I have been back numerous times since then, watching some wineries go from small construction trailer tasting rooms, to large stucco Tuscan villa replicas. My appreciation for the valley and its wine has grown with each visit just as the traffic now choking the once quite roads of the Silverado Trail and St. Helena Highway. While most of the valley is now chasing the tourist trade, selling magnet sets that match your wine label, don't let this scare you. Napa hasn't gone completely commercial. If you want a quiet, more personal approach for your visit, it does exist. Just ask Mike Hendry of Hendry Vineyards, Ted at Spring Mountain, Barbara at Forman Vineyards or even Janet Viader of Viader. Not only do they represent some of the best wines from the valley, their hospitality and personal attention their customers demonstrates their passion for their trade.
On a recent trip, we had the opportunity to experience this passion firsthand. Our first stop was a private tasting at Hendry Vineyard, a small estate winery on the southwest side of the valley. We were greeted by Mike Hendry, who walked us out to the vineyard to talk about his family's history of farming in the valley. We then headed inside through the back of the building, where we spied the winemaker, tasting from the barrel. This inspired an impromptu barrel tasting with his grandfather. We then went into the formal tasting room for a one-on-one sit down tasting of several of their wines. As we sipped our wines, Mike reflected on his family's philosophy of wine making. Aside from the fantastic zinfandel, what was most impressive was how candid he was about his curiosity to explore innovations in wine making, while not wanting to compromise the quality of what makes Hendry wines, well, Hendry wines.
Our second day included a private visit to Spring Mountain Vineyard. It had been raining non-stop in the valley prior to our trip. Everyone was happy the sun was finally out. Upon our arrival at Spring Mountain that day, Ted, wine club manager for the winery, grabbed a few bottles of Spring Mountain wines and asked us if we wanted to go for a ride around the vineyard. Of course no one objected. The four of us and Ted climbed into his Land Rover and we four wheeled to the top of the mountain. The wines were as amazing as the views of the vineyard. When we came back down the mountain, Ted took us into the cave for a private barrel tasting and allowed each of us the opportunity to use the wine thief. Only a few dribbles on my sleeve until I got the hang of it.
Our third day included a tasting at Forman Vineyards and Viader. I'd tasted the Forman Cabernet before, and absolutely loved its rich European style. I was excited to get an inside look at the vineyard. Tucked up in the hills and off the beaten path of the Silverado Trail side of the valley, Forman was difficult to find, but it didn't disappoint once we were there. Barbara our host opened the wooden gate, hopped in her car and we followed behind in what felt like a Formula 1 grand prix style dissent down a windy road leading to the wine cave. We were allowed into the private cave. We then crossed the small courtyard and sat down in the intimate tasting room inside what resembled a french stone cottage. Barbara casually poured wine in our glasses while sharing the story of what led Ric Forman to produce of the best little-known, but quickly becoming one of the most sought after, Cabernets of Napa Valley. Ric is literally a one-man band when it comes to his winery. Call him controlling, call him passionate, he doesn't care. What he cares about is his wine. We explored several other wineries, but these in particular stood out when it came to combining great wines with personal attention. We felt as though we weren't just one of the many, but special guests.