Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tudal Family Winery: An Iconic Slice Of Napa Heaven

For most people, a visit to Napa Valley can be overwhelming. There are so many wineries configured in such a small area and the possibilities are endless. There are the larger, well-known producers. There are wineries that look like palaces that I call show places. There are small family-owned wineries. Then there are the tiny, lesser known places hidden on the valley floor. These are the kind of places that will steal your heart and never give it back. They will leave a lasting impression on you.

Back in October, I made another trip to Napa Valley to find myself visiting one such place, Tudal FamilyWinery. Tudal Family Winery is located off the beaten path just past the town of St. Helena, right off Highway 29. If you blink, you will miss it and you won't want to miss it. As a member of the media, I was approached about visiting them by their PR company. They put me up in their guest house for a couple nights and I was given the opportunity to sample the wines, see the property and chat with the owner. Sometimes visiting a smaller winery can be pretty special so I agreed to visit. I can't tell you how glad I am that I did this. For a couple days, I felt I had my own little slice of Napa heaven. My schedule was horrendous that week and each day as I left to go elsewhere, I really didn't want to leave. And as I returned each evening, I happily returned to my little sanctuary... That's how it felt!

On the first day, owner John Tudal drove down from Oakland to meet with me. His parents, Alma and the late Arnold Tudal had started the winery in the early seventies after being in the produce business in the bay area for many years. I walked into an old building on the property and immediately saw history begin to unfold around me. The walls of an office covered with memorabilia and photos of visitors and friends of the Tudal family. One famous face was that of Joe DiMaggio, who was a frequent visitor. Nearly forty years later, the property is like a little time capsule with some modern amenities such as the winemaking facility. But John has painstakingly managed to keep the property almost as it was in the early days, restoring an old tractor shed and turning it into a barrel room/tasting facility with tributes to his father on the walls. There's a gorgeous vegetable garden in the middle of the property and another shed-like structure where outdoor tastings are held and one can marvel at all the old empty bottles of wine lining the shelves. It would turn an antique collector green with envy! As I spoke with John, I understood his sense of pride and I saw it in his eyes as he spoke of his family. He wants to preserve history so his kids can carry on the tradition.

Later in the morning, I met with General Manager, Doug Eisele who walked me around the property and conducted a tasting for me as well. As I put my things away in the guest house, Doug picked up a book that was on one of the tables. The book was called, "Napa Stories" by famed Napa Valley chef, Michael Chiarello. Inside the book was photo of Doug's mother. I own the same book so I knew of the Eisele Vineyard and the history behind that as well. So cool! This is what I love about Napa Valley--all the old history that surrounds the place! But fast forward to now and something that is breathing life back into the winery. In 2009, they brought on winemaker Kirk Venge, a young UC Davis-educated winemaker who is helping to launch their brand into the stratosphere. Kirk is all about quality (if the name sounds familiar, he is the son of winemaker Nils Venge) and though I have not tasted their older wines, I can tell you that these 2009 vintage wines are going to give other wineries in the area some stiff competition!

In addition to the tasting, I had also received a box of several of their wines as samples previous to my visit. These are handcrafted wines and a few of them have very nice aging potential. Among some of my favorites were:

2010 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc--More of a white Bordeaux-style with white peach and white flowers, lots of citrus and green apple flavors.

2009 Napa-Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon--I loved, loved, loved this wine! 50% of the grapes were sourced from vineyards near Healdsburg in Sonoma County, this is what I call an every day Cabernet. Lush, easy and fun. And a beautiful label designed with the help of my friend Kerry Eddy!

2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon--This wine is dark, deep with concentrated flavors of dark chocolate, mint and cedar. Silky tannins but a strong backbone for aging. I'd love to taste this one again in a few years and see how it evolves.

2009 Clift Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon--Rustic with black cherry, leather, black olive and a very lush, long finish. This single vineyard Cabernet was pretty extraordinary. I was swooning a bit as I sampled it, truly appreciating all the hard labor that went into making it. Really nice!

(They also produce a Pinot Noir from the Bacigalupi Vineyard in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. I will be discussing this wine later in the Spring for an event I am hosting on Twitter, April 18th--#winechat.)

The wines are available at the winery and they do have limited distribution around the US. The winery is appointment only so you will need to call ahead. They are very gracious, friendly and excited to discuss the history of the winery and you'll enjoy the wines very much. If you're a history buff, this is definitely the place for you! Plus the property is absolutely beautiful and like me, you will feel like you are in your own little slice of Napa heaven! A must-visit!

For more information, please go to their website, Tudal Family Winery is located at 1015 Big Tree Lane in St. Helena, CA. For appointments, please call 707-963-3947.

I would like to thank John Tudal, Doug Eisele and Tiffany van Gorder at Balzac Communications for creating such a wonderful opportunity for me. I enjoyed every minute of being there and cannot wait to visit again soon!

"You Saw It Here First"...This post was created solely for "Cellarmistress' Cellar Talk" by Grace Hoffman. Grace is an Italian-born, American-bred wine blogger/educator with an all-consuming passion for wine and all it encompasses.


  1. Sounds like you had a great time Grace. Cheers on a great post!

  2. I am the wine columnist for Chef magazine and had the good fortune to receive samples of Tudal. As you may realize, I get an OCEAN of wine sent to me, both requested and not.

    I tasted the Tudal Pinot Noir and was extremely impressed with the quality, balance and flair of the Pinot. I had not, in the past, even heard of the winery. However, I believe they are going to become a good deal better known--at least if I have anything to say about it!

  3. I admire how you visit these farms and get a taste of their version of wine first-hand. It must be wonderful to drive to wine valley during harvest period... I can almost smell the grapes in the air!

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