By Annie Sliman
Enjoying TheBest of the Napa Valley
I am absolutely delighted to tell you about a very special trip I was able to take in February. For three glorious days, a group of eight of us, including my wine-loving husband, toured some of Napa’s oldest and finest wineries. Tammy Winsokie, who is the wine educator at Napa General Store, arranged all the details of our appointment-only tour and has our undying gratitude. We visited some of Napa’s most beautiful vineyards and wineries, enjoyed several private homes and even enjoyed a tasting in a century-old barn. Throughout our visit, we sipped a variety of the finest California wines produced by small artesian winemakers. Altogether, our trip was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that none of us will ever forget. In fact, my husband is still talking about it and about the prodigious quantity of wine we purchased. Just wait till he sees the new wine refrigerator!
One of our favorite wineries was Tres Sabores. The ranch sits near the top of the Rutherford bench, at the base of the Mayacamas mountain range. We learned that this is a sweet spot for growing organically certified Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petite Syrah and Petit Verdot grapes. Julie Johnson is the winemaker and owner of Tres Sabores. In the 1980s, she was living in New York and a practicing nurse when her husband was called to Napa to be a winemaker. Johnson was immediately hooked. She is the sweetest and most warm-hearted woman, who shared years of her winemaking experiences with us. Johnson was an owner of Frog’s Leap Winery before branching out on her own. Her vivid stories and her passion for the goodness that the earth provides are evident in her beautiful vineyard and blooming gardens. Our group sat and sipped in the quaint tasting room and strolled the budding vineyards. We were simply awed by everything and especially loved meeting the two newly born white lambs.
In the late 1980s, Tres Sabores winery was one of the very first growers to certify its vineyards as organic. Its dry farming method produces wines with a lower alcohol content that definitely sets them apart. Johnson summed it up, “We are a diverse, integrated farm, growing grapes, pomegranates, Meyer lemons and olives, raising guinea fowl and sheep, which in turn help us to produce compost, and supporting a wide range of raptors and insectivorous bluebirds and swallows with our bird boxes. My wines are pure expressions of the vineyard. I make all of our reds in small three-quarter ton open bins. We love immersing our guests in the excitement of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
We asked Johnson why she named her winery Tres Sabores and what the name means. She replied, “I was looking for a way to make the unique ‘one terroir-three winemakers’ project come alive and at the same time portray the passion I feel for the land and for the essence of the wines made from it. The name Tres Sabores was adapted from a beautiful song called ‘Sabor a Mi.’ The name Tres Sabores means three flavors and was a perfect way to pull it all together. I wanted to celebrate the three savory tastes in every glass of wine; those of the vine, that of the terroir and the spirit of the good company gathered around the table together.”
My favorite wines from Tres Sabores are the Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah. I also love Johnson’s pomegranate balsamic vinegar. For certain, all three will be in my collection for years to come. Johnson’s tasting room includes a collection of plates and artwork as special as her winery. Tres Sabores welcomes visitors seven days a week by appointment only because Johnson wants each visit to be personal. Tres Sabores ships wines direct to most states and has a great wine club called SABOR. For more information, visit tressabores.com or call 707.967.8027.
Our next adventure was with Nichelini Family Winery. Our host, Doug Patterson, is a fourth generation Nichelini on his mother’s side. He was happy to share his family history. He explained that Nichelini is the oldest family-owned winery in the Napa Valley. It was established in 1890 by the Italian-Swiss winemaker Anton Nichelini and is one of the longest continuous winemaking families in the United States. The winery is tucked away on the sage-scented slopes of the Chiles Valley. A visit to the Nichelini Winery offers a discovery of unique, top-quality wines along with a vision of Napa Valley as it used to be, serene, rustic and independent.
Upon arrival, visitors enjoy a gallery of photographs depicting Napa winemaking circa 1900. The nearby vineyards vary in age from two decades to nearly seven decades. On the grounds is a beautiful seven-bedroom family home built in 1895. Family photos adorn the walls, and the house is appointed with lovely antiques and one-of-a-kind furniture. Its main floor now serves as a tasting room, and right outside are picnic tables and a bocce court. Words fail to describe the charm of the home, the incredible tasting experience and the appeal of its rustic caves and crusher. This magical winery sits in the middle of a lush green meadow in an abundant woodsy area, which even has a river running through it.
Nichelini prides itself in making small batches of great wine. In its long 125-year history, there have been only seven Nichelini family winemakers, including five men and two women. The current winemaker, Aimée Sunseri, has overseen both the grape growing and the winemaking process from bud break to the bottle. She received her education at the University of California Davis in viticulture and enology and is the first fifth generation winemaker, female or male, in Napa Valley. During our visit, my friend Tony looked at me and remarked, “This place is awesome and I like every single wine I have tasted.” Very rarely does that happen on tasting tours and Tony ended up buying all of them. When you see Nichelini winery for yourself, you will be amazed at the beautiful surroundings, the outstanding wines and the affordable cost. For more information, visit nicheliniwinery.com or call 707.963.0717.