When I moved to Napa three years ago, I didn’t have much experience drinking wine. I had only been wine tasting once before on Old Mission Peninsula on Lake Michigan while I was visiting family in Traverse City, Michigan one summer. It was an amazing experience but by the time I made it back home to Denver, it faded quickly from my thoughts. When I did drink wine, I would just grab a cheap bottle of Riesling from the grocery store. As long as it was really sweet, I was happy! Once I got settled into my new home in Napa and finally took in the gorgeous grapevines, the scenic beauty between the mountains and valley and the welcoming attitudes of everyone, I decided that now was the time to learn more and find out why everyone else was so excited about Napa Valley wines.
What made this new adventure easy is the fact that my husband Steve has a real taste for wine. In fact, he loves it. Put a robust Cabernet Sauvignon in front of him and he is thrilled. With about 400 wineries in Napa Valley alone, we had a new hobby! Our adventures took us from downtown Napa, up Highway 29, to Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga and back down Silverado Trail. We found so many delicious wines but began to see that we had completely different palates. I found myself gravitating toward the Sauvignon Blancs, Chardonnays and when I enjoyed a red wine it was typically a Pinot Noir or blend. Did I mention that Steve loves Cabs – the more robust the better? As much as we wanted to become wine club members, we truly could not agree on a winery that made us both happy.
This all changed in April 2013 in a really obscure and surprising way. Steve had a Sunday off which was really rare at the time so we decided to head to downtown Napa to grab some lunch and check out the Arts in April celebration. I remember it being a very sleepy day downtown and we were not sure where our day was going to lead us. One of the artists highlighted for Arts in April was Gordon Huether. We had never met the artist but had seen some of his work throughout Napa Valley and through the power of social media Steve and he were Facebook friends. Gordon Huether Gallery was a provocative mix of glass and sculpture installations and unique works in a variety of media including glass, metal and canvas. It was a studio full of gorgeous and unusual works of art. We purchased a couple of small pieces and while we were chatting with the staff they asked if we would like two passes for a complimentary wine tasting at Artesa Vineyards & Winery in the Carneros region. Since Gordon Huether is the Artist in Residence at Artesa, we figured it would be a great way to wrap up our afternoon – more amazing art and a little free wine.
We left downtown Napa and headed south along Old Sonoma Road. As we headed up the hill and left Napa behind we were almost immediately surrounded by gorgeous, green vineyards. I was just amazed by the beauty of the Carneros region. As we turned off Henry Road and began circling up toward Artesa Winery, we were just blown away by the beauty but really had no idea what we were in store for when we reached the top.
Artesa Winery is truly a study in the harmony between natural and manmade spaces. The design is the creation of renowned Barcelona architect Domingo Triay. The seamless blending between the tasting room structure and the surrounding landscape is truly avant-garde! The winery is naturally insulated, set into the highest hill of the 350-acre estate and covered with windswept native grasses. The architecture captures a series of Mediterranean themes including water flowing through narrow channels and a sweeping staircase set between twin cascades of water and flowing fountains that lead to the winery entrance.
Awestruck from the amazing views, we stepped over the winery threshold into a light filled, gallery-like Visitor Center. The welcoming receptionist provided us with a flute of champagne and guided us to the tasting area. The sophisticated interior includes wide glass expanses overlooking a courtyard and the lobby offers several modern furniture groupings for gathering with friends. This is all a gorgeous backdrop for Gordon Huether’s original works of sculpture, paintings and mixed-media art. This leads to a small retail area full of handbags and cookbooks, chocolates and sun hats. In fact, I have purchased one of my favorite pastry cookbooks of all time from Artesa. We then stepped into a large, open area with huge windows leading to the patio-like terrace and two bars for wine tasting. The expansive terrace offers breathtaking panoramic views of Napa Valley and its own beautiful estate vineyards. This day in April was sunny and clear and we had an amazing view of the San Francisco skyline too! If you really want to enjoy the terrace, remember to bring your sunhat because you will not want to go in. Not only is the view spectacular but you get to sit in the sun and sip wine while relaxing. It is such an amazing experience!
Artesa Winery is owned by the Raventos family whose winemaking history dates to mid-sixteenth century Spain. That is the mid-1500s for those of you who did not pay attention in history class! In fact, Artesa is a Catalan word meaning “handcrafted”. These days Artesa focuses on producing small, ultra-premium lots of the varietals that the Carneros region is known for – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Artesa’s roots are located in the coolest portion of Napa Valley on their 350-acre estate in Carneros ideal for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. In addition to the Carneros estate, Artesa has over 400 acres in Alexander Valley to grow Bordeaux varieties and 180 acres on Atlas Peak devoted to their Cabernet Sauvignon. Artesa also offers Burgundy, Albarino, Tempranillo, Pinot Blanc and Cabernet Franc.
Their winemaker Mark Beringer, a fifth generation winemaker from Napa Valley, brings his wealth of experience and winemaking accolades to Artesa. With his family winemaking for five generations, it seems that winemaking has become a part of his DNA! In fact, Mark is the great-great grandson of Beringer Winery co-founder Jacob Beringer. When Mark was just 12 years old he worked at his parent’s local wine shop stocking shelves and dusting bottles. Being so immersed in the business, he quickly became very versed in the complicated language of wine. It was clear very early on that winemaking was his calling! He then went to work in his Uncle’s winery while attending Santa Rosa Junior College which then led him to California State University in Fresno. He graduated with his B.S. in Enology and began his winemaking journey. From Glen Ellen Winery to Duckhorn Vineyards which launched Paraduxx and then Goldeneye. By 2005, The San Francisco Chronicle named Mark “Winemaker of the Year” for his work at Duckhorn Vineyards! During Mark’s tenure at Duckhorn, he garnered two Winery of the Year titles, was named Regional Winery of the Year four times and won the #6 rated Wine of the Year for the Duckhorn Vineyards 1999 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Wow! What an impressive resume! Mark then founded Mark Beringer Consulting and worked on a variety of projects within the wine industry before joining Artesa Vineyards and Winery as Vice President of Production and Winemaking in February 2009.
Of course, much of this information about Artesa Winery and their winemaker Mark Beringer I did not find out until much later. What interested me at the time was how wonderful the wine tasted. For the first time in almost a year and a half of wine tasting, my husband Steve and I finally found wine that we both loved. Before we left that afternoon, we signed up for our first wine club membership EVER! This was almost two years ago and we are still enjoying our wines and love visiting every few months to experience the amazing views, share the experience with friends and family and do some much needed wine tasting!
One important lesson I have learned since my move to Napa and embracing the wine drinking experience is that not all wines are vegan-friendly. As this fact became more important to me, I reached out to Artesa Winery to find out if this was still the best place for me. The great news is that many of their current releases are appropriate for us vegans to enjoy! This includes the
- 2012 & 2013 Estate Reserve Chardonnay
- 2011 Rive Gauche
- 2011 Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
- 2013 Limited Release Chardonnay
- 2011 & 2012 Limited Release Tempranillo
- 2011 & 2012 Limited Release Meritage
- 2012 Tradicio
- 2012 & 2013 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir
- 2013 Albarino
I have had the pleasure of tasting many of these wines and it is an amazing selection that I know you will enjoy!
Artesa Vineyards & Winery is located in the beautiful Carneros region at 1345 Henry Road in Napa. The winter Tasting Room hours are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The last pouring is at 4:30 p.m. so arrive with plenty of time to enjoy the experience and take in the amazing views! When you are ready to experience this beautiful winery, take my list of vegan-friendly wines and enjoy!
And as always…eat, drink and be vegan. Cheers!