As you might imagine I taste a lot of wines throughout the year—some by myself and others with friends or wine colleagues. I can tell you from experience it is always more enjoyable to taste or share your wine with others.
On trips to Napa Valley one of the highlights is visiting various wineries. Not only do I get to taste some different and interesting wines, I normally taste them with experts from the winery who know their particular wines and generally have extensive wine knowledge. Plus it is fun to talk about their wines and I find it is always very educational for me. Although I’m in the wine business, I still have a lot to learn about why wines taste the way they do, how and why wines are made the way they are and so on. I also believe it helps me make better wines and gives me wine knowledge to pass along to all of you.
In addition to the tasting I reported in last week’s blog (at Robert Sinskey Vineyards) I did three more tastings on my recent trip. Surprisingly, one of them was at my hotel: the Hilton Garden Inn in Napa, where I got to try wines from the Pope Valley Winery. Maybe I had forgotten that several evenings a week the hotel invites local wineries to host a wine tasting for their guests. The tasting is held around a long table (seating 10 to 12 people) in the dining area. Not only do you get to taste wine, you to get to meet other people as well. Some great conversation went on around the table during the tasting.
Pope Valley Winery
Helena Welsh, the winery’s Director of Consumer Marketing/Sales Manager, led the wine tasting at the hotel. She was assisted by Steve Sandoval of the Hilton Garden Inn.
Helena poured three red wines for about eight of us around the table. These three were some of the highlights:
2013 Sangiovese – Eakle Ranch Vineyard
The wine had a mild nose typical of Sangiovese. On the palate the wine tasted of red cherries and offered a hint of earthiness. The finish offered mild tannins and a touch of acidity. Winery price: $28.00 a bottle.
2013 Merlot – Eakle Ranch Vineyard
The wine offered a soft fruity nose. On the palate the wine had floral tones and real fruit. The finish was of a good length with mild tannins. Winery price: $32.00 a bottle.
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine was 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a typical Cabernet Sauvignon deep purple in color. It was a young wine and opened slowly with hints of black fruits on the nose. On the palate the black fruit returned with hints of vanilla and some very mild oak flavors. The finish was mild and of a nice length. This wine needs several more years of age to begin to reach its potential. Winery price is $36.00 per bottle.
I haven’t been to the winery but did look at their website which was attractive and easy to navigate. If you are interested in trying Pope Valley Wines you can order direct from the website or contact Helena Welsh, who by the way is a very knowledgeable wine person, her email is Helena@popevalleywinery.com. I am sure she would be very happy to assist you.
Stony Hill Vineyard
When I was visiting with Conner Burns at Robert Sinskey Vineyards he asked if I had ever been to Stony Hill Vineyards. I hadn’t. Conner recommended I visit Stony Hill and offered to reach out to his counterpart at the winery, Direct to Consumer Manager Galen Beeker Drace, to arrange visit. It wasn’t long and a visit to the winery was arranged for 10:30 a.m. on Friday, the last day of my Napa trip.
Stony Hill is about a 45-minute drive north from Napa and is located near the top of Spring Mountain, on the northeast slope. Getting to the winery from Napa is easy. Just head north on Highway 29, drive through St. Helena and about five miles north you’ll come to Bale Creek Mill State Park Road. Turn left on the road and start watching for the winery signs. It is a five to eight minute drive up a winding, single lane road to the winery. Since we don’t have roads like that here in our area, which means I am not use to driving on them, I always wonder about proper etiquette if another car is coming from the other direction.
The weather was rainy and overcast but the setting at the top of the mountain was quite lovely.
I had the pleasure of meeting a number of the Stony Hill team. Sarah McCrea, President of the winery, greeted me at the door and introduced me to Courtney Murray Corter, Galen Beeker Drace and my tour guide and tasting expert, Rachel Brockway.
Rachel took me on a delightful tour of the facilities and explained the history and current operation of the winery. After the tour we went off to a quaint library for the tasting of the following wines:
2014 Stony Hill Gewürztraminer
This wine is 100% Gewürztraminer and was very aromatic featuring a sweet smell of roses, ginger and maybe a little pear. On the palate the wine tasted similar to a Moscato or Riesling. The wine was crisp and acidic. The finish was a little spicy with a nice mouth feel. It is priced at $30.00 per bottle at the winery.
2015 Stony Hill White Riesling
Personally I like Rieslings and this wine had a nose of wonderful floral aromas. On the palate there was a good balance between minerality and crisp acidity with hints of citrus followed by a nice finish with a smooth, pleasing mouth feel. The aging potential of this wine is going to be five to six years and retails at the winery for $27.00 per bottle. This would be a great first course wine at most dinners.
2014 Stony Hill Chardonnay
This Chardonnay was aged in neutral oak barrels. It is a very young and tight Chardonnay. On the nose there were hints of minerals, citrus and floral notes. On the palate it was crisp with hints of green apple and acidity just before a rather long finish which produced a pleasant mouth feel. This wine needs a couple years of age and it will be a wonderful Chardonnay. It retails for $48.00 per bottle.
2008 Stony Hill Chardonnay
This wine was the better of the two Chardonnays due to its age. It opened nicely in the glass with aromas of citrus, green apple and hints of minerality (much less than the 2014). On the palate the aromas of the nose carried through and the finish was delightfully balanced with a good mouth feel that lasted a while. The wine retails for $68.00 per bottle. Although it seems a little pricey, this Chardonnay is excellent and worth the extra money.
2014 Stony Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
This Cabernet Sauvignon is really young and needs at least two to three more years of aging for it to show its potential. The nose was restricted but did produce hints of red fruits, leather and some minerality. On the palate the wine was crisp and a little acidic before getting to a nice fruit finish with mild tannins. The mouth feel was maturing and will improve with age. The wine retails for $70.00 per bottle.
2014 Stony Hill Semillon de Soleil
Semillon is a French blending grape used in white Bordeaux. It is a full-bodied wine like a Chardonnay but with slightly sweeter flavors similar to a Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc. Semillon is one of my favorite white wines.
Stony Hill produces their Semillon as a white dessert wine. On the nose there were wonderful floral notes that made you just want to smell the wine for long periods of time. On the palate there were strong hints of lemon, apple and pear. The finish was nicely balanced with a zesty finish. This wine will pair well with most creamy desserts such as cheesecake with various sauces. The wine retails for $30.00 per bottle.
More on Stony Hill Vineyards
Stony Hill has a wonderful history dating back to the early 1940s when Fred and Eleanor McCrea bought a 160-acre goat ranch on the northeast slope of Spring Mountain. It is said they never envisioned the property becoming one of the most renowned boutique wineries of Napa Valley.
In 1948 the first Chardonnay grapes were planted and to this day much of the Stony Hill Vineyards are of Chardonnay grapes.
In 1952 the small winery was completed and their first vintage of Chardonnay was produced. The winery is still used today as well as some of the original oak barrels and wooden fermenting tanks. It was great fun to see the winery and they are still making great wines like they have for over 65 years.
The winemaking methods work well as Stony Hill Chardonnays are some of the most respected and highly sought after wines produced in California. Their style has been described “as lean, bright, elegant and food friendly.” After spending time with Rachel tasting Stony Hill wines I would have to agree with that statement. The winery produces about 4,000 cases of their five wines per year under the watchful eye and guidance of winemaker Mike Chelini. He is only the second winemaker in the history of the winery.
I would highly recommend you visit Stony Hill Vineyards on your next trip to Napa. This hidden gem is well worth your time. You can visit their website by clicking here. The other methods of contacting them are by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 707-963-2636. Reservations for tours and tastings are by appointment only and are done Monday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Some general comments
I hope you find my reports on these winery tastings as interesting and informative as I intend them to be. Why do I report on them? Not long after I got into the wine business my good friend Tom Pletcher said at a wine tasting I was hosting: “I know how to drink wine but I’m not sure I know how to taste wine.” Pursuing this statement continues to be a challenge to me. I wrote on the topic in depth last year here in my March 3, 2016, blog. In the article I stated that,
“I believe wine tasting goes beyond just enjoying a glass of wine. It involves having an appreciation for wine, a certain degree of wine knowledge and a desire for sharing in the lifestyle that surrounds wine such as enjoying wine with family and friends. Wine tasting requires you do a sensory examination and evaluation of the wine.”
Every time I do a tasting I am doing a sensory examination and evaluation of the wine I taste. I report on these tasted wines in hopes that I can entice you to get in the habit of doing the same. I also hope that I am supplying some knowledge on how certain wines taste, even though they are all different. Let’s all learn the pleasure of tasting wine, not just drinking it.
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Until next week,
Calendar of upcoming events:
April – Michigan Wine Month
April 24 – International Sauvignon Blanc Day
May 9 – Moscato Day
May 21 – National Chardonnay Day