Looking for Personal Touches in Napa Valley
It’s refreshing to know that amid all the touristy hype of the California wine country, there are still places where you can be treated like a family guest and called by name.
On a long weekend trip, my husband Yuri and I decided to move past the city of Napa and explore the valley a little further.
We made a tasting appointment at the Benessere Vineyards, which is located in the picturesque foothills of St. Helena and specializes in Italian varietals. Then we headed for Les Ivrettes Vineyard – a patch of land producing a very special cab sauv – and finally, we reserved the last remaining room at the recently opened Hotel Luca in the town of Yountville.
Our scenic drive through the yellow mustard fields and rows of grapevines ended up in a sunlit garden of Benessere (“well-being” in Italian), where we were touched by a warm welcome even before we entered the tasting room.
Barbara Fanucchi, our knowledgeable winery guide, poured our tasting flights and gave us a quick overview of how Benessere came to be. John and Ellen Benish bought the winery in 1994 after vacationing in Italy. Back in the 1800s, this land was inhabited by the Wappo Indians. In the 1930s and 40s it used to be a dairy ranch, in the 1960s it was a horse breeding and training farm, and in the late 70s and 80s it belonged to Charles Shaw Winery until “two-buck Chuck” went bankrupt.
Now, out of 42 acres, about 34 are planted with sought-after Italian varietals producing between 5,500 and 10,000 cases.
We started our tasting with a refreshing 2009 Pinot Grigio, then moved to the estate 2009 Rosato with sparkly pink watermelon color and aroma, and then to the flagship wine of Benessere – 2007 Sangiovese with strong Tuscan heritage.
The 2007 Old Vine Zin, full-bodied and complex, came from a neighboring 89-year-old vineyard, owned by Bill and Kathy Collins, while the 2006 Phenomenon was composed of the estate-grown Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Merlot, and Syrah – a crown jewel of the winery. Benessere also produces rare-in-Napa Italian varietals and blends like Sorridente, Aglianico, Sagrantino and an exquisitely delightful dessert wine, Muscat di Canelli-Frizzante.
Next, we headed to Les Ivrettes – a small vineyard on the Lewelling Ranch, nestled between the Vaca and Mayacamas mountains.
Lewelling Vineyards occupies an intermediate area irrigated by Sulphur Creek, but elevated above the valley floor, so it has good drainage and is not exposed to summer heat late in the season. Les Ivrettes is the source of the one and only Trivium Cabernet Sauvignon, a 100-percent cab – dark, rich, and pure.
Several years ago, three wine-industry veterans – winemaker Jack Stuart, grower Doug Wight and marketer Stu Harrison – joined forces to bring Trivium to fruition on a piece of land where their young daughters used to play and sometimes try wines borrowed from their fathers’ cellars.
The name of the vineyard, Les Ivrettes (tipsy girls) reflects the shared memories of the Trivium partners, while the name of the wine (meaning three roads’ cross-point) refers to the three friends working together to make their dream of a perfect wine come true.
After a day of personalized wine touring and tasting in St. Helena, we were ready to embrace the luxuries of Hotel Luca in beautiful Yountville.
Opened in 2009, Hotel Luca fits right in with the downtown boutiques, art galleries and antique shops. The two-story, 20-room hotel is built in a Tuscan villa-style with a cozy courtyard, a stone tower over an arched walkway, balconies overlooking the fountain, and 200-year-old roof tiles that came from Italy.
Settled in our beautiful room with a view of the blue mountains from our balcony, we sipped champagne poured for us at reception when we arrived.
It felt good just to be here. Everything seemed carefully selected to suit our taste – Restoration Hardware furniture, super-comfy Italian bedding, and a spacious bathroom with a heated tile floor… We almost decided to skip dinner in favor of a hot tub with hotel-provided salts, but it wouldn’t have been wise to miss the Tuscan-style delicacies at Cantinetta Piero.
Fresh, seasonal, regional – that goes without saying in this neck of the woods, but also well-executed, perfectly portioned, and nicely served. Were we glad we decided to dine in-house!
Warm-from-the-oven bread arrived with salsa rustica made from three types of olives, oven-dried tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. My favorite burrata was so good, it came to the table unadorned – just lightly drizzled with olive oil and salt. Wild-boar salami shared a serving board with San Daniele prosciutto, and Sonoma duck breast was done just right –medium-rare, accompanied with carrot puree and topped with a duck egg.
Sweet ricotta-cheese cannoli was sprinkled with candied orange peel and chocolate shavings – delish!
After dinner, we took a walk along the main drag – Washington Street – and stopped at the galleries, admired public art sculptures installed on every corner, and took in the breathtaking views of the valley sunset.
After a long-anticipated hot tub with aromatic salts, I slept like a baby.
The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast at Cantinetta Piero before our check-out time.
Hotel Luca is a full-service property, with a restaurant, spa, outdoor heated pool, and a 24-hour workout room. It is children- and pet-friendly, caters to business and vacation travelers, and has concierge service to help you book wine tasting, dining, transportation, and various activities, including hot air ballooning. Perfect for small weddings and all kinds of celebrations, it also offers two fully-furnished residences for stays of 30 days or more.