Weekend in Yountville: Could Wine Culture be Getting Fun and Flamboyant?

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Del Dotto Estate

 

A friend and trained sommelier scoffed when we told her we were heading up to a wine and food extravaganza in Yountville, Napa,

“But you don’t know shit about wine,” she said.

That’s, um, not entirely true – though we’re far from a connoisseurs. As luck would have it, we didn’t need to know much of anything about wine in order to fall madly in love with Napa and its storied viticultural charms. Not to mention, the once “insidery” attitude of the higher reaches of the wine world is rapidly becoming…passé.

Part of that seems due to the overwhelming variety of vineyards and vintners, increasingly aware of their own brands; standing out seems imperative to survival. But what was also visibly evident from the moment we arrived in the Bay Area: times – as in the climate – are-a-definitely-changing.

The fires were still blazing not far from where we were, though the harvest was blessedly spared this year. A place this beautiful, that relies almost entirely on agriculture for its livelihood, has to reckon with the cruel realities of nature. Now is surely the time to get creative, and part of that is welcoming a new set of revelers.

 

JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset

 

Yountville wants to be “more accessible” – and so does wine culture in general, according to the people working in Napa’s illustrious wine industry. There’s the breathtaking landscape, a history of farming and agriculture, new restaurants and famed older ones (like French Laundry) – and also several stylish hotels to accommodate the perpetual influx of newbie weekenders. To wit, the new Hotel Villagio, of the larger Estate Yountville (they also own Vintage House) decidedly injects a fresh hipness into the area’s hospitality scene.

Also on those same grounds – all walkable – guests can stumble into Michael Chiarello‘s Bottega, Platform 8, or Ottimo restaurants. Just up the road, drink and dine under lavish chandeliers and a fire-pit-studded patio at Restoration Hardware’s new restaurant concept, unfussily titled RH. (Restoration Hardware also furnished all of Estate Yountville’s hotel properties.)

But back to the reason we all came…the wine. If you come to Napa you can’t escape it, nor should you try. Here we highlight four winery tasting rooms that are genuinely doing it differently.

(Bonus: Estate Yountville and its umbrella properties all organize epicurean tasting tours, and can put together a day of wine drinking for you and yours, with exclusive rates for guests.)

 

Hill Family Estate

Fifth generation California farmers, the Hill Family maintains over 600 acres of vineyards across Napa Valley. They supply grapes for big name winemakers like Stags Leap, Mondavi and Cakebread – but it was their own label that captivated us most. After one of our tasting guides successfully sabered a bottle of sparkling rosé amidst a burnt-orange sunset in the Hotel Villagio’s vineyard (all true), we stepped into the cozy lobby for a sampling. The Sauvignon Blanc, crispy with hints of oak, and the “Like a Hawk” Cab-Syrah blend were table favorites. Hill Family Estate does all their dealings direct to consumer, so you won’t find them in a local wine shop; but their wine club makes it much easier. Membership includes three bottles of their choosing four times per year, and the option to add in more of your own picks.

 

 

 

JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset

Just a little further up the road from Hotel Villagio, Boisset’s shop and private tasting room takes wine flare to new heights. It’s like Game of Thrones meets Vegas. One half of a wine empire (he’s married to Gina Gallo of E. & J. Gallo Winery, California’s largest exporter of wines), Boisset is undoubtedly the emperor. His uniform of pink socks, drapey scarves, and velvet smoking jackets match the ornate tasting room – decked in gold-framed mirrors and glimmering cases of rosé bottles. He also owns Atelier Foods next door, a fine foods grocer that offers a wide selection gourmet picnic fare.
All of Boisset’s wines are categorized by number, which represent something autobiographical. The No. 1 and No. 10, both Cabernets, are indicative of being Number One and a Perfect 10. As a Frenchman from Bordeaux in Napa making a 100% Cab in Cab country, Boisset wouldn’t settle for anything less.

 

 

 

Silver Trident

The cozy living-room-feel of Silver Trident’s tasting room owes its aesthetic charms to Ralph Lauren, who furnished the entire space. If you’re in need of a silver serving tray or crystal scotch decanter, both have a price tag on them. You’ll also need to purchase your wine here (or give them a call)- like Hill Family, Silver Trident prides itself on its smaller-run, direct to consumer approach. The winery was co-founded by Bob Binder, founder of Oceania Cruises, and Walter Jost, hence the name Silver Trident. We were particularly fond of the Apollo’s Folly Rosé and Pinot Noir, playfully titled the “Benevolent Dictator.” The Pinot, we discovered, is made the old-fashioned way: winemaker Kari Auringer stomps the grapes herself before sending them to fermentation.

 

 

Del Dotto Estate Winery & Caves

By far the most ostentatious and aristocratic feeling of the four, Del Dotto’s tasting room is located on the vineyard, a sprawling and gorgeous retreat just off St. Helena Highway. They do things like using French oak barrels just once before discarding – or selling. “French oak is where our palates are at,” our guide told us. They even have a Carrara marble barrel that cost upwards of $10,000 to make…for what reason, nobody’s really sure. The wine, the views, the pairing menu all feel similarly decadent, in the best possible way, of course.