What’s in a Name?
In Napa Valley and beyond, there are hundreds of well-known vineyards with reputations for producing the very best wine in the world. In Europe, classification systems and designations mark the greatness of a vineyard site and its wine. But in Napa Valley, greatness is designated by taste and reputation.
There is no doubt that Napa Valley produces some of the world’s best wine, and despite the fact that vineyard greatness is not demarcated by a legal system, there are widely recognized “Grand Cru” vineyard sites across the Valley. Here are some of our favorite, standout vineyards—and their respective wineries and the wines they produce—that should absolutely be on your 2020 wine bucket-list.
FAY Vineyard, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars
The FAY Vineyard was the very first planting of Cabernet Sauvignon in what is now the Stags Leap District AVA. This vineyard has earned great acclaim for its renowned winery—Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. The vineyard is composed of fine Bale gravelly clay loam and volcanic, alluvial soils, yielding a softer side of Cabernet that brings forward perfumed aromatics and berry qualities on the palate.
Characterizing a classic expression of Napa Valley Cabernet, the 2016 FAY Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is all-at-once powerful and inviting. It shows an aromatic bouquet of alluring ripe raspberry, blueberry and baking spice aromas, while the palate grabs a hold of you with its with blueberry, blackberry and cassis notes, satin texture and softly finessed structure. While each vintage from this site carries its own distinct qualities, voluptuousness is a trait that traces itself through this delicate yet powerful wine, year after year.
Three Palms Vineyard, Duckhorn Vineyards
Located in Napa Valley’s Calistoga AVA at 375-foot elevation, Duckhorn Vineyards’ Three Palms Vineyard has become a benchmark site for Bordeaux varietals, and is most known for their Merlot bottling. A unique composition of lean soils—including bale loam, Cortina stony loam, bale clay loam and river wash—contribute to the finished wine’s distinct qualities. The 2016 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot is a classic representation of its vineyard site, with its warmer climate covered in volcanic stones.
The 2016 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot is a stunning wine that boasts aromas of plum, wild cherry, cinnamon and a distinctly soft floral note; layers of baking chocolate and vanilla linger beneath. The palate is smooth and inviting, with round features and full-bodied flavors of blueberry, spiced Christmas cake, figs and a subtle hint of stony minerality. A revered Merlot, this current vintage lives up to all expectations and proudly stands tall as a single varietal Napa Valley Merlot.
Central Park West Vineyard, Trinchero Napa Valley
Paying homage to the Trinchero family’s New York City origins, the Central Park West Vineyard calls the St. Helena AVA its home. This vineyard site is characteristically warm with excellent sun exposure on the valley floor, and is made up of deep, loamy soils. Wine crafted from this vineyard is produced in limited quantities.
Located in the St. Helena AVA, the Central Park West Vineyard is a sunny site with one of the warmest climates in Napa Valley, producing a Cabernet with dark and savory aromas of blueberry, sweet tobacco leaf and cedar. On the palate, the 2014 Central Park West Cabernet Sauvignon is full-bodied and silky smooth, with ripe berry fruit and flavors of vanilla, baking spice and sweet tobacco leaf.
Trailside Vineyard, Heitz Cellar
Heitz Cellar’s Trailside Vineyard is another iconic Napa Valley site. This historic winery has legendary status, as its pioneering vintner Joe Heitz crafted Napa Valley’s first-ever vineyard designated Cabernet Sauvignon in the late 1950s.
The 2013 Trailside Vineyard is an incredible combination of sixteen different blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, planted to seven distinct clones across eight unique soil types. Situated in the Rutherford AVA, this vineyard is known for its impeccable Cabernet growing conditions. The vines are planted at an east to west orientation so that the grapes ripen gradually with dappled sunlight. The result is small, highly concentrated berries that craft an elegant, structured and deeply concentrated wine.
This 2013 Trailside Vineyard is a quintessential Cabernet Sauvignon that expresses that earthy quality wine lovers can’t get enough of from Rutherford Cabs. Its bold yet delicate, with smooth tannins and lots of structure. Ripe blackberry, cassis and wild raspberries mix with notes of vanilla, cedar and baking spices. With fruit and savory notes, this Cabernet is a balanced and complex beauty.
To Kalon Vineyard, Robert Mondavi Winery
Perhaps the most well-known vineyard in Napa Valley, To Kalon rests on the valley floor in the revered Oakville AVA. Well-drained alluvial soils—of gravel, clay loams and bale loams—create an ideal growing condition for Cabernet grapes, sending their roots deep into the soil to seek groundwater. And with the vineyard’s prime location in the center of Napa Valley, the vineyard’s heat is appropriately tempered by the coastal fog that surges through the Valley in the mornings and evenings.
Blended from the finest blocks in Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard, the 2016 To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve embodies the magic of this site. Cassis, black currant and oak spice waft from the glass, while rich layers of blackberry and ripe plum unfold on the palate with notes of vanilla, eucalyptus and oak spice. Complex and powerful, while simultaneously elegant and finessed, this wine is an authentic representation of To Kalon.
Hideaway Vineyard, Chappellet
Chappellet’s Hideaway Vineyard is located in Pritchard Hill—a region deemed an unofficial AVA in Napa Valley by critics and wine connoisseurs alike. The Chappellet family pioneered this winegrowing region and continues to make profound wines from their estate vineyards. Geographically speaking, the area is situated due east from the Rutherford and Oakville AVAs. Rocky slopes characterize this unique site with an impressive elevation of 1,425 feet high.
The aromas of Chappellet’s 2017 Hideaway Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon leap from the glass with notes of cassis, blackberry, espresso and bittersweet chocolate; layers of baking spice unfold with each swirl. While seemingly characteristic of mountainous vineyard sites with its strong structure and complexity, the wine is simultaneously soft and sophisticated. Bold berry liqueur flavors are coupled with cassis, vanilla and baking spice. This Cabernet is both a beautiful expression of its distinct site and of the style wine lovers expect from Napa Valley’s more mountainous terroir.
*Originally published in Very Napa Valley.
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