When I visited Yountville last week -- the first time I really decided to walk around and see what there is to see there -- I didn't get far, after being waylaid by the Girard Winery tasting room at Washington Square.
I decided today would be the day I hop off the bus in Yountville again, but this time further down in the heart of town. I got off at the bus stop right by Bouchon Bakery and the V Marketplace, neither of which I have been to (although I had dinner at the Bouchon Bistro once, and the one word I would use to describe that place is: "overrated"). The first thing I saw was "hope & grace wines" across the street. I had passed by this tasting room before and it always looked interesting, but a little intimidating being right there in the heart of the most touristy part of Napa Valley. Today I decided to just give it a try (and didn't really care what the tasting fee was going to be, either, but hoped for something less than $20)
The tasting room is small and decorated in an interesting, eclectic mix of old-world antiquity combined with whimsical modern art: a large abstract oil painting adorns one wall (and also adorns the wine labels), simultaneously eerie and serene; a gargoyle sits on the counter, while an oil painting of a girl throwing a tantrum adorns the wall behind. I was promptly greeted and I explained that I'm a local who finally decided to stop in and give it a try, and they started me on the tasting flight (which, if I recall, is normally $15).
The tasting started with a chardonnay (local Yountville grapes), then progressed to pinot noir (made from Santa Lucia highlands grapes, from the Monterey area a few hours south), an Oakville Malbec, and finally a St. Helena cabernet sauvignon. I was really wary of coming in here, thinking the wines would be overpriced and poor quality -- I guess I just sort of assumed you wouldn't have to be good quality to sell wines in this heart of hearts of tourism in the valley.
While the wines weren't cheap, they also didn't seem overpriced and, better yet, they were very good! The craftsmanship was definitely there -- every varietal was very well-balanced and drinkable, with my favorites strongly being the Santa Lucia pinot and the malbec (a variety which is a little harder to find around here). The pinot had classic pinot flavors, more in the fruit-and-spice vein than the earth-and-mineral type... but what I loved is that it was light-bodied and smooth; many of these cherry-and-clove flavored pinots tend to have a strange cloying acidity or tartness to them, and this one was far more mellow. I can actually say it's one of the best pinot noirs I've had, so considering that, I didn't find the pricetag ($46) completely unreasonable. The malbec was a bit more pricey at $64, and made me hesitant, but it was extremely unique -- rich, fruity, and full-bodied, but with smooth tannins and an intriguing, yeasty aroma that really reminded me of bubble gum.
The person pouring these wines was Charles Hendricks, the winemaker himself, and he took the time to chat a bit with the customers, which was nice. He also poured me his Stag's Leap cabernet, which I have to say was a huge step up from the $56 cab on the tasting menu; the Stag's Leap cab had just the right level of complexity and smoothness and subtlety -- and the pricetag reflected it, at $75/bottle) I was debating on getting the pinot or the malbec, and so asked for a second taste of the pinot, at which point he revealed that he also makes a pinot from Russian River grapes. I gave that a try, but to be honest I almost always am underwhelmed by Russian River wines (pinot and zinfandel being their claims to fame, but I just can't see why) and this was no exception. I decided to go a little crazy and get both the pinot and the malbec, and when he rang me up, the total came to $80. It was going to be $110 plus tax! Wow, a $30+ discount? I wasn't expecting that! Not sure if it was for being a local, or if he took pity on me for being a teacher, or if he liked my conversations with him about Italy (which he was fond to talk about) or what, but... first he has great winemaking, and now a nice discount to boot? Charles Hendricks, you rock!