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Today begins the first of three days in Napa!

Winemaker Philip Togni pulling barrel samples for tasting

Winemaker Philip Togni pulling barrel samples for tasting

First on our agenda is driving up Spring Mountain to visit two producers. Because the wineries are so small, we had to split into two groups. My group visited one of my absolute favorite producers, Philip Togni. He has been making wine in the Napa Valley for over 40 years, and in the early 80’s he planted vines of his own on Spring Mountain. Today, he, his wife Birgitta and his daughter Lisa, manage a small plot of land where they produce two Bordeaux varietal based wines and one dessert wine. There is no sign indicating the winery from the road, no tasting room, and no place in the valley to taste their wines so this visit is a special and exclusive treat!  I first tasted Togni’s wines in 2000, when I lived in Napa Valley and was working at Dean & Deluca where my wine team got a bunch his wines from the 1980’s. It was my true first experience tasting mature aged wines, one I will never forget. These wines are proven to withstand the test of time, and today Philip shared the 2011 vintage in barrel and both the 2005 and 2008. I cannot pick a favorite, they are all equally amazing. Thank you Brigitta, Lisa and Philip for hosting us!

View of Barnett Vineyards

View of Barnett Vineyards, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley

Next was Barnett Vineyards – hosted by owner Fiona and Roy Barnett along with their winemaker, David Tate. The property features a stunning view of the valley, I can’t imagine waking up to these views every day! The Barnetts are super-organized, we were escorted into the caves where the three of them had tables set up classroom-style for our team to really focus on the wines and take good notes. We tasted two Chardonnays, three Pinot Noirs, a Merlot, their famous Cabernet Sauvignon and the legendary Rattlesnake Cabernet were all open for us to taste. I was really impressed with these wines, there definitely will be a few of both Cabs going into my cellar and some of those tasty Pinots for enjoyment over the rest of the summer.

The Wagner family

From left: Joe Wagner, Cyrus Hazzard, Chuck and Jenny Wagner.

After the tasting, we headed down the mountain to the town of Rutherford for a visit with the team at Caymus Vineyards. Our group was particularly inquisitive this year, and had so many great questions for each stop with our Caymus visit being no different!  We were greeted by the fantastic team of Jenny, Joe and Chuck Wagner – a family of Napa Valley icons. Jenny is the newest addition to the Wagner winemaking team, and there will be another addition to the Wagner Family of Wines soon, Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc which Jenny is in charge of. Joe Wagner is making the Pinot Noirs from Belle Glos, and of course, family patriarch Chuck Wagner makes the great Cabernets of Caymus. All were tremendous hosts, greeting us with a glass of Conundrum white as they led us out to the vineyards for some education on growing

Owner Chuck Wagner speaking with our team

Owner Chuck Wagner speaking with our team

Cabernet grapes, hosted by Chuck. It was a bit warm out there, but not to worry, once we were finished The Wagners refreshed us with a crisp glass of Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc and then took us into the cool caves for an amazing lunch and tasting with Chuck and Joe. We tasted Mer Soleil Silver, Mer Soleil, Meomi Pinot Noir, Belle Glos Dairyman Pinot Noir and the upcoming release of the 2011 Caymus Vineyard Special Select Cabernet Sauvignon and as a special treat, their 2003 Special Select. A big thank you to the Wagner family hosting us!

Rich Salvestrin

Rich Salvestrin (right) speaking about his winery

A quick jaunt up the road to St Helena took us to Rich Salvestrin, owner and winemaker at Salvestrin Winery. There’s a cool story here, the Salvestrins actually own the property that the Dr. Crane (of the famous Beckstoffer Dr. Crane vineyard fame) lived on and includes some of his original vineyards. The Salvestrin Sauvignon Blanc was bright and refreshing and their Cabernet Sauvignon was silky and elegant.

Long Meadow Ranch

Long Meadow Ranch

From there, we headed down to Whitehall Lane Winery and then up the Mayacamas Mountains to Long Meadow Ranch. Long Meadow Ranch is a very interesting property, it’s not only a winery, but they have olive orchards including a stone wheel oil press for producing olive oil from those orchards. Here was another amazing view of the valley, overlooking the small town of Rutherford, with views of St. Helena and Oakville. Long Meadow Ranch also owns the restaurant Farmstead in St. Helena, which features delicious farm-to-table cuisine where they showcase as much as possible from their ranches on the menu.

Our team with the owners and winemaker of Amici Cellars

Our team with the owners and winemaker of Amici Cellars

The last stop of the day was at Amici Cellars located just off Old Toll Road near Calistoga. After last year’s visit, Amici set the bar very high!  As expected, they were up to the challenge, greeting us at the winery with their Sauvignon Blanc (there seems to be a lot of great ones today!)  and a tasting of their new releases of Olema Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and No Curfew Red Wine. After the tasting, we walked down to a beautiful clearing to taste through the entire line of Amici wines – and like last year, the Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet was a stunner!  Sadly, there’s not a whole lot of this around but if you really want to treat yourself, this one is the one to get. They also introduced us to the newest addition to the Amici family of wines – the Amici Reserve Cabernet which will be available soon at your local Total Wine & More, it was spectacular!  As if the tasting wasn’t a good enough, we were treated to Gott’s Roadside for dinner – for those of you that have visited the Napa Valley, you would remember it as Taylor’s Refresher, definitely the best burger in town!  As we watched the reflection of the sunset off of the beautiful Palisades mountain range, the night came to a close.

Tomorrow the agenda is packed again, this time with some of the biggest hitters in the Napa Valley, stay tuned!


Check out more of my photos from the trip here!