Early spring is a great time to visit Napa before the huge crowds of summer arrive. With hundreds of wineries to visit within a small valley, you'll never have to go far to find something fun to do. If you love wine, make plans to visit Napa; it's the trip of a lifetime.
Napa Valley. Just mention the name to wine lovers and they go weak in the knees.
Napa Valley is one of the world's great wine regions, ranking up there with the French regions of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Mention visiting Napa to folks who enjoy good wine and they either talk about their trip there or discuss their dream of visiting Napa.
As a frequent traveler, I've been to Napa several times since 1986. A recent trip revealed to me how much has changed and why wine aficionados should make a pilgrimage there.
While Napa had 140 wineries in 1900, Prohibition decimated those numbers and only a handful of those original wineries survived. After World War II, the number again increased, exploding since the 1970s, when Napa wines beat French wines in the famous 1976 Paris Tasting.
Anyone who's seen the movie "Bottle Shock" knows that story. The rest is history, as they say, and today there are more than 300 wineries in Napa Valley, including many among the world's finest.
I previously wrote how Hidden Ridge Vineyards' $45 cabernets offered great value and were as good as $100 alternatives. Having the opportunity to visit their mountaintop vineyards, ranging from 900 to 1,700 feet in elevation, I jumped at the chance. The vista is spectacular, however, this vineyard is difficult to reach and closed to the public.
Nevertheless, it's impossible not to appreciate the dedication and passion required to manage vines grown on the equivalent of black diamond ski runs. Sadly, heavy rains last October were devastating; Hidden Ridge decided to forego their 2010 vintage rather than reduce quality. Such a bold commitment makes this a winery to watch.
Somerston Ranch, east of Napa, is making large investments in sustainable farming. Visitors tour the winery, 200-acre vineyards and scenic 1,682-acre ranch in six-passenger buggies, which are like golf carts on steroids. A natural soda spring on the property bubbles up mineral water, reminiscent of Saratoga.
Focused on Bordeaux varietals, it produces the Somerston, Priest Ranch and High Flyer brands of wines. At its Yountville tasting room, I enjoyed the Somerston ($120) and the Priest Ranch ($38) cabernets for their mellow deliciousness. Their sauvignon blancs were lovely as well, and I highly recommend the 2009 Grenache Blanc ($19).
Colgin Cellars, a producer of small-production, handcrafted wines, is among the elite wineries in Napa, located east on beautiful Pritchard Hill overlooking Lake Hennessey. Its wines are expensive and available only in select restaurants and to those on its mailing list, which has over 2,000 people wait-listed. The winery, unfortunately, is not open to the public.
This state-of-the-art winery is stunningly gorgeous and a temple to exceptional wine quality. Grapes are rigidly sorted by hand after harvest and gravity fed into the fermentation tanks below to ensure gentle handling, perfectly emulating the production of the world's most expensive wines.
"We never use everything, we only use the very best of everything," said Ann Colgin, whose goal is to create wine that is a virtual work of art. That she has done marvelously.
Colgin is as beautiful and charming as her wines prove to be. One can't help but walk on air in her presence, and when you taste her wines, you are in heaven. The Bordeaux blend and the syrah were as perfect and superbly balanced wines as I've ever tasted. If anyone has ever wondered why a buyer would pay $850 or more in a restaurant for a bottle of wine, you only have to sip these to know the answer.
One more stop completed the weekend. Known for its chardonnays, cabernets and small production of sparking wines, Frank Family Vineyards operates one of Napa's most popular tasting rooms. Its wines merit the attention they receive.
I Ioved the 2007 Napa Valley ($33) and the 2007 Reserve ($58) chardonnays for their elegance and refined tropical fruit flavors. The 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet ($45) was also very enjoyable.
Early spring is a great time to visit Napa before the huge crowds of summer arrive. With hundreds of wineries to visit within a small valley, you'll never have to go far to find something fun to do. If you love wine, make plans to visit Napa; it's the trip of a lifetime. Enjoy.
Mark P. Vincent is a Shrewsbury, Mass., resident who has a passion for wine. His column runs in Food & Dining on the third Wednesday of the month. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.