I just returned from a dry wedding, got home, poured a glass of Decoy Zinfandel and felt compelled to write about a special trip I had to Burgess Cellars.
Following my last trip to Ladera I was looking for a spot to go before the tasting rooms closed - generally they lock the doors around 5 or 6 PM - and I looked to the gentleman pouring our wine and asked where we would be able to get in to, and he immediately called up Burgess Cellars and procured a reservation.
Burgess is located about a mile down the road from Ladera. It is tucked into the woods and they only produce red wines. Their tasting room is their barrel room as well and it is cozy, personable, and full of education as their tasting manager is willing to fill your ear with as much information as you want.
Visit Burgess and you will not be charged a tasting fee, but you can only get in there with a reservation. They are very confident with the quality of their product and this is why they won’t charge you for your visit. I guarantee you won’t leave without purchasing a bottle though, as they create phenomenal wines.
I left with their 2007 Estate Vineyard Reserve (http://tinyurl.com/bw9pnpk), which I got for a steal as this bottles price has tripled since my purchase. A few of my friends that accompanied me also grabbed this vintage and we have all since opened and enjoyed it immensely. It is done Bordeaux style, it is rich and bold, and I found it to be quite fruit forward, but I did drink it rather young and much of those fruit notes would dissipate with a solid length of cellaring.
A true lover of reds should make a point to stop by Burgess and enjoy the comforting experience it has to offer.
Robert Biale Vineyards was the first establishment dedicated to the wine-making tradition that I visited. I had known about it long before I first moved to Napa as my father had been a wine club member for many years.
Biale happens to be one of the oldest producers in Napa, but definitely not the largest. Their production is on the smaller side in comparison to much of the main street places, but they make a damn good zinfandel - the vintage that has made them famous and undoubtedly keeps the doors open. Their focus on zins is probably the reason they haven’t seen immense growth as the grape does not cellar as well or as long as cabs and pinots noirs, for example.
Their story begins pre-prohibition with the Italian immigrants, the Biale’s. When the prohibition began they just couldn’t stop making their wonderful product so they began the Black Chicken Society. As they also ran a farm, they used that as a front to hide from the feds, and when people were looking for wine they would call over to the Biale’s and ask for some black chicken - a type of chicken that would be used in many types of braised chicken dishes. The black chicken secret code kept their production in the works and viable throughout one of the darkest times in the annals of our history.
Fast forward nearly 80 years and we see the same Biale family creating a spectacular product, and producing their flagship wine - the Black Chicken Zinfandel, a wonderfully jammy and fruit-forward wine. Up until a few years Aldo Biale, who delivered wine during the prohibition, would sit in his rocking chair in the tasting room and tell stories to those who would come to listen and drink wine with him. He has now passed, but the rocking chair remains.
My father is a Black Chicken Club Member, and his membership allowed me to be exposed to this wine early on in my wine exploration. When beginning to drink wines, no less reds, Zinfandels are often the first kinds to be taken to because of their stronger fruit notes - the generally higher alcohol content doesn’t hurt its cause either. So if you are just getting started, please try to get yourself a bottle of Biale wine, there will be no regrets.
Go visit Biale Vineyards, their quaint and rustic tasting room and outdoor sitting puts you within the vines and in the generally excellent and sunny clime of norcal.
Here I am enjoying the 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet by Ladera Vineyards. I have been an immense fan of their line ever since I had their ‘05 vintage a few years ago. Ladera in Angwin, California, sits on the hillside adjacent to Pacific Union College my alma mater. I was immediately transfixed by this hidden away treasure on my first visit to their rustic base of operations. It is up the hill on Deer Park Rd, which runs off the main drag that is Silverado Trail, which is usually overrun by tourists most of the summer. Visits to Ladera are by appointment only, which offers a certain level of privacy for your tasting that truly provides a unique experience for the lucky ones who visit them. One of their few employees and often the wine maker himself will be found pouring the wine in their tasting room, which also doubles as their press room. The tannins permeate the air offering a titillating tasting experience. After you are done, I highly recommend you try to procure a tour of their cellar - which comprises of a grand network of caves dug into the hill they reside on.
Quick research online will find many praises for their Cabernet’s and I truly recommend you snag a bottle if you happen upon it. Everything they make is single varietal, and their production is humble to say the least. Here at Ladera, quality before quantity is a well understood sentiment. Their Cab does not have the extremely jammy characteristics that is prevalent in California Cab’s, but is well-balanced with a nice leathery finish. I was lucky enough to share a bottle of their 2000 Howell Mountain Cab with my father this past winter, and when allowed to age for ten years or more - those tannins really mature quite nicely, and give this wine a layered and complex flavor profile worthy of the finest nose and palate.
So if you are looking for an educating, quiet, and personable wine tasting experience, remember Ladera, and tell them Jereme says, “Hello!”