AWG Correspondent

Tom Riley

Chimney Rock Winery Photos

Chimney Rock Winery Review

Regions: Napa Valley AVA, Stags Leap District AVA, California

Reviewed: May 3, 2013 by Tom Riley
Published: May 10, 2013

If you have ever driven the Silverado Trail through the Napa Valley you have seen Chimney Rock Winery.

Maybe it’s the way the winery buildings sit back several hundred yards from the road, surrounded by some of Napa’s finest vines. Maybe it’s the way it looks, from a distance, like one of California’s historic missions. Possibly it’s the winery’s whitewashed walls that reflect the sunshine with a brilliance no artificial light can match. No matter which it is, you’ve seen Chimney Rock. And when you did, you said to yourself, I’ve got to stop in there.

I’ve been to Chimney Rock three or four times but never just by myself. When I drove up last week, I wondered how my visit would differ from those previous tastings. Happily, I had nothing to worry about.

As I approached the winery, I realized that the Chimney Rock is not styled on the California missions, as I had always believed. After my visit I did a little research and found out that the buildings were constructed in the Cape Dutch style, which is popular in the Western Cape region of South Africa, an homage to the Dutch, German, French and Indonesian roots of the winery’s founders Hack and Stella Wilson. Founded in 1981, Chimney Rock is now owned by Napa’s Terlato Wine Group.

I moved into the cool of the tasting room, a welcome escape from the rapidly rising valley temperatures, and couldn’t help but smile. That’s the effect Chimney Rock has on its visitors. During my hour-long visit, I confirmed this by watching closely every time the heavy oak door opened. Not a single person entered without looking happy to be there. Comfortable surroundings? Air conditioning? Magic? Take your pick. Whatever it is they’re doing at Chimney Rock, it’s working.

The tasting room at Chimney Rock seems be a combination of high-end hotel lobby and the pro shop at a posh country club. Comfortable seating near the fireplace, away from the bar, and plenty of winery memorabilia and clothing on display for sale do not, however, distract guests from the main purpose of their visit: getting to know some of the Napa’s most consistently excellent wines.

Both tastings offered the day I visited, the Stags Leap Cabernet Vertical ($30) and the Winemaker’s Selections ($35), opened with the 2008 Elevage Blanc, a blend of 70% sauvignon blanc and 30% sauvignon gris. I was being led through the tasting by Joan, who was both professional and personable. As she poured, she told me it was a white that is enjoyable now but certainly capable of aging. The wine’s rich fruit concentration and plenty of mouth-watering acid told me she was absolutely right.

Feeling the need to splurge that day, I went with the Winemaker’s Selection and next up was the ’05 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was restrained and elegant, with intense flavors running through its sleek body and long finish. Next up was a side-by-side tasting of Chimney Rock’s proprietary blend Elevage. Both the ’05, predominantly merlot backed up with cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot, and the ’06, more cabernet sauvignon leading the other two varieties, showed classic Bordeaux-like construction. While indulgently delicious now, these are wines for the long haul, with many special years still in store.

We finished up the menu with an ’06 Tomahawk Vineyard, which the winery’s website refers to as its “pinnacle.” One hundred percent cabernet sauvignon, this is the sort of wine that the Napa Valley has built its international reputation upon. Bold, elegant, structured, and intense, with the potential to age for many years. Its retail price of $160 causes a bit of sticker shock. But, who knows. Ten years down the road that might look like a complete bargain.

As I was getting ready to take my leave, I overheard a group of visitors talking about their travels. They were from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and just arrived in Napa after a week of hiking in Yosemite. When asked what brought them in to Chimney Rock, one of them exclaimed, “We saw your winery from the road and, we all agreed, we had to stop!”

See? I told you. That’s how it works.

Address & Contact Information: 5350 Silverado Trail Napa, California 94558. Telephone: 707-257-2641, website: Tasting Hours: 10:00-5:00.

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