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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

Chimney Rock Winery - A Beacon for Cab Lovers along the Silverado Trail

Sunday, March 22, 2015
The Experience: You can’t (and shouldn’t) miss Chimney Rock Winery off of the Silverado Trail. The grand white Dutch Colonial architecture is striking against the dramatic Stags Leap mountains.  And this winery doesn’t just have a pretty façade – it is a producer of world class Cabernet Sauvignons, consistently earning top scores with a savvy female winemaker at the helm.  With such acclaim often comes a certain stuffiness at Napa wineries, but the energy in the tasting room and on the tour of the winery is warm, welcoming, and “upscale-casual”. What you’d experience at a local country club, especially as you relax and ensconce yourself in the manicured inner courtyard, surrounded by flowers, a trickling fountain, whitewashed colonial walls stretching towards the sun, and a nearby cozy fireplace beckoning in the tasting room.  Come here for a fun group outing or for a romantic tasting, but prepare to linger and enjoy the beautiful environment.  This winery is great for Cabernet and Bordeaux Blend lovers who like doing vertical tastings. You can taste at least 4 verticals of the Chimney Rock Cabernet which showcases each vintages unique characteristics as well as the effect of age on these beautiful wines.
The Team: Chimney Rock Winery Estate was founded in 1980 by Stella (the daughter of a South African Diamond Family) and her husband Hack Wilson, (former Pepsi CEO). They purchased the 180 acre parcel of land and decided to plant grapes and build a winery on the site that was formerly a golf course in the 60’s and 70’s.  In 2000, the Terlato family joined in partnership with the Wilsons, adding resources to enhance Chimney Rock’s reputation as one of the country’s best producers of Cabernet Sauvignon.  Tony Terlato is an icon in the wine industry, often referred to as one of the most impactful individuals to influence how and what American wine consumers drink, and rumored to have brought Pinot Grigio to the US from Santa Margarita. The Terlatos assumed full ownership in 2004, and since then have built and advanced the quality of every aspect of the estate and its wines, focusing on sustainable farming, and quality control practices.
Winemaker, Elizabeth Vianna is an adventurous female winemaker, whose love for wine bloomed while she was a consumer while living in New York City, working as a clinical toxicologist at New York Hospital. Her intense passion for wine propelled her to apply to UC Davis’ winemaking program instead of medical school. She first came to Chimney Rock as a harvest intern in 1999, was named assistant winemaker at Chimney Rock in 2002, advanced to the position of winemaker in 2005 and in 2009, was promoted to General Manager of Chimney Rock Winery, while continuing in her role as head winemaker. She has consistently produced wines that have been highly rated among critics and loved by consumers, which may be attributed to her fearless experimental style of winemaking. She’s used over 100 strains of yeast (most winemakers stick to 1), and harvests and ferments 38 blocks of Cabernet separately, using a variety different cooperages of French Oak barrels to age the wine. She uses the rare, asymmetrical trellising system called the Fletcher Lyre, which ensures fruit from both sides of the vine ripen at the same pace. The result of her careful attention to the vines is a an authentic expression of the terroir, which her winemaking practices preserve and highlight.
The Wines: Chimney Rock is best known for its luscious, ageable Cabernets from the famed Stags Leap AVA in Napa.  The winery produces 9 different Cabernets each year, however, only one of its proprietary blends is available commercially for purchase (the others are offered exclusively to club members and tasting center visitors).  The red grapes are all Estate grown; Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot are all grown and harvested in separate blocks which are fermented and then blended together in unique blends each year to produce the label’s signature red wine.  This gives each vintage a distinct character, each refined, rich in color, intense, and full bodied, the tannins finely structured to that they are drinkable at release, but will also age gracefully for years. Chimney Rock also produces small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, which, combined into their “Elevage” blend is the perfect luscious, full bodied white wine for people who “only like red”.
The Credo: Quality over Quantity is apparent as the ethos at Chimney Rock. After touring the expansive winemaking facility, I was asked about the production per year and was surprised that it varies greatly based on weather and conditions. In 2011, only 8,000 cases were produced, while in 2012, over 30,000 were produced - no grapes are ever sold or purchased so Chimney Rock only produce what the land bears each year. The Terlato’s and Elizabeth’s goal is to tell the tale of the grapes from the place they are grown, through the changing seasons and climates, producing the best expression of the renowned Stags Leap District.  The grapes are watched carefully throughout the growing season, picked by block when they are perfectly ready for harvest. The winery was renovated to give Elizabeth plenty of space to test and experiment with winemaking and aging different blocks separately, which can then be aged and blended into unique estate wines.  The quality of the wines is apparent at the first sip, and savored through the last.
Unique Offering: Upon arrival, the first wine poured is the Sauvignon Gris, a rare varietal from the Bourdeaux region that is grown at only two other wineries in the US (Chalkhill and Rutherford Hill). This unique grape is also known as “Fie Fiet” or Sauvignon Rose, and is related to Sauvignon Blanc with more of a pinkish hue to its skin.  It has more sugar than Sauvignon Blanc, and produces a richer, fuller mouth feel, making it a great blending wine.  While unique and interesting on its own, I preferred the wine blended in the 2012 Elevage Blanc, a lovely blend of SB and SG that has a luscious mouthfeel, nice acidity, and a lingering finish that would please the palate of even the most discerning “red wine only” patrons.
Visit Details: 5350 Silverado Trail Napa, California 94558. Telephone: 707-257-2641, website: www.chimneyrock.com. Tasting Hours: 10:00-5:00.  For tours, reservations are required in advance. There is comfortable seating inside the tasting room, and outside on the courtyard terrace, or you can pop in for a tasting at the bar.  Ask for Donna Rutherford for a guide. The retired highschool teacher is very friendly and a wonderful educator!

Tasting Notes: Produced by Chimney Rock Winery
2012 Elevage Blanc: Small berries and balanced yields from the vineyard in Rutherford produced this complex blend of Sauvignon Blanc and the unique Sauvignon Gris.  Find aromas of white peach, hints of passion fruit, caramel, and vanilla custard.  The texture of this wine is striking with a delightfully long, rich finish.
2009 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon: A fairly dry spring provided the winemaking team with small and densely flavored Cabernet Sauvignon berries. The Merlot and Cabernet Franc were of equally superb quality. This blend represents a seductive tapestry of the diverse winery blocks, illustrating the power and grace of the unique Stags Leap District Terroir. Notes of Cassis, blackberry, vanilla, and toffee.

2010 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon: Possessing the bright fruit aromas and elegant tannins that hint at remarkable ageability, this wine is further proof that glory can be found in even the most challenging of weather years. Bright cherry and cola aromas are enveloped by roasted coffee, caramel and vanilla.  Soft but sassy on the palate, the tannins are supple with a bright, lengthy finish.
2011 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon: In this cool and damp weather year, the winemaking team devoted extra time and energy to the vineyards to ensure that only the best fruit was included in their wines.  The result is a wine that is the best of both worlds; a true expression of a cooler vintage, while still reflecting the grace and poise typical of Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon.   Aromas of cherry, cassis as well as whispers of sage and savory tomato leaf on the palate. The wine shows a tannin backbone that is reminiscent of Bordeaux reds.
2011 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon: More than any other, this wine celebrates the diversity of our beloved land.  Rich with ripe fruit flavors of black cherry, cassis and blackberry highlighted by hints of cocoa powder, vanilla and toffee.  On the palate, it’s richly textured and shows Chimney Rock’s classic lush mid-palate and a lengthy, rich finish.

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