The afternoon of our first day on the 5th Pops & Son Wine Trip continued the vinous adventure that we had started in the morning at Kirkland Ranch and William Hill. As we traveled up Silverado Trail on the Western side of the Valley, we mused about which winery to next visit, as we had plenty of time before our 2:30 appointment with the highlight of the day, Terra Valentine on Spring Mountain. We passed numerous wineries along the way, including many Stags Leap favorites such as Regusci, Darioush and Clos du Val. As we approached the Oakville appellation, Pops asked if I’d ever visited the large contemporary building that housed Miner Family Vineyards. I had not done so and just that easily, we had picked our next winery!
Miner Family Vineyards is a family owned and operated winery (refreshing in this conglomerate era), tucked into the foothills of the Vaca Mountains on the Eastern side of the Valley. It was founded by Dave Miner in 1996. They are best known for their powerful, yet elegant reds, particularly their meritage blend (a domestic blend made up of only 2 or more of the Bordeaux varieties of grapes such as Cab, Merlot, etc) called The Oracle.
Pops also decided to sit this tasting out as he was increasingly starting to feel a cold brewing. I only had a little bit of time, so I got to work. The main tasting room is a beautifully designed contemporary setting with light tones and plenty of slate and marble. The room was comfortably busy throughout my short stay, with patrons from all over the US there to try their many wines. I was very pleased to see that they serve their wines in my favorite “stemware,” the Riedel O Series varietal-specific glasses and all are etched with the striking Miner logo on the bottom…a very nice touch.
Jeff was quite knowledgeable about the wines and the winery and poured good, reasonable-sized tastes, which is not always the case at tasting rooms these days. One of the things he mentioned is that the vineyard that surrounds the winery and makes up the ‘05 Oakville Cab, while owned by the Aunt in the family, it is not considered part of the winery’s holdings. The highlight wines for me were the two Stagecoach Vineyard reds, the ‘05 Merlot and ‘05 Cab. I love the wines that come out of this vineyard and have written about Stagecoach Vineyard wines many times. Also interesting was that this was the first time that I have been really impressed by The Oracle. The ‘05 is just a tremendous wine and drank brilliantly that day.
I finished off the great wines at Miner and rejoined Pops out on the patio. We still had a fair amount of time before heading up Spring Mountain Road so we meandered over to St. Helena and had an early afternoon pickmeup at my favorite coffee shop of all time, Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company. I could be a bit biased as I used to work here and at the downtown Napa location while going to Vintage High. They truly roast my favorite espresso on this planet, however. I even recommended them in my Napa Recommendations post awhile back. With our caffeine needs satiated, we headed a little further North in town and out onto Spring Mountain Road towards Terra Valentine. I first read about Terra Valentine in the handy read, A Moveable Thirst. They received a great review in there and the descriptions just stuck with me until I started planning this trip.
The drive up to Terra Valentine was much further up Spring Mountain that we ever thought…in fact, I had never traveled up that far and with the weather as it was, it ended up being a really neat drive. It was already misty and sometimes rainy, but we hit the cloud line about 10 minutes into our drive, about 5 minutes before the estate and it provided wonderful atmospherics to our adventure.
We pulled up to the winery after passing some rather enthusiastic bike riders who were headed pell-mell down the slim mountain road. I had a complete sense of déjà vu when we reached the gate and I had to tell Pops to pull the Jeep over for some pics. All of the sudden I was back in high school, fully immersed playing Myst at 1 in the morning. Quite a trip! Anyhow, the weather and Old World beauty of the estate was very striking and really appealed to both Pops and I.
Terra Valentine has a very interesting history during its roughly 40 odd years on the upper part of the mountain. Eccentric engineer and inventor, Fred Aves bought the property in the 60’s, largely funded by the royalties from the curb feelers he invented that you all had on your Caddies. Mr. Aves was quite the da Vinci and decided to design and build the hand-set stone villa and 17K square foot winery himself, along with five other carefully picked craftsmen. He also had a primo sense of self-sufficiency and a healthy dose of mistrust about the world, as evidenced by the private concrete batch plant he constructed to build his estate and the total recluse to which he became, eventually leading the original winery into disuse in the early 80’s.
The estate was revived in 1999 when Angus and Margaret Wurtele purchased the mountain property and immediately began updating the vineyards and the property. Virtually all of the vines had to be replanted and now the estate sports two fantastic and very different vineyards, the Wurtele and Yverdon Vineyards, featured as two single vineyard estate Cabs. All of the equipment has been updated, including automated punchdown fermentation tanks (very, very state of the art, no pumpovers here), but they were careful to preserve and restore the original architecture, such as the Aves designed and constructed stained glass windows that stand out on the two buildings.
We still managed to arrive early, so as I walked around still snapping mad amounts of misty photos, Pops realized that it was kinda cold and headed into the winery. Inside you continue to see wonderfully detailed works of architecture. The doors and handles were also handmade by Aves and the detail is fantastic. Pops went in search of our host and I continued to explore the facility. Erina Fischer greeted us from the office area, just off the main entrance and led us over to the richly decorated sit-down tasting room, replete with Hearst-owned wood paneling and a huge fireplace. We started off with their ‘07 RRV Viognier, which is showing wonderful peach and pear aromas alongside a full mouth that still retains some great acidity.
Once the three other guests arrived we began the full tasting which, while still a formal sit-down affair, was very comfortable and amiable, matching Erina’s warm personality. She had only been working for TV for a few months and yet was already very knowledgeable about the winery and wines. We moved along to the reds, trying the silky, unfiltered ‘06 RRV Pinot, followed by the three Estate Cabernets that really stuck with me the rest of the trip. These three wines really became the highlights of the whole two days. Winemaker Sam Baxter has done some amazing work with these wines. They are all from the 2005 vintage, with the Spring Mountain Estate Cab just a ridiculous value ($38). A truly great wine, made from a mountain sub-appellation, that could be a flagship wine at the majority of the wineries that I have visited in my life…yet it is merely the starter Cab here! Following that effort, we delved into the two single vineyard wines, with the Yverdon just barely eeking out a win for the wine for the day. Both featured eucalyptus in the nose and the mouth, but the Yverdon had tremendous depths of black fruit, followed by spicy cherry. The mouth was luxuriously silky already, all of the fruit from the nose and finishing with rose petal highlights. Lovely.
We then took a tour throughout the rest of the winery, starting with a walk down one of the twin iron spiral staircases that lead to the winery proper and barrel room below. The fog was lifting a bit and it was definitely brighter outside, but it really couldn’t lift the surreal mood that the stunning wine and surroundings had instilled within me during our time there. As all good things go, it was soon time to end our day atop Spring Mountain and we said goodbye to Erina and the other guests. I kept thinking about the dark stones and misty clouds, along with all of the beautiful wines as we drove down to the Valley floor…and how I need to revisit the estate soon!
Please see all of the wines that we tasted during the second half of the first day in Napa, by checking out all of my reviews below. If you would like to list these wines in your own WineLog, they are all tagged with “5thPSWT2008-D1“. All of the wines that were tasted on this trip are tagged with “5thPSWT2008“. Please leave a comment if you’ve had these wines before, too. Enjoy!
Wines that we drank with dinner: