Month: August 2016

A Frenchman in Napa Valley

A glass of Rose at Y. Rousseau winery in Napa Valley

In the past two decades or so, Napa Valley wines have had a profound impact on the global wine industry, influencing how “good” wine taste, how wine should be made (fermentation practices, barrel aging, alcohol content), and certainly how to market wine to consumers.  This influence extends even to France, which has a much longer wine making history than Napa.  Maybe now the French are returning the favor, as French winemakers are gaining a foothold in Napa.  One such winemaker is Yannick Rousseau, a native of the Gascony region in the Southwest of France.  Through a chance Twitter encounter with Olga Mosina, one of the team members at Y. Rousseau Wines, we were invited to a special industry tasting a few evenings ago at the Rousseau tasting room in Napa.  Luckily for us, we got to meet Olga, her husband, quite a few wine industry veterans, and the winemaker himself.

For the tasting, Olga had set a beautiful table in the barrel room for us to enjoy the wines, cheese and charcuterie.  We all sat down at the table and Yannick told us a little bit about himself: where he grew up, his wine education, why he came to California, and his philosophy of making wine.  Right away, we could tell how important Yannick’s home region is to him.  Paraphrasing the old saying – you can take the boy out of Gascony, but you can’t take Gascony out of the boy. Yannick’s upbringing is most evident in the varietals that he has chosen to make his primary wines – grapes that are native to Gascony.  One of these grapes, Colombard, is a white variety native to Gascony that Yannick encountered when he was a young man growing up in France.  In fact, when he was studying winemaking at Toulouse University and interning at Cotes de Gascogne, he made his very first white wine from Colombard grapes.

The Colombard varietal has had both a noble and, shall we say, less than noble history.  On the one hand, Colombard grapes have been used to make fine cognac and Armagnac. On the other, as late as the 1990’s, Colombard was California’s number one white wine grape, appearing as a staple in the “jug wines” that were prevalent back in those days.  As a result of their use in “bargain” wines, many people, including us, have associated Colombard with wines of lower quality.  Right away, Yannick took this myth head on and assured us the Colombard grape can be used to make sophisticated, balanced, high-quality white wine.

Y. Rousseau Colombard

For the first wine in our tasting, Yannick opened a couple of bottles of Colombard sourced from a 45-year-old vineyard in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County.  Most of the vineyards in that area are planted to Pinot Noir; it was a near-miracle for Yannick to find Colombard grapes in an area where the price-per-ton for Pinot Noir grapes would motivate most growers to tear out the Colombard and re-plant.

After tasting the Y. Rousseau Colombard, we can assure you that it is no jug wine!  One of the principles Yannick brings from Gascony is picking the grapes at exactly the right time, before they become too ripe and the sugar content (and thus, alcohol content) gets too high.  To our taste, the Y. Rousseau Colombard was perfect – hints of pear and honeysuckle on the nose, and on the palate strong citrus, minerality, and acidity. Yannick’s Colombard is fermented in 100% stainless steel and then aged on the lees for 5 months in 85% stainless steel and 15% neutral oak.  As a result of the vineyard management (early picking) and the subtle winemaking, the Colombard is crisp, refreshing, balanced and sophisticated.  The alcohol content is 12.5% and there is only 0.1% residual sugar, resulting in a “bone dry” wine.  At $20.00 a bottle, it is one of the biggest bargains in Napa Valley.

The next wine we tasted was also crisp and refreshing – and, for us, as much a delightful revelation as the Colombard.  Yannick’s second wine was his Rosé of Tannat.  We have tasted many rosé wines in Napa made from different varietals (Pinot Noir being the most common, but we have also tried rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Zinfandel).  Rosé of Tannat was a first.  True to his Gascony roots, Yannick has committed himself to making wines from Tannat, a varietal native to his home region.  The color of the rosé was gorgeous – lighter than many wines of that type that we have tasted – closer to light salmon in color.  Beyond its appearance, the rose was spectacular – aromatic, with hint of strawberry and watermelon and floral notes. In terms of flavor, the rosé was refreshing and robust, another nice balance between fruit, acidity and minerality.  Yannick makes his wines to be enjoyed with food, and at our tasting the rosé was paired beautifully with a selection of cheeses.  When we checked the price sheet, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Rosé of Tannat, which has a 90-point rating from Wine Spectator, is only $24.00 per bottle.

2015 Y. Rousseau Rose of Tannat

When we finished the rosé, Olga and Yannick revealed the next part of the tasting experience, a blind tasting of three Y. Rousseau wines: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from 2013, and Tannat from 2012.  All three bottles were covered and the wines were poured into our glasses.

Blind tasting:  Merlot, Cab and Tannat

Blind tastings can be tricky, especially with wines from the same winemaker and varietals that share some similarities (such as Merlot and Cab, both Bordeaux grapes).  Moreover, both the Merlot and Cab come from high-elevation vineyards on the same mountain – just different sides of Mt. Veeder.  Surprisingly, we correctly picked all three of the wines (Merlot, Cab and Tannat, in that order) after diligently swirling, sniffing, and tasting the wines.  A few others in the group also picked the wines correctly. All of us really enjoyed the three red wines and the winemaking style that went into each of them.  We drink a fair amount of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, two wines common in Napa.  A new experience, though, was the Tannat, one of the darkest wines we have consumed. Although Merlot and Cab are on the darker side, they tend to have lighter coloring around the edge of the glass. The Tannat, meanwhile, more closely resembled squid ink in color.  On the palate, it was as bold as the appearance, with deep fruit flavors complemented by earthy tones.  Y. Rousseau’s Tannat definitely requires some food to stand up to the boldness of the wine.  Our hosts took great care of us in this regard, providing a tasty paté as well as a duck rillete.

The Ideal Pairing for Tannat

We took home several bottles of the Merlot, very competitively priced at $50.00, and comparable in quality to wines that would cost much more at other Napa wineries.  We also purchased a bottle of Tannat ($60).

Less than a week later, we were back at Y. Rousseau with some friends of ours visiting from Southern California.  These friends are sophisticated wine drinkers and we only take them places we are confident will meet with their lofty standards.   Our second experience included a different blind tasting where we were able to taste the difference between two of Yannick’s Tannat wines – one 100% Tannat and the other a blend of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was interesting to compare the two, which were from different vineyards and different vintages.  Our friends purchased 8 bottles of wine. They loved everything – the Colombard, the rose of Tannat, the Merlot, and the Tannat.

If you are coming to Napa and want to taste some unique wines made with Old-world love and attention, and pay a reasonable price, Y. Rousseau should be one of your destinations.  Olga will treat you well and you’ll come away knowing more about wine.

To purchase Y. Rousseau wines, go here:

To make an appointment go here:

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 29, 2016


You don’t have to swim upstream to eat here

rivers end sunset
Sunset backdrop to the union of the Russian River and the Pacific Ocean

One of our favorite destinations in California is the town of Jenner, a spot known as the “River’s End” where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean. There is something majestic about two bodies of water coming together and this particular location is no exception.  On top of a bluff overlooking this amazing spot sits a fantastic restaurant called …River’s End.  We wonder if they considered “Ocean’s Beginning?  That would have been more optimistic, we think; more of a “glass half full” way of describing the meeting point of river and ocean. But we have to admit that “River’s End” does have a poetic ring to it.

We have been to River’s End (both the restaurant and the location) several times in the past and chose it as the place to culminate a special 80th birthday weekend for the father (and father-in-law) of the authors of this blog.  We had family coming from across the country for the occasion and wanted to share one of our favorite spots with them.  There were seven of us in total and we made the hour-and-a-half drive from our home in Napa Valley to the Sonoma Coast.  For the birthday boy, the drive ended up being half of the fun, as the trip started in Carneros and cut through the heart of Sonoma wine country, past dairy farms and horse ranges, and, for the final stretch, through Bodega Bay and up the coast along Highway 1.

When we finally arrived at the restaurant, it was about 3:30 in the afternoon and the heat and sun of Napa seemed far away. The temperature on the coast was 20-25 degrees lower than when we started and there was a fair amount of fog shrouding the last part of the river and the entrance to the Pacific Ocean.

View of the Russian River from the wrap-around deck at River’s End
Taking a break from kayaking
River, meet ocean; ocean, meet river.
River’s End wrap-around deck
After finally getting everyone out of the caravan of cars and into the restaurant, we were very pleased to see that the restaurant staff set us up with a long table against the window with amazing views of the river and ocean.  Every visit to River’s End restaurant should be structured with ample time to hang out on the deck and just take in the sights.  For 2016, Open Table named River’s End one of the 100 Most Scenic Restaurants in America.

We would be remiss if we failed to mention the patience and flexibility of the staff and the kitchen. Although we anticipated arriving by 2:30, because of traffic and other delays, we did not arrive until 3:30 – the exact time the kitchen closes to allow the chef and cooks to transition to the evening service.  Despite our tardiness, the staff helped us get our orders in and were very attentive and friendly throughout our meal.

Often, restaurants with great views have, well, great views and nothing else to recommend them.  River’s End is not one of those restaurants. They have an excellent menu, a superb chef in Martin Recoder, and sources its dishes locally from Sonoma farms and the Russian River itself.  We were lucky enough to be visiting during salmon season, when the King Salmon run along the Pacific coast and spawn in the rivers.  Several of us did order the Wild Pacific King Salmon entrée along a couple of salmon-inspired appetizers.  One of the best things about River’s End is that they change the menu frequently based on seasonal availability of vegetables and seafood.  The Wild Pacific King Salmon menu is available through October.  Everyone in our party had some type of salmon dish, all of them beautifully prepared and artistically presented.

Rivers end #3
River’s End Salmon Crudo
Riveres end #1
River’s End Vegetable Napoleon

rivers end beet salad

River’s End Technicolor Beet Salad

As you can see, the food at River’s End is fit for foodies. In addition to these culinary gems, we also recommend the Petaluma Duck Confit rolls, the tomato and watermelon soup, and the petrale sole. Everything was delicious and felt appropriately unique and special for a birthday as important as #80.  For those that enjoy quality wine with your meal, River’s End offers a comprehensive wine list with a strong representation of local wines from Sonoma County and Napa Valley.

Almost every time we go to River’s End, we plan a beach trip either before or after we eat.  Goat Rock Beach is across the river from the restaurant and is normally a must-visit.  Given the size of our caravan, and the advanced ages of some of the crew, we opted against a trek down to the beach. Because we were not ready to go home, though, we stopped off at our other favorite Jenner spot, Cafe Aquatica, which is just down the hill from River’s End.

Cafe Aquatica in Jenner, California
Like the restaurant, Cafe Aquatica is right on the water – the Russian River.  However, unlike River’s End, which is on a bluff, Aquatica is at river level.  As a result, you can get your coffee, sit on the bank of the Russian River and enjoy the serenity and natural beauty.  If you fancy a bite, Cafe Aquatica serves organic sandwiches and salads that are also sourced from local ingredients.  A perfect day for us would be lunch at Cafe Aquatica, followed by a trip to Goat Rock Beach, and finished off with dinner at River’s End.  Next time!

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 26, 2016

Kayak Launch right behind Cafe Aquatica
Fog rolling into the Russian River from the Pacific Ocean


Wine With A ‘Tude.

Patio tasting area at Etude Winery, Napa Valley (Carneros)

American playwright Edward Albee (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”) once wrote:  “Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance.”  That is, more or less, how we found our way to Etude Wines, a winery located in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley.  On a recent trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region we visited Soter Vineyards.  When we told the Soter team that we were from Napa, they told us their founder (Tony Soter) was the founding winemaker at Etude in Napa Valley.  That’s how we learned about Etude – which is about 3 miles from our house – as a result of a 500 mile trip to Oregon.

As soon as we drove down the long driveway onto the Etude property, we knew we had waited too long to visit. The grounds are simply gorgeous, surrounded by vineyards of course but also landscaped beautifully with trees, flowers and other plants.  We entered the tasting room and right away were poured a glass of Etude’s Pinot Gris, their “welcome” wine.  It was chilled, crisp, refreshing, and a definite guilty pleasure at 11:00 in the morning.  We took a look around the tasting room and immediately fell in love with the decor.

Our kind of decor

Momentarily, we considered having  our tasting inside at the bar.  In the end, though, we opted to sit outside as the weather was in the high 70’s with a nice breeze coming off of San Pablo Bay.  In addition to the lure of the weather, the view was pretty hard to beat as well.

View of property though our (wine colored) glasses

We had the good fortune to be served by Jim, a veteran of the wine industry who gave us the scoop on the winery, its philosophy, location of the various vineyards, etc.  To maximize our exposure to Etude, we each did a separate tasing – one of us the Premium and the other the Reserve ($20 and $30, respectively).  As a result, we were able to try quite a few Pinot Noir offerings (Etude makes 9-10 different Pinots) and an extra Cabernet Sauvignon.

Etude Reserve Tasting Menu
Etude Premium Tasting Menu

Both tasting menus started with Chardonnay, but they were not the same. One of the Chards was aged in neutral oak and not subject to secondary, or malolactic, fermentation. Meanwhile,the second Chard was partially aged in new French oak and underwent the malolactic fermentation.  Both were strong wines – nice fruit flavor balanced with minerality. Even the oak-aged wine that underwent malolactic fermentation was balanced and, a far cry from the “buttery” Chards that common in Napa and the rest of California.

After the Chardonnay and a delightful Rose (of Pinot Noir, naturally), we moved on to the red wines.  Between the two tastings menus, we were able to try four unique Etude Pinot Noir offerings. In addition to the four on the menu, Jim was nice enough to give us a splash of a couple more Etude Pinot Noir wines, including their Ellenbach Vineyard Pinot from northern Sonoma Coast.  It was so good we had to buy some and take it home with us (we bought bottles of several different Pinot Noir’s).  Our tasting finished with several Cabernet Sauvignon offerings, including at least one not on the menu.  Thanks Jim!

Jon Priest, the winemaker at Etude, has said “winemaking begins in the vineyard long before the harvest … superior grape growing diminishes the need for intervention by the winemaker, resulting in authentic varietal expression.”  At many wineries, this supposed philosophy dies some time after grape harvesting and before bottling as wine makers engage in excessive wine making.  At Etude, however, you can taste a unifying….attitude.  It may seem strange to say that you can taste restraint, but we think you can.  While all of Etude’s wines have lovely aromas and flavor, with plenty of fruit on both the nose and palate, there is also a strong connection to the earth in all of their wines.  Both the Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon offerings that we tasted had earthy, mineral notes that were not overwhelmed in the wine making process.  For that reason, we have been telling people that we love the ‘tude of Etude.  Clearly, the approach that Tony Soter started when he founded the winery continues today.

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 16, 2016





Wine that fits the bill

The tasting lineup at Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley

Writing a blog can take up a significant amount of precious free time, especially if you feel compelled, as we do, to post at least once a week.  With the pressure of jobs, kids, dogs, and the rest of life, we sometimes ask ourselves “is it worth it?”  Just when one of us feels like taking a break, something good motivates us to keep at it.  For us, the latest “something good” was making a connection through our blog (and our Twitter account @topochinesvino ) with Carol Reber, the Chief Marketing & Business Development Officer at Duckhorn Wine Company.  One half of this blog duo has worked in Marketing for the past 15 years and has a strong affinity for branding, communications, marketing, sales and distribution.  So when we connected with Carol via Twitter and she invited us to come up to Duckhorn Vineyards, we were doubly excited:  first, we have been purchasing the wine for years and love it; second, Carol is an awesome marketer working in one of the coolest businesses we can imagine.  If you don’t believe us, look her up on LinkedIn.

For those that have read our prior blog entries, you know that our goal since moving to Napa in 2013 is to taste wine at every one of the 450-500 wineries in Napa Valley.  We are making our way through the list haphazardly, with no particular order.  This past Friday we put Duckhorn to the top of our list and made the trip up the Valley close to the town of St. Helena.  The Duckhorn tasting room is surrounded by beautiful vineyards and is worth a walk-around pre- or post-tasting just to soak up the beauty and take some pictures.

After checking in we were given the option to sit inside or outside.  Having just come up from a tasting in the Carneros region 15 miles to the south, we hesitated, as the temperature in St. Helena was at least 20-25 degrees warmer.  But when we saw the stunning outside covered veranda, we opted for the outside tasting.  When we got to our table, I knew we were in for a nice afternoon.

Irene bravely preparing for battle

Even before getting to our table, we had been offered a glass of Duckhorn’s Sauvignon Blanc.  It was a perfect match for the warm day:  crisp, balanced, with nice fruit flavors but also minerality and acidity to round out the finish.  When we finished the Sauv Blanc it was time to get to the real tasting.  As the picture at the beginning of the article shows, Duckhorn tastings include a card for each wine being served.  These cards provide an overview of the wine, tasting notes, and other useful information.  We wondered immediately why other wineries do not provide something similar; the cards were so useful we took them home with us.

The first two wines in the tasting were Merlot.  If you’ve seen the movie “Sideways,” or even heard about it, you might have a skewed view of the quality of this noble varietal.  To refresh everyone’s recollection, there is a scene in Sideways where Paul Giamatti’s character says:  “If anyone orders Merlot, I’m leaving.  I am not drinking any (d)ucking Merlot.”  That was it – less than 30 seconds in a 7,380-second movie, but it had a measurable impact on the sale of Merlot wine in the U.S.  Pardon the editorial, but this is an idiotic reaction.  There, we said it.  Across the world, there are hundreds and hundreds of red wine varietals.  We really mean it – hundreds.  Of these hundreds, only four red varietals are considered to be “noble”:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir and Merlot.  In arguably the world’s best wine region – Bordeaux – nearly two-thirds of the vines are planted to Merlot.  Wines from the famous “Right Bank” of Bordeaux are typically blends comprised of a majority of Merlot.  One of the best wines in the world, Chateau Petrus, is made from mostly Merlot (in some vintages, 100% Merlot).

Are there terrible Merlot wines out there?  Yes!  If you don’t like terrible wines, don’t drink them. But don’t condemn a noble varietal because of a line in a movie or because you tasted some crappy Merlot that, based on its rock-bottom price, you should have known was going to be bad.  Now that we got that out of our system …I can tell you that the Duckhorn Merlot is spectacular.  Our intrepid hostess and wine guide, Carol, told us that the winery’s founder, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, were actually inspired to grow Merlot in Napa Valley from their experiences in France – and particularly Bordeaux, the Right Bank, and Chateau Petrus itself.  As the price of a bottle of Petrus exceeds our monthly mortgage payment (and we have a pretty big mortgage!), we cannot say with any authority how close Duckhorn’s Merlot comes to Petrus.  What we can say, though, is that the two we tried were delicious, and excellent examples of a European, terroir-based approach to making wine.  While they had strong fruit aromas and flavors, the Merlot’s also had strong earthy elements, with hints of granite and chalkiness.  Both wines were wonderfully balanced with medium tannin and long finish.

We also tasted two Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon offerings from Duckhorn as well as a Cabernet from Canvasback, a relatively new wine from Washington state, and some Pinot Noir from Goldeneye, a winery Dan and Margaret founded in Mendocino County’s Anderson Valley.  Carol was exceedingly gracious and generous with us, pouring many more wines than a typical tasting.

Our lovely hostess, Carol Reber, CMO of Duckhorn Wine Company

In addition to sharing wine with us, Carol gave us a lot of insight about the origins of Duckhorn, its founding over 40 years ago, the commitment of its founders, and their approach to wine making.  We also learned about the new owners of Duckhorn, who are clearly balancing respect for the founder’s traditions with a vision for growing and enhancing the brand.  Expansion into other states, managing and growing multiple labels, planting new vines, and building world-class facilities requires investment.  From what we can see, Duckhorn has a strong team dedicated to making great wines from multiple wine regions in the United States.  We will be adding Duckhorn to the “must visit” list we share with friends and family when they come to Napa.

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 19, 2016

Irene Enjoying The Tasting
View of vines through a Sauvignon Blanc



It’s All Greek To Me.

The Meze Plate at Tarla Grill, Napa Valley

Tarla Mediterranean Bar & Grill in Napa is located on First Street in the heart of our town.  For the two-and-a-half years that we have lived here, we had been there exactly …zero times.  In our defense, while we have heard many good things about it, we just had not made it there.  What finally motivated us to go?  Serendipity.

We were in New York a couple of weeks ago, stumbling around town after having experienced the moving and overwhelming Ground Zero memorial and museum.  It was mid-afternoon and none of us (including several kids) had eaten since breakfast.  We accidentally found ourselves in front of the renowned Palm restaurant – not usually a good venue for sweaty, shorts-wearing tourists with kids.  But they didn’t complain, perhaps because the restaurant was empty, and we were just happy to sit down for a bit and get some food.  Our waiter, Murat, gave us great service and engaged us all in lively conversation throughout our meal.  At the end, he asked where we were from; when he heard that we were from Napa, he smiled and told us that one of his close friends, Ali, owned a restaurant in Napa.  “Have you heard of Tarla Grill,” he asked us.  We told him we had driven by literally dozens of times but had not been.  Of course, we promised to go right away when we returned.

We made good on this promise and headed to Tarla a few days after returning from the East Coast.  The food was so good, the service so friendly, and the atmosphere so lively that we made up for our 2 1/2 year absence by going again a week after the first visit.  The second time was for a special occasion – an 80th birthday party.  We did not meet Ali, as he is spending all of his time managing another restaurant, Napkins, down the street.  But we did meet Yusuf Topal, Ali’s partner, who is managing Tarla – and very well, we have to say.

Both times we ate at the restaurant, we started with a traditional Greek salad and a meze plate – a traditional mediterranean combination plate with pita bread, stuffed grape leaves, tzatziki (yogurt dip),  hummus, baba ganoush (eggplant-based dip), and zucchini cakes.  One of the people in our party told Yusuf that Tarla was “the best Greek restaurant” she had ever been to.  “Turkish,” replied Yusuf, maybe a bit tongue-in-cheek.  “What’s the difference,” she asked?  “Ah, it’s all the same,” he said. “The Ottoman Empire ruled Greece for almost 500 years so we all eat the same foods.”  Turkish, Greek, whatever – it was all delicious.  In addition to the Greek (Turkish?) Salad and Meze plate, we sampled the fried calamari, chicken skewers, steak, and short ribs.  Everything is done to perfection at Tarla:  the skewers were nicely charred on the outside but juicy on the inside (all white meat); the steak was juicy and flavorful; and the short ribs were as good as any we have had – anywhere.

As good as the food is, the service just might be better.  As soon as we were seated on our second visit, one of the waiters came by and said “long time  no see.”  The entire team works well together and pitches in.  At least four different people brought food to the table and everyone was willing to help with whatever was needed:  replacing a dropped fork; bringing more bottled water; opening another bottle of wine.  One feature of the restaurant that we really appreciated was the absence of corkage fees.  We had a couple of bottles of wine and, at most local places, the charge would have been $25 or more per bottle, which ends up making the meal feel really expensive.

Both nights we ate at Tarla, we finished off dinner with dessert, coffee and after-dinner drinks.  Given that we were in a mediterranean restaurant, we decided to order the authentic Turkish (Greek?) coffee.  Although it is served in an espresso-sized cup, it bears little relationship to the Italian specialty.  With Turkish coffee, finely-ground coffee beans are simmered (not boiled) in a special pot and then poured into the small cup for serving – along with the grounds, which settle to the bottom of the cup.  Turkish coffee can be served without sugar, lightly sweetened, or very sweet. We opted for the medium option and enjoyed the jolt of real coffee taste.  Out of respect for our the Turkish/Greek influence, we also ordered an ouzo and a raki.  Both are anise-based liqueurs that, according to our 80-year-old birthday boy, tastes like “bad medicine.”  This from a Russian who has consumed enough vodka in his day to fill the Olympic pool in Rio.  For the record, some of us enjoyed both the ouzo and raki and found it to be an excellent way to cap off a good meal.

When the bill came, we were pleasantly surprised with the total.  While I would not say Tarla is an inexpensive restaurant, the prices are reasonable for such high quality food in the heart of a wine country town.  We would stack the food up against many other places in town and encourage both locals and visitors to give Tarla a try.

John & Irene

August 15, 2016

Lovely Marimar Russian River Pinot from home wine collection
Irene holding birthday card waiting patiently for Dad
Lots of empty plates

You can still order a Cab here.

Irene in front of the Chimney Rock tasting room

After nearly a week and a half in the heat and humidity of New York and Boston, we were happy to be home and ready to hit the trail and enjoy some Napa Valley wine.  And we hit the trail, literally: Silverado Trail.  There are two main thoroughfares through Napa Valley – Highway 29 and Silverado Trail.  Of the two, Silverado Trail is generally less crowded and, for us, a prettier drive.  Most importantly, there are several dozen wineries along Silverado Trail to choose from.  This past weekend, we decided to try Chimney Rock Winery, which is located on the Trail in the Stags Leap District, one of the official A.V.A.’s (or appellations) in Napa Valley. At just over 1 mile wide and 3 miles long, the Stags Leap AVA is the smallest in the Napa Valley, but perhaps the most well-known, especially for Bordeaux-style red wines – Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.  Of the approximately 1,300 acres of vines in Stags Leap, over 80% are planted to these two varietals.  It is the lure of luscious red wine that brought us to Chimney Rock.

Turning into the winery off of Silverado Trail, a long driveway takes you up to the main building where the tasting room is located.  In Napa Valley, winery building architecture shows many influences, many of them from Europe – Spanish-style, French manor, Italian villa, etc.  At Chimney Rock, the influence is not European, at least not directly, but South African.  The building pictured above was designed in what is known as the Cape Dutch style, an Afrikaner style of architecture found in the West Cape of South Africa.  As it turns out, the original husband-wife owners of the winery had strong ties to South Africa – Stella was born there and Sheldon had worked there for several decades.

In 1980, Stella and Sheldon (“Hack”) Wilson purchased the Chimney Rock Golf Course which, at the time, was an 18-hole course right off of the Silverado Trail.  They decided to cut the course size in half and convert 9 of the holes to vineyards.  They began making white and red wines from the grapes planted on the estate.  In 2004, Chimney Rock was sold to another family, the Terlato’s, who have planted additional vines and invested in an impressive expansion of the winery operations.

One of the impacts the Terlato’s have had on the winery since taking over more than a decade ago has been focus:  producing world-class Cabernet Sauvignon.  While they do make a fresh, balanced Sauvignon Blanc from grapes sourced from Rutherford, they really are a “Cab house,” and we were pleased to hear that all of their Cab and red blends come from grapes grown on the estate property.  At many wineries, tastings will include a white wine or two (maybe a bubbly or a rosé), a “softer” red wine such as Pinot, or maybe a Zinfandel, and fnishing with a Cab.  At Chimney Rock, it is clear that Cab is king:  after a refreshing taste of Sauvignon Blanc (which was greatly appreciated on a hot summer’s afternoon), we tasted four red wines, three of which were cab.  Our first red was the 2012 Elevage, Chimney Rock’s proprietary red blend – 57% Merlot, 35% Cab, and 8% Petit Verdot. While we enjoyed all of the wines, the Elevage was our favorite, with a silky texture, strong aromas of blueberry and blackberry as well as some vanilla and coffee bean, and a balanced finish.

Glasses of Chimney Rock Elevage

After we finished the Elevage, our next wine was a 2012 Terlato Cab, produced from estate grapes but bottled under the Terlato name.  When the wine was poured, we were told that the Terlato Cab was more of a European-style wine than the other Chimney Rock wines.  In fact, the wine did have more earthy, mineral aroma with the fruit more muted than the typical Napa Cab, although it still had body, strong tannins and a nice finish.  To compare the difference in styles, the 2012 Terlato was followed by the Chimney Rock Cab from the same vintage.  We could definitely detect a difference in styles as the 2012 Chimney Rock had a stronger fruit presence, but overall the wine was smooth and balanced.  Our final pour of the day was the 2013 Chimney Rock Cab, which enabled us to compare the 2012 against the 2013.  To our taste, the 2013 was still “young” – definitely drinkable, but would benefit from some more aging in the bottle.

Once we were done with our tasting, we stayed a while longer in the patio area enjoying the shade and the amazing views of the vineyard from our table.

Irene toasting the lovely view

After getting permission from our hosts, we ambled into the vineyards to get a closer look at the grapes and vines.  At this time in Napa, most grapes are undergoing what is called “veraison,” which essentially means the early stages of ripening.  During this process, red wine grapes are turning from their initial green color to their final deep-purple color.  It is truly a beautiful sight to catch the grapes in their in-between stage.

Veraison at Chimney Rock


We promise that no grapes were harmed during our sojourn among the vines. In another month, though, we might be tempted to sample a few.  Until then, we’ll enjoy our Cab from the 2012 and 2013 vintages at home.

John & Irene Ingersoll

August 1, 2016

Front of Chimney Rock tasting room
Chimney Rock Vineyards
Chimney Rock Back Patio
Acres and Acres of Grapes
Chimney Rock Patio
John Enjoying a Cab
Irene Enjoying a Cab