we discovered an incredible winery tucked away in the hills of Calistoga. One of the girls (Epicurious Brit) had tasted the Storybook wines before, and insisted that we make it a stop on our wine-tinerary – and I’m so glad we did!
As a matter of fact, we initially missed our appointment because we took a wrong turn and drove up a winding road through the Calistoga mountains. I was very skeptical that we were going in the right direction, but the other girls urged me to keep driving because the map was pointing us that way (Thanks, Google Maps. You have never failed me until now). But once we crossed into Lake County, I knew it was time to turn around. By the time we got back down to the valley, we had missed our appointment entirely and we decided to pop into Chateau Montelena for a tasting before picking up some lunch in downtown Calistoga. Le sigh.
But wait! There’s more! As we were exiting Palisades Cafe, my phone rang and it was a 707 number. I picked it up, and there was a friendly voice on the other end: Rick, the owner of Storybook Mountain Vineyards. I explained to him our little navigation error, and that we had just picked up some lunch in downtown Calistoga. He said that we were only a few miles away and that if we wanted to, he could see us right now. While eternally grateful, I explained that it would have to be a quick tasting because we had another appointment at Pride Mountain in an hour, but he said he could make it work and to come on over. So we did!
Upon arriving at Storybook Mountain Vineyards, we entered through a beautiful iron gate and drove up a long driveway, past a pretty little pond and pulled into a small parking lot surrounded by Redwood trees, where we noticed Rick waving at us. He took us on a short walk up the hill so we could see the vineyards while he told us the history of Storybook’s land, dating back to the 1800’s when the Chinese built caves into the land. They had rows and rows of old Zinfandel vines, and some newer Cabernet vines as well. He told us that his wife’s parents originally bought the property and started the winery, and he was lucky enough to marry into this wonderful lifestyle. His in-laws still lived on the property, and he and his wife lived in another house with his two daughters. What a life!
Rick then took us into the wine caves where he showed us the barrels of Viognier that they stored there, as well as all of their red wine. We moved around back to the “tasting room”, where all the wines were arranged on a barrel. Lucky for us, he had opened a few extras that morning so we got to taste the full line up of Zinfandel, Cabernet and Viognier. He also offered a small folding table for us to use for our lunch (which I took advantage of, as I was the designated driver).
We started with their 2009 Mayacamas Ranch Zinfandel, which was fruit forward and lively, yet well balanced. I very much liked the wine, but knew I was in store for some even better Zinfandels! The next wine we tasted was the 2009 Napa Estate Antaeus, a blend of 51% Zinfandel, 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot. The addition of the Cabernet added a level of fullness and acidity that was well balanced by the dark fruit and chocolate notes in the Zinfandel. This would be a difficult wine to pair with food, but it would be perfect to enjoy after dinner, perhaps with a piece of dark chocolate.
The next two Zinfandels we tried were my favorite wines of the day, and I even picked up two of each bottle (one for me, one for dad) for a pretty reasonably price, including a generous 25% industry discount. After tasting the 2010 Eastern Exposures Zinfandel, I actually let a “holy shit” come out of my mouth. One of the smoothest Zinfandel’s I have ever tasted, the wine has layers of sweet berries, spices and rich flavors that build up into a near perfect finish. The winemaker even adds a touch of their Viognier to the wine, which I tasted in the form of lingering floral notes. The fourth and final Zinfandel that we tasted was their precious 2009 Napa Estate Reserve Zinfandel – another “holy shit” wine. This 97-point wine (highest rated Zin ever) landed on the cover of Wine & Spirits last year and was praised for its “deep and layered aromas of blackberries, dried flowers and sweet oak [and] bright and beautifully composed flavors”. It is sold out online, but available for purchase if you visit the vineyard, which I highly recommend! It also comes in “The Works” box, which one of the girls in our group treated herself to. As Rick noted, these wines are ideal for aging so we all agreed that it was a good investment for her!
It goes without saying that the Estate Cabernet and Viognier were delicious wines, though a little overshadowed by the collection of Zinfandel. We also got to try a bit of the Vin Gris, which is barrel fermented in their caves – the perfect wine to finish off an incredible tasting.
What made this visit even more special was Rick’s enthusiasm and hospitality, especially his willingness to invite us for a tasting even after we had missed our original appointment. Customer service goes a long, long way in Napa, especially when comparing your experience to more touristy, unfocused tasting rooms. I would happily visit Storybook Mountain Vineyards again and again, and I can’t wait to take my family back to meet Rick. Thanks again to Epicurious Brit for introducing me to this Zinfandel Haven!