Dallas Uncorked Visits Napa and Sonoma – Part 2

Having a toast at Gundlach Bundschu

 We start day two the best way I know to start any day of wine…with bubbles.  Mumm Napa is one of my favorite sparkling wine houses anywhere, not just in Napa.  From their crisp Blanc de Blanc, to their berry filled Rose to their elegant DVX, Mumm Napa makes approachable, lush bubbles for a great price point.  

We started with a verticle tasting of their  DVX from 1999, 2001 and 2002.  All Mumm Napa bubblys are made in the traditional Methode Champanoise style, with the second fermentation occuring in the bottle, making all those tiny bubbles we love.   They also only use the classic grapes for Champagne – Pinot Noir, Pinot Muenier and Chardonnay. 

Their DVX is their premium bubbly and though the blend on all three years of the verticle were the same, the barrel aging was slightly different.  The 1999 was aged the shortest lenght of time in oak, the 2001 aged the longest.  Though the 1999 was an older wine, the 2001 was much richer and creamier than the other two.  The 1999 was the lightest with crispness and good acidity. 

We also tasted a magnum of their Rose verses just a regular bottle.  Though both were made the same year both the color and flavor of the magnum was completely different than the regular 750ml bottle.  The magnum was much lighter both in color and flavor with more nutty, toasty notes than the fruitier, berry filled bottle. 

After Mumm we head off our normal path to Kuleto Estate.  Set in the hills above the Silverado Trail near Lake Hennessey the drive up to the winery was stunning.  You are immediately transformed into another world of Spanish moss covered trees spread over land that had previously been a cattle ranch, and that most would say wasn’t suitable for vineyards. 

Owner Pat Kuleto, of San Francisco’s Fog City Grill, Jardinere, Boulevard and Napa’s Martini House fame, saw through the issues and dared to create a Tuscan style escape for himself on the 761 acres of land. 

Today about 90 acres are planted with vines in small terraced blocks,  for which he makes his Kuleto wine with 100% estate fruit. 

Originally he wanted to grow just Sangiovese, the Chianti grape, as he grew up with heritage and love of Italian wine, but knew he could do so much more with the land.  Today the estate grows spicy Syrah, fruity Zinfandel, crisp Chardonnay and distinct Cabernet Sauvignon.   

His Rosato is a perfect patio wine.  A Rose blending predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon with Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Syrah creating a lively wine filled with vanilla, wild flowers and big cherry aromas.  Kuleto’s Syrah is a perfect example of why I love Syrah, with lots of smokey, meaty aromas followed by blackberry, blueberry and herbs.   Several Cabernets are being produced at the winery, but our favorite was the 2006 Frog Prince.  As noted, I am a huge fan of 2006 Napa Cab as they have an extra layer of earthiness with good tannic structure.  The Frog Prince was filled with layers of licorice, cherry and forest floor aromas.  A balanced, elegant wine with lingering leather, cherry and chocolate flavors.   

It is hard to put into words how much we enjoyed our time at Kuleto.  You do feel like you have stepped into another world.  Driving up to the winery removes you from the hustle  sometimes fealt when wine tasting in Napa.  We enjoyed this leisurely tasting seated in over-stuffed leather chairs and couches with a satisfying cheese plate and one of the most adorable tasting room attendants we have met in all of our wine country travels.  Sometimes that single element makes a trip special, and it seems to work for Kuleto as about 80% of all of their wine sales come from their tasting room.  

Add in their precious pup Pilot, a perfect winery dog that took a special liking to Gary, and we found a beautiful new favorite on our wine trail and one we can’t wait to visit again.

After Kuleto we continue with our slower pace and head over to Sonoma.  Sonoma has always seemed a little more laid back than Napa to me.  This could be the way we lay out our visits, as there are often so many places we want to go when we are in Napa, and for us one of the highlights of a stay in Sonoma is to relax at the picturesque Kenwood Inn and Spa while visiting some of the areas wonderful wineries.  Sonoma is definately a wine area I love as there are many great wineries in the region that focus on my favorite varietal, Pinot Noir.  Russian River and Santa Lucia Highlands, both sub-appelations in Sonoma grow incredible Pinot Noir grapes. 

Our stay in Sonoma begins with a tasting at Gundlach Bundschu, said to be the oldest winery in the region and still family owned, now on their 6th generation with President Jeff Bundschu at the helm.  We had been dealing with several days of rainy weather.  When we got over to Sonoma and began our tour of the Gundlach Bundschu property the sun came out shining on the beauty of this historic winery which dates back to 1858.  Some of our favorites from the tasting were their bright, vibrant Chardonnay; fruit forward, leathery Cabernet and their spicy, jammy Zinfandel. 

After Gundlach we checked into the stunning Kenwood Inn and Spa

Gary and I have stayed here before, it is one of our favorite places of all the places we have stayed in our travel adventures. 

An ubber romantic setting filled with hidden alcoves set throughout the property, ready to put couples in the mood for love.  Fireplaces are featured in every room without a television set in sight.  Gary’s favorite aspect  is in their beautiful front sitting room where they have a selection of sherry and port available to serve yourself throughout your stay…just come down and enjoy. 

After a short rest we venture out to dinner with Mac and Lil McDonald of Vision Cellars.  Mac is a dear friend and an amazing wine maker creating fantastic Pinot Noirs from some of the best grapes in the region.  Over a rustic dinner in their home we enjoyed a lavish tasting, including their award winning Gary’s Vineyard 2008 Pinot Noir served side by side with a 2002 Gary’s Vineyard Pinot, allowing us to see how grapes from one year can differ from another, and how a little bit of aging on one wine verses another will completely changing the flavor profile of the wine.  My favorite of the night was the Gary’s Vineyard, but the truly special wine of the night was Mac’s 2007 Cole Ranch Pinot Noir. Only 110 cases of this ruby red wine were made, filled with lush red cherry and raspberry fruit flavors with a hint of spice.   

Lil, Gary, Mac and Me

After a restful nights sleep we have a leisurley morning at the Inn over a breakfast of brioche French toast and spinach frittatas accompanied by sweet, seasonal persimmons. Yum! 

After which we head over to Hanzell Vineyards for our last tasting of the trip.  Hanzell sits in the heart of Sonoma and was founded by former US Ambassador to Italy, James Zellerbach, in 1948.  He planted his first vines in 1953, vines that are still in use today.  Hanzell only makes Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and over the many years has only had 3 winemakers, with Bob Sessions at the helm for the 28 years, until his retirement in 2001.  We were guided on a tour of the lavish property by Bob’s son, Ben Sessions, the Estate Educator. 

One of the most impressive elements of the tour was their bottle room where bottles of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from every Hanzell vintage are stored.  To me, the real star at Hanzell is their Chardonnay and Reserve Chardonnay.  The Hanzell Chardonnay is lively and bright with lots of green apple, pear and tropical fruit flavors.  Elegant and expressive, an excellent representation of the land.  The Estate is a bit richer, with dried stone fruit flavors of apricot and peach with hints of cream and vanilla.  A perfect way to end a stunning trip to California wine country. 

In reflecting back on this trip some of the elements that made it the most special was that we had real, personal experiences with the wineries we love, and wine makers we love.  Though we adore many of the great restaurants in Napa and Sonoma, we got to be comfortable and relax in our friends homes, over great wine, converstation and food.  We were introduced to new favorites for us, like the experience we had at Kuleto and Ancien, and Gary and I had the opportunity to intorduce our friends to a few new places, like Vision Cellars and Miner.  Add a wonderful stay at The Kenwood Inn and Spa and it was indeed a weekend we look forward to recreating again.  Cheers!

For more pictures from the trip visit Dallas Uncorked’s website here.

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