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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

The Jewel of Carneros

Thursday, July 25, 2013
If you love the fine art of champagne, here’s an excuse to visit the “Champagne region” of Napa. Glistening like a temple with architecture that captures Mediterranean themes, including water flowing throughout channels, fountains interplaying with light and shade, and both rounded and angular architectural details, Artesa reflects the Spanish heritage upon which it was founded (despite wines that represent Champagne rather than Cava varietals). Set high into a hilltop with panoramic views of Napa Valley, San Francisco Bay and its 350 acre estate vineyards, it’s clear to see why Artesa is called the Jewel of Carneros. Carneros is the American Viticultural Area which includes parts of both Sonoma and Napa counties. Located just north of San Pablo Bay, the proximity to the cool fog and breeze from the bay provide a more cool, moderate climate than the wine regions further north in Napa and Sonoma, making this region perfect for the finicky chardonnay and pinot noir grapes which prefer cooler temperatures - and also happen to be the primary varietals used to make Champagne.

I was hosting a my LA-based artist friend, Simone, for the weekend, and given Artesa’s focus on art and natural beauty plus its ideal proximity to SF, it seemed fitting to begin our tasting adventure here.  Arriving early at the winery for a change, we couldn’t resist snapping a photo (or 100) on the property, where you can’t walk more than ten feet without encountering a sweeping view of the valley, gorgeous artistic fountains, or custom art jutting out from the lawn.  Though the winery commands veneration, it’s also beautifully designed to blend in with the natural beauty of the Carneros hills. As we approached the dramatic entrance to the winery, we were greeted by a customized welcome message, a chilled bucket of Artesa’s sparkling wine before meeting our delightful host Anne.  After toasting the beautiful day with Artesa’s Codorniu Napa Grand Reserve sparkling wine (sold only at the winery), Anne regaled us with the history of Artesa, which was purchased by the Raventos family of Spain in 1988, whose winemaking history dates to the mid-sixteenth century.  The winery’s name comes from the Catalan word for "handcrafted”, which is imparted on Artesa’s focus on producing small, ultra-premium lots of the varietals for which the Carneros and the Napa Valley are best known - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Raventos were cava producers in Barcelona, but made two wise business decisions when they purchased the property, the first being they decided to plant champagne varietals (pinot and chardonnay) instead of lesser known cava varietals, macabeu, parellada and xarello.  Secondly, when they purchased the property, sparkling wine was still used mainly for special occasions and not as frequently imbibed with meals as it is today, so they decided to quickly transition into still wines.
Artesa’s wines are crafted by the talented award-winning winemaker, Mark Beringer, a fifth generation winemaker from Napa Valley, well known for his previous role as VP of production for the Duckhorn Winery team, (he’s also the great, great grandson of Beringer winery co-founder, Jacob Beringer).  Mark focuses on creating ultra-premium, elegant, artisanal, Burgundian style wines from small lots with a “style by appellation” philosophy.  There are 9 clones of Pinot Noir alone on the Estate Winery Artesa Winery which are aged in 99.9% French Oak and carefully blended to create the perfectly balanced wine. Mark also has a talent for coaxing beautifully elegant floral notes out of his white wines, especially the Sauvignon Blanc and the Albarino, making them extremely aromatic and beautiful to pair with summer dishes.
While the wines are simply a delight for the palate and beautiful to pair with a range of food, Artesa Winery is as much a marvel of architecture as it is a destination for tasting wonderful handcrafted wine. The winery was designed by the renowned architect Domingo Triay, also from Barcelona, and built in the early 1990's.  The young architect Triay spend months surveying the land, and concepted the avant-garde structure to blend in unobtrusively with the surrounding landscape.  The finished structure is the perfect embodiment of the harmony between man and natural, similar to the beautiful art of winemaking. The winery is set into the highest hill of its 350-acre estate, and naturally insulated.  It also follows many green practices such as the use of bats, owls and sheep on the vineyards to maintain the perfect natural ecosystem.  We could have spend hours in the spectacular visitor’s center which boasts a gallery-like interior brimming with fantastic works by the resident artist, Gordon Huether who became Artesa’s resident artist in 1997. Modern and sophisticated with soaring columns, wide glass expanses and contemporary furniture groupings, you can enjoy your tasting here while simultaneously enjoying original works of sculpture, painting and mixed-media that are exhibited throughout the building. Huether creates works in a variety of media including glass, metal and canvas, introducing new work at the winery periodically so that the exhibit is always fresh- the perfect excuse for repeat visits!  Like no other winery, Artesa captures the dramatic beauty of this world-famous appellation as where the fusion of architecture, artistry and winegrowing reaches its summit. Whether you’re in search of an art odyssey, a mesmerizing venue for an event, or a producer of great chardonnay and Pinot, Artesa is an ideal destination.

My Tasting Notes below:

Codorniu Napa Grand Reserve $42.00
A finely knit blending of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir opening with gorgeous layers of stone fruit, citrus and green apple with a hint of minerality. The crisp acidity of the Grand reserve is complimented by creamy vanilla and tantalizing citrus, displaying and excellent mousse and a rich, lingering finish. Balanced fruit, viscosity and acidity make the Grand Reserve an excellent choice for food pairing.

2011 Classic Chardonnay $20.00 - 20% barrel fermentation, 80% steel aging
This wine is all about aromatics with signature Carneros aromas of lemon-citrus and white blossom while accentuating the minerality and vivid, fresh fruit flavors of citrus and stone fruits in the wine. Partial barrel fermentation, malolactic and lees stirring create layers affect, imparting hints of cedar and honey and wrapping the flavors in a rich, generously-textured mouthfeel.

2010 Estate Reserve Chardonnay $35 - 60% malolactic fermentation, 60:40 estate grown vs. Other vineyards
The Estate Reserve Chardonnay is created from the best vineyard blocks using vinification techniques to make “component” wines – wines that bring specific characteristics to the finished, blended wine.  These techniques bring richness and viscosity to the wine without covering up the delicate citrus, apricot and floral aromas and the distinct minerality which is at its core.

2010 Classic Pinot Noir - $25
On the nose, this wine offers beautiful bright red fruit and a hint of floral aromas. On the palate, there are undertones of bright raspberry and cherry. The natural acidity gives vibrancy and it is an excellent partner to many foods.

2010 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir-  $40
In 2010, a cool growing year by any standard , the combination of grapes from several blocks brought great complexity to the wine, with dark cherry, raspberry and strawberry flavors and a silky texture that is at once intense and elegant. A careful measure of new French oak added hints of spice – vanilla, cedar, cinnamon – for added dimension and complexity. An expressive, elegant Pinot Noir with phenomenal natural acidity.

2009 Atlas Peak Cabernet - $70
This is a stunning Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon showcasing fruit from some of the finest vineyards in the valley. The aromas are of dark fruit, blackberry, black currants and best of all chocolate covered cherries. There is big explosive fruit on the palate and additional layers of chocolate and spice with a hint of coffee and a light touch of sage, the tannins are full and well integrated and extend to a soft, elegant finish.


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