22nd October, 2011

WineGeese Napa Valley Tour

It was a classic Indian-summer morning in San Francisco as we crossed the Golden Gate bridge into Marin and made our way north for A Day of Art & Wine in Napa. Temperatures were forecast to be around 80 degrees and as Michael Jackson put it “the weather gods smiled on us”. Harvest time in Napa is heavenly and we admired the changing leaves on the heavy vines cascading with voluptuous berries as we traveled up Highway 121 through the cooler Carneros district, filled with anticipation for the wines we were about to taste.

We arrived at Jarvis Winery where the wines are produced from estate vineyards, located high above the city of Napa, in the beautifully rugged mountains between Mt. George and Milliken Canyon at the southeastern end of the Napa Valley. The vineyards are planted in gently sloping meadows one thousand feet above the valley floor. Jarvis Winery is noted for its ultra-premium, estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot – and the Jarvis cave is the "Daddy" of underground winemaking in Napa.  Jarvis was the first in the United States to tunnel a cave so large that it could hold all the wine-making operation. The facility is totally contained within 45,000 square feet of cave tunneled into the scenic Vacas Mountains four miles east of the town of Napa. It is not only a visual masterpiece, but a technical masterpiece as well.

Our wonderful guide Ted was waiting to welcome us and brought us through the magnificent cast bronze doors that lead under the mountain and through the caves.  We were treated to the Vintage Tasting Tour which included a tour of this unique underground winery facility followed by a sit-down tasting with 6 Jarvis wines in the private tasting room beside the Crystal Ballroom.  We all had our favorites but the 2007 Lake William blend proved to be the most popular.

From there, we headed back towards Napa.  On arrival at Pepper & Michael Jackson’s beautiful home, we were greeted by a lively jazz band and breathtaking views from the terrace.  Michael Jackson is the West Coast Winegeese Chair, as well as being a member of The American Ireland Fund Board of Directors.  The table was fabulous and festively decorated by Pepper.  We sat down for lunch with new friends and special wines from Chappellet, Twomey and Flora Springs. Guest Speaker, Marc Lhormer (producer of the movie Bottleshock) of the inaugural Napa Valley Film Festival (November 9-13, 2011). was there and gave a wonderful presentation. We were also joined by the talented winemaker David Mahaffey, currently working on his 31st harvest, who shared his exquisite Olivia Brion Pinot Noir.  Guests included the elegant Joanne DePuy, Kerry Egan of The Villagio Hotel who was there with Jamie Hamm, Sheila Kelly, Pat Garvey of Flora Springs, Tom Faherty of Valley Architects, Donal O’Briain, and Courtney Santry.  The view of the Valley was breathtaking as we feasted on the delicious flavors of Napa.

Our next stop was The Hess Collection, part of the Hess Winery.  We traveled along a scenic winding forest road which was named for several redwood mills that once produced lumber to help build San Francisco. The Hess Collection was founded by Swiss entrepreneur Donald Hess, who first purchased vineyards on Mount Veeder in 1978. Mount Veeder is distinguished among Napa’s mountain districts for having the highest elevation, coolest growing season and geologically diverse soils.  This was the “art” part of our day and we met with a terrific tour guide, Larry, who brought us through the outstanding modern art collection in the winery’s museum, one of the finest in the world.  Located in the historic stone winery originally constructed in 1903 by Colonel Theodore Gier, the winery first opened to the public in 1989.

The winery is best known for its flagship Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay wines, and single vineyard designates from their estate vineyards in Napa Valley. Following our tour of the museum, we found ourselves in the barrel room and enjoyed an artisan cheese sampling, paired with several interesting wines.

All in all, the day was a delight for the senses. We had a wonderful group of WineGeese with us who enjoyed a superb day among friends during crush season.  It will be interesting to taste the 2011wines that are being produced during this challenging growing season that we were there to witness.  We returned to The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, with much talk of the next WineGeese trip to France – Burgundy 2012.