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Recapture That Loving Feeling

Columnist: Christina Julian
January, 2015 Issue
Columnist

Christina Julian
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When visitors hail, I scramble to find reasonable-yet-captivating experiences that will leave some loot for buying wine.

 
It’s been said that marriage will kill the romance and, if that doesn’t do it, having children will. Three years and two tots later, I understand why clichés become what they are. At times, it feels as if Napa Valley has lost that loving feeling. I mull this over as I crawl down Highway 29, wineries at every turn. It’s hard to believe there was a time when tastings were free, wineries were few and the idea of $100-a-pop wine tastings were scoffed at. Now isn’t such a time. Napa Valley might benefit from the sentiment of another cliché: quality over quantity.
 
I ponder my point further when a visiting friend forces me into the castle (Castello di Amorosa). Instead of the idyllic setting she hoped for, what we got was Disneyland with wine goblets, right down to the camera clacking tourists who swarm and swill. Then there are places like Chateau Montelena, which went from charming and historic to Hollywood-amped. The vibe screams, “Pay now and then we’ll talk.” There are others of this ilk, but I’ll stop before I piss anyone else off.
 
It’s true, Napa Valley is all about the business of wine—and it should be—considering most of our business is wine. But just like a healthy marriage, I wonder if there might be room for some romance in between the commerce.
 
When visitors hail, I scramble to find reasonable-yet-captivating experiences that will leave some loot for buying wine. I attempt to glean what they’re looking for. When they rattle off all the random wineries that captured their eyes as they rubbernecked down the Wine Country superhighway, I know it’s time to intervene. Especially when talk of T-shirts and “Forgive me, I have zinned” magnets swirl. I consider the countless wineries that merely take up space, churning out subpar vino with jacked-up prices. Said wineries feel they can do this because their neighbors (who’ve earned that right) are doing it, so why not them.
 
I pose this challenge: “Do you want to squeeze into another tasting room with 50 of the random people you bumped elbows with at the castle, or do you want a taste of the real Napa Valley, where tasting room swag is swapped for sit down sips with owners and winemakers? Places where you won’t be not-so-subtly told to drink up and slide down?” They nod with the excitement of toddlers sinking into their first bite of cake.
 
Despite the overdeveloped nature of Napa Valley, I realize there’s still room for romance. Try Date Night, where, as the name implies, you can sip and snuggle with your sweetie in the quaint confines of a chic-styled barn that balances retro nostalgia with modern day appeal.
Charter Oak charms with the Old World style of winemaking that still lingers, right on down to the vintage wine press still in use today paired with the homespun care Layla and Robert Fanucci pour into every bottle. At Tres Sabores, one romp through the vineyards with winemaker/proprietor Julie Johnson and I dare visitors not to fall in love. The glint in her eye as she talks about the property, the vines and even the guinea hens reveals her one and only true love, which is wine and the land on which it’s grown. These wineries and others of the same breed are certainly out to sell wine—their livelihood depends on it. But instead of all the glitz, they draw folks into their world through the taste of the wines and a glimpse of a family-run farm.
 
So can a new winery hint at the past yet thrive in today’s market? I got a sneak peek of a could-be case—the new Sinegal Estate, set to open this summer. The site, formerly known as the Inglewood Estate, once served as the welcoming post for the Pony Express. One look at the 6,000-square-foot Victorian house transports you straight back to the Gatsby era. There are the lush lawns, prime for croquet play with cocktail in hand.  The paddleboats drifting across the 25-acre lake conjure images of yesteryear. Granted, the estate sold for an estimated $20 million and the wines will cost, but sometimes you get what you pay for. In this case, a quintessential setting and, judging by the barrel sample I tasted, some stellar wine.
 
So is there a way to strike that balance between commerce and romance in Napa Valley? I suspect there is, though just like any good romance, you’ll have to work at it.

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