Wine & Travel

Snooth User: Nicki Gig

My First Napa Valley Trip

Posted by Nicki Gig, Jan 20, 2010.

My fiance and I developed a passion towards wine a couple years ago and just this past October we visited Napa Valley for the first time! We had a few fascinating history lessons that I’d like to share with you. And feel free to view all the wines I tasted throughout the trip as well - There were many: too many to share in this posting! In 3 days we visited 10 incredible wineries including Louis Martini, Heitz Cellars, Franciscan, Mount Veeder, Stags’ Leap Winery, Domaine Carneros, Cakebread, August Briggs, Etude, and what better way to start off the trip than with Opus One.

Day 1: 10/21/09: Opus One

The land of the present winery was purchased in the early 1980’s but started at Mondavi in 1979. As most of you know, Opus One is split equally by Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild. Back in 1970, the two men talked for over an hour. Baron Philippe had desired to work in Napa and knew there was no better way to do it than with Robert Mondavi. And after their lengthy conversation, they realized how much they both had in common. 8 years later, the two men met again and combined both of their worlds to meet their goal of developing a world class wine. The name, Opus One was originated in 1982. The word “opus” is a musical term for greatness and therefore the work of a great artist, an exceptional composer…and as we all know, it is a masterful artistry to create an elegant wine. They added “one” later to further define their synergy. It was important to reflect both the old and the new world in their wine - the tradition and preservation of quality of the old and the technological advances with the new.

It was incredible to be able to go behind the scenes and see the meticulous, passionate labor that goes into making this one wine. Their harvest had just finished that Tuesday the 20th bringing in over 400 tons. The vineyards wrap around the entire circular structure as they do in France. Yields are low with a very high number of vines for stress (to further bring out those complex, concentrated flavors) and development of small berries. The vines are planted 4 x 4 ½ feet which is very close. All 24 full-time workers are constantly in the vineyard pruning, picking, and providing the care needed for perfection year after year.

The entire facility was stunning…inside and out. We had the pleasure of drinking the wine in the barrel rooms and this of course made it taste so much better. It was a remarkable way to start our trip.

Day #1: 10/21/09: Louis Martini

Louis Martini was another fascinating experience! Originally from Italy, Louis Martini’s father came over to the United States to make money for his family. He became a seafood merchant. At 11 years old, Louis developed a trading system with friends. On one occasion a friend left grapes and Louis decided to try and make wine from these grapes. He loved doing this, much more so than working with fish. He was a budding winemaker in his teens and then in 1906 the earthquake hit that caused massive devastation on his family. His family had no choice but to return to Italy. However, Louis Martini continued to pursue his dream of becoming a winemaker and in 1918 was able to move back to California. Then in 1920, prohibition struck! Louis built a Grape Products Company and had a Doctor on site for his “forbidden fruit.” Each parcel had “do not” instructions attached. These “do not” instructions were in fact the instructions to make wine at home. He rode out the prohibition times and then when the act was repealed founded his winery in 1933. He had his twists and turns of an upbringing but he reached his dream and the wines were incredible; particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery is now run by Michael Martini (third generation).

Another gorgeous facility; feel free to check out my pics below. The grapes had just been picked and were in the crushing process. We had the opportunity to taste directly out of the tank from “Lot 1” - their very best cabernet sauvignon fruit! We also tasted more wines in the original wine cellar surrounded by the original casks from the 1940’s. It was amazing to be so close to history!

Day 2: 10/22/09: Mount Veeder

No actual history lesson here; I simply must express how unbelievably gorgeous this mountain is. The views of Napa Valley stretched for miles and to be amidst the vines of the five Bordeaux varietals was beautiful. The smells were intoxicating. I must also note that since I live in NYC; being this close to nature is a rare, spectacular treat!

We tasted merlot, malbec, and petit verdot, straight off the vines. It was hard for me to tell the flavor differences at that point; all were sweet and juicy! We had the pleasure of tasting two Mount Veeder wines on the mountain making the wine taste only that much better. If you ever have the chance to experience this tour and hike; it is a must.

Day 2: 10/22/09: Stags’ Leap Winery

This is one of the most charming places I’ve ever seen. Tucked away in its cozy little spot from the Silverado Trail, the journey to get there was priceless. We stayed at one of their cottages for the night, picked our own vegetables and fruit for breakfast, took in the intoxicating smells of fermenting grapes, and the endless vineyards before us. And the history behind this place is definitely worth sharing. Have you noticed yet that I am a History buff ☺

In 1880, grapes were planted and flourished up and down the Silverado Trail. Horace Chase was the founder of the property (originally from Chicago) and he fell in love with Mary Misener. Her father was the local State Senator and she had 5 powerfully wealthy brothers. They were married in 1888 and made the place. In the large ornate dining room where we tasted the wine, there is the original Chase Family Crest on he stain glass window. This crest was to protect them from mis-fortune. Well, they gave into mis-fortune in the early 1900’s. Horace lost all of his money; everything, and in turn had to shut down the place in 1907. The property was purchased by it’s 2nd owners in 1913: Clarence and Francis Grange. From the Chicago Grange Farming Equipment Company, the Granges were high class, high socialites in the San Francisco area. They built tennis courts, a swimming pool (which we explored while visiting), small cottages for friends, had a stable for horses, and threw multiple amazing parties. The family unfortunately gave into mis-fortune when one of the horses struck Clarence in the head and he became an invalid. Their entire property was left to Francis and no money was coming into the place as Clarence deteriorated rapidly. Francis, a strong, independent woman decided to turn the property into a bed and breakfast and moving forward charged her guests to stay there. From 1915-1954, it was the Stags Leap Manor House Resort. It was extravagant! Every weekend was filled with people partying, dancing to the band under the stars etc.

However, when prohibition hit, this killed tourism. Francis had to do what was necessary to survive. She ended up working with Tony Strala, the largest bootlegging operator during the Prohibition. He rented the Stags Leap Manor rooms to the “working ladies.” Francis also turned the basement into a speak easy. In 1927, the Federal Government needed a place for a Post Office in Napa. This operated right in front of the speak easy and therefore, they rented her space from 1927-1944. The speak easy is still there today for visitors to hang out in!
As times went on, the place slowly fell apart. It did become a place for R&R during WWI. And during the 1950’s and 1960’s, hippies squatted. Meanwhile, grapes grew the entire time but nothing was done with them.
The third owner, Carl Dumaney bought the land in early 1970’s. He gave into mis-fortune immediately. The resort and even a restaurant wasn’t working anymore. So he decided to put all those grapes to use and make wine. He re-cultivated everything and started selling Petite Syrah in 1972. And then there was the battle of Stags Leap Winery vs. Stags Leap Wine Cellars. Warren Winiarski, the founder and owner of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, took the Stags Leap name in 1968 with no conflict b/c the Manor had not made wine in over 50 years. However, Carl felt he deserved the name. They sued each other; there was a 13 year battle, and they remained close friends the entire time. In 1976, was the famous blind tasting in Paris where Warren’s Cabernet Sauvignon was the winner. This put Napa on the map and now had everyone confused. There was finally a resolution in 1985 - Wine Cellars for Warren and Winery for Carl and the apostrophe is the main deciphering factor. Stags’ Leap (with the leaping stag on the bottle) vs. Stag’s Leap (with a standing stag staring ahead on the bottle). And the funny thing is that everything between the two men was resolved during a fishing trip. The Stags Leap District (no apostrophe) is where both reside.

The Remaining Trip Highlights:

Throughout our Napa Valley trip we also experienced a wine and cheese tasting at sunset on the deck of Domaine Carneros. There are no words to describe this beauty only my pictures shown below. And I will always have cheese with champagne now; a delicious combination!

We also journeyed to Cakebread, August Briggs, and Etude. We had a meeting with Jack Cakebread - what a character, a wonderful man! We very much enjoyed talking to him. He bought the property when he was 43; placed a $2,500 down payment on the place. He had a very colored life. He was in the air force, owned and operated a large mechanical auto shop, was a photographer for the NFL (learned photography from Amsel Adams), and after all this, then, got into wine! His neighbor was Francis Ford Coppola. Jack noticed how much money he was making in the wine business and so thought he should give it a try as well. And it was as simple as that. He talked very little about wine. He simply enjoyed our company, our enthusiasm etc..

August Briggs and Etude are highly recommended to visit as well. August Briggs is very charming, a small place that deserves more attention than it receives. With it being so small, we received undivided special attention and received the opportunity to taste their Zinfandel aging in the barrel.

And Etude is right between Napa and Sonoma with elegant wines, some of my favorite were experienced at Etude, especially their Pinot Noir. The amount of complexity and concentration of varying flavors with each taste was a treat!

All around an amazing first visit and I look forward to more to come!


Reply by amour, Jan 20, 2010.


Reply by amour, Jan 20, 2010.

DID JACK CAKEBREAD tell you the origins of his name ...CAKEBREAD.

That is interesting.....will tell you later !!

Thank you again.....I LOVE CAKEBREAD WINERY and also Director Coppola's wines !!

Reply by Nicki Gig, Jan 20, 2010.

Glad you enjoyed! No, I am unaware of the origin of Jack Cakebread's name? Do you know?

Reply by Ryan Spear, Jan 20, 2010.

Great account of the trip and the history, I forgot about a lot of that. Nice piece

Reply by amour, Jan 20, 2010.

CAKEBREAD derives from the NORSE word "Kaka"
which means cake and the ENGLISH...."Brede"...
the name is associated in ancient ENGLAND with bakers of dainty cakes which were
made from a fine sweet flour called CAKEBREAD.

His forefathers were from England and the story goes.

Reply by amour, Jan 20, 2010.

Since the 2001 vintage of OPUS, winemaker
Michael Silacci has made all of the wines.

I am attending an interesting seminar on
the evolution of the grape-growing and wine-making philosophy
and techniques at OPUS ONE.
The tasting will feature:
OPUS ONE 1988, 1993, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006..........This is something to look forward to.
I do know that some OPUS ONE vintages did not exactly live up to tthe reputation!


Reply by dmcker, Jan 20, 2010.

For some reason your pictures are not showing...

Reply by amour, Jan 20, 2010.


So disappointed !


Reply by Philip James, Jan 20, 2010.

Yeah, the photos are messed up. Not sure why its stickied either, am going to remove that, but GDP may over rule me ;)

Reply by Chris Carpita, Jan 20, 2010.

Uh, you might want to go with Flickr next time. I think it has to do with making repeat requests to the snapfish server, which has to work to render each image, so it just throws a 302 redirect to another image. Maybe there was another link for an image suitable for sharing?

Reply by Nicki Gig, Jan 21, 2010.

So odd b/c I see all the pictures. I will look into this further. Sorry all!

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