The latest from Napa Valley

It had been a few years since I had set foot on the hallowed wine country of Napa Valley, perhaps the most talked about appellation in all the world. There is a saying that I want to start out with: the more things change, the more they remain the same. In meeting new people, experienced hands and tasting new wines, I got the feeling that there is a unity of spirit in Napa Valley, that they genuinely believe theirs is distinctly the highest quality wine in the world as it has been for some time.
With that roadmap for the more than 400 wineries in a 30-mile stretch from Napa to Calistoga and the easy decision to break this report into a two-part column, let’s begin the journey: a sweeping world-class tasting from Carneros in the south; Oak Knoll, Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford in the middle; then St. Helena, Spring Mountain, Calistogoa and Howell Mountain in the north.
The down economy has dented the Napa Valley story but you would never know it by listening to wineries like V. Sattui Winery just north of St. Helena and Sattui’s colossal Castello di Amorosa, just south of Calistoga. Tom Davies, the president of V. Sattui, pointed out the many customer experiences that draw people into his facility, built up over his 30 years with the present owner Dario Sattui. 
“We have four acres of winery grounds and picnic tables and 34 acres elsewhere,” he began. “We sell ourselves direct to the public in many ways. We wanted to celebrate the Italian lifestyle with old world flavor and atmosphere. Our Italian deli and food store in the middle of the main wine tasting room is just one example of getting people off Highway 29 and into the winery. We started just the second wine club in Napa Valley in the 1970s. We give customers what they want — a wine experience. We are now showing outdoor movies in our picnic area and on Saturday July 31 we’ll host the V. Sattui annual Italian Festa by reservation from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. It will be a huge dinner, dancing, Italian music and discounts on our wines. It is especially significant to our winery since this year is our 125th Anniversary from our beginnings as a supplier in San Francisco in 1885 founded by Vittorio Sattui.”
V. Sattui has four different and stylish wine tasting rooms. Three-hundred-year-old bricks line the walls holding collectors’ library wines in the Gold Room, reserved for wine club members. Forty thousand members are signed up in the many wine clubs that account for nearly half the wine sales at V. Sattui. The winery now sells about 70,000 cases direct and offers some 45 different wine styles.
My recommendations include Pinot Noir Carneros Creek 2008 for $25, smooth, velvet style, illuminated by bright cherry fruit, and a gold medal winner in the West Coast Wine Competition; Zinfandel Ramazotti Vineyard Sonoma 2007 for $36, spicy and richly flavored, and one of nine different Zins offered and winner of two gold medals — Amenti del Vino and Long Beach Grand Cru. 
Dario Sattui’s greatest triumph was my next stop, the great Castello di Amorosa, open to the public in 2007. This 17-year project is an exacting replica of a Tuscan castle with 107 rooms totaling 120,000 square feet, eight levels including four underground with all-European materials and the best craftsmen in Italy to build it all by hand. It attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year. Here the wines tilt toward Italian style, with a 2006 Sangiovese for $26 and a 2005 La Castellana Super Tuscan for $65, that are typical of the style. Traditional approaches and growing areas around the castle produce intense, well-balanced flavors similar to Tuscany and Umbria in Italy, which happens to be Dario Sattui’s homeland. Next week we will be looking at other wineries that are keeping Napa Valley on top. For V. Sattui, visit www.vsattui.com. For Castello di Amorosa, visit www.castellodiamorosa.com. 
Note:  In last week’s column on Rhone varietals and Paso Robles, we featured early efforts in planting Syrah based grapes, and should have mentioned Eberly Winery, a pioneer for this wine country. Gary Eberle planted the first Syrah in 1974. It was successful and by the late 1970s he had about 40 acres. Find out more at www.eberlewinery.com.
Wine Bytes
— Gondola Cruises at Loews in Coronado are again going every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. through the canals of the Coronado Cays for $45 per person. Wine tastings are included on the gondolas with sommelier Kurt Kirschenman. Private cruises can be arranged as well as RSVPs by calling (619) 429-6317.
— Firenze Trattoria in Encinitas now has jazz on the patio every Sunday through September from 4:30 to 8 p.m. as a free service for their customers. For details, call (760) 944-9000.
— La Costa Wine Company has legendary Cakebread Winery of Napa Valley for a tasting from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 30. Cost is $25 each. They have just opened their Artisan Cheese Shop with cut-to-order service. For more information, call (760) 431-8455.
— The Grand Del Mar’s Addison has Tastings on the Terrace on select Wednesdays for July and August, from 6 to 7 p.m. Whites for July and reds for August. No RSVP required. Enjoy the wines Aug. 4, Aug. 11 and Aug. 18. The cost is $20 per person. Call (858) 314-1900 for details.

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