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Great wine & fun: artesa & the families Hill & Reynolds

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Sometimes it is not all about wine, but about having some unexpected fun as well. And while when you visit wine country (whichever one you choose) it seems that good wine should be the order of the day, there are many tasting opportunities that can be a bit staid. That doesn’t mean they are not professional or nice, nor does it mean you might not taste killer wines – it just means that there is a lack of excitement. Sometimes that is just what we seek – a nice, quiet, relaxing place where we can sip something outstanding, and be alone with our friends and our thoughts.

But not always. We also search out places that offer something a little out of the ordinary and geared toward enjoyment. If the wines are top of the line, so much the better, but solidly made wines are often enough for us if the overall experience proves to be memorable. Fortunately, there are a number of vintners who understand that pairing excellent products with a special presentation of some sort is a sure winner. Today we recognize a few of those forward thinking owners and their vision, as well as their delicious wines.

Hill Family:
With their tasting room located in “happening” Yountville, the entire Hill family takes a hand in running this nicely conceived business, which usually portends well for any endeavor. Here you can choose from three programs – the first a tasting at the bar ($10) where you will taste 4 premium wines; the second a table tasting ($20) where you can taste 5 premium wines while enjoying prosciutto, burrata cheese, fresh bread from the Bouchon bakery, Hill Family olive oil, and Chardonnay peanut brittle; and the third being an organic garden tour ($45), which includes everything in the second tasting PLUS a tour of Hill Family Farm and Jacobsen Orchards.

While lounging at the table, relishing the food, and drinking the wines is fun, it is the tour of the gardens at the farm that is special. If you can secure a reservation, be sure to do so, and be aware the maximum is six per tour, and, depending on the season, there are only two or three tours per day.

The journey begins at the winery and moves to the farm about five minutes away. Usually it is son and sales manager Ryan who will lead you through the most interesting and educational garden tour you have ever taken. What makes it so unique? Well, not only are you introduced to (often rare) plants, spices, herbs, and fruit, but you actually taste a great percentage of what is out there. And when you learn this is an experimental and working garden for the chefs at the French Laundry, you will be even more aghast. We don’t want to spoil the surprises, so we will say no more about this hour long walk that ends with a trip back to the winery, and the table tasting.

Recommended Wines:
-2009 Tierra Sauvignon Blanc ($35): At first blush you might think a little expensive for an S.B., but its beautiful melon and pear flavors up front and creamy smooth peach finish can handle the cost.
-2007 Stewart Ranch Pinot Noir ($38): Showing a surprising amount of black fruit for a Pinot, there is also anise flavor on the mid-palate and hints of flowers at the end.
-2006 Origin ($42): A good blend is to be treasured, and this 55% Merlot/45% Cab hits the mark. A lavender nose gives way to blackberries and plums wonderfully integrated with the tannins.
-2006 Double Barrel Cabernet ($150): This wine is a blast (groan). Excellent structure and concentrated fruit mean it is probably 2-3 years from drinking, but it is already top of the line.
-2008 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc ($35): The traditional S.B. flavors lurk, but mostly at the finish. Before that come the stunning peaches, pears, and figs. A great buy.

www.hillfamilyestate.com 707-944-9580

Reynolds Family:
If you want a bit of Tuscan aura in Napa, then the ambiance at Steve and Suzie Reynolds’ winery is for you. Surrounded by 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, outdoor dining areas overlooking the water, and with an intimate tasting room, European style won’t seem too far away as you enjoy distinctly California wines.

So what is it at Reynolds that is especially fun? Why, it is Steve himself. Not only is this former dentist charming and funny, he gives one of the great personal tours and tastings in the Valley. Of course, he is not always at the winery since he is the best advertisement for his own products and frequently travels nationwide to represent and sell them. But when he is around (which is more often than not), then . . . look out. We have often thought there might be a cat in Steve’s past life, given his ability and penchant for climbing to the top of the barrels to find just the right wine that he wants you to taste. And while you sip from the barrels or the bottles, you learn about viticulture, winemaking, and maybe even some business considerations. All in all, what you find at Reynolds is that extra oomph that we all search for.

When we write about the wines below, you will see that a visit to Reynolds to sample them is worth the visit whether Steve is there or not. However, give a call when you are in the Valley to see what he can do to meet you or to set up a private tasting with a wine educator at the semi-private table off the wine bar. We like and recommend all the wines here, and depending on the tasting program chosen you can sample a number of them.

Estate Flight Tasting ($10):
-2007 Napa Chardonnay ($29): Citrusy with excellent minerality. Sara finds grilled pineapple and Monty gets some apple.
-2007 Carneros Pinot Noir ($45): Earth and spices all over the place, with the classic Carneros cherry profile and smoky finish.
-2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($45): Exhibits an interesting sweetness with a whiff of cherry vanilla, probably due to being aged in 50% French oak and 50% American. Leather and chocolate on the finish. One of the best under $50 in the Valley.
-2007 Persistence ($50): A wonderful blend of all five major Bordeaux varietals in a fabulous vintage. A raspberry opening, a blue fruit center, and some Hershey’s at the end.

Reserve Flight Tasting ($20):
-2007 Chard (see above)
-2007 Carneros Pinot Noir (see above)
-2007 Russian River Pinot Noir ($50): One of our favorite California Pinots, the excellent acidity influences everything about this wine, from its smooth black cherry mid palate to its long finish. Hints of the 20% new oak and a heavier than normal body make this outstanding.
-2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (see above)
-2007 Persistence (see above)
-2006 Reserve Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon ($89): What a wine. Concentrated blue fruit and plums, with chocolate throughout. We like Steve’s description – “an iron fist in a velvet glove.”

Reynoldsfamilywinery.com 707-258-2558

It is next to impossible not to be enthralled by the beautiful views of the Napa Valley and San Francisco Bay from the hilltop on which Artesa sits. Owned by the Raventos family of Spain, whose winemaking history dates to the mid-sixteenth century, the winery takes its name from the Catalan word for "handcrafted." Artesa is proud of its wines, architecture, and art, a combination of elements that provides a wonderful experience for any visitor.

Once you enter the visitor’s center you are in the midst of what seems like an art gallery which spans the inner courtyard and the surrounding expanses. There are sculptures, paintings, and, in what may be one of the most incredible illusions we have ever seen, the image of the statue of Madonna appearing eerily where there really is nothing at all. You have to see it.

Not only is it fun to just hang out and look around here, but the winery offers numerous educational programs that are available with advance reservations, and are outstanding. Choose from among:
1. The Estate Reserve Experience with a tour of the barrel cellars, a tasting from the barrels, and then a private tasting of Artesa’s reserve wines;
2. The Vino con Queso, which starts with the winery’s finest Sparkler, and then moves to a private setting for cheese pairings plus limited production and reserve wines;
3. Chocolate Indulgence, which pairs five fine reserve wines with five chocolate truffles;
4. Vines and Wine, which takes you into the vineyard for some viticulture education while you sip Pinot Noir in the breeze;
5. The Ultimate Tasting, where you taste wines of extremely limited production (including single vineyard wines) by candlelight in the cellar; and
6. The Food and Wine Pairing, where the winery’s finest wines are paired with five small plates prepared by the winery’s chef.

Recommended Wines:

-2009 Limited Release Albarino ($24): Clean, refreshing, and a touch more body than those from Spain. Wonderful tangelo hints throughout.
-2008 Estate Reserve Chardonnay ($26): A very rich Chardonnay, especially for the price. Its character is set apart by a peaches and cream mid palate, and subtle oak;
-2009 Limited Release Sauvignon Blanc ($24): Grapefruit and pear up front are well served by the meringue like finish that comes from six months on oak. A pretty good way to make S.B.
-2007 Limited Release Pinot Noir ($50): Predicted to last for many years, this huge wine shows wood and leather undertones, while the raspberry flavors peek through at each layer.
-2006 Limited Release Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($70): Wonderful secondary characteristics. Tobacco, leather, forest floor, and even some flint make you think this has aged longer than it has. But the fruit (plums and cherries) is still there.

-2006 Haire Vineyard Pinot Noir ($80): To charge this for a Pinot, it had better be special, and it is. Bold and concentrated, the red fruit seems to roll off your tongue and turn into a strawberry shortcake finish – smooth and creamy.
-2006 Hyde Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($100): The balance between the huge ripe fruit, the acidity, and the tannins is remarkable. This is a wine of dark flavors that should last for many years.


Wine writers and educators Monty and Sara Preiser divide their time between Palm Beach County, Florida and the Napa Valley in California. They publish the world's most comprehensive guide to Napa Valley wineries and restaurants titled, appropriately, The Preiser Key to Napa Valley.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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