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Hartwell Estate and Beringer Vineyards

by Monty and Sara Preiser

Today we will feature two wineries that not only offer wines of note, but also provide a wonderful experience to go along with the tasting. Both the experiences are vastly different (variety being the true spice of life), but in their own way quite special.

Hartwell Estate

Not every winery has to have a huge property, 100 year old antiques, or high tech attractions in order to be special. Some do it with good ol’ fashioned style and elegance – perhaps with a little gift from Nature and help from the real estate agents in locating a beautiful sight on which to build. Hartwell Estate well represents the latter example, feeling confident that it provides a memorable event by showing off its location, its wines, its staff, and its hospitality.

Hartwell produces only 3,000 cases of wine, which is relatively small by some Napa standards, but the experience when visiting this by-appointment-only winery is big time all the way. Located in a beautifully elevated setting in the hills west of the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap district, here you will taste world class wines envisioned by owners Bob and Bianca Hartwell, and crafted by talented and creative winemaker Benoit Touquette.

And we aren’t giving away any secrets when we tell you that the more fun a visitor has, the better the wines will taste to them, and the more apt they are to make a purchase (or two, or three, or more). Led by General Manager Linda LaPonza and sommelier David Robbins, a stop at Hartwell allows one to enjoy the epitome of professionalism. You will begin your visit with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and then take in some education as you view the winemaking equipment, which is a little different from what you may have seen before. Then a stroll along the grounds to gaze at the fields below and mountains above is followed by a sit down tasting in one of two intimate areas in the winery, or, if the weather permits, on the outdoor patio with the view and the breeze as your friends. You should call the winery as far in advance as possible, as tours are limited due to the personal experience you will be offered.

The wines that particularly impressed us are:

-2008 Carneros Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($35): Bright and citrusy with a lovely rounded finish caused by aging on the lees, a judicious use of oak, and a bit of malolactic fermentation. One of Sara’s very favorite SBs.

-2007 Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc ($70): Only 100 cases are made, and all from the Sauvignon Musque clone and in new French oak. The effect of the latter choice is obvious. Monty loves the smooth mid palate and the oak, but we both have some concern over the price (it didn’t stop us from buying some, though). [the 08 is due for release soon]

-2007 Estate Miste Hill Cabernet Sauvignon ($60): Black fruit, sweet, and soft tannins come to mind immediately. An interesting finish that stops short for beat, and comes back big time. One of the best Cab buys you can find.

-2006 Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
($115): Here is a wine full of layers with Stags Leap District intensity and concentration apparent from first sip to a chewy middle to an extra long finish.

-2007 Estate Merlot ($75): There isn’t much of this around, and with good reason. This Merlot is illustrative of how good the varietal from Napa can be when properly made. It has a velvet mouth-feel followed by highly approachable, yet strong, tannins, then earth and more earth.

You may have to belong to the wine club to buy the Merlot, by the way. Be sure to ask. The club offers 20% discounts and assures members they will be able to receive all the wines produced each year. There are, as is usually the case, different levels of membership that send different wines, but we highly recommend you consider the 12 bottle Red Only category, and buy some Sauvignon Blanc separately.

www.hartwellvineyards.com 800-366-6516

Beringer Vineyards

Simply entering the Beringer property just north of downtown St. Helena puts you in a country club/university campus frame of mind. Meticulous landscaping, restored buildings, quadrangles, antique equipment, and landscaped walkways suggest an earlier time when daily routines were more relaxed and the things that made life worth living were coveted and enjoyed. Wine, of course, is the elixir that draws people to the Valley, and Beringer is proud at every level to show off what they produce, and how they produce it. Employing only seven head winemakers in 150 years or so (many wineries go through that number in a decade), Beringer boasts about its consistency and, unlike many wineries that banish the name of former winemakers into oblivion, Beringer remembers some of these people by naming wines in their honor.

Upon arrival you will drive through the gorgeous grounds to the parking lot, where we suggest you stop at the welcoming center to select the tour and/or tasting best suited for you. Different areas of the property and different structures are used for each event, so spend some time with the concierge who greets you to plan the day. For example, a large and attractive tasting room/gift shop with a broad range of gentle priced wines may be perfect for an entry level tasting, while wine lovers with greater experience might choose a more inclusive itinerary.

We recommend you consider one of Napa’s best experiences for only $35 per person. Schedule the private reserve tasting tour which will take you to the caves, and then to Jacob Beringer’s restored house for a seated tasting of the wines. The event will be customized for you and is worth every penny, as few Cabs, Merlots, and Chards match the brilliance of the Beringer Private Reserve line. And since you probably won’t be in any hurry to leave, visit the food store, purchase some wine with your food, and have a picnic on the grounds. Consider, as well, joining the wine club, which not only will arrange for the best wines to be shipped to you at attractive prices, but also allows you, when in Napa, to spend time in Beringer’s private wine lounge and sip to your heart’s content. This latter offering is indeed a special factor.

Even without being part of a tour or tasting at Beringer, you can still choose to take a walk, have a picnic, learn about the history of the winery and the area through self-guided exhibits, shop at one of three well thought out gift areas, or just people watch. But the tastings are special, and you probably want to take advantage of them.

Whatever your plans as you read this, you may well want to alter them a bit so as to not miss this uniquely beautiful property with wines the equal of any in Napa. Our favorites are:

-2008 Beringer Chardonnay Private Reserve Napa Valley ($37): High ratings by all reviewers we have seen are more than deserved. This wine has what seems to appeal to the modern palate, showing enough sweetness to let one know it has been on oak, but not allowing the oak to mask the fruit. Full malolactic fermentation insures creaminess and slight butter nuances.

-2007 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve Napa Valley
($115): This wine has everything you could ever ask for in a Cab and more. What is fascinating is the number of legendary vineyards (not all owned by Beringer) that grow the fruit used. They include Bancroft Ranch (34%), Steinhauer (33%), Chabot (8%), Lampridae (8%), St. Helena Home (6%), Marston (5%), Rancho del Oso (3%), Steinhauer Cab Franc (2%), and Bancroft Ranch Cab Franc (1%).

-The Private Reserve Merlot (about $50) is sold out, but the bottle of 2005 we sampled exhibited a huge amount of satiny fruit and tannins that slowly danced throughout our mouths. Watch for the next release.

-2007 Beringer Pinot Noir Stanly Ranch Napa Valley ($35): Lots of red berries in this one, and some nice depth as well, which we appreciate. A wisp of delightful smoke lingers through the finish.

Note that Beringer has five tiers of wines, produces at least nine different varietals, and offers something for everyone at every price level. So it may take quite a while to discover what attracts you the most. But that is, of course, the fun of it.

www.beringer.com 866-708-9463

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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