Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Terra Valentine - Castle in the Clouds

Stained Glass Window (photo by Sanae Burries)
Terra Valentine offers a truly exquisite tasting experience. The wine is phenomenal, the building is amazing, the view is spectacular, the people including the guests were delightful and lively, and the hostess, Lindsay, is chock full of information.

The tasting and tour costs $30 per person and is waived with the purchase of two bottles. Other tasting experiences can be found on their website. Reservations are required and I recommend making them a couple days ahead for week days or as soon as you book your trip for weekends.

Goat for Weed Abatement (photo by Sanae Burries)
For those who aren't familiar with the Spring Mountain district of Napa Valley, the drive to the winery is gorgeous. It takes about 15 minutes to climb from the town of St Helena to their gated entrance which sits about 2000 feet above sea level. The road winds along a creek through redwood and oak trees. The trees occasionally part to give views of vineyards and the valley. As you pass through the gate there are vineyards on either side and if you are lucky you may see goats eating the grass between the rows. Be sure to drive slowly as you make your way through the fir trees along the single lane road to the winery.

Winery with Picnic Tables

When Sanae and I  arrived about 15 min early we had a little trouble finding the entrance. There was a sign that said Main Entrance and pointed towards the stairs. So we followed the sign and went down the stairs. We had a lovely self guided tour of the grounds. This ended up being quite fortunate as it was the only 20 minutes of our tour where it wasn't raining. The main entrance is actually on the second floor on the same level as the visitor parking. I think the sign had shifted a bit in the wind.

Once inside we were greeted by the lovely and talkative hostess. She is very knowledgeable about the winery and its history, their grapes, their wine, Napa, and Sonoma. She even recommended Russian River Pinots and Dry Creek Zins to the out of town guests. Not your average hostess indeed. We were joined by two retired couples (Peter & Lois and Bob & Eileen) who are friends and live in Las Vegas.
Mantle (photo by Sanae Burries)

The winery and villa were built by the rich, and seemingly mad, artisan-craftsman Fred J. Aves who purchased the land in 1965 and proceeded to hire five labors to help him build the buildings. Once built he planted a few acres of vineyards and then hand carved all the furniture and put in stained glass windows. All the windows in the winery are stained glass. It is gorgeous! He also ripped out all of his vineyards in '80s because he felt like it.  He passed away in the '90s.  The property was purchased in the late '90s and the vineyards were replanted.
View from Terrace (photo by Sanae Burries)

Lindsay showed us the view from the terrace, outside a large stained glass window. Even on a stormy day we could see their vineyards, Napa Valley, and the Vaca Mountains on the eastern side of the valley.

Photo by Sanae Burries

As we took in the view she poured us their 2010 Sauvignon Blanc ($28) which is made entirely with the musque clone (for those cloniphiles out there). It was a pale yellow color and had aromas of grapefruit and pineapple. It tasted of green apple with tropical notes and had a long finish. The wine was crisp and owes its slightly viscous nature to spending four months in neutral oak puncheons.

Then we retreated from the storm into the warm and cozy tasting room which features a hand carved mantle, stained glass window, fireplace, and large wooden table.  There is something very English about the room and I felt like I could be in an old turn of the century manor in England.  The table was set for 6 and could have sat two more. Each setting had five wine glasses and a small plate with cheese, chocolates, and nuts. Lindsay sat at the head of the table with the five bottles of wine. As she talked about the winery, vineyards, and wines, she poured one wine at a time and gave us a chance to appreciate it before moving to the next wine. All the wines had been opened the previous day and corked to allow them to breathe a little.

Tasting Table (photo by Sanae Burries)
The first of the five red wines was the 2009 Pinot Noir ($38) which hails from the Sonoma Coast. This wine had aromas of raspberry, cherry, and lavender. The cherry flavors continued onto the tongue where they were joined by licorice. It was a light weight Pinot with a short crisp finish.

Next was the Amor ($35) which is a Sangiovese-based blend. The first thing I noticed was some soft notes of rose blossoms which gave way to intense red cherry scents. The cherries continued onto the palate and were joined by other red berries and a slight woodiness. The wine displayed a medium body with a round mouth feel and slight bitterness. This was my least favorite and the groups least favorite, but by no means was it a bad wine. I find Sangiovese to be one of the hardest wines to taste without Italian food. It really needs food with it and I'm always amazed when wineries have it available without herbaceous foods.

The next two wines, the 2007 Yverdon Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) and the 2007 Wurtele Cabernet Sauvignon ($65), were poured back to back and we were encouraged to taste between them. Lindsay told us about the differences between the two vineyards and showed us soil samples as examples of how even though both are on Spring Mountain the vineyards' terroir is quite different.

The Yverdon had a vegetative nose with red bell peppers being the most notable. The vegetative flavors continued onto the palate where they were joined by cherry and tobacco. The wine was big, round, and slightly astringent.

The Wurtele had a bouquet of mocha and bitter-sweet chocolate. The palate was full of dark cocoa, cherries, and scents of dark earth. The wine was big, bold, with round tannins, and was great with dark chocolate. This was my second favorite wine of the day.

Photo by Sanae Burries
Let's not forget that both of these cabs are essentially four year old 100% Cabs and that is very young. These wines really should be sat for 5 to 15 years. The Wurtele is more approachable now than the Yverdon, but they are both far from peaking.

Our last bottle of wine was the 2007 Marriage ($75) which is a Bordeaux-style blend with Cab S. being the main grape that is joined by Merlot, Cab F., and Petit Verdot. It features an aroma of dark cherries and a bouquet of chocolates and maduro cigars. In the mouth I picked up dark chocolate, cherries, cola, minerals, and a slight vegetative note. The wine was big and bold with round tannins and medium astringency. It would be great with a steak. The addition of the Merlot and Cab Franc enables the wine to be much more approachable at a younger age than the two big 100% Cabs. This wine is by no means near its peak which I would estimate starting in the next 3 to 7 years. This was my favorite wine of the day.

Their website estimates this tour and tasting at 75 minutes, but our tasting and tour lasted just shy of two hours.  I think this was due to the wonderful company of the other guests, the hostess, and we were the last tasting of the day. It was really one of the most relaxed yet lively tasting experiences I've ever had.  There was lots of good laughs, wine knowledge shared, and great wine enjoyed.

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