Alessia-Stefano & Mariuccia-Luciano Sandrone Visit Napa Valley
After a quick stop for re-fueling at Peet's Coffee in
MilbrAsia, we hit the road and made tracks for the Napa Valley.
Our first stop was at the estates of Harlan and Bond.
We met Paul Roberts at the Bond winemaking facility...
He explained the philosophy and vineyard sites of the Bond label...
It's a quintet of vineyard sites, each kept separately and bottled as a single
Soils, they say, are quite different in each vineyard, making wines of somewhat
This photo is taken directly in front of the Bond winery facing east.
This shot is adjacent to the Bond cellar, just north, if I have my bearings
right, of the winery.
Merlot vines which were originally Cabernet until they built the winery and
realized the sub-soils were better suited to Merlot.
In the last days of July, these grapes are just achieving "veraison,"
a French term to indicate a change of color.
The fermentation tanks at Bond.
Bond. Chai Bond.
It's a beautiful cellar and a lovely showplace.
There was a small display of the various soil types packed in
Luciano Sandrone has always been a fast-moving fellow in the cellar.
We then drove to the Harlan Estate winery, the neighboring property to Bond.
Here's a look eastward from the deck at Harlan.
The eucalyptus trees in the center of this photo are those bordering the famous
Martha's Vineyard and are said to contribute some character to the Cabernet made
by Heitz Cellar from those famous vines.
We asked Alessia to help translate from Enology & Viticulture English into
Italian for her grandfather.
Then we had a peek into the cellar at Harlan Estate.
As we were walking through the fermentation room, the humidifying sprayers came
This is a simple system, yet it can save a winery a significant amount of money
in reducing the quantity of wine evaporating in the cellar.
They use several different cooperages as barrel suppliers for the winery,
finding a blend makes for a more complex wine.
The past couple of vintages produced small crops, so the cellar was a bit empty.
We thanked Paul for his showing off his Mister Robert's
Neighborhood (actually, Bill Harlan's)...and we headed out the driveway to trek
to St. Helena.
Then we pulled off the highway to snap a few pictures at Opus One.
Team Sandrone in front of the Opus One winery.
Luciano then gave Alessia a few pointers in terms of viticulture, explaining a
few features of their trellising system.
We then jumped back in the car and drove to a favorite dining spot a bit off the
beaten path, Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen.
Stevie D, Purple Palate!
The Dall'u team learned San Francisco's Bay Area is a haven
for good breads.
After seeing Opus One, Bond and Harlan, they know it takes a lot of bread to buy
a bottle of some of these napa Valley table wines.
We ordered Frog's Leap's 2011 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc...
We had a starter of Fried Calamari with some fried vegetables.
Some of the zucchini, curiously, was "corked."
Luciano speculated that perhaps it had been packed and shipped in a cardboard
box which may have gotten wet and transmitted the papery, wet newspaper cellar
sort of character to the vegetable...
We also enjoyed a plate of Piquillo Peppers.
I think Stevie-D got one of the "corked" zucchini!
Luciano and Mariuccia ordered Swordfish (Pesce di Spada)...
Mushrooms, Corn, Arugula...
Alessia and Stefano ordered "Mexican Hot Dogs" and
these are bacon-wrapped and slathered with mushrooms.
A Duck Burger for me.
This is a Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen signature dish...
Stefano was certainly enjoying the restaurant...
After lunch we stopped by the Round Pond winery in Rutherford.
Here's a view of the driveway from inside the winery
We had a nice tour and tasting with Wine-Di! That's Diane Cline, Round
Pond's marketing and sales guru.
The Sauvignon Blanc was nice and dry, showing hints of melon and herbs with a
In their delightfully cool cellar (it was probably a hundred degrees outside
that day!), we saw them racking wines into barrel.
One of the cellar guys explained their oak aging regimen to
Alessia Dall'U, future winemaker at the Sandrone winery in Barolo with her
grandfather, Luciano Sandrone.
Round Pond makes both a Napa appellation Cabernet along with their
Rutherford-designated Cabernet. Both are from estate-grown fruit, though
the Napa bottling has a splash of Syrah in it.
Tasters at Round Pond are treated to a few tasty morsels to show off the wines.
The Sauvignon Blanc is accompanied by an endive leaf with some nicely seasoned
The Napa Cabernet pairs with the prosciutto-wrapped olive, while there's some
lamb and tapenade for the more robust Rutherford Cabernet.
If you're considering a visit to Napa, make an appointment here!
Round Pond's owners are fans of Italian wines, so they planted a bit of
Sangiovese and Nebbiolo.
They treated us to a taste of Round Pond's Nebbiolo...a small production of just
a few barrels.
Luciano was surprised to taste such a wine, though it's certainly a bit
To their credit, they did not muck up the Nebbiolo with Zinfandel or Syrah...it
has light fragrances of Nebbiolo, but while it showed a modest level of tannin,
the wine was a bit simpler than good "Nebbiolo Langhe" or Nebbiolo
d'Alba wines in my view.
Diane did not D-Cline a little gift bag with a bottle of
In fact, she was downright overjoyed.
Mariuccia and Diane Cline.
We then departed, what with Danielle Freschet coming to rescue Alessia and
Stevie-D from another winery visit, taking them swimming up near Calistoga.
Meanwhile, Mariuccia, Luciano and I drove up Spring Mountain Road into the
Luciano noted this was a sort of California unknown to Europeans.
And here we met Philip Togni and his daughter Lisa.
I think Philip and Luciano were comparing Parker Points and
trying to calculate who had the greater number.
The cellar is a bit different than those seen at our previous
stops on this day.
We tasted some very good wines from the barrels and lovely
wines from bottle.
The 2008 Tanbark Cabernet was very good...and Philip insisted upon opening a
bottle of his 1999 Togni Cabernet Sauvignon, noting that Luciano had treated him
to a bottle of 1999 Sandrone Barolo when he was visiting in Piemonte.
Amongst the various books and journals with accolades for
Togni's wines, Mariuccia found a book with a nice write-up about those of
After checking in to a hotel in Calistoga, we returned to beautiful downtown St.
Helena, where Stefano was pleased to find a store with his name on it.
A Fra' Mani Salumi plate...
We also had a plate of Sweetbreads (Animelle to the Italians).
As usual, Alessia was thrilled having her picture taken.
We had a nice, cool bottle of Sandrone 2010 Dolcetto d'Alba.
Stefano kept his eyes on everyone.
Cook prepares a Caesar Salad that's a Caesar Salad!
They're not afraid to use garlic and anchovies, thankfully.
Luciano ordered some sort of Risotto...
Alessia, I believe, ordered Fazzoletti pasta, as you can
easily see from this snapshot...
...well, maybe not.
Alessia also ordered the Cook "Airline Chicken Chop."
Stefano, meanwhile, ordered their American Wagyu Bavette "steak," as
did his grandpa.
Short-ribs and a 1991 Philip Togni Cabernet...two classics.
The 1991 Togni Cabernet was a delight...complex and un-fussed with.
While so many California wines are made from over-ripe fruit or fortified with
grape concentrate, the Togni wine was clearly not spoofulated.
Danielle, clearly, was surprised.
The next morning Jim Summers was waiting for us at the nearby
Summers Estate Wines cellar in Calistoga.
Signor Luciano Sandrone and Sir James Summers
Sir James and winemaker Ignacio Blancas (who, despite his name, makes red
If you made good wines, you'd be as jovial as Sir Jim.
Ignacio offered us a taste of both the 2010 and 2011 Cabernets.
We were there a bit too early to taste the 2012.
Alessia, despite her young age, was fully aware of the
rationale for planting roses adjacent to a vineyard.
Sir James said to the kids, "Listen, you don't want to
see more barrels and tanks. Why don't you stay here and go for a swim in
the Summers Estate swimming pool? It's filled with Charbono presently and
you can hang out here and at noon, I'll drive you to meet your Grandpa and Uncle
So Luciano and I drove over to Chateau Montelena, while
Mariuccia went for a swim with the kids in the purple pool!
There were some seriously young visitors at Montelena who were
enchanted by the lake.
We found our pal Sir Brian Baker in the offices at
And Brian showed us around the cellars.
They recently installed these fermentation and holding tanks in the cellar.
I think we stumbled on to the secret of Montelena's delightfully floral
Brian then led us to Montelena's inner sanctum...
And inside we saw a number of good, old friends!
1973 Shadow Montelena Chardonnay.
Inside the tasting "salon" at Montelena...
We saw these spectacular chandeliers which came from the Barrett family's
It's said that Sir James Barrett's father never made as much money in his entire
lifetime as it cost to procure these chandeliers!
Here we met assistant winemaker Matt Crafton, a sharp, intelligent young fellow
who was delighted to meet Luciano and share his passion for wine.
2011 Riesling was very fine...a delight to find them making such a good example
of this tricky variety.
The fruit comes from Mendocino's Potter Valley. The wine is beautifully
fruity and floral, with classic Riesling character on the nose and palate.
The 2009 Chardonnay is an elegant wine, as well...oak is well in the background
as they try to highlight the grape.
Brian, meanwhile, had a moment to poke around in the office
library, finding an old sales book.
We are customer #2 or 3 for Chateau Montelena, our first purchase being 1972
vintage Johannisberg Riesling!
Matt poured the 2009 Calistoga Cabernet along with the very fine 2004 and 2005
All three wines were showing well.
The 2009 is more approachable in its youth, all though each wine was quite
The 2005 Estate Cabernet has lots of red fruit notes and shows itself as a
cooler vintage with mild tannins.
The 2004 was a fine example of a warmer vintage, so the contrast in growing
conditions was quite apparent. The 2004 might be the showier wine at this
stage, but we suspect the 2005 will come along nicely and it may well surprise
well down the road.
After having a lovely tasting session, we adjourned the
proceedings to a little courtyard outside, below the shade trees.
Stefano, who is good at driving his grandparents crazy, got behind the wheel of
Montelena's little cart.
George Blackensee took good care in arranging a delightful lunch for us.
Stevie D came up with a nice hat for his Nonno.
And we had some beautiful berries for dessert.
As we enjoyed dessert, we had a look at some photos given to the Sandrones by
Here's a good shot:
Meanwhile, Chocolate Lips and her Grandpa posed for a snapshot
near some barrels by the cellar door.
The whole crew plus an anonymous woman who's apparently in the Witness
Luciano left Brian and Matt with a souvenir of his visit...a nice young bottle
to open in a decade, or so...maybe when Alessia is actively making Sandrone
We bid everyone a goodbye and thanked the Montelena crew for
their delightful hospitality...and made tracks for
Now everyone was saying Stefano is an Olympic Gold Medalist in
and the Italians have an expression about cutting down the forest or woods...
We had a nice stroll through the cool forest, situated just a few miles inland
from the Pacific Ocean.
I think Stefano was working on his moose-calling.
No moose, however, emerged from the forest.
The majestic trees are a delight.
We then hit the road and stopped near the Golden Gate Bridge for a few more
And then we arrived at the San Francisco Airport, where
Luciano and Company picked up a car and made their way to Half Moon Bay, Santa
Cruz and the town of Monterey.
After a night in Monterey, they trekked to Santa Barbara where they visited Au
Sandrone and Palmina bottles...
And they were at the Los Angeles International Airport for their flight to
Newark, New Jersey and then their flight back to Italia!
Clementine, Alanna, Pierre and Aviva are looking forward to, one of these days,
making the long voyage to Barolo!!!
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