Archive for month: December, 2013

Winery Spotlight: A Virtual Look at Hall Wines New Tasting Center

11 Dec
December 11, 2013

On our honeymoon in 2011

During my first visit to Napa Valley in early 2009, Hall was one of the most memorable wineries of the trip. My husband suggested it after reading several great reviews of the wine in Wine Spectator and I couldn’t really argue with that! Situated on Highway 29 just south of downtown St. Helena, Hall Wines – owned by Craig and Kathryn Hall – has built a small “campus,” comprised of new and historic facilities. Signature red signage and accents direct guests to the tasting center, where they will be awed by an extensive collection of uniquely Hall-commissioned art installations.

On that initial stop, the wine did in fact blow me away. At that time, I remember enjoying tastes of nearly everything on the list – Sauvignon Blanc, “Darwin” Proprietary Red, “T Bar T Ranch” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Merlot, “Jack’s Masterpiece” Cabernet and “Kathryn Hall” Cabernet. Each sip tasted better than the last. True to their style, several of the Artisan bottles also featured label art – some of which changes with each new vintage or comes with an interesting story. (For example, the Darwin tells of their experience nearly going down in a small plane crash in Australia.) The staff was also very friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable – I loved the Hall “vibe.”

Stunning crystal chandelier

Stunning crystal chandelier

On subsequent visits, we also tasted at their Rutherford location, an experience that begins with an estate tour, stories of Kathryn’s role as Ambassador to Austria, and look at some of the more notable art installations. It culminates with a relaxed tasting in their breathtaking cave. The most impressive element in the room is the rustic crystal chandelier, which looks like an upside-down grape vine, or the roots of a tree growing above. What’s really intriguing about the Hall’s properties is that they are impeccably appointed, “smartly” designed and built with a purpose. Trees outside the St. Helena tasting room look exactly like oversized grape vines. A large picture-window inside the Rutherford tasting room perfectly frames the Valley view below. Even the barrels that line the interior of the cave are painted to exactly the same shade of Hall red in stunning uniformity.

I’ve been fortunate to be able to find some Hall wine in Chicago but appreciate the opportunity to try more of their Artisan reds while in Napa. Read more →

Napa Valley Itinerary – November 2013 Visit

08 Dec
December 8, 2013

On a whim, we decided to make one more visit to Napa Valley this year and went out during Thanksgiving weekend. We were pleasantly surprised by the quietness we experienced in restaurants and tasting rooms, as well as the festive, holiday décor already in place. In a previous post about the best times of year to visit, I didn’t include anything about the holidays. Now, I would highly recommend a November-December trip if your schedule permits!

This time, we really made a point to taste at “new-to-us” wineries, having received several great tips from the Barlin’s of and Tasting Scout. As a result, there are plenty of highlights to share about our Napa Valley itinerary.


We were able to hit 13 wineries in 4 days, which was a comfortable amount for us. Sometimes, we’ve overdone it and had to race all over to ensure we get to appointments on time. At nearly every stop, we were the only people present!

Old Favorites

  • Laird – Our first, unplanned stop and one of my favorites from this visit. We’ve ben to Laird several times now and I continue to be amazed by the number of wines they produce – we tasted at least 12. Quality is also high on all of them. My top picks were their 2012 Cold Creek Pinot Grigio, 2010 Cold Creek Ranch Chardonnay, 2011 Phantom Ranch Pinot Noir (sadly, the Ghost Ranch was sold out).
  • Hall – We squeezed in a stop at Hall and were glad we did. They were two days away from opening their stunning new winemaking and
    Hall's new tasting room

    Hall’s new tasting room

    tasting center. (More on this to come in a future post.) We received a nice, advanced tour of their campus and got to see more of the Hall’s renowned art collection. Back inside, we tasted four or five wines from their higher-end menu, which included T Bar T Merlot, Kathryn Hall Cabernet and new Walt Pinot Noir. They recently acquired the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir-producing Walt, which happened to be my favorites this time (although everything Hall does is delicious).

  • Round Pond – This was the third time we tasted at the picturesque Round Pond winery. They do a unique wine and food pairing, bringing visitors three small bites from their gourmet kitchen to complement a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet and Proprietary Red. Each time I’ve left Round Pond, I’ve slapped myself for not joining their reasonable club and decided to do so this time. Their reds are just so velvety and they’re not readily available to me in Chicago or anywhere else.
  • Larkmead – If there’s only one winery we could visit or recommend, it’s usually Larkmead. A) The setting is beyond beautiful, B) They have stellar, stellar, wines and C) The staff is so friendly and knowledgeable. Larkmead has a long and storied history and their farming expertise shows through the quality of their wine.  However, we miss the Sauvigon Blanc and have been unable to taste the new one due to limited availability. Read more →