AWG Correspondent

James Houston

Hall Winery - St. Helena Photos

Hall Winery - St. Helena Review

Regions: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California

Reviewed: April 19, 2013 by James Houston
Published: April 23, 2013

In 2007, I snagged a bottle of Hall Cabernet Sauvignon from an east coast store shelf for less than $25. I can’t remember the vintage but it was probably the first release, and if not it must have been the second, given that the winery crushed its first vintage in 2005.

Today you’re lucky to find a half-bottle of the same wine for that price.

Hall Winery proves that overnight success or something close to it is still possible in Napa if you have the right grapes, the right winemaking brain trust, the right marketing, the right location, the right timing, and the right... everything else. Which is to say this winery, still a relative newcomer in the valley, has done a lot of things right.

You can hate on the 100-point scale and “establishment” critics all you want, but it won’t do much to help you shrug off the rate at which Hall wines have racked up 90+ scores and related accolades, such as its flagship Kathryn Hall Cabernet Sauvignon (2008) being named the second-best wine in the world in 2011 by Wine Spectator.

Husband and wife Craig and Kathryn Hall--he an entrepreneur and she the former U.S. Ambassador to Austria--have staked their claim in Napa with properties in both Rutherford and St. Helena. The latter is ideally located on the edge of Route 29 just before St. Helena proper, while the Rutherford location--surrounded by the great Sacrashe Vineyard--welcomes visitors by appointment only.

Although Kathryn Hall has legitimate winemaking bona fides that include managing family-owned vineyards in Mendocino County, the Hall cellars today are overseen by Mondavi-trained Steve Leveque, who has guided the recent expansion of the winery’s portfolio. Former winemaker Mike Reynolds holds the title of President, presumably utilizing his Berkeley MBA more than his Davis fermentation science degree in his new role.

The busy St. Helena tasting room is a simple and functional cabin-like space where I observe more than a few patrons paying with platinum AmExes and hundred-dollar bills. At one point there were impending plans for a Frank Gehry-designed visitor center, but the completion of that project is currently in doubt.

“Where else have you been today?” asks the young guy who pours my first wine. I wonder if this is idle talk or market research. The service here is very good, and not in the overly-eager-to-please way--it is good in the reading-your-mind way that is hard to instill in employees by training.

The $20 tasting starts with the 2011 T-Bar-T Sauvignon Blanc. It is floral and lush, on the lower end of the acidity spectrum but not too far. I’m told it’s aged in 20% new French oak for eight months, which is apparent in a hint of vanilla.

Next is the 2010 “Walt” Pinot Noir (“Walt” is Ambassador Hall’s middle name.) The wine is pleasantly funky with a distinct note of cola on the finish. We transition into heavier reds with the 2009 Merlot, which sports a carbon dioxide tingle that is curious for a wine with three and a half years on it. The flavors are spot-on though: Big and rich and a little sweet.

After this I taste the winery’s workhorse, the 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet. It bursts with black fruit, prune, and dried fruit leather--an able representative of Hall’s signature style. As I’m not going to spring for two ounces of an ultra-premium wine this afternoon, things wrap up with the “Darwin” 2009, a Syrah-based blend that is massive with rich coffee flavors and the gamey finish that good Syrah should have.

In the parking lot on my way out, I notice I’ve accidentally parked my clunky Bush-administration Honda Civic in a space that is “Reserved for electric vehicles,” and next to the space is what appears to be an electric car battery charger. Later, I learn that the Hall Winery is one of Napa’s most proactive leaders in environmentally-friendly practices, including being the first area winery to receive a LEED-gold certification.

I leave in a hurry. Next time I’ll come in a Prius.

Address & Contact Information: 401 St. Helena Highway South St.Helena, California 94574. Telephone: 866-667-4255, email:, website: Tasting Hours: 10:00-5:30 and by appt..

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