The Great California Chardonnay Secret

When in Rome…

No trip to Napa Valley is complete without a guided tour of a few of the local wineries. We opted for a personal bus tour affair given I’m really rubbish at spitting wine out and the drink drive statistics in this part of California are off the scale. The biggest danger driving around these parts is getting bumped by a lubricated wine tourist.

Glenn was our affable tour guide for the day and in true Californian style he knew his stuff and delivered it with real knowledge and enthusiasm. Although Napa is famous for it’s wine production, it only accounts for 9% of US wine production (see I was taking notice), although it’s fair to say some of the best wines come from this beauiful part of Northern California. These tours are clearly a huge part of the local economy and it’s quite a mature market – it’s incredibly slick and European pretensions apart, it’s very much a Californian thing: laid back, oozing wealth and investment, informative and huge fun. Above all, there are some great wines too.

We visited a great range of wineries and if you’ve seen the movie Sideways, you’ll be familiar with the vibe.

First up was Jessup Vineyards – a cross between an art gallery, wine bar and winery. It was early in the morning it we soon felt the wine buzz creeping over us even though we didn’t drink that much. Second was the hugely impressive Rubicon – Francis Ford Coppola‘s winery which looked like it had been transplanted from the Loire. Instead of tasting we opted for a glass of their deeply buttery Chardonnay on the terrace. Next up was the quirky and small scale Andretti winery (he of Formula 1 fame) where we enjoyed a picnic with our party in a dappled courtyard overlooking vineyards.

The penultimate visit was the only kosher vineyard in Napa – Hagafen Cellars which was a lovely low fi contrast to the previous wineries, with the most appealing Rose of the day. Last up was the unpromising-looking Dominari metal shed where we met the founder – an elderly german who’d studied in England in the sixties – and the owner of the first appellation in Napa. It could have been the best til last…

It’s worth saying that Julie’s search for the perfect buttery, oakey, heavy Chardonnay was nailed this day and continued to be exceeded almost on a daily basis. This deeply unfashionable style of wine in Europe is almost impossible to find thanks to horrible Aussie imports and cheap Gallo vinegar that’s put us off in Europe. Now I love a minerally Chablis-esque white or a super clean, grassy sauvignon Blanc…but a dreamily amber Chardonnay made with precision and care? Yes please.

Rest assured, there’s plenty in California, they’re keeping it for themselves and just not shipping it to our country (and who can blame them).

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