Zigzagging through Napa: A Tour of the Top Estates

This past week, our Key Account and Marketing teams were led by K&L co-owner, Trey Beffa, on a two-day, zigzagging tour of Napa Valley. At breakneck speed, we zoomed from Yountville to Calistoga and all points in between, visiting ten of the most prestigious estates in the valley. This distinguished group consisted of: Dominus, Kapcsandy, Bond, Larkmead, Dunn, Colgin, Opus One, Diamond Creek, Eisele Vineyard, and, the new up-and-comer, MacDonald. As one might expect, the wines were transcendent, exemplifying why Napa continues to be one of the most celebrated wine-producing regions in the world. While it would be impossible to paint this diverse group with a single brush, there are many striking parallels, all of which are born of these wineries’ singular commitment to crafting wines of unrivaled quality. In speaking with the people behind the wines, it became abundantly clear that they see themselves, above all else, as stewards of the land -- a sentiment echoed in the Native American proverb: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” This focus on forward thinking and inherent value of place is integral to the creation of great wine, and it was thrilling to see these estates so wholeheartedly embrace this philosophy.

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Starting in the 1990s and continuing to this day, Napa Valley has undergone a radical transformation from a sleepy farming community to an international hub for wine tourism. For evidence of this, one need look no further than the $165-million Four Season resort slated to open in Calistoga in early 2019. While this infusion of interest (and capital) has done much to propel Napa Valley onto the world stage, its success has not come without its detractors. A vocal contingent of critics have argued that because of this boom, the wines out of Napa have become hyper-commercialized and, as a result, are increasingly being built in a homogenized style that’s woefully uninspired. While there’s no refuting that such a trend does exist, it is hardly universal. In fact, based on what we experienced at the wineries we visited, this characterization couldn’t be further from the mark. What we found were terroir-driven wines that consistently push the envelope; raising the standard for all of Napa Valley in the process. Another point of contention is price. There are no two ways about it, the cost for Napa Valley’s most coveted bottlings have climbed into the stratosphere with some commanding prices that put them on par with Bordeaux’s First Growths. When the price of a wine climbs above $200, it necessarily begs the question: Is it worth it? Of course, the answer to this ultimately depends on one’s budget. However, it is important to note that when you take into consideration such factors as market demand, scarcity, the cost of real estate, and the countless steps taken to ensure the highest quality, these prices don’t seem outlandish in the least. These issues of commercialization and price were very much a topic of discussion throughout our visit. Upon tasting the wines and hearing the stories from the winemakers, it was evident to us all the wines were not mere commodities, but carefully crafted works of art.

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One recurring theme on our tour was the unassailable uniqueness of Napa Valley. From top to toe, the valley spans only thirty miles and is a mere five miles across at its widest point. Despite this relatively small footprint, the multitude of individual micro-climates is staggering. This, coupled with the myriad of soil types and variations in slope and aspect, gives winemakers a broad palette with which to work. We learned through our visits that exploring this natural diversity is a core mission for these wineries. Over the course of this week, we will be taking a closer look at the estates we visited, focusing on their their overall vision and the wines they craft.

- James Bradshaw

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James Bradshaw