When you live in Napa Valley it is common for other locals to ask “have you been to [fill in the name of a winery].” Sometimes we answer in the affirmative but often we have to admit we are unfamiliar with the winery in question. Over the past month we got “the question” twice about the same winery: “Have you been to Davis Estates?” Both times we answered no, but by the second time the question was asked we started to wonder, “why haven’t we?” Both questions came from people who are very knowledgeable about wines and winery experiences and they had many positive things to say about Davis Estates. We made an appointment for our first available day and made the beautiful drive to Davis Estates, located on Silverado Trail between Saint Helena and Calistoga. It was a trip well worth taking; so good, in fact, that our second visit was the same weekend. While it is not uncommon for us to visit a winery multiple times over the course of months or years, it is certainly uncommon for our second visit to be two days after the first. We could not resist, however, drawn back by the quality of the wine, the people, and the setting. So yes, we did see, sniff, swirl, sip, spit …and REPEAT all in the same weekend.
After parking the car we headed over to the tasting room building, a beautiful barn-like structure that was somehow both rustic and modern.
We were greeted at the door by the incomparable Holly who was going to be our wine guide not just that day but also for our second trip to Davis Estates with our good friends Tracy and Marty. Holly quickly got us settled and let us know that we were going to be in for a paired tasting with Davis Estate wines and dishes not only selected by their chef but cooked to order during the tasting!
Our tasting began with a glass of the 2014 Davis Estates Viognier, a lovely representation of this wine made the way we prefer it: crisp and dry, with floral and fruit elements balanced nicely by firm acidity.
To accompany the Viognier the chef selected a spicy carrot soup that was the perfect complement to the wine. We then turned to Davis Estates’ red wines – Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Zephyr (a Cab blend) – which were paired with vegetable tempura, pork belly and steak. Because we visited twice in the span of a couple of days we had a chance to revisit each of the Davis Estates wines as well as taste them with and without pairing (we opted for a non-food tasting on our second visit). On both visits we enjoyed the red wines immensely, although our preferences shifted between tastings and our friends had their own favorite among the reds on visit #2. On our first tasting (paired with food) one of us favored the Merlot, which we understand is the favorite wine of Davis Estates wine maker Cary Gott, while the other of us favored the Cabernet Franc. The 2013 Davis Estates Merlot was structured, its fruit flavors balanced by medium to strong tannins, with a nice long, lush finish. We were equally impressed by the Cabernet Franc which had lovely fruit aromas (and none of the “green” or peppery aroma sometimes associated with this varietal) and a smooth, oak-influenced flavor on the palate. This wine also had a nice long finish with a texture that was almost silky.
The final wine in our tasting was the 2013 Davis Estates Zephyr, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (92%), Cabernet Franc (5%), and Petit Verdot (3%). This wine spent two full years in barrel but did not emerge over-oaked or unbalanced. The Zephyr had plenty of structure, strong tannins, and a nice balance between the fruit flavors and acidity.
Although the four wines above rounded out our official tasting, we were having such a good time that Holly offered to let us try another Davis Estates wine as well as a couple of wines from proprietor Mike Davis’ other wine label, Phase V, whose winemaker is Philippe Melka, another wine maker in Napa who is a legend in the making. (Read about our visit to Melka Winery). From the Davis Estates label we tasted the Petit Verdot, a deep, ink-colored wine with a delicate set of aromas, dark fruits mixed with violets, and on the palate exotic spices with an earthy backbone and strong tannins.
We then moved on to the Phase V wines and tasted the Petite Sirah and the Cabernet Sauvignon. We are always drawn to Petite Sirah when we can find it in Napa as it is only available from a small number of wineries. (Read our review of a winery that considers itself a “Petite Sirah house” – Que Sirah Sirah).
The Petit Sirah was our friend Tracy’s favorite wine of all the ones we tasted. We also were wowed by the Phase V Cabernet which was incredibly complex with aromas and flavors that demand attention but can in no way be lumped in to the category of “big Napa Cabs.” We intend no disrespect to the ripe and bold Napa Cabs – we eagerly consume many of them – but the Phase V Cabernet is more than just a mouthful of fruit and high alcohol content. Each sip displayed more subtle aromas and flavors – chocolate, coffee, spices, and leather. Made only in small quantities and made available to Phase V wine club only, the Cabernet is a wine that will stand up to a couple of decades of aging.
With the exception of the Phase V Cabernet, which fetches upwards of $200 per bottle, we were pleasantly surprised by the cost of many of the Davis Estate wines. Our expectation was for much higher prices, driven by the quality of the wine but also the beauty of the Davis Estates property. When Mike and Sandy Davis purchased the 155 acre parcel that their winery sits on today, the main building on the property was an old barn close to Silverado Trail. Soon after selling the technology company that he founded, the Davis’s came to Napa Valley with a vision to build a world-class winery and deliver a superior tasting experience. To help them build the desired physical environment to pay off their vision, the Davis’s hired Howard Backen as the architectural partner on their project. Clearly, Mike Davis has learned from his many years in business that you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. This is evident in his choice of star wine makers (Gott and Melka) as well as his choice of Backen to design the main visitor center and complete a stunning overhaul of the dilapidated barn. Over the past couple of decades, Bracken has put his imprint on Napa Valley and Sonoma wine country by designing some of the best-known Napa wineries including Harlan Estate, Ram’s Gate, Kenzo, Larkmead, and many more. In addition, Bracken and his wife are the founders and owners of Archetype restaurant in Saint Helena (formerly French Blue).
Visitors to the Davis Estates visitor center/tasting room will likely be stunned by the scale of the building – high ceilings, wide room – all set up to give guests views out of floor-to-ceiling windows to the vineyards below. On sunny days, guests will want to taste on the terrace overlooking the vineyards and enjoy the views. We also encourage visitors to take a tour of the barn (with glass in hand of course), which has been restored beautifully to create an intimate and family-friendly tasting space.
There are several separate areas for groups to sit and taste wines including this spot by the fire.
On our way out (on the first of our two visits) we ran into Mike Davis and Holly was gracious enough to introduce us to him. He struck us as a genuinely nice guy and from everything we saw at Davis Estates, we embrace his vision for the wine and the winery.
John & Irene Ingersoll
June 21, 2017