To read about day one of our excursion, click here.
We hit the ground running on Day 2 of the UNLV Continuing Education excursion to Napa Valley. On our way to the first winery, we stopped for breakfast at Thomas Keller’s Yountville bakery, Bouchon, where we filled up on croissants, quiches and, of course, caffeine.
Our first stop of the day was the beautiful Chappellet Vineyard, a pristine property and one of the area’s oldest family-owned wineries. Located above the fog line on Pritchard Hill, it took a bit of careful planning for our bus to navigate the twists and turns all the way to the top. Once we stepped off the bus and into the tasting room, a hush seemed to fall over the group – the space was incredible, with vaulted chapel-esque ceilings, rows of beautiful barrels and the most elegant tasting table we’d seen yet.
Candice Pannetier, our host and the director of guest relations at Chappellet, was knowledgeable, easy to talk to and very generous with her time. After a taste of Chappellet’s Chenin Blanc, we sampled the Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Las Piedras Bordeaux blend, the latter of which we took on a walk out to the vineyards. Candace explained to us how each morning their viticulture crew picked three leaves from every row of vines to check water levels, making sure the plant was appropriately thirsty (to build that Pritchard Hill character, of course) but not at risk of dehydration. Seeing such pride and attention to detail really makes it easier to understand the price differential between a $10 Cab and one that’s priced higher to account for the extra craftsmanship and manpower that goes into it.
While walking through the vineyard, you could definitely feel that we were above the fog line, as the skies were sunny and the temperature was warm with a cool breeze. Our group got to take a walk through Chappellet’s man-made cave that’s carved into the hillside, which is quite green and could be platinum-LEED-certified if they wanted to go through the costly registration process. (We also learned Chappellet doesn’t have a water bill or electricity bill since they are so eco-friendly.) I could go on and on about the organic practices, neat bottling machinery and friendly winemakers who spent time with us, but suffice it to say that I loved this place so much I joined their wine club -- and you’ll just have to visit yourself!
Our last stop before our voyage home was Baldacci Vineyards in the prestigious Stags Leap district, known for its world-famous Cabernet Sauvignons. We were greeted by Michael Baldacci, one of the proprietor’s sons who lives on the property full time and seemed to wear many different hats.
As he led us through the tasting, he sensed our enthusiasm as wine students and really started delving deeper into the story behind the family’s vineyard, as well as its winemaking techniques. One of the things I loved most about this trip was the access we were given: Not only did we get to explore the underground cave, walk through the rows of oak barrels and taste different grapes straight from the vine, but we also got to pick Mike’s brain about the state of the industry, his day-to-day priorities, and what he hopes for in the future. After hearing some of us were big fans of their 2009 Cab, Mike pulled a bottle for us, which boasted all the classic characteristics of a Stags Leap Cab: Drinks like an iron-fist with a velvet glove. (For us laypeople, that means it has lots of beautiful structure and body with a velvety-smooth finish.)
All in all, it was a fantastic trip that delivered incredible, off-the-beaten-path experiences that allowed for just the right balance of learning and fun. Unfortunately, I don’t think that any trip I could plan the future will match up to the experience I had this time, so I guess I’m just going to have to return on the trip next year!