AWG Correspondent

Tom Riley

Larkmead Vineyards Photos

Larkmead Vineyards Review

Regions: Napa Valley AVA, Calistoga AVA, California

Reviewed: April 9, 2013 by Tom Riley
Published: April 14, 2013

In a business where braggadocio, self-importance, and delusions of grandeur seem to be standard operating procedure, it’s refreshing to come across a winery that chooses to keep a modest profile, to play it low-key. It’s also especially impressive when the winery in question has the history, pedigree, and reputation to push many competitors back into the shadows where they belong.

Welcome to Larkmead.

On land first developed by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, fabled philanthropist of the San Francisco Fire Department, and to whom several of the winery’s labels pay homage, Larkmead has been producing highly regarded wine since the late 1800s. In fact, through the years, until the Napa Valley began to expand, Larkmead was considered one of the valley’s Big Four, along with legendary wineries Inglenook, Beaulieu, and Beringer. Through both circumstance and the conscious choices of its owners over the years, Larkmead remains a boutique winery, with annual production numbers hovering around 8,000 cases. And, despite construction at the winery of a new barrel and tank facility, there are no plans to budge from that number.

Visiting Larkmead can seem like you've pulled up to the summer getaway of a friend or relative, who just happens to have a very nice farmstead smack in the middle of some of Napa’s finest vine land. The Solari and Baker families, owners of Larkmead since 1948, have eschewed a more ostentatious look, opting instead for an elegant simplicity, one that gives testimony to the paradox that less can indeed be more.

The interior of the homey reception center is cool and sophisticated, a perfect counterpoint to the reception you receive, which is warm and friendly. The day of my visit I was fortunate to be the only guest scheduled for my time slot, which allowed Amy to give me her undivided attention.

She led me to the back patio and asked if, when it was time to taste, I would like to sit outside. Given the warm breeze, cloudless blue sky, and panoramic view of the vineyard, it was almost a rhetorical question. Before we got to the wines, she gave me a quick tour of the winery and the new barrel building, which was still noisily under construction, explaining as we went that visitors don’t normally get to see the production facilities, but as I was flying solo, we could squeeze in a peek. In addition to the barrel facility, Larkmead is adding a small art gallery, where paintings by Mrs. Baker, a prominent Napa artist, will be showcased.

We wandered back out into the vines, past flowered bushes alive with hummingbirds and bees, as Amy, a natural educator, continued her recitation of the winery’s history and its current practices. We discussed the differences between trellising styles for different varieties, soils in different parts of the 112 acres that are under vine, and how the longevity of staff and ownership allow Larkmead to maintain its impressive record of quality. She also pointed out the eco-friendly practices at the winery, including the wide use of solar panels and energy conservation measures. “Pretty soon we’ll be giving back to the power grid, “ she said.

Now it was time to get down to business. At Larkmead there are several different rooms and outdoor locations that are furnished for tastings, given the size of a particular group or special plans they might have made for their visit. Indoors you’ll find a few rooms filled with comfortably upholstered couches and easy chairs surrounding low, glass-topped tables. Out on the patio there are picnic tables, padded wicker chairs, or, if you want to completely feel at home, classic caned rocking chairs. Tasting at Larkmead is as wine tasting should be: comfortable and relaxing.

I began with their 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, “Lillie,” named in honor of the aforementioned Mrs. Coit. This wine is fuller, richer, and more elegant than most Sauvignon Blancs you’ll find. Complex yet immediately satisfying, with cool, bracing acidity. Amy explained to me that the wine is available for sale only at the winery and typically sells out about a month after its annual springtime release. After I finished enjoying a generous pour it was easy to see why.

We moved on to the 2010 Firebelle, also named for Mrs. Coit and her lifelong passion for firefighters and their heroic works. A Bordeaux-style blend most often dominated by Merlot, this wine impresses from the moment you put your nose near the glass. Big, bold, balanced, and beautiful. Like all the wines at Larkmead, it’s 100 percent estate fruit, the product of careful and nurturing attention.

Amy returned from the reception area with my final wine, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery’s signature bottling. This wine is classic Napa Cabernet, nothing like some of the more modern, fruit-filled productions that are all power and no grace. Concentrated, with elegant, precise, and complex flavors, and offering a balance of acids, fruit, and tannins, this is typical Larkmead: delightful now and guaranteed to impress and reward for years to come.

I glanced at my watch. Almost an hour had passed since my arrival, but I was so relaxed and the tasting had been so informal, so personal, that I had lost complete track of the day. I knew I needed to get on the road, but all I wanted to do was sit on the back porch, take in the beauty of Napa, and continue drinking amazing wine.

Welcome to Larkmead. Indeed.

Address & Contact Information: 1100 Larkmead Lane Calistoga, California 94515. Telephone: 707-942-0167, email:, website: Tasting Hours: By appt. 10:00-3:00.

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