By Brenda from The Whet Palette
Planning a trip to wine country can be overwhelming. There's no shortage of wine to taste, legendary stories to learn, and places to tour.
Figuring out how to stay away from overly touristy spots and, instead, participate in one-of-a-kind escapades seems to be more challenging. Whether it is your first or tenth visit to Napa Valley, the following wineries and the decadent tastings offered are sure to impress even the most seasoned veteran. Winederlusting never looked so good.
BLACK CORDON VINEYARDS
A quick Google search on Black Cordon reveals all the basic information one needs to know, except how to schedule a visit. You will have to contact them directly to request access to a private tasting. So private, in fact, that I will not even divulge its whereabouts (although I can say it is about ten minutes west of Yountville). Know it is not an encounter many have experienced.
The Black Cordon family welcomes its guests with open arms, encourages leisurely sips while overlooking the breathtaking hills nearby, and instills their love of wine into one's heart. This hard-working producer boasts quite the cult following, despite its no-frills small homegrown makeup. Interesting fact? Famed winemaker Paul Hobbs has been on board since the winery's first vintage. A fee of around $55 covers about six different wines, culminating with their in-demand haunting cabernet sauvignon: sophisticated and aromatic, dark and complex.
When Palmaz lists their 18-story winery as "the fusion of tradition and technology," they mean it. The wine remains as intact as possible by following a gravity-flow system during production, as opposed to using mechanical pumps for winemaking. The data and status monitoring approach used for their tanks rivals only an episode of 'The Jetsons in Napa' if one ever existed. It is all fun and games until you tour the property and witness the innovative engineering used flashing above on the dome's ceiling, by the simple touch of a touchscreen phone.
Not surprisingly, it all began with Dr. Julio Palmaz' vision. You know, as in the inventor of the groundbreaking coronary stem? That one. As expected, the Argentinian family-owned and operated winery's final product showcases their obsessive love for details. Led by one of the estate embassadors, the wine tasting ($100 per person) takes place in a quaint room where the wine hypnotizes while paired with delectable hors d’ oeuvres. Drinking and appreciating all it took to produce the elixir touching your lips means there's no turning back. You will be hooked forever.
Iranian born, Darioush Khaledi founded the winery in 1997 and has been making waves ever since. Not one to color inside the lines, he embraces winemaking and every guest's journey while on the property with thirst, ambition, and a bit of exhibition. Begging to be photographed and admired, the overall ornate design does not fall into the traditional Napa category. Opulence leads the way to an over-the-top underground unforgettable tasting, in one of his posh and secluded personal cave cellars.
The 'By Invitation Only' experience ($150 per person) thoroughly explains the reason for the winery's design, the important placement of every square inch of the interiors, and the passion it takes to continuously rank so highly. A place setting with your personalized calligraphed name awaits your arrival. For two hours, a devout storyteller guides visitors through the intrinsic journey of the brand as they stroll the grounds, sip the distinct wines, and enjoy bites curated by their in-house chef. From Viognier to Shahpar and all the exquisite Cabernets in between, this is the tasting to beat.
CHIARELLO FAMILY VINEYARDS
After a painstaking year of meticulous planning, pruning and tending of the vines, and development, the rich jeweled land the fall brings paves the way for town-wide celebrations. When the grapes are ready, Napa Valley's soundtrack loudly awakens. Fragrant air, surrounding beauty, and nature sounds abound; joy takes center stage. Celebrating the season with the Chiarello family ($395 General Public/ $245 Tavola Members) never disappoints; their annual party pulls out all the stops. Guests savor unlimited pours and locally sourced gourmet courses from the new Ottimo Mercato (formerly Napastyle) at his home or one of his restaurants, depending on the year.
Limited to 100 guests, the exclusive four-hour event offers plenty of pinch-me moments. Even with his celebrity status, you will always find Chef Michael Chiarello addressing the crowd proudly sharing memorable stories about his staff. He also stops to charismatically greet and thank everyone in attendance. His sustainably-farmed, small production Cabernets offer a taste of quintessential rugged Napa terroir with an elegant finish. Visit during harvest to appreciate the valley's most glorious and triumphant payoff.