The coolest thing about Napa is the diversity of experiences you can have. There is no one way of enjoying wine, and there isn’t one way to define what the ‘perfect Napa day’ is. During one day in Napa you can have a fabulous day tasting an assortment of wines while being blown away by the an incredible collection of contemporary art and art installations that would rival galleries from SF, LA, NYC.
Hess Collection Winery has pieces that could easily be in the homes of anyone from DJ Khalid to Noah Horowitz. The art on property, that spans over 3 floors, is absolutely incredible. This is the private collection of winery owner Donald Hess, who began his collection out of a passion for art rather than trends, back in ’66.
A particularly powerful piece of a burning typewriter is by Leopoldo Maler, currently head of The Parsons School of Design Affiliation in the Dominican Republic. His works serve as symbols that spark what he calls the viewer’s “creative power of contemplation;” one is completely free to apply one’s own experience and understanding to his pieces. The burning typewriter, entitled Hommage, has a great deal of personal meaning for Maler himself. His uncle, a well-known Argentinean writer, was assassinated for the honesty of his political essays.
Sitting with head Winemaker, Dave Guffy, I had the opportunity to taste a panel of wines, but the two that stood out were their Malbec and a special reserve Cabernet project called The Lion. The Malbec grapes are grown right on property in a small block at the summit of Mount Veeder. If you wonder what it means to taste a California style of this famous Argentine grape – give this bold, big, ripe Malbec from Hess a shot. (They do have property in Argentina and sell a Malbec from their Argentine property, but go for the Mount Veeder.)
Most know Hess from the supermarket aisle for around $15 and may not know their next level stuff. When sitting down to a tasting with Guffy, he brought out the special reserve project that he’s been working on with superstar winemaker Celia Welch. The Lion – of which they only produce 500 cases with a price tag of $185 – puts it in an upper echelon of Napa wines.
I had the 2014: voluptuous mouth feel, beautiful red fruit and power, but there is a finesse and softness that is satisfying. In other words it has great balance. The fruit is from their estate on Mount Veeder and that mountain juice is just flat out special.
The beauty of Napa is that you can be walking through 3 floors of modern art in the morning at Hess, then shooting rattle snakes with the owner of Smith Madronewinery in the afternoon as he takes you through their hillside vineyard on a rugged ATV. Smith Madrone was founded in 1971 by Stuart Smith, Managing Partner and Enologist who then brought his brother, Charles F. Smith III, along for the ride as the head winemaker.
These two veterans of the valley are flat out hilarious. Sitting over a picnic lunch the conversation can ping-pong from WWII watches to current issues within the walls of UC Berkeley. Ask anyone in Napa who makes the best Riesling in town and an overwhelming majority will point to Smith Madrone.
The interesting wine they brought out over our 3 hour lunch was their reserve Cabernet called Cook’s Flat. They only produced about 1,300 bottles of the 2012 vintage. Before jumping into doing a $200 a bottle reserve, the brothers wanted to find their unique point of view in flavor profiles. Thus, they embarked on research (aka drinking!) of all the top Cabernets from Napa and beyond – then took a hard look at a special parcel of land on their property called Cook’s Flat.
Cook’s Flat Reserve is a proprietary name for a wine that is the culmination of 46 years of growing grapes and making wine in the mountains of the Spring Mountain District. The name refers to George Cook, the first owner of the property. ‘Cook’s Flat’ was the local old-timers’ name for the eight-acre plateau-like vineyard block which was replanted in 1972.
The packaging of each bottle is as unique as the Cabernet inside of it. Each bottle is numbered and wrapped in tissue which has been printed with a copy of the U.S. Land Office Patent which granted ownership to George Cook and was signed by President Chester Arthur on December 5, 1885. The wine itself is outstanding, decadent, well structured, and delicious.
The wines of Smith Madrone reflect the style of the Smith brothers who care about history, land, legacy, and enjoying what they do.
So here’s my point – there is no one day or specific set of adventures that makes a trip to Napa perfect. There are a wide variety of stories, adventures, and people that make Napa so special; just get out there!