It is tempting to return to pleasurable restaurants and cherished wineries because like the theme song goes from the sitcom, “Cheers,”: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.” But if one travels to California wine country it is good to forgo the familiar. Seek out boutique producers offering tastings by reservation only for a slightly more substantial fee.
Reservation-only, small-group tastings offer better learning opportunities. Participants are limited and hard-to-obtain older vintages, sometimes referred to as library wines, are poured and small production wines available only at the winery are often sampled.
Such tastings offer a modicum of food, knowledgeable hosts, tours of the facilities and an unhurried atmosphere to savor special wines. Reservation-only tastings are not an attempt to discourage tasters, but to assure tasters a memorable experience.
I recently participated in such a tasting at Staglin Family Vineyards in Napa. The Staglin Rutherford property was purchased in 1985, but first planted to grapes in 1868 by original owners, the Steckter family. The refurbished Steckter home now serves as the Staglin’s tasting room and hospitality center.
It would be difficult to find a more perfect site for growing grapes. It is situated on a gently sloping grade gradually rising off the valley floor to the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. Vineyard views from the portico of the tasting room are phenomenal.
The great Andre Tchelistcheff, a Russian émigré known as the founding father of California’s modern wine industry, recognized the property’s potential in the early ’60s. Tchelistcheff became a cult figure in Napa and consultant for many top wineries in the valley. He uprooted prune orchards to plant cabernet on what is now Staglin property. Tchelistcheff used cabernet from this site for Beaulieu Vineyard’s top cabernet, Georges de Latour.
Today Rutherford is primarily known for its stunning cabernets. Staglin Family Vineyards produces critically acclaimed cabernets consistently garnering high 90 scores. A small amount of chardonnay is produced at co-founder Shari Staglin’s behest. Eight acres is planted to chardonnay because of her love of the varietal.
Two small lot chardonnays are made. One under the Salus label sells in the $50 range. Salus is the Roman goddess of health and well being. The Staglin Family chardonnay sells for $75.
Staglin cabernets are legend. Their Salus cabernet is $90 per bottle and the Staglin Family Estate Vineyard sells for $185 per bottle. A red blend and a small amount of sangiovese are also made.
All Staglin fruit is 100 percent organically farmed. Power is provided by solar panels and the manufacturing facility is underground.
Fruit is handled meticulously. Two thirds of Staglin cabernet grapes each year are cut away and dropped in the field to allow the remaining third to reach great depths of intense flavors.
Staglin cabernet berries are the size of blueberries, therefore production is small. Location, small quantities and meticulous production standards result in pricey wines, even a $90,000 bottle.
Co-founder Garen Staglin showed us a 12-liter, 16-standard bottle equivalent of his prized cabernet. The giant bottle size is called a Balthazar and carries an engraving of the likeness of Andre Tchelistcheff.
Alas, it was not for sale. The bottle was donated this year by the Staglins to Auction Napa Valley, a charity wine auction now in its 31st year, where a bidder paid $90,000 for the bottle.
The Staglins are known for their charity work. One hundred percent of Salus profits are donated to mental health research and charities.
Staglin wines are distributed primarily to restaurants and to customers who belong to their wine clubs. If interested in buying these wines, call the winery at 707-963-3994.
Email Pat Kettles at email@example.com.