I don't often play hooky. There's just an endless amount of work to get done around here and nonstop responsibilities that are always pressing. Besides when I get a day off I'd rather spend it with my kids and family.
But I recently joined my out of town cousins for a day of winery hopping in Napa. I forgot how fun it is to taste wine, hear the stories, and visit the unique properties so reflective of their owners. Plus I figured it was an ideal opportunity to do some spying on the competition!
Pride Mountain Winery is a beautiful drive up Spring Mountain Road outside the town of St. Helena. Open only by appointment, we were treated to a tour and tasting in their caves and tasting salon overlooking the vineyards that span the Mayacama Mountains. Of course, none of this came cheaply; the fee was $75 per person. But then again, that's Napa for you. The wines were delicious albeit very expensive. I still can't believe I plunked down an astounding $130 for a Cabernet. Our host was superb, passionate about wine, and extremely knowledgeable overall. Nothing was canned or rehearsed, and she made us feel like old friends of hers in no time. She gets an A+ in my book.
I was planning to go back to work after our picnic lunch, but suddenly decided we should visit Raymond Vineyards. This is one of the wineries that Jean Charles Boisset has purchased, adding to his growing stable of California wineries. He's been getting a lot of press as the "new Robert Mondavi of our generation" and so I was dying to see what he had done to the venerable Raymond family estate. Good grief. It's hard to describe but I'd say it's a cross between a "Napa Valley Night Club" and "Alice in Wonderland." Talk about over the top. From the bizarre hall of senses to the crystal cellar with mirrored tanks and scantily clad mannequins hanging from the rafters, I felt like I was in a high end strip club (I've never actually been to one, but this is what I imagine if I had!). While the wines were nice, the most striking observation was how five generations of Raymond family efforts have been wiped clean from the visitor experience. There was simply no connection to the heritage of the family or mention of the history of the winery. I felt sad and somewhat baffled since it seems like there must have been something relevant the new owners could salvage from the past. It also was a bold reminder of the importance of authenticity. And that's where Dry Creek Vineyard shines. There's nothing contrived or overtly "forced" here. We don't put on airs and we don't try to be something we're not. A visit to Dry Creek Vineyard should ALWAYS include the story of our past along with the innovative changes we've made that have resulted in the superb quality of our wines today. It should NEVER be about form and ALWAYS be about substance. In a nutshell, it's about wines that express the nuances of their appellation and the people who work so hard to create them. No mannequins, no crystal chandeliers, no fluff.
And if that's not the case, then, please, please, please I want to hear about it. Ok?