Every day I stand outside of a little winery on the corner that says "Vermeil Wines / OnTheEdge" with a little logo of a football. This is because it is owned by Dick Vermeil, famed NFL coach and winner of Super Bowl XXXIV (and native Calistogan).
Last time I popped into this establishment was a few years ago, when it was filled with beeswax candles and a beehive you could peek into from a hole in the back wall. Now the look is completely different, with austere lighting and a sleek "Vermeil Hall of Fame" collection of photos and memorabilia adorning the walls.
Since I had an hour to kill after work before the bus arrived, I decided to finally stop in and sample the wares, of which there is quite a variety. There is a chalkboard sign outside mentioning the variety of reds, whites, sweet, dry, etc. wines. Perhaps their signature -- and a varietal you don't always find everywhere -- is Charbono, so I decided to try that along with some Zinfandel; there are far too many wines to try them all, especially considering all of the different vintages they have open for some of the varietals -- such as charbono and zin. They don't have free tastings for Napa Neighbors, and the $10 tasting fee lets you choose 4 wines to try. I figured I would give those varietals a go for some side-by-side vertical comparisons, and come back another time to try others.
I was informed by MarySue Frediani (who seems to be the main manager of the tasting room -- I always see her in there) that Trent Green was a business partner for the winery, and that he happened to be in town visiting and would be swinging by at some point. I figured I wasn't going to wait around for that but my leisurely tasting went on for a little longer than I had expected (somehow this tends to happen) and I saw my bus pull up when I still hadn't quite finished or paid, and wanted to take some photos. So I figured I'd just stick around for a while longer and wait for the next bus (they come every hour on the hour). Meanwhile, I went to the memorabilia wall to read about the history and family tree of the Vermeils and Fredianis, which is followed by photos from Dick Vermeil's past such as his coaching at Napa Valley College, Stanford, UCLA, Philadelphia Eagles and, of course, the St. Louis Rams. While I was looking around, the door opened and a crew of 5 or 6 people rolled in... sure enough, it was Trent Green and company, greeted by the server and MarySue and starting to talk about this and that, leaving me pretty much ignored in the corner (which is fine by me. I would expect nothing less...)
On to the wines: the reds here, while definitely different from year to year, each have a certain quality I'm not sure I'm a fan of. I've noticed that wineries often tend to have an overarching style to their wines, regardless of varietal, that I can only presume reflects the personal techniques and preferences of the winemaker. In this case, the wines reflect a style that I have encountered elsewhere -- lighter-bodied, but somewhat acidic, reminiscent of cranberry juice. This is not to say they are bad -- they don't actually taste like cranberries nor like plain fruit juice. I'm sure some people love this style (because, like I said, I've encountered it elsewhere), but I prefer wines to be not quite as tart and a little more "round" or smooth in the mouthfeel... but without biting tannins, so I'm sure it's not an easy feat to pull off. I'm also sure the charbono grape, itself, is a little bit to blame -- being a slightly lighter red, with a little bit of citrus/orange note to it. However, even the zinfandel here tastes far less lush and jammy than most zins I have tried.
Still, I will have to come back and try some more of their wines. I only had a small sampling of them, and sometimes these winemakers who opt for more acidity make some very nice whites, so I'm especially curious to try sauvignon blanc, though I'd also like to try the syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc.
Tip to anybody out there: if you do like the charbono, opt for "Nonna's Secret" which is blended with charbono and tastes almost the same, but for a much nicer pricetag).