Three family wineries spread California love and innovation
In an open-air dining room, I sat under stone arches at a handmade wood table crafted from one tree off the 300-acre property. Kelly and her daughter Colleen, who also works for the company, served a Mediterranean-style spread for lunch, using ingredients from their garden (like a silky jam from their fig trees).
We sipped Fleming's 2009 Sauvignon Blanc (50 percent French oak, 50percent stainless steel), representative of the Oakville soil from which these grapes grow. It's a balanced white with a floral and fruity (pear, pineapple) profile, rounded out by a hint of vanilla. 2007 Cabernet is 100 percent estate and CCOF organically grown, rested in 85 percent new French oak. Though fruit plays prominently (warm, dusty raspberries), hints of wood, nuts and spice give it contrast.
Winemaker Celia Welch works with the region's terroir (this is cabernet country, after all), from vines planted in 1999. The wild beauty of the property's forests and creeks is kept intact with only 12 of the 300 acres planted with vines. Inside limestone caves, the air is naturally cool, storing barrels and bottles of past vintages (unreleased but which they've been perfecting for nearly a decade). At a mere 850 cabernet and 675 sauvignon blanc cases a year, these are truly small production wines.
Kelly is hands-on in so many aspects from harvesting to forklift operation. She and Colleen both were recently certified in forklift driving, highlighting the involved, familial nature of the winery. They are gracious hosts, welcoming guests by appointment.
SWANSON VINEYARDS, RUTHERFORD
Think Parisian carnival, classic French estate, Napa's rich nature, New Orleans' roots, and you'll begin to get an idea of the influences on Swanson Vineyards (www.swansonvineyards.com). The winemaker is Chris Phelps — Clarke Swanson founded the winery back in 1985, planting his first merlot grapes. His daughter, Alexis, works as the winery's creative director. Wife Elizabeth buzzed about as we sipped wine in their enchanting garden, greeting each guest.
The first sign Swanson is different comes when you enter the Sip Shoppe, with red-and-white striped tented walls, Old World French artwork, and Billie Holiday playing soothingly in the background. Elizabeth and Alexis designed the shop themselves, imparting a playful Parisian spirit to what could just be another tasting room. One wants to linger for flights like "Some Like it Red," paired with the likes of warm pistachios, Alexis bonbons (made by Vosges with curry and Swanson's Alexis Cabernet), or a potato chip topped with creme fraiche and Hackleback sturgeon caviar (lovely with their Chardonnay).
The 2010 Chardonnay was my favorite, and a complete surprise as a mineral, French-inspired chardonnay, reminiscent of Chablis. Neutral oak allows crisp, green apple notes to shine, while honey adds a tinge of cream to the finish. At a pricey $45, this one is only available at the winery or to wine club members.
Of the reds, Swanson's signature 2007 Merlot offers the best price-to-taste ratio at $38 per bottle. It's unexpectedly balanced with tart tannins, hints of black cherry, currant and mocha. On the pricier end, the 2007 Alexis Cabernet ($75) is bold and layered, while a 2006 Petite Syrah ($70) goes the earthier, spice and gentle black pepper route.
Make an appointment to visit the winery for a Salon tasting ($65) or Sip Shoppe flight (around $25), then finish by lingering in the garden. You can taste at dozens of wineries but the Swanson's chic shoppe and salon deliver a fun, Parisian spirit to the Napa countryside. *
Virginia Miller writes about the latest food and drink news at The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com