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.
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.
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.
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