Third stop on our California Wine Country trip took us to Quintessa, known for their "quintessential" wine making philosophy. Nestled in the heart of Napa Valley, sitting on 280 acres of the Rutherford Appellation, Quintessa attributes it's high quality fruit to the diversity of its property - which includes: a valley, a lake, a river, five hills, four microclimates and many soil types. Sitting in Napa Valley's widest point, the Rutherford Appellation receives more sun light than any other area, helping attribute to unique wine aromas and flavors.
Upon our arrival and check in, we were introduced to Mo who first led us on a tour overlooking the unique crescent shaped grounds. He led us up a short climb to the top of a ridge, where we were met with astounding views of the 170 acres of vineyards encompassing Quintessa's property. The vineyard we were gazing upon produces 40 different wine lots and has 26 vineyard blocks, planted with approximately 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot and the remaining 9% consisting of Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Carmenere grapes. Proprietor and vintner Agustin Huneeus describes his wines, "in broad terms, Quintessa is a red meritage. Each year, it is a blend that can include some or all of the five varietals grown on the estate. The vineyard's diversity provided us wide stylistic options for the wine."
After a taste of the refreshing, crisp, citrus flavored Illumination Sauvignon Blanc, we began our descent back down to the winery and were led underground to tour and learn about the innovative, high tech production facility.
The winery design facilitates a gravity-flow process, meaning after the rooftop crushing, the grapes flow naturally into fermenting tanks, then the multiple levels of the winery allow gravity to move the grapes and the wine through the processing steps. Huge custom designed French oak, stainless steel and concrete fermenters line the walls in the tank room, and other state-of-the-art winemaking technologies, including a glass-enclosed blending room and modern laboratory, were all very distinct features.
We were then led through the grand doors on our left to get a partial view of Quintessa's 17,000 square feet of labyrinth shaped caves and tunnels. The caves, carved into the volcanic ash hillside directly beneath the winery, naturally keep the climate ideally cool for the minimum two year aging process for each wine block. That concluded our impressive and very informative tour,
so it was on to the tasting.
The wine and cheese pairing was very intimate inside the elegant tasting room, enclosed by grand rock walls and complete with a relaxing, trickle of waterfalls - think elegant spa feel. The formal tasting included three vintages of Quintessa. Each vintage was deep purple in color, very fruit fragrant, rich and dense upon the palate, with a nice, silky finish.
A.H. "although each vintage is unique, we have discovered that finesse and elegance best express the character of the vineyard and as such, we blend for harmony, balance and length of flavors."
While not on our scheduled list of winery appointments, and definitely not fitting into our boutique wine theme, we couldn't go to Napa without visiting Chateau Montelena - even if our visit was a little rushed between appointments. For those unfamiliar with Chateau Montelena, their 1973 Chardonnay put California on the forefront of wines by taking first place in the famous 1976, "Judgement of Paris" blind tasting. (read more about it here).
Walking up into the estates was very peaceful, surrounded by the sounds of nature, a canopy of trees and views of the pond complete with a gazebo and of course, the impressive stone carved castle that houses the cellars and tasting room. After snapping a few pictures of this Napa Valley landmark, we went inside for a quick library tasting of their current vintages. Indoors we saw the famous bottle that beat out all the French competition, hanging proudly on the wall. The vibe we received definitely matched that pride, as we felt the atmosphere wasn't nearly as friendly, warm or inviting as our other stops that day. But hey, I guess when you're that big of deal Napa, you don't have to be?
The tastings were held at a stand up bar, where our pourer was very busy with the rush of people that must have stopped in right before us, so the narratives of the wine were therefore very brief and impersonal. While we can't deny the quality, history and the legacy that Chateau Montelena has had to offer for decades in California was exciting, we weren't throughly impressed with the overall experience, and quickly moved on to our next, and one of our favorite stops in Napa..... See you next week to tell you all about Vincent Arroyo wines.