Amateur Oenophiles in Paradise - une femme d'un certain âge

Amateur Oenophiles in Paradise

During our three and a half days in the Napa Valley, we visited over a dozen wineries.  I’m going to show you the two that were my favorites, because they were small family operations, and our visits were very low-key and personal.  The first, Rubissow, was previously unknown to us, but as a result of a pledge to our local public radio station, we’d received a certificate for a tour and tasting as a premium. Le monsieur arranged our visit in advance.  Located in the Mount Veeder region, it wasn’t on any of the winery maps, so we had to look up the address online and navigated by iPhone GPS.

Up a single lane gravel road, and up, and up and up, until we reached an old farmhouse near the crest.  The view of the Napa Valley was spectacular.
And Barbara our guide had everything ready to go.  She opened the first bottle, and we got right to tasting.

Glasses in hand, we walked through the vineyards, all terraced on steep hillsides.
Up, up, up the road some more we walked, until we reached the crest of the hill, and then down the other side a little bit, overlooking Napa and San Pablo Bay.  Barbara told us there are something like five different micro climates over the 45 acre property, and they grow a variety of red grapes: merlot, cabernet, syrah among them.  She explained how the owners and winemaker are very much into the concept of terroir, the unique properties that any wine will have based on the soil, climate, and type of grape.  All wines are “estate,” which means they are all made only from the grapes grown on their own vineyards here.

The Rubissow family is very committed to organic and sustainable growing practices.  We met Peter Rubissow who now runs the winery with his sister Ariel.  Their father who originally bought the land and planted the vineyard is now mostly retired. 

We spent three hours there walking, talking, and sitting on the porch of the old farmhouse that had stood on the property for over 100 years, tasting some amazing red wines.  Yes, we bought some, and if you run across any Rubissow wines on a restaurant wine list or in a wine shop, I recommend you give them a try.  I particularly liked the Trompettes, but everything we tasted was amazing. 
Most vineyards/wineries have dogs around, to keep the gophers and other critters away from the crops.  This was one of the two Rubissow dogs, and a real sweetheart. 
The next day, one of the tours we arranged took us to Ancien Wines. 
Like Rubissow, Ancien is a small boutique winery.  While they do purchase their grapes from a variety of vineyards, they also are very much into the terroir of specific grapes and regions, and making their wines to express each unique terroir.  We tasted Pinot Noirs from the three regions represented by the soil samples below, and were amazed at the difference in the attributes and taste of each.

Muscat grapes ready for fermenting.  Wine grapes are much sweeter than table grapes.

Merlot grapes in process of fermenting. 

During this process the grapes are stirred by hand several times a day.  The temperature is checked regularly to be sure they are within the optimum range for the yeast.  Grapes will ferment here for about one to two weeks,

then they are crushed,
and placed in French Oak casks to age. 
Each one of these casks costs around $1000, and is used up to three times.  The oak imparts flavor to the wine.
After many months, the wine is then placed in bottles and aged some more.
While many wineries are open to the public during regular hours, both Rubissow and Ancien wineries require appointments to visit, but they are worth the effort!
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  1. October 7, 2010 / 12:10 pm

    Looks fantastic – I went on a day trip to Napa Valley once many years ago when I was staying in San Francisco and would love to go back and do a Sideways tour!

  2. October 7, 2010 / 2:31 pm

    Looks very much like Tuscany…love the image of those grapes hanging from the vine.
    Napa is on my bucket list!

  3. October 7, 2010 / 4:49 pm

    Oh I love the dirt! Napa is a cousin of France, after all, perhaps I should say terroir.

  4. October 7, 2010 / 4:51 pm

    Again, Miss J is very jealous.

  5. October 7, 2010 / 9:01 pm

    What gorgeous photos and a nice introduction to the winemaking process. We’ve done some tours of smaller operations in the BC Okanagan and would love to plan another such trip soon — such a nice focus for a getaway AND you’ve got the perfect souvenirs! Even better, maybe someday we’ll get down to the Napa Valley for those great Pinots. . .

  6. October 7, 2010 / 11:08 pm

    I can almost smell the air and fell the sun. Only thing missing is a pic of the happy couple 🙂

  7. Susan Tiner
    October 7, 2010 / 7:58 pm

    Gorgeous photos. I also love to visit smaller wineries, especially ones with a commitment to organic and sustainable growing practices.

  8. October 8, 2010 / 3:26 am

    Well now that Napa’s out of the way, you need to come taste Oregon’s pinots! We have lots of small-production vineyards that are longing to meet you.

    [I think you’d have to skydive vs balloon ride, though.]

    But seriously — glad you had a great time and love the photos!

  9. Terri
    October 8, 2010 / 12:36 am

    How interesting…I had not known about the oak casks.

  10. October 18, 2010 / 5:37 pm

    i’m so thrilled to see this post – it’s exactly the type of wine tour experience that is the most wonderful part of Napa…..Mount Veeder is so gorgeous, and being able to wander around a small winery with the owners is the best. it is the antithesis to the ‘Disneyland of Wine!’ that so many people experience in the valley – crowds, drunken, over-purchasing tourists, fake-grape-encrusted tchotches everywhere.

    We like to take a drive up Mt. Veeder in the spring, as the wildflower displays are truly exquisite. i remember going to Deer Park Winery (now deceased) with my then-fiancee in the spring, tasting in a small former stone cave, built in to a hillside, turned into tasting room while flycatchers sang in the fresh green oaks, swallowtails floated here and there, and wildflowers spilled down the hillside….paradise indeed. i’m so happy for you! come back!

    • Anonymous
      February 2, 2012 / 4:07 am

      I love that area…I lived on Lokoya for years and enjoyed the Mayacamas vinyards…

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