Top 10 Yountville Wineries
The Little Appellation That Could
Boasting the very first vineyards in the Napa Valley and planted by George Yount in the mid-1800’s, Yountville became an appellation in 1998. Although relatively small (about 2,700 or so acres are under vine) it is the home of some of the top growers and vintners in Napa Valley. Diversity of soils and microclimates facilitate a number of varietals, besides Cabernet Sauvignon, to thrive. There are some terrific Sauvignon Blancs and a stellar Petite Syrah or two. Don’t let its size fool you. This viticultural area is overflowing with wine gems no discerning drinker can afford to miss.
Here are my favorites:
Blankiet Estate sits on the western foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, directly above Yountville. The vineyard, named Paradise Hills, was planted in 1996 to Bordeaux varietals by Claude & Katherine Blankiet. Meticulous farming, state-of-the-art winery, no fining or filtration, exceptional barrel program and smart winemaking choices account for Bordeaux blends of distinction and impeccable elegance. Denis Malbec, the winemaker, crafts a small amount of aromatically stunning Rosé as well.
Jay Corley launched the brand back in 1970. To this day, it is a true family affair, with the Corley children involved in all aspects of viticulture and production. Corley produces wines under the Corley, Monticello, and Montreaux labels. They offer a diverse and well-priced portfolio of wines which speak to the land from where they originated. One of my favorites is Montreaux Brut which is produced in classic méthode champenoise style. It bursts with fresh vibrancy and beautiful exotic and stone fruit aromatics.
Dominus is a wine institution. Owner Christian Moueix, whose impressive wine empire includes Chateaux Petrus, La Fleur-Petrus, Trotanoy, and Magdelaine; yet he could not resist Napa Valley charms. In 1982, Moueix started developing Dominus’ Napanook vineyard and the rest is wine history. Their wines are remarkably consistent and impeccably crafted; this legendary producer has lots of hits and no misses. The wines are invariably age worthy, sleek, elegant, and quite profound.
Hidden in a residential neighborhood, Elyse Winery has been on my radar for quite some time. The wines are expertly crafted, reasonably priced and hit every essential varietal note. Nancy and Ray Coursen started Elyse in 1987, post Ray’s stint at Whitehall Lane Winery, where he trained under Art Finkelstein. Ray is as talented as he is humble; and partners up with some of top growers in the valley. Result? Every one of his wines rock.
I am nuts about their Hayne Vineyard Petite Syrah. It’s so dense that you can practically eat it with a spoon. Jammy and as fruit-forward as your nose can handle, this amply endowed wine has tannins to spare, yet somehow they play well with the assertive black and blue fruit. How a wine of this size and girth remains balanced and highly delineated remains a mystery. I no longer need an answer, just pour another glass, please.
Gemstone Vineyard, named after the owners’ gemstone business, was launched by Suzie and Paul Frank in 1997. Ren & Marilyn Harris (owners of Paradigm Winery, see my Oakville post) helped get the Franks started in the wine community. The Franks ended up selling the vineyard to the Marks, who has continued their legacy of exceptional wines. Replanted to Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot), the vineyard is hand harvested over a span of weeks to ensure optimum physiological maturity. Rock star winemaker, Philippe Melka, hand picks their barrels in France and crafts terroir driven wines. His wines show generous palatal spectrum, framed by savvy tannins with opulent, expansive mouth-feel. I have loved their wines for nearly a decade.
I adore Jennifer and the late Herb Lamb. They are the sweetest people on the planet and a joy to be around. The Lambs bought a small, steep hillside rocky property in 1987, cleared the trees and planted what turned out to be stunning Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. Miniscule yields and intense fruit attracted winemaker Helen Turley, who sourced fruit from Herb Lamb for Colgin Vineyards. Made in a whopping 100 case lots, their HL and Two Old Dogs Cabernet sell out in two shakes of a Lamb’s tail. Don’t forget their stunning Sauvignon Blanc, my summer obsession.
Joseph George is known for their wine distribution business. In addition, they used to have a famous bricks-and-mortar and still operate an online wine store that is well-known for stocking up on California cult wines. Vineyard acquisition and personal connections cultivated over decades, and landed them in the wine production business in 2004. Despite being in the heart of Cabernet country they decided to focus on the other Sauvignon. Their ranch in Yountville is dedicated to the exceptional quality Sauvignon Blanc. Consistently delicious and well priced, it’s worth seeking.
I met Lou Kapcsandy, a contractor and an importer, several years ago when he first launched his brand. Lou, along with his wife and son Louis Jr., decided on a wine production business of their own and set out to find the finest vineyard in Napa. That vineyard materialized in a form of Beringer Estate State Lane vineyard which, at the time, had succumbed to Phylloxera. The vineyards were fully replanted and the Kapcsandy brand is now produced in their state-of-the-art winery. Star winemaker Denis Malbec previously worked at Château Latour, Haut-Brion, Lagrange, and Duval Leroy. A favorite of Robert Parker, the vineyard routinely turns out some of the most critically acclaimed wines in the valley. In addition to world class Bordeaux blends, they make a riveting rose packed with bright red fruit and ample acidity.
Keever Vineyards is comprised of six acres of steep and rocky land where former telecommunications executive Bill Keever, and his wife Olga grow and vinify some of the best Cabernets made in Napa. They were fortunate to connect with superstar winemaker Celia Welch, who recognized the vineyard’s potential and has crafted their wines from inception. I have been a fan their remarkable wines from the very first vintage. An insiders tip: sign up for their wine list before it closes!
I have long regarded Piña as one of Napa Valley’s best kept secrets. In addition to producing exceptional wine, Piña is also well known as one of the top vineyard management companies in Napa. Their boutique production of Cabernet Sauvignon is relatively unknown, yet anyone who discovers them are in for a treat. Meticulous farming, low yields, and exhaustive blending trials account for a stellar portfolio. One of its stars is D’Adamo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. It is inky, lush, and jam-packed with cassis and other black fruits…a hedonistic beast that will seduce your senses in a flash. I also enjoy their Chardonnay, which is crafted in Burgundian style, with crisp acidity, sleek minerality and lovely floral aromatics.
If you are in the area, be sure to pay a visit to Domaine Chandon‘s wildly popular and unique facility which offers a variety of tastings. It has an acclaimed restaurant on premises, called Étoile, a rarity for California wine country. For 30 years, Chandon sourced fruit from some of the top spots in Napa Valley, including Yountville. Carneros sparkling wine pioneer, Chandon makes a whopping sixty sparklers, including a red one. They offer several still wines as well. I am a fan of their 2007 Vintage Brut. It’s wealth and breadth of aromatics (think granny smith apples, Asian pear, plum), layers of flavor, solid acidity and lingering finish offer a winning combination.
I can’t write about Yountville without mentioning the “Magnificent Food Mile.” Located along Washington Street, between Madison and Mission, there are more extraordinary dining options in quaint Yountville than in some US cities. French Laundry leaps to mind, and if you hadn’t dined at Ad Hoc or Redd you are seriously missing out. If you consider yourself a foodie, make Yountville your next destination. You will drink and eat as a celebrity, or likely even better.