I am back to blog because Ann Marie and I have had another wine trip! We’re trying to familiarize ourselves with as many wineries in the St. Helena area as we can, what with Ann Marie’s house laying minutes from many of them. A couple problems we’re beginning to run into: our first wine trip was SO fabulous that the subsequent wines and wineries we visit are going to have a more difficult job of wowing us, and…We’re really big on dessert wines. I enjoy the right zinfandel just as much as the next person, but our true love is pretty much anything with “dessert” in the title. Wine snobs, I guess we’ll never be.
We actually powered through five wineries on this trip. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that we didn’t do any guided tours this time. Number 1 on our list was Artesa, recently famous for being the front page of a Chronicle section on Napa. And for good reason – the architecture of this place is beautiful, and interesting. There’s something reminiscent of ascending an ancient Mayan temple to get to the entrance of the Artesa tasting room. Sadly, though, the Artesa experience did not wow us as much as its beautiful architecture. We arrived at 10am on the dot, but had to stand outside for a few minutes wondering if we were in the right place. They weren’t quite ready for us when they did open, and there was little direction on how to proceed to the wine tasting.
The basic tastings are either $10 or $15, and we went for the first option. Of the four wines we tried, none were memorable, none really made us want to purchase a bottle, and there was no dessert wine. (It doesn’t matter to some people, but when Ann Marie and Ashley go on a wine trip and there is no dessert wine, this presents a problem.) We left Artesa quickly, and empty-handed. I would still recommend going for the ambiance, but I would probably just park and stand at the top of the hill to look out at the breathtaking vista.
Next up: Black Stallion. It’s an impressive drive into this place, with the stallion fountain greeting you at the end of the driveway. The tasting room is pretty, and it looks like they have some great space for private events. Here we found a much better range of tasting options. You can do all reds, all whites, or several different blends. I chose the white list, and Ann Marie got a mix so we could swap and share, both for $12. We *kind of* liked the wines at Black Stallion; a nice chardonnay, fairly pleasing whites overall, but still we remained unsatisfied. We saw a bottle of orange muscat available for purchase. Put that on the tasting list and we might have been in business!!
Third stop as we made our way closer to St. Helena’s Main Street: Peju. This place is gorgeous. Several lovely fountains, a koi pond, art galleries inside, flowers galore, but…at $15 for a tasting of four wines, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it. I’d still stop into this place for photo ops, but I can’t speak to their wine selection. Anyone out there know if it’s worth shelling out the cash?
The pièce de résistance, we might call it, of this wine trip, was the winery we might also call the underdog. We added this to the list because Ann Marie drives past it all the time, and has vivid memories of its winter decorations (they add a stem to one of their windows and make it look like a wine glass.) The “Winner” of the 2012 Spring Wine Trip was… Whitehall Lane! Quite unassuming from the road, Whitehall Lane isn’t really the kind of place you go to take in miles and miles of vineyard scenery. But their tasting room is spacious and comfy. We were helped by Frederik, and made it through the entire tasting list by sharing sips. It was at Whitehall that we were finally able to express our concerns of not being able to find any good dessert wines to our new friend Frederik, and he ever so graciously obliged by pouring not only the Belmuscato as our final taste, but a Port that wasn’t even on the list. And that, my friends, is service. And here at Whitehall Lane, our day was made. We each took home a bottle of Belmuscato (the Port was absolutely delicious as well, though) and our tasting glasses, and if this had been our only stop of the day, we would have been quite content.
We had it in our heads that we were going to get through all the stops on our list, and so we scooted ourselves a minute or two down the road to the Clif Family Winery at Velo Vino. This is a cool spot, probably even more so if you’re a biker. In a small space, they actually sell biking gear, Clif Bar products, and a few varieties of nuts. Head on over to their little bar and there the tasting begins. We had a 2-for-1 deal for Clif, and so got to taste all of their wines. Nothing really stood out (a promising Gewurtztraminer was not quite sweet enough for my taste), but that might have been because we’d already sampled 16-odd wines before this place. But the lady at the bar was very friendly, and you get an assortment of nuts and chocolate paired with your wines, so this is a nice experience, especially if you can get the two-for-one deal. The story of how the people behind Clif got into wine is interesting – ask about it!
To sum up: Skip the wines at Artesa and just do a quick driveby to take in their view and visit the fountains. Black Stallion has gorgeous grounds, and if you’re not as picky as us it’s got a nice variety of wines to try. Peju is a beautiful place for photo ops. Clif Family Winery is casual, relaxed, and a good place to stop if you like having snacks to pair with your alcohol. Whitehall Lane Winery: do not underestimate. Wonderful service, and a Belmuscato that gets the A&A stamp of approval.