The beauty of Napa Valley is undeniable! I feel privileged to live here and am often in awe of the beauty that surrounds me. The journey along Highway 29 up-valley to Calistoga is sometimes congested but always scenic. The Silverado Trail is my favorite way to travel the Valley. This stunning route travels along the eastern edge of Napa Valley parallel to and several miles east of Highway 29. Whichever way I journey, it always makes me smile. But I have to admit that I have always been someone who likes to get off the beaten track. I love to find restaurants that time forgot, dive bars that border on sketchy and resorts that are far from the tourist traps. Bell Wine Cellars is one of those little delights. Their Winery is truly just minutes east of Highway 29 but once you are there you feel like it is miles away.
As you journey toward the Winery, you are surrounded by their Merlot and Chardonnay estate vines. While I was there, I had the wonderful opportunity to see my first budbreak up close and personal in the Chardonnay vineyard. It made me feel that spring has finally come to Napa Valley! The Merlot and Chardonnay grow so well here in Napa because of the long, cool summer days influenced by the breeze and early morning fog from nearby San Pablo Bay. The Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon is grown further north in the Rutherford Region of Napa. These vines benefit from warmer summer days and cool evening breezes offered by the Bay. And the Syrah grapes which are grown inland at 2,000 feet in the Sierra Foothills benefit from shallow soils, low yields, long hot days and cool mountain evenings all influenced by the nearby New Mellones Dam. Each of these unique microclimates, creates grapes with extraordinary quality and style.
What I found the most interesting and delicious about my experience and tasting at Bell Wine Cellars is the winemaker’s philosophy on how to make wine. Winemaker, Anthony Bell, was born into a wine family in South Africa. He worked throughout Spain, France and South Africa as a teenager developing an appreciation for the elegant and sophisticated European winemaking style. In fact, he learned that the magic in winemaking is crafting it from the vineyards not from the cellar. His philosophy is that wines are meant to be grown in the vineyard while he is merely the steward of nature while it is in his cellar. He has long been pursuing this philosophy known as terrior. Terrior is the French term for the factors that differentiate one vineyard from another including the climate, soil, and clonal selection.
Anthony Bell completed his undergraduate degree in Viticulture at Stellenbosch University in South Africa before pursuing his Master’s degree in Enology at U.C. Davis. He then began a 15-year long career with Beaulieu Vineyard – California’s royal house of Cabernet Sauvignon! Anthony’s tenure at Beaulieu Vineyard included Director of Winemaking and later General Manager. While there, he pioneered educational grower-vineyard programs and wrote the definition for the Carneros appellation. By conducting the now famous and groundbreaking research into the differences and impact of clonal variations on Cabernet Sauvignon, he raised the bar on Beaulieu Vineyard’s grape quality. Clonal variation is essentially the replication of a single vine which then creates uniformity and helps that wine taste like its “parent”. Then in 1991, he crushed his first vintage of Bell Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 6. It is thought that this is the first single vineyard, single clone Cabernet ever produced and labeled in Napa! Within three years of producing his first Bell vintage, Anthony Bell left BV to pursue his passion of producing small quantities of hand crafted, vineyard-expressive wines.
Besides an occasional Pinot Noir or a blend, I have rarely enjoyed red wine. I have always felt they are big, brawny and really overpower my palate and the food pairing. What I didn’t realize is that is what makes Napa Valley’s wines so sought after. That is what Napa Valley is known for…BIG red wines!! Thanks to Maggie Bernat, Hospitality and Events Manager, now I know. And now I understand why I fell in love with every red wine that I tasted at Bell Wine Cellars. The elegance and sophistication of their European style winemaking is what my palate has longed for without even realizing it! In fact, I went home with their 2013 Unfiltered Syrah. Syrah, which until finding this winery, was one of my least favorite wines is now my favorite red wine. This experience helped me realize how much I have learned about wine since I moved to Napa Valley. And at the same time reinforced that fact that I still have so much more to learn. Hmmmm, so more wine tasting? Yes, what a wonderful idea!!
As a vegan, the key to enjoying Bell wines is to stick with the reds and look for the word Unfiltered. I purchased my Syrah from Joe and he explained that none of the Bell Wine Cellars’ reds are filtered which means they are not fined so are not exposed to animal products. Though I did really enjoy the Chardonnay, it was explained to me that consumers do not enjoy unfiltered white wines. They seem to have a problem with seeing things floating around in their wine. Because of this, the Chardonnay is typically fined using egg whites. But don’t be sad! You will love the elegant flavor of their Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah wines.
Bell Wine Cellars is located at 6700 Washington Street just south of beautiful Yountville. It is surrounded by vineyards and cloaked in contemplative serenity with an occasional distant toot from the Napa Valley Wine Train horn. The tasting room is a majestic building made of pale stone shadowed by oak trees. The patio offers a spectacular view of the Mayacamas range and is flooded with golden sunlight as the sun dips below Mount St. John. Enjoy a leisurely picnic or play a game of bocce ball as you sip their extraordinary wines.
They are open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. by appointment only. And are happy to accommodate special requests. I experienced this first hand while attending a large party at Bell Wine Cellars recently. My husband Steve and I were the only vegans there and to our surprise Maggie had the Chef prepare a special plate of vegan hors d’oeuvres for us to enjoy. In fact, we had a hard time keeping all of the meat-eating party goers from devouring our tasty morsels!
I know you will enjoy your experience at Bell Wine Cellars as much as I enjoyed mine. So get off the beaten track and try this decidedly European experience. And as always…eat, drink and be vegan!