Hess Collection: World Class Wine Experience

As it so often does in all aspects of life, art sets the scene at The Hess Collection Estate on Mt. Veeder in Napa Valley. Founder Donald Hess’s art collection began when he bought a painting as écor for his new home. Years later, a friend studied the painting and informed him that he owned a Picasso. That gave Hess his first inclination that he might have an eye for art curation.

In 1978, when Hess established The Hess Collection Winery, formerly the Christian Brothers – Mont La Salle Winery, he purchased approximately 1,000 acres on Mount Veeder but committed to only plant a third or less to grapevines. The mountain and its wines pulled him in, but he fell head over heels for the beauty and history of the estate.

He made offers for years before the Christian Brothers finally relented and allowed him –
not to purchase the historic winery built in 1903 – but to lease it for the long term. He then began remodeling buildings, landscaping, and updating winery equipment. He built a new tasting room and added the 13,000 square-foot art gallery, housing pieces from his collection. Four decades later,
Donald Hess formally retired and handed the reins to his daughter and son-in-law, Sabrina and Timothy Persson, the next generation of Hess family whose goal it is to protect Donald Hess’s legacy while advancing The Hess Collection as one of the premier family-owned and family-led wineries in Napa Valley.

In 2014, a 6.0 earthquake hit and caused significant damage to the winery and the original stainless steel tanks in the largest cellar, resulting in the loss of 20,000 gallons of wine. After recovery, the Hess Family eventually unveiled a new and improved winemaking facility— Lions Head Cellar. A giant dented wine tank that the earthquake damaged stands tall at the entrance of the new cellar, like a winemaker’s Tower of Pisa.

The winery withstood Mother Nature and evolved into a wonderland of experiences for connoisseurs of wine and art. Today, Tim and Sabrina Persson continue to share and grow the art collection, which is outstanding by anyone’s standard. Wine and culinary experiences include a wine and chocolate pairing that is one of the most decadent in the Valley. Chef Chad Hendrickson fills Swiss cacao chocolate truffles with a variety of ganache flavors, like cassis, violet, marshmallow, coffee, olive oil, vanilla, and balsamic vinegar. He expertly prepares farm-to-table wine luncheons and cheese pairings complemented with unique artisan touches like slices of persimmons he’s hand-dried for months.
Weather permitting, the “Vine to Table Excursion,” an ATV ride through the vineyards with stops for tastings, is not to be missed. The views from high on Mount Veeder are stunning.

If the wines weren’t so stellar, one might get lost in an overload of beauty and history. The world-class Hess Collection wine portfolio provides the motivation to trek up the mountain and spend a day
tasting and perusing the sculptures, paintings, and installations. It’s hard to imagine what could be better than topping off this extraordinary tasting and gallery tour with a delectable wine and culinary experience on their wisteria-covered courtyard on a gorgeous California day.

Layne Randolph, Napa Valley Life Magazine, April 2020

Healdsburg: A Food Lover’s Paradise

Known for its Norman Rockwell charm juxtaposed with world-class wines and the finest restaurants north of San Francisco, Healdsburg is a must-stop as you make your way through picturesque Sonoma County. It’s laid-back yet surprisingly sophisticated, a condensed, poetic version of Napa Valley, and it’s situated right in the middle of three diverse wine appellations.

“I grew up near here, and I’ve watched Healdsburg go from just a tiny town in a farm community to a top destination spot in Sonoma. It’s not as well-known as Napa, but that only makes it more special to me,” says Lila Brown, Events Coordinator with Lambert Bridge Winery in Dry Creek Valley.

Daily life centers around a town square named one of the “Most Beautiful Town Squares in the US” by Travel & Leisure in 2013. The Plaza, as the locals refer to it, does more than provide a community gathering place, it links the town’s hot spots, and there are many. For foodies, it’s hard to beat Healdsburg for options.

EATERIES FINE AND FRIENDLY

SingleThread (www.singlethread,com) brings a fusion of Sonoma County farm-to-table and Japanese cuisine. It’s the first restaurant in Sonoma County to receive three Michelin stars, and it’s done so for the last two years, presenting intricate eleven-course meals from produce grown nearby at their SingleThread Farm. An artist’s attention to detail comes through in every presentation, not just in the food harvested from their farm, but also in the décor, ambiance, and impeccable service. You’ll need reservations far in advance to score a table, and if you’re staying the night, SingleThread Inn is on the second level, with a lounge and bar on the rooftop.

If outdoor dining is your thing, Bravas Bar de Tapas (www.starkrestaurants.com/stark-restaurant/bravas-bar-de-tapas) has a magical patio with twinkle lights, a menu of sangrias by the glass or pitcher, a Spanish tapas menu, and outdoor paella parties on Fridays, when a chef prepares a massive pan of paella in front of the crowd. Dry Creek Kitchen(www.drycreekkitchen.com), a Charlie Palmer restaurant, offers an outdoor dining area facing the Plaza, affording great people-watching views.

Two brothers with a passion and a dream own the restaurant Valette (www.valettehealdsburg.com), one working the room up front and the other working as a chef in the back, making to-die-for dishes like Scallops en Croûte with caviar and champagne beurre blanc.

If you want a pro to show you the lay of the land, Savor Healdsburg (www.savorhealdsburg.com) provides gourmet food and wine walking tours of the town. Its Owner and Head Foodie, Tammy Gass, laughed, “People are always amazed that owners are cooking in the restaurants and pouring wine in the tasting rooms, but still stopping by to chat and tell their story.”

At Journeyman Meat Co. (www.journeymanmeat.com), Winemaker Pete Seghesio brings his family’s century-old tradition of salumi and sausage making to Healdsburg, with a boutique Italian Salumeria that has received national attention from USA Today and Wine Spectator. You might find a line of locals stopping in, picking up a wood-fired pizza to go, or couples huddled together over glasses of wine and a charcuterie board. After dinner, stop by Noble Folk Ice Cream & Pie Bar (www.thenoblefolk.com), an old-fashioned ice cream and dessert shop with ice cream flavors like almond-cardamom. It’s a small, hands-on shop, that usually has a line out the door and down the sidewalk.

EXPLORE NEARBY WINERIES

Healdsburg is at the epicenter of three world-class American Viticultural Appellations (AVAs). Just a few minutes outside town in any direction, estates and tasting rooms dot the rolling hills of vineyards wrapped around two-lane country roads. Russian River Valley offers internationally famous Pinot and Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley is renowned for some of California’s best Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc, and Alexander Valley boasts voluptuous Cabernet and Merlot.

This is a casual, bring-a-picnic type of wine region, and many wineries have outdoor areas perfect for sharing lunch over a bottle of wine. If that’s your thing, head northwest into Dry Creek Valley and stop at Dry Creek General Store (www.drycreekgeneralstore1881.com) to stock up for a picnic lunch.

Once in Dry Creek Valley, stop at Unti Vineyards (www.untivineyards.com), a boutique winery famous for Italian and Rhone varietals. Down the road, Trattore Farms (www.trattorefarms.com) produces both wine and olive oil, and during harvest season, you can watch the annual olive press then take home some of the freshest, purest olive oil you’ll ever taste. 

Lambert Bridge Winery (www.lambertbridge.com) is famous for its Bordeaux varietals, and with its beautifully manicured picnic grounds and three outdoor wood-fired ovens, it’s ideal for a picnic. After a tasting, sit outside with a bottle of their Burgundian-style Chardonnay.

Out of town in the other direction, take Westside Road to Flowers Winery (www.flowerswinery.com). With vineyards on the Sonoma Coast, Flowers offers its exquisite Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in a magnificent tasting room, aptly named the House of Flowers. If you’re partial to bubbles, you’ll find Iron Horse Vineyards (www.ironhorsevineyards.com) down the road and at a higher elevation, offering some of the most spectacular views in Sonoma County. Iron Horse’s renowned sparkling wine has been served at the White House multiple times.

THINGS TO DO

There might not be anything better than meandering pedestrian-friendly Healdsburg. Although small, it’s packed with wine tasting rooms, artisan bakeries, antique markets, and specialty shops. Pop in Bon Ton Studio (www.bontonstudio.com) for boho-chic housewares and clothing, or peek inside the tiny Healdsburg Public Library (https://sonomalibrary.org/locations/healdsburg-regional-library/about-healdsburg-regional-library), housing one of the most comprehensive collections of wine information in the world.

TASTE OF THE TOWN

As you wander, peek your head inside a few tasting rooms and sample the offerings. Portalupi Winery (www.portalupiwine.com) brings a bit of Old-World Italy to Sonoma County. Italian winemaking ancestors sold wine from barrels straight into jugs that customers brought back to fill over and over. The Portalupi family honors that tradition today with Vaso di Marina, one-liter bottles that can be brought back and refilled on site.

Banshee Wines (www.bansheewines.com) is a hipster lounge serving wine flights and small bites like crostini with goat cheese and fig jam, and on the other side of town, stop in Idlewild Wine (www.idlewildwines.com) and taste 2017 The Bird Flora and Fauna Red, which was rated Editor’s Choice and #37 of Wine Enthusiast’s “Enthusiast 100” in 2018.

“New visitors come here for what they think is a day trip, then start canceling other plans so they can stay longer,” said Tammy Gass, “I tell them to come back—and stay awhile next time.”

Chase Cellars

Katie Hayne Simpson, one of the owners of Chase Cellars said, “We gave our babies a huge haircut this year, and it wasn’t easy.” She was referring to the 117-year-old Zinfandel vines on the property her family has owned for almost 150 years. “Their arms were breaking off, and we needed to retrain them, and redirect the energy to the right places.”

It’s uncommon to find vines that old and vineyards that have been owned by one family for that long in Napa Valley. It’s truly a historic vineyard, so a little trepidation in pruning the vines is warranted. Chase Cellar’s St. Helena property epitomizes post-Civil War Napa Valley. The original family members who owned the land, William Bowers Bourn, Sr. and Sarah Chase Bourn, owned the Empire Mine, which was the largest hard rock mine in California. They purchased the vineyard in 1872, thus beginning their involvement in the fledgling wine industry. By 1889 they’d built Greystone Cellars, now home to the Culinary Institute of America.

With this amazing pedigree, it’s impressive that the family has kept the vineyard and residence much as it was when originally purchased. Today, William and Sarah’s great-great-granddaughter, Katie, lives in and runs daily operations from the cottage her family used over a century ago as a country retreat from San Francisco. The vineyard name Hayne comes from Katie’s great-grandmother Maud (daughter of William and Sarah), who married William Alston Hayne.

This boutique winery at the base of the Mayacamas mountain range is an unpretentious symbol of Napa Valley heritage and a hidden gem that pays homage to a time of life lived at a slower pace. A visit to the winery is a unique opportunity to walk amongst some of the most storied vines in the valley. The first sip of Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel can captivate the heart of the most avid Cabernet collectors, but perhaps that’s because the wines have been handcrafted by winemaker Russell Bevan since 2014.
Katie attributes much of the label’s success to Bevan. “He’s a true artist, coaxing and developing flavors unique to each site he works with, allowing a sense of place to come through each wine.” Katie refers to him as “a Rockstar who’s elevated the entire portfolio.”

Bevan explained his role as a “personal and passion project with the intention of crafting the most elegant Zinfandel in the world.” Jeb Dunnock of JebDunnuck. com recently awarded Bevan’s 2016 Hayne Vineyard Reserve Zinfandel with 97 points. The truth is in the land, the voice of the vineyards, and the stories they tell throughout the generations. A tasting under the olive grove goes beyond Zinfandel and may include a balanced, beautiful, distinctly California blend of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, Sarah’s Petite Blend, named for Katie’s mother. Be sure to visit the winery in harvest, and taste berries of 117-year-old and 30-year-old vines side-by-side.

According to Katie, the entire team operates the Chase/Bourn/Hayne family legacy “with a sense of joy and pride,” which is almost palpable in the vineyard, as they encourage visitors to touch the old vines, and share the family’s deep history in Napa Valley.

Layne Randolph. Napa Valley Life Magazine, June 2020

Reviving the Ghosts

As wine regions go, Napa Valley is quite new to the world stage and thus considered part of the New World of wine. Still, its history is rich with the stuff of classic dramas: struggle, success, near defeat, and ultimate victory.

In the late 19th century, thousands flocked to California for the Gold Rush. Many of the miners settled in San Francisco and eventually started new ventures north of the city – planting vineyards. The original Napa Valley wine boom occurred between 1860 to 1890, when more than 140 wineries were operating in the area. The region was booming, wineries were winning international awards, and more and more land was being planted to grapes. But a series of events over the next decades almost killed any hope for the California wine country as we know it today.

Some of the misfortune wasn’t unique to California, or America. Phylloxera, a vineyard disease that had wiped out vast expanses of European vineyards, hit America, effectively killing decades of vineyard growth and closing many wineries. It’s estimated that phylloxera destroyed more than 80% of Napa Valley grapevines by 1900.

Just beginning to rebound from this episode, The US passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, making illegal the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors, within the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof, from the U.S. …for beverage purposes”—what we know as Prohibition.

Although most wineries shuttered their doors over the next 14 years, those wineries that managed to stay in business during this time grew rich.

The Volstead Act provided loopholes to Prohibition, excluding wine used for religious purposes, and homemade fruit juice for personal use – up to 200 gallons per year. Two of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley found a way to succeed in this period. Beaulieu Vineyard survived prohibition by negotiating an exclusive deal to supply wine to the churches of the San Francisco diocese, and Beringer Vineyards utilized the Volstead loophole to make wine for religious purposes too.

Inglenook, now owned by Francis Ford Coppola, survived Prohibition by selling wine grapes directly to consumers when operations ceased. Other winery owners sold grapes, grape juice, and raisin cakes to make a living. But the great majority of wineries and vineyards ceased to operate.

By the time the Act was repealed in 1933, only about 40 wineries had managed to survive. Hundreds of wineries were left abandoned as “ghost wineries”, but over the next 100 years, some of these were restored to their former glory, and many still exist. These wineries make up some of the oldest in Napa Valley and are some of the most iconic and revered properties today.

Far Niente is one of California’s oldest wineries and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was shuttered during Prohibition and remained abandoned until it was restored in 1979. Charles Krug Winery was founded in 1861 and became the first commercial winery in Napa Valley, and the first public tasting room in California. The winery made it through Prohibition before being purchased by Cesare Mondavi in 1943. It took almost a decade to make the property operational again, and it remains one of the oldest wineries in Napa Valley.

The Napa Valley offers more than world-renowned wine. The region’s incredible history has made it what it is today, and the modern-day presence of ghost wineries is a constant reminder of how far it’s come.

Layne Randolph, Inside Napa Valley, July 2019

Summer in the Vineyard

In wine country, the gentle cadence of the seasons grows stronger with each stage; it begins softly in winter when the vines are clipped and bare, and steadily intensifies through the first signs of life at bud break, becomes steady but more urgent during the slow pace of summer, when gloriously green vineyards sway across the valley, marching in time toward the crescendo of harvest.

Small, green berries began forming in late spring during fruit set, and now the berries begin to form clusters that will eventually become bunches of grapes. When vines are left to their own devices without trellising or trimming, they have a savage beauty, growing high and wild like the fictional vines of Jack and the Beanstalk. You won’t see wild vines much in Napa Valley. Instead, today’s viticulturists use science and data to calibrate grape production.  With few exceptions, vines are practically identical in each vineyard, adding a sense of symmetry that brings peace to the valley.

But there is work being done, although most of it is imperceptible—the fruit is slowly maturing.

Mother Nature poses one of the biggest risks to the fruit during this time. Too little rain can be remedied with irrigation, but too much rain can be catastrophic. Too much sun can damage the grapes or cause them to ripen too soon. Too little sun and the fruit may not reach its full flavor potential or may be too acidic or tannic.

Human hands come into play with the use of vine management techniques. To counter less-than-ideal weather, vineyard specialists use grapevine leaves to regulate heat. If more sun is needed, more leaves are removed to give them every opportunity to soak up the rays. If less sun is desired, the leaves will remain, shading the grapes as much as possible from the heat. Vine and fruit growth can be limited to improve fruit quality, or encouraged, to increase quantity. 

The extended sun exposure in summer pushes fruit to maturity, while the cool nights help maintain acidity needed for flavor balance. And then, in late July and August, something magical happens in the Napa Valley vineyards—the fruit changes color and begins ripening. This is known as veraison. What started the season as small, green, hard spheres become plump, colorful grapes, red and purple for red varieties and golden or translucent for white varieties. The grape growth slows during this period, the vines begin focusing all their energy into causing sugars in the fruit to increase and acids in the fruit to decrease, showing the first real indicator of the quality that can be expected from the year’s crop.

Veraison is a turning point in the vineyard and begins the final drumbeat to the big finale of the year. The timeframe differs by grape variety and growing region, but in general, 30 to 70 days from this color change, Napa Valley fruit will reach its peak and be ready to harvest.  

Layne Randolph, Inside Napa Valley Magazine, August 2019

Enriquez Estate Winery

Handing a 23-year-old with no wine experience a vineyard and winery in California may sound like a risky move, but for Eduardo and Ana Enriquez, it has paid off. Less than a decade after they invested in a wine business with their daughter Cecilia, she’s now successfully running Enriquez Estate Wines on Eastside Road in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County.

 

As a new winemaker, Cecilia sought out mentors in the winemaking world, and those relationships helped her understand the business and get it off the ground. Cecilia now handcrafts 600-700 cases of wine annually, focusing on small production and varieties unique to Russian River Valley, such as Muscat, Cabernet Franc, Tannat, and Syrah.

 

Her Tempranillo is especially well received — the 2013 Tempranillo Reserve was awarded a Gold Medal at the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The 2013 Enriquez Estate Wines “Brisa” — a Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, and Chardonnay blend — was awarded a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in 2017.

 

As part of her wine adventure, Cecilia met and married Winemaker Dana Von Sternberg, who crafts small lots of cool-climate varieties from California’s northern coast for boutique label Vokel Cellars. The name Vokel represents Dana’s winemaking philosophy – the vineyard speaks for itself. In contrast to Cecilia’s Enriquez Estate Wines, Dana’s Vokel Cellars focuses on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and Vokel’s wines are only available through word of mouth.

 

It’s uncommon to find two winemakers married to each other but creating wine for different labels, especially when one of them represents a family-owned winery.   

 

When asked why they haven’t joined forces under one label, Cecilia replies, “We came together under different labels, and we make very different wines. We never really thought about joining forces.” Each is committed to his/her own label and style of winemaking. They’ve focused on complementing each other’s work while building a wine country lifestyle together in the Russian River Valley.

 

Cecilia and Dana live and work on the Enriquez Estate property, tucked away off Eastside Road near Forestville, surrounded by vineyards and quintessentially Sonoma County. Since it was purchased in 2015, the property has been completely renovated, including a beautiful milk barn that they’ve restored into a luxury, two-bedroom rental available for those seeking a rustic yet elegant getaway in wine country. During their stay, guests are treated to Enriquez Estate Wines and given access to massage therapists and private chefs for a truly premiere experience.

 

Enriquez Estate is more than a winery and vineyard—it’s a wine country experience. Visitors to the estate can tour the beautiful 8.5-acre estate on ATVs, enjoying breathtaking vineyard views and then relaxing with a picnic lunch prepared by a private chef at the property’s lookout point. And in 2020, Enriquez Estate Wines will offer a “Brunch in the Vineyards” series highlighting local chefs.

 

Enriquez Estate Wines offers a wide range of experiences, including a popular wine club program that offers members unique access to wine discounts, lodging, events, and activities.

Layne Randolph, Napa Valley Life Magazine, December 2019

Autumn in the Vineyard

There’s a palpable energy in wine country this time of year, as the wineries and winemakers consult with vineyard professionals to decide the ideal time to bring in grapes from the fields. Deciding on the right time to harvest the fruit requires taking many factors into consideration, and it’s the most important decision made in the vineyard. Grapes are at their peak for only a few days, and uncontrollable events like weather can change plans in an instant. Vineyard workers and machinery must be ready at a moment’s notice, and when it’s time to go, it’s go-go-go. Because different parts of a vineyard can become ripe at different times due to sun exposure or grape variety, it’s common to have several passes through a vineyard during harvest.

The typical Napa Valley visitor or local may never actually see anything resembling harvest activity, largely because vineyard staff are busy picking while the rest of the region is sleeping. Berries are gathered during the night or early morning while it’s cool enough that the grape maintains a stable sugar level until it arrives at the winery, and so that workers avoid picking for hours under the glaring sun.

Many grapes are still harvested by machine, but hand-picking is gentler on the grapes and allows harvest workers to leave out undesirable fruit. Wine producers usually harvest their best wines by hand, especially in areas where it’s difficult for machines to navigate. Machine harvesting is faster and less expensive—one reason why certain wines are priced higher than others.

Harvest timing largely comes down to sugar content. White varieties are picked before red varieties, to retain desired acidity, and grapes for dessert wines are harvested last for desired sweetness. The longer the berry remains on the vine, the riper and sweeter it becomes. Desired sugar levels vary pending on the variety and style of the wine, but one thing to keep in mind is that level of sweetness translates to strength, and the higher the sugar content, the higher the alcohol content in the wine.

There are some general guidelines for harvest timing. At the end of summer, when the grapes began turning color and ripening (veraison), the clock began ticking. Around 30 to 70 days from veraison, grapes first began to be tested by taste, sight, and smell, until it was deemed time for the more scientific method of testing sugar content, known as Brix. Determining the best Brix level is one of the most critical choices in the grape growing and winemaking process.

Once picked, the harvested fruit is delivered to the winery as quickly as possible. Different varieties get different treatment upon arrival. Red varieties may be lightly crushed but are then fermented with the skins, while grapes destined for whites and rosés spend little to no time with their skins. All fruit ends in a fermentation vessel for a period, after which it may or not age, depending on the wine.

Now that the fruit has been brought inside and has begun its journey into becoming wine, it’s time for the vineyards and the vineyard teams to take a break, before the next season begins.

Layne Randolph, Inside Napa Valley Magazine, October 2019

James Suckling: Building His Brand

James Suckling believes millennials will change the way the world approaches wine. The members of his small staff of innovators are all under 30, and he relies on them heavily to influence the look and feel of his brand.  These days, James Suckling does more than write wine reviews, he produces wine-related documentaries, puts on international wine events, and collaborates with luxury designers to create new products for the wine industry.  

James divides his time between his homes in Napa Valley, Tuscany, and Hong Kong.  Napa Valley is the site of the premier wine scene in the US, so it makes sense that he has a base there.  He lived in Tuscany for over 10 years as the Senior Editor and European Bureau Chief of Wine Spectator – Italy is like a second home to him.  But Asia? He says it’s the most dynamic place for wine now, and it’s also the place where he spends the most time.  He’s holding his signature events like “Great Wines of the World” in Hong Kong and Beijing.  He’s working on [an undisclosed] deal with the Ministry of Agriculture in China.  And he’s possibly their best wine ambassador when he says things to journalists such as, “The future is in Asia.”

I suppose considering Asia as the wine frontier isn’t surprising when you realize the conglomerate luxury brand owner LVMH is now making wine on the border of Tibet.  In fact, their wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet-Franc, and Merlot blend – is the first Chinese wine that won over James.   

James is no stranger to the luxury world.  When in Italy, he lives on the Ferragamo Estate in Tuscany, and he collaborated with the family to create a leather wine briefcase to hold bottles and glasses.  He partnered with Lalique to make the “The 100 Points Collection” of crystal wine glasses.  The handmade briefcase and Lalique glasses combo retails for up to $8,500.

But these are his side projects, not his mainstay.  He’s focused on sharing his wine knowledge in every way possible.  “I didn’t spend 25 years in the business not to share it,” he says.  He began his post-Wine Spectator career with a website designed to offer wine education, as well as to critique wines. 

He wasn’t wowed by the experience. He quickly found that people were reluctant to pay for content because so much information on the internet was free, and he struggled with the rampant copyright infringement he battled.

Then Mike D. Diamond, of The Beastie Boys, told him that copyright infringement had caused his iconic band to go back on tour instead of selling music. This inspired James to do the same with wine.  The millennial wine event was born. “My goal is to host the best wine events, and to attract younger consumers who want to have fun and taste interesting wines.”

He’s brought a new approach to wine events.  He has a traveling DJ, Australia’s Surahn Sidhu, who was with Empire of the Sun for several years.  Sidhu’s music lends a fresh vibe to the events and crowds have been known to start impromptu dance parties–not exactly your average wine-tasting. 

These days, his event business takes up the greatest proportion of his time.  This year alone there will be “The Great Wines of Italy” event in four US cities, and the “Bordeaux Confidential” in Hong Kong will host barrel tastings from barrels shipped overnight from Paris to Hong Kong.

Other than global wine events, he’s keen on Napa.  “I’d like to taste more [Napa] wines and pinpoint some more of the [best] new producers.  And, I’d like to host ‘Great Wines of Napa Valley’ either this year or next – in either NYC or Hong Kong.” 

James believes there is an exciting movement happening with American wines.  He’s working on a documentary titled “American Wine Revolution,” which looks at “how wine began in America, all the way back to the pilgrims.”  It will be his third documentary.

He says that American wine companies tend to cater to the American market, which is not the same as catering to the global market.  “American palates tend to like super fruity, big, muscular wines,” he says, “which are less popular outside the US.”

But he sees that changing. “I left the US in 1985, then I started tasting American wines again in 2005-2006, and it was crazy how the style had changed.  [In 1985] people were picking at such high potential ripeness, and the wines were so alcoholic. Now, there’s more of a concern for drink-ability.”

The trend to the non-jammy, lower alcohol wines is promising to James.  He notes that “internationally those wines aren’t as coveted as they are in the US, they’re just too heavy.”  But he says that many of the top American winemakers are now making wine in the European-style. 

In fact, these days he’s so pro-American that he named the 2013 Opus One the global wine of the year in 2016.  “I gave it a perfect score.  2013 was a great vintage, the wine is great, and you can buy it around the world.  And that was exciting as an American, to be able to have an American wine as Wine of the Year for JamesSuckling.com.”    

Layne Randolph, Inside Napa Valley, Summer 2017

Lambert Bridge Winery

Cruising through the vineyards on narrow, curved roads, we come to a sudden stop in front of Lambert Bridge. It’s only wide enough for one lane, so we have to wait for the car coming from the opposite direction to pass through. Once over the Lambert Bridge straddling Dry Creek, we arrive at Lambert Bridge Winery. The winery, named after the original owner, Jerry Lambert, is also a reference to the iconic bridge that marks its 100th anniversary this year.Established in 1975, Lambert Bridge is one of the oldest wineries in Dry Creek Valley. The winemaker Jennifer Higgins, one of the few female winemakers in the world, did her Masters in Enology in Bordeaux and focuses on Bordeaux varietals at Lambert Bridge, even though the Dry Creek Valley is known for its Zinfandel. The five noble grapes of Bordeaux include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Lambert Bridge has always focused on Bordeaux varietals, and especially Merlot. It’s a small production winery, producing only 7000 cases a year in 600 case bottlings. They don’t distribute to the public, so to buy, you’ll need to join their wine club or visit the tasting room. The tasting room is definitely worth the trip – you can choose to have a private tasting in the barrel room or in the cellar room if you are genuinely VIP. Take your own little picnic and sit outside in the garden with friends and a newly purchased Crane Creek Cuvee – a blend of all the Bordeaux varietals (except Cabernet Franc).

JCB Tasting Salon and Atelier by JCB

JCB Tasting Salon in Yountville, California.

Jean-Charles Boisset is known as a winemaker with inimitable style, and he’s curated some of his favorite things and put them on offer at the JCB Tasting Salon and Atelier in Yountville, California.

And the glamorous and decadent JCB tasting salon is not your average tasting room, either.  The room sparkles as brightly as the JCB bubbles, punctuated by a glorious chandelier over a gigantic extended table in the center of the room.  The myriad of gilded mirrors hung upside down on the ceiling set off the scene, including the Surrealist Boutique glimmering with fine luxury products such as JCB’s custom designed jewelry and L’Agent Provocateur lingerie (yes, you read that right).  It might take a moment or two to adjust yourself to the sensory overload  – and I suggest you have a glass of bubbles while you do.

JCB Tasting Salon in Yountville, California.

Jean-Charles Boisset

JCB comes from a French wine-making family in Vougeot, Burgundy where he grew up learning the business before he brought his skill, taste, and savoir-faire to Napa Valley.  He owns several wineries in the area and JCB Tasting Salon and Atelier is his latest venture and he has pulled it off with aplomb.

Atelier by JCB

Atelier by JCB in Yountville, California.
Atelier by JCB in Yountville, California.

The Atelier houses a highly curated choice of cheeses, meats, and other gourmet products that originate from Italy, France, and other prime spots for gourmet food, including Northern California.  There is no way you can leave JCB without making a purchase in The Atelier – it’s just all so tempting. 

The Wine

A lower caliber wine might get lost here, but instead, the wine – and especially No. 69, a Brut Rose based exclusively on Pinot Noir – accentuates the sumptuousness surrounding you.  Or does the room accentuate the wine?  Either way, it’s a gloriously unforgettable wine-tasting experience.

The JCB Tasting Salon and Atelier by JCB are open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 6505 Washington St, Yountville. For tasting reservations or further information, contact them at (707) 934-8237 or at www.jcbcollection.com.

Atelier by JCB's display of gourmet cheeses from around the world.