In Napa Valley, many wineries line Highway 29 offering public tastings of their latest releases. But some in the know find the best tastings to be at smaller, boutique wineries where you need an appointment to visit.
One new kid on the block is definitely off the beaten track.
Cade Winery is the latest production from the PlumpJack Group, whose partners include San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and billionaire Gordon Getty. It recently opened its 21-acre vineyard and winery (built from the ground up) to the public via appointments. I made an appointment last week, visiting on Cade’s official first day.
The winery is atop Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain appellation east of St. Helena. The drive up there is breathtaking with sights of towering trees along the road and sweeping views of the valley below.
The winery sits on a hillside overlooking the 21 acres of planted grapes, mostly cabernet. The building’s design is modern and minimalist. Designer Juan Carlos Fernandez made it a point that the shape and colors blended in with the winery’s natural surroundings.
With tastings by appointments, the group is more intimate. During my appointment, there were only two other guys who joined me for the tour and tasting. We were greeted by DJ Nielsen, who’s in charge of hospitality at Cade, and we began with a tour of the winery building.
Along with the minimal design, the new Cade winery and vineyard are green, meaning it was developed to be environmentally friendly. Cade is currently seeking approval for LEED certification, which stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.” Apparently, there are different levels of certification and Cade is hoping for “gold.” Nielsen says the winery can’t be considered for the higher “platinum” certification because the facility is not open to public transportation.
Still, Cade goes a long way to be a good friend of the environment. It's powered by solar panels on the roof and was built using a variety of recycled components. The building is surrounded by native wildflowers and Manzanita trees, which is also the inspiration for the Cade logo.
We saw workers finishing up the bottling process of Cade’s sauvignon blanc, and toured the man-made cave used to store the barrels of wine. The cave, which ironically wasn’t underground, included a huge table made of scrap metal from furnace tops.
The tour was pretty straightforward, so let’s focus more on the fun part — the tasting.
We walked over to a smaller building nearby known as the lounge. There you’re greeted by a water fountain and a spectacular view of the valley. There’s also a contemporary space where Cade plans to start offering food and wine tastings twice a day. Since I was there on its first day, we only had the wine tasting.
There were plush chairs and sofas setup facing the view, and that’s where we did the tasting, starting with the 2007 Cade Sauvignon Blanc ($26 per bottle). The wine was more full bodied than most sauvignon blanc I’ve tried, with a slight melon finish. Cade’s goal is to use organic grapes to make their wine.
I found most of the wine to be very drinkable, even when so young, because the lead winemaker, Anthony Biagi, does the trick of blending the varietal with other grapes to round out the tastes. For example, the Sauvignon Blanc was finished with semillion grapes.
The two reds we tried were the 2006 Cade Napa Cuvée ($60) and the 2005 Cade Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($64). Both were also very drinkable and smooth, with the Howell Mountain Cab a bit more earthy than the Cuvée, which is primarily cabernet grapes but with a few others mixed in for good measure.
I was there for an hour an a half just tasting the wine and talking food with the two other guests and Nielsen, who used to run a cooking school in Napa Valley and whose husband is in charge of the food program at Cade. It didn’t hurt that it was a beautiful spring day, making the view beyond the water fountain even more spectacular and soothing.
Some of you might wonder if wine tastings by appointment means more pressure to buy a case of wine to go. I had the same feelings, but others I talked to say you shouldn’t feel pressured to buy the wine if you’re not into it. I actually enjoyed all the wine, and left with a bottle of the Howell Mountain Cabernet. The two other guys bought a bottle of each wine we tried. (Some Cade wine is available at the PlumpJack winery and store, but the vintages we tried were sold only at the winery.)
There is a $10 fee for the wine tastings, and if you’re interested in the food-and-wine pairings, those will be available at $30 by appointment.
It’s nice to visit a winery that strives to be environmentally responsible, and you can’t beat the combination of good wine and view.
Cade Winery, 360 Howell Mountain Road, Napa Valley. (By appointment only.) PH: 707.965.2746. www.cadewinery.com
Thursday, April 09, 2009