Saturday, April 20, 2013

Trefethen Family Vineyards Napa Valley Estate

Trefethen Family Vineyards Napa Valley Estate

Located in the Oak Knoll District at the cooler, southern end of Napa Valley just north of the town of Napa straddling highway 29 as one enters the checkerboard of vineyards sits Trefethen Family Estate Vineyards and Winery, one of Napa Valley’s few remaining family wine estates.

Eugene and Catherine Trefethen moved to Napa in 1968 from the Bay area after purchasing six small farms and the historic 19th century Eschol Winery, creating a 600-acre wine estate. At that time, there were fewer than 20 operating wineries in Napa Valley.

After graduating from Stanford University, John Trefethen and his new bride Janet began producing Trefethen Vineyards’ wine in 1973. Three years later, the winery’s 1976 Chardonnay earned “Best Chardonnay in the World” honors at the 1979 Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris. That accolade combined with the famous Judgement of Paris won worldwide acclaim for Napa Valley wines.

After two decades developing their vineyards, Trefethen embarked on a major replanting of twenty thousand vines of disease resistant rootstock. Today, Trefethen grows nine different grape varieties; Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Viognier. These are planted in 63 distinct vineyard blocks comprised of 10 different types of rootstock and 49 different clones including 13 of Chardonnay and 10 of Cabernet Sauvignon.

We first discovered Trefethen in the late eighties in our early days of discovering Napa Valley wines but really took notice when we were introduced to their flagship Trefethen Halo in the late nineties at wine tastings at the Downer's Grove Wine Shop. Our wine buddy Bill C (left with Beth, Will, Kate, L) is a fan and collector of Halo and earmarked Trefethen for our Napa Valley Wine Experience 2013. This was fitting since our custom in recent years has been to focus on but one appellation at a time and we were also scheduled at another Oak Knoll District winery this trip, and, our group were staying just down the road at the nearby Napa Valley Marriott.

Amazingly, we've driven past the Trefethen Estate literally dozens of times and never stopped there. We were all pleasantly surprised by the extensive estate with its scenic drive past the vast vineyards against the backdrop of the backdrop of the Vaca Mountains in the distance to the east, and the nearby Mayacamas Range and Mt Veeder to the west. The vineyards are signposted according to the year they were planted.

Upon reaching the wine house there are picturesque grounds and gardens with fountains and an outdoor tasting area. Inside there is the usual tasting bar, several more formal tasting tables and personal tour tasting rooms, and a do it yourself tour of the barrel storage room with displays of the ranch, vineyard maps, and displays of the soil topology from the different sections of the estate.

They offer an estate and a reserve tasting, which is shown below:

Trefethen Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2010

Rather uninspiring and light, slightly astringent with modest cherry and red berry and currant fruits with a modest cola tone and layer of dusty earth.

RM 86 points.

Trefethen Dragons Tooth Napa Valley Red Wine 2010

This wine is a tribute to the winery's matriarch Catherine Trefethen. who was from Welsh ancestry. A blend of Malbec and Petit Verdot, this 100% Estate wine is sourced from new plantings from the rockiest part of our vineyard where obsidian flakes occasionally remind us of the toothy smile of Y Ddraig Goch (The Red Dragon) guardian and symbol of Wales.

This is the the third vintage of this distinctive blend, medium bodied, deep purple in color with aromas and flavors of black currant, blackberry and cinnamon turning to tones of plum, cherry and mocha and hints of spice, finishing with nicely balanced but structured tannins.

RM 90 points.

Trefethen American Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Trefethen Hungarian Oak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Another example of the proliferation of labels we saw time and again during this trip. In this case, here is the same wine with two distinct variations of oak - American and Hungarian. This approach was popularized by Dave Del Dotto in his branded Connoisseur Series starting around the millenium. Del Dotto offered the same vintage cabernet with as many as eight to ten different oak variations. We conducted a vertical tasting of the 'Series' a couple years ago. It was fascinating to see the influence of varied nuances of different Ameican and French oaks on the same wine. Neither the breadth or depth of that experience is present here - these two variations are subtle and modestly distinctive - not necessarily worthy of the investment of all it requires with this approach. This was a more modest cab with the American oak being perhaps slightly sweeter and the Hungarian introducing modest tones of spice on the black berry fruits.

RM 88 points.

Trefethen Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Medium bodied with subtle blackberry and currant fruits with layer of plum, hints mocha and nutmeg turning to moderate but smooth approachable tannins on the finish.

Blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot, 3% Malbec and 2% Merlot
Estate vineyards - 74% Hillspring 26% Main Ranch

RM 91

Gallery -

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hall Napa Valley Rutherford Estate

Hall Napa Valley Rutherford Estate

Another highlight of our recent Napa Valley Wine Experience 2013 was our tasting tour at Hall Vineyards Rutherford Estate. We first discovered Hall and their Napa Valley wines during our Napa Valley Wine Experience back in 2003. We've collected their signature label Napa Cabernet Sauvignon since. Along the way we picked up numerous vintage selections of their vineyard designated Sacrashe Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the namesake vineyard. 

The Hall Sacrashe Vineyard, pictured left, sits on the lower tier of the Vaca Mountain Range on the eastern Napa slope above the tony Auberge du Soleil Resort, Spa and Restaurant.

Our gallery of pictures of our Hall Rutherford visit are on our Napa Wine Experience 2013 - Hall page on

The Sacrashe vineyard designated label evolved to the Kathryn Hall Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon label with the 2006 vintage featured in our tasting journal back in March 18, 2010. This flagship label received numerous blockbuster ratings culminating in the 2009 release which was acclaimed the #2 wine in the world in Wine Spectator's annual Top 100. This was one of the highlights of the Wine Spectator's Grand Tour, Chicago, 2011.

We've had fun over the years giving the festive red labeled Hall wines to friends and family at Christmas, artfully decorated with a whimsical play on words, 'deck the Halls with boughs of holly..."

Hall has continued their development in Napa Valley with the opening of their Rutherford winery and tasting room located at the Sacrashe Vineyard. This has gone hand in hand with the proliferation of the number of labels on offer as well. They explain that the Rutherford crush facility is built to accommodate small lot production of crafted wines to complement the larger volume production capabilities of the Valley facility in St Helena.

The Rutherford winery features a stylish reception center with an outdoor patio and several interior tasting rooms with views overlooking the valley below. The center sits atop the winery production facility which connects to a network of caves dug into the mountain side below the famed Sacrashe Vineyard. The 14,000 square feet of caves were designed and built by hand by Friedrich Gruber of Gutenstein Austria. They are finished with handmade Austrian brick recovered from sites in and around Vienna.

Deep in the caves is the highlight of the facility, a magnificent cavernous tasting room with a massive table that can accommodate thirty. Over the table is a huge elegant crystal chandelier. The table offers picturesque views of the caves. Overlooking the room from the end wall is another large metal sculpture depicting the vines over a large table showcasing the selection of labels. To the rear of the room opposite the cave walk is a wine cellar housing some of the estates library wines.

Another remarkable feature of the cave facility is the displays of artwork from the Halls’ art collection. The numerous works of metal and glass sculptures are displayed in elegant nooks built into the walls of the caves to showcase the collection that also includes a historic vintage large format bottle decanting contraption with a hand crank (shown below).

The wines:

HALL Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011

While not necessarily a collectable, we consider Sauvignon Blanc a mainstay of a comprehensive wine tasting with its clean crisp clear true representation of the white wine fruits. Hall is one of our favorites that we keep in our cellar for such occasions along with Duckhorn (featured in magnum at this years Open That Bottle Night 2013), David Arthur, and perhaps our favorite, Cliff Lede Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc.

RM 89 points.

HALL "Kathryn Hall" Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

HALL “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet Sauvignon has become the flagship label replacing the historic vineyard designated Sacrashe label. It represents the most select fruit from the estate's vineyard blocks combined with select mountain fruit from vineyard partners. A blend of varietals results in a Bordeaux cuvée showcasing the dominant Sacrashe vineyard fruits.

Nearly opaque purple-black color, medium to full body, smooth and nicely polished, moderately complex with aromas of violets and cocoa and flavors of black berry and black raspberry and dark cherries,turning to hints of licorice, mocha and a subtle earthiness with moderate tannins on the finish.

RM 91 points.

HALL "Ellie's" Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

One of the range of new labels extending the selection of the Hall  brand, "Ellie's" is a tribute to Craig Hall's mother; an artist and teacher; who enlisted in World War II as soon as the U.S. Navy announced it would accept women. Ellie inspired Craig's interest in art collecting. In remembrance and further tribute to her, the label displays a pencil drawing by Ellie of an owl watching over a family vineyard.

Dark and full bodied, big fruit forward wine with layers complex layers of black fruits accented by tones of spicy clove and cassis with nicely integrated supple firm but nicely polished lingering tannins.

RM 91 points.

Hall Darwin Proprietary Red Wine 2009  

Interesting blend named after the town of Darwin, Australia, where Kathryn and Craig’s small plane was required to make an emergency landing. Once safely on the ground, the Halls toasted their well-being with an Aussie Shiraz/Cabernet blend and pledged to craft a similar wine in the Napa Valley to commemorate the occasion. .

The 2009 HALL “Darwin” is an interesting blend of Syrah accented by Cabernet Sauvignon from the Hall Napa River Ranch estate. Dark, full bodied, forward black fruits accented by a layer of anise with tones of creosote and hints of tea and cedar.

RM 90 points.

85% Syrah, 15% Ccabernet Sauvignon

More of Hall Rutherford; some highlights of the Hall art collection featured in the cellar cave:

More of our gallery of pictures of our Hall Rutherford visit are on our Napa Wine Experience 2013 - Hall page on

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Signorello Napa Valley Estate Vineyard & Winery

Signorello Napa Valley Estate Vineyard & Winery
Meeting the cousins at Signorello Estate
overlooking vineyards and valley floor.

On the base of the eastern slope of the Vaca Mountains overlooking Napa Valley near the bottom of Silverado Trail sits Signorello estate vineyards and winery. Signorello is in the Oak Knoll Appellation of Napa Valley.

Driving north from the town of Napa, pass the magnificent Darioush winery to Signorello on the right tucked up against the hill. The winery sits at the top of a long drive above the vineyards. There is a public tasting bar and a tasting room in the rear, but the highlight of the property is outside.

Behind the winery building is a large patio deck adorned by several fountains but the highlight feature is an infinity pool overlooking the vineyard in the foreground and the valley in the background. The poolside patio with scenic valley views provided a spectacular setting for a gala formal tasting, or as we did, a picnic lunch to accompany a tasting of the Signorello Estate wines.

The Signorello staff was very gracious and hospitable and were most accommodating with our group. Rather than BYOB, we brought our own picnic and feasted on their fine wines as an accompaniement. 
The wines:

Signorello Hope's Cuvee Napa Valley Estate Chardonnay 2010

I am predominantly a red wine drinker and while I enjoy an occasional glass of white, most often with appropriate food, I don't normally get excited about a white wine. This chardonnay was the exception,  memorable and special.

This Hopes Cuvée Chardonnay was full bodied but nicely balanced and polished for very pleasant drinking. It is bursting with flavorful fruit with layers of peach and poached pear giving way to hints of honey, almond, nutmeg, vanilla and creamy soft spicy oak. There is very pleasant full mouth-feel with rich texture on the palate with a long lingering finish of sweet mellow oak.

RM 93 points.

Signorello Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Fruit for this wine is from the Signorello estate vineyard that was planted in 1990 on the Napa Valley hillsides east of the Silverado Trail. A variety of exposures increase the wines complexity. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are exposed to the Western slopes, while Cabernet Franc and a second Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard face Eastern slopes.

Medium to full bodied, this opens with layers of tobacco, leather, mocha, and licorice, giving way to moderate fl avors of cherry and blackberry with a lengthy firm tannic finish.

RM 90 points.

Signorello Padrone Napa Valley Estate Proprietary Red  Wine (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2010

Padrone is Signorello's flagship wine, produced in honor of Ray Signorello Sr., the patriarch of the family and founder of the estate. Grapes for this complex proprietary red wine are sourced from two extremely rocky parts of the estate vineyard with minimal yields of only 1.3 tons per acre. 

Dark garnet colored, full bodied, glycerins coat the glass, complex full flavors of black berry and black cherry fruits with a tones of black raspberry, hints of anise and mocha give way to a tone of vanilla on a lingering tannin finish.

RM 92 points.

More of Signorello:

David Arthur Napa Valley Estate Vineyards and Winery

David Arthur Napa Valley Estate Vineyards and Winery

The vista view overlooking
Napa Valley
A highlight and targeted visit of our Napa Wine Experience 2013 was our visit to David Arthur Napa Valley Estate Vineyards and Winery. As mentioned in a recent blogpost, we've been collecting and enjoying David Arthur wines since the late nineties since the 1997 vintage but have been pacing our consumption as we watch this wine age and achieve its true potential. The property is situated up at the end of Long Ranch Road up atop Pritchard Hill in the Vaca Mountain range. The drive up offers some spectacular vineyard views and vistas of the Napa Valley below. The adjoining vineyards represent some of the premier producers of Napa Valley wines - Brand, Bryant, Colgin, Continuum, Montagna, the new Del Dotto property Villa Del Lago, and Ovid. Not (yet) designated an appellation, never-the-less, it is fast becoming one of the premiere wine growing areas of Napa Valley. 

We visited the other side of Pritchard Hill during our Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley Experience - Autumn '09 with our visit to long time resident/producer Chappellet Vineyards.

David Arthur wines represent the unique terroir of the mountain with its rough rocky terrain. They have 21 acres on their Pritchard Hill estate (left) planted in the Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Verdot, as well as Sangiovese and Nebbiolo which go into their unique Meritaggio.

We first discovered this wine when we purchased a case back of the 1997 vintage release and still hold about half of those bottles, but we quickly turned and became fans of their Cabernet Sauvignon and their flagship wine Elevation 1147, creatively names for the vineyard site situated 1200 feet above the valley floor. All are crafted 100% from estate grown grapes. This visit offered us the opportunity to experience (and acquire) their latest vintage releases as well as their new Three Acre and Old Vines labels Estate bottled Cabernet Sauvignons and a new release bottling of David Arthur Napa Valley Cabernet Franc.

Long girls and husbands R *& R (l),
Clan Connelly (rt)
David Arthur, named for the grandfather of the owner/producer, is a family affair consisting of three generations of the Long family, who over the years acquired the mountain land to raise cattle. Today it is operated by brothers David and Bob along with Joye Long are co-owners, with David acting as General Manager and his daughter Laura runs the office and daily operations.  

A point of interest and fun part of this trip was the fact that Linda (nee) Long and Pat (nee) Long, daughters of Indiana farmer Ned Long would be
Farmer Ned Long's daughters at
David Arthur Long Ranch
with us. My wife Linda and I were
joined on this Napa trip by sister/sister-in-law Pat (Long), so it's only fitting we saved our David Arthur visit and this Long reunion for this trip together. More aspects of a family reunion this trip as our usual wine tasting and travel companions, Bill and Beth C, were joined by son Will and wife Kate. Furthermore, the family reunion continued with a visit from Pat and Linda's niece Becky (nee) Long who lives near Napa and brought her family down to join us for a day of our trip.

Adding to the Long legend and heritage on Pritchard Hill, adjacent to the David Arthur vineyards are Long Family Vineyards owned by Napa Valley legends Bob and Zelma Long, who gained notoriety in the 70s as chief enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery. Divorced from Bob, today, Zelma and husband Phillip produce wines in Germany and South Africa under their Zelphi label..

The wines: 

David Arthur Three Acre Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

A new label from David Arthur to expand the brand offering with further differentiation of the available fruits. This Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from three distinctive estate vineyard blocks, composed primarily of Cabernet Clone 337 noted for outstanding fruit character and bold tannins. A blend of 93 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7 percent Petite Verdot, this was aged in 85 percent new French oak barrels for 23 months. Only 338 cases were produced.

Deep garnet colored, medium-full bodied, it presents blackberry, black raspberry, a layer of black cherry, and cassis with hints of flora, olive tapenade, spicy toasted oak, tones of toffee, maple, tea, tobacco and cedar turning to fine grained tannins on the finish. 

RM 93 points.
David Arthur Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

This standard bearer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from three of the distinctive vineyard blocks on Pritchard Hill. Full bodied and dark inky purple, this is complex, firm and focused with layers of dense black berry and black currant fruits accented with dense cassis, spices, floral notes with a tobacco earthy tone on the intense long silky smooth tannin finish. 

The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petite Verdot, was aged in 80 percent new French oak barrels for 23 months. 718 cases were produced.

RM 92 points.

David Arthur Old Vine Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

A new label for the David Arthur brand, Old Vine represents select bottling of fruit from the finest selections from the mature vines on the estate. Old Vine is packaged in a heavy oversize bottle equivalent to the flagship 1147 bottling. 

Full bodied, firm, focused concentrated black berry and black currant fruits, intense cassis, vanilla and lavender tones, complex mouth feel loads the palate with a layer of creme de cassis, hints of caramel and sweet oak on a long finish of smooth silky polished tannins.

RM 93 points.

David Arthur Elevation 1147 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 

The flagship David Arthur wine commemorating the twenty-fifth vintage anniversary release. There is a whimsical story that explains the red stripe label but I'll save that for others or another forum.  

Seeking some selective 2010 vintage wines to celebrate or commemorate our first grandchild's birthyear, this is the one of the first to present itself as a worthy candidate.
Medium-full bodied, big forward fruits, a symphony of deep complex concentrated flavors - black berry and black raspberry fruits, subtle floral tones, hints of cassis, lead pencil, espresso and cedar tones with a spicy silky smooth satin like long lingering finish.

RM 94 points. 

David Arthur Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2010 

Wow, how can a Cab (Sauvignon) drinker not love Cab Franc?!? Historically and typically used as a blending wine to add breadth to the Bordeaux blend, by itself its tangy spicy tongue coating mouth puckering. Black inky purple, medium-full bodied, black fruits, lead pencil graphite with clove spice and hints of cedar on a silky tannin finish. 

RM 92 points.

David Arthur Napa Valley Meritaggio 2010 

We first discovered and still hold several bottles of this wine from the 1997 vintage. It continues to show resilience and no sign of diminution with full fruit and length. 

The 2010 showed medium bodied, black raspberry and black cherry fruits, hints of black olive, leather and soft oak on a focused moderate tannin finish.

RM 90 points.

David Arthur Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2011

This may be the last vintage of this offering as they focus on big red wines that make the most of Pritchett Hill terroir.

David Arthur Napa Valley Nebbiollo - pre-release

We did some barrel tasting and had a preview of upcoming releases of David Arthur Nebbiolo from the 2011 and 2012 vintages. Watch for these in the years to come.

David Arthur barrel house

Big sky Pritchett Hill - P&R, R&L

Clan Connelly on Pritchett Hill

P&R - Long Ranch - David Arthur
Two gen Docs

Tasting toasted