Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cellarmistress Discovers Some Of Napa Valley's Hidden Gems

In December, I was invited to attend Premiere Napa Valley, a Napa Valley charity event put on for the trade. It would be the most exciting, overwhelming experience I had ever encountered. I attended fifteen events in three days--from winery open houses, to grand tastings by AVA. From a barrel tasting and auction of hundreds of rare wine lots produced just for the event to post auction theme parties. In those three days, I met more important people in the industry than I ever would have on my own. It was absolutely amazing... This post is rather lengthy but I wouldn't be doing it justice if it wasn't.

After my invitation arrived and for the following two months, I received countless invitations to wine tasting events and winery open houses all over the valley. It was tough to pick and choose because many of them overlapped and you can't be everywhere at once! One Sunday night, very late in the evening, I received an invitation to attend a gathering of small producers at an event in St. Helena. The event was held at a place called 750 Wines. I admit I'd never heard of the place but the names of the producers enticed me. Why? Because I didn't know who they were. I now consider them Napa Valley's Hidden Gems.

Arkenstone, Aloft, Continuum, Detert, The Vineyardist, and Tor...Six producers worth their weight in GOLD! If you don't know who these producers are, I am here to educate you! You will want to know them and embrace them. I admit I wish I could mention every producer that was at this event. I ran out of time and didn't make it to each booth. Looking back, I wish I had! Collectors of fine wine, perk up your ears! These are wines you will want in your collection!

The first table I spotted was Arkenstone Vineyards. I immediately connected with them because of their midwestern roots. Pouring the wines, proprietor Susan Krausz confided in me she was originally from Minnesota. It's amazing how many midwesterners I've met in Napa. Guess we all want to be in the land of wine and sunshine! Susan and her husband Ron have been transplants since the 80s. Their property, up on Howell Mountain near the town of Angwin, is a work in progress. The wines? Amazing! I sampled the 2007 Obsidian, a Bordeaux blend of Howell Mountain fruit. Dark, rich, huge. Memorable. $120. I need to make an appointment and venture up there to see what they've done with this property. They also make a wonderful Sauvignon Blanc. Unfortunately, the 2009 vintage I sampled is sold out. For more information on Arkenstone wines and how you can visit them, please check out their website,

Years ago, I met Marc Mondavi of Charles Krug winery. He did a tasting here in my home town and mentioned he had been working on a wine project near his Howell Mountain home. I remember mentioning to friends I was hoping to try some of those wines some day! Well, that day finally came but it wasn't until that moment that I made the connection. Marc's wife, Janice Mondavi, was pouring Aloft. The brainchild of Marc and his brother, Peter Jr., Aloft is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Cold Springs Vineyard, 1660 feet up Howell Mountain, crafted by well-known winemaker, Thomas Rivers Brown and aged 19 months in new French oak. It has a huge backbone making it very ageworthy and the huge flavors (tobacco, chocolate, plum) will make you swoon! $150. To order this wine, please go to their website,

Now on to the other Mondavi family. I was pleased to meet Marcia Mondavi Borger (whose father was the great Robert Mondavi). She, along with her brother Tim and Tim's four children have come up with a gorgeous wine they've named Continuum. Such an appropriate name for the continuation of their winemaking going forward into the future.

The 2009 Continuum comes from the family's single estate vineyard on Pritchard Hill in the eastern mountains of Napa Valley. It is an elegant and powerful Bordeaux blend. I was pretty moved by this wine. My nose was permanently glued to my glass. The aromas were floral, fruity and chocolatey followed by lush dark berries on the palate. Wow! I'm not sure what the price point is on this wine. In order to purchase it, you have to belong to their mailing list and have a password to sign on to purchase. After a little research, I figured out the average price of this wine was around $150. Correct me if I'm wrong. You can access more information on their website,

On an added note and much to my delight, while attending the barrel tasting and auction a few days later, I had the pleasure of meeting Tim Mondavi and sampling his special lot of the 2010 Continuum that was being auctioned off that day! Whoever obtained that lot is one lucky person! It too, although extremely young, was just as amazing!

And now to a very small producer of Cabernet Franc, Detert Family Vineyards. I don't know about you, but I love Cabernet Franc and when I find a good one (since there aren't too many producers of the real thing alone), I want to shout about it! The Detert family has been in the valley since the 1950s. Primarily they were growers and their fruit was often used in such powerful wines such as Robert Mondavi's To Kalon Cabernets and Opus One. In fact, their vineyard is located in Oakville, just behind the famed To Kalon Vineyard. In the year 2000, they decided to start making their own wines. I met Tom Garrett, the Detert's grandson and winemaker of the current wines. He was very down to earth and listening to his story spoke volumes to me. The 2008 Detert Cabernet Franc was so nice. I smiled as I sampled it. It was smoky, with blackberry, violets and spice. Detert wines are allocated so you will need to access their website for more information. This wine sells for around $60.

The tasting was not crowded so it was easy to lose track of time talking with all the producers. I was having such a wonderful time, I didn't want to leave!

This next winery took me completely by surprise! They are so new, in fact, that until the last couple weeks, I couldn't find any information on them. The Vineyardist is the brainchild of winemaker, Mark Herold. We had a great time talking to him. He was very personable and funny! Mark's small production Cabernet Sauvignon is a true discovery!! Mark's story is great! He started out making wine at home, then with the encouragement of a college professor, he went on to make his own wine, Merus, as well as consulting for other wineries such as Celani Family, Kobalt and Kamen. 2009 The Vineyardist is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Diamond Mountain. Sold in three packs on their website for $465.00. Mark's wines come highly recommended by many critics. I thought the wine was wonderful! Last I heard he is planning to open a tasting room in downtown Napa. That's exciting. For more information, please access their temporary website,

The last booth I visited was Tor Kenward Famiy Wines. You pretty much had to pry me away from them. It was a great way to spend my last few moments there! Tor Kenward began his wine industry career as a senior executive for Beringer Vineyards. He worked with them in winemaking and marketing for 27 years before retiring and starting his own label. He was great!! The wines are exquisite! I sampled the 2009 Tor Beckstoffer To Kalon Clone 6. 100% Cabernet sauvignon with floral flavors, licorice and spicy goodness. This wine is available for purchase on their website if you set up an account with them. Average price is around $130. Tor makes many different To Kalon Cabernets. This particular one was one of the smallest production ones I sampled, at only 175 cases made.

The next day, I had the pleasure of running into Tor again, this time in Oakville at another grand tasting. He was pouring samples of his 2009 To Kalon Clone 337 Cabernet Sauvignon out of a magnum! This wine was more rustic, meaty, woody and toasty! It grabbed me!! These wines are definitely worth seeking out!

I've only begun to hit the surface of what is out in Napa Valley! It has become my pet project to discover more and more of what makes this area tick! And I'm enjoying every minute of doing it! I want to thank the Barbour family for inviting me to such a wonderful event, the great producers at the event and to my great friend, Jerae Knutson, who accompanied me and took some of these great photos with her iphone!

"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 comment:

  1. Sounds like some tasty wines Grace. My next visit needs to include these. Great post. Cheers!