There are said to be over 400 “brick and mortar” wineries in the Napa Valley. The typical Napa Valley winery has a lavish tasting room, along with merchandise for sale. It can almost be said, once you have seen a few tasting rooms in the Napa Valley, you have seen them all. We are always on the lookout when we travel to the Napa Valley for something much different than the normal tasting room experience. We certainly found that at the Charter Oak Winery in St. Helena. Proprietors Robert and Layla Fanucci have an interesting combination of skills. In the tasting room in an old Victorian bungalow in St. Helena, Robert showcases his wines while Layla creates a unique style of painting on canvas.
Robert learned how to appreciate and make wine from his grandfather, Guido Ragghianti. When his grandfather died in 1986, Robert inherited the home and all the winemaking equipment, including a 100-year-old basket press. That press is still used today along with many old fashioned and artisan winemaking techniques, the same that Robert learned from his grandfather. In the Charter Oak wines, natural yeast is always used and the wines are unfiltered and unfined. Most of the grapes are sourced from the Napa Valley and some from the famous Louis Martini Monte Rosso Vineyards. Robert’s grandfather always made between 400 and 600 cases of wine per year, and today 600 to 800 cases are made at the Charter Oak Winery.
The tasting consists of four to five wines and a tour of the small and cozy winemaking facility. Since this is also Layla’s art studio, you also get a tour and look at her latest works of art. A tour and tasting is $20 per person, by appointment only.
The wines are all excellent and very well made, balanced with complex flavors. These wines are big and bold. Those who like a lighter style wine may not enjoy these wines, but those who love a full-flavored wine will thoroughly enjoy these. The Old World Field Blend was our favorite and priced at $58 a bottle.
Both Bob and Layla are graduates of San Francisco State University. Robert is an attorney and Layla taught music for years until her career took an unexpected turn. While searching for an original painting for her living room, she gave up looking and decided to paint one herself. Her friends who saw it were very impressed and encouraged her to paint more. She decided to quit teaching and paint full time. Earlier this year Layla and her art were featured on the cover of our alumni magazine. As fellow SFSU Grads, the article peaked our interest. And as you can see in the photo, her internationally renowned artwork is something that is quite different. The daughter of an architect, Layla paints layers of famous cities over one another.
Layla’s beautiful book, “Layla Fanucci: City of Dreams Unabridged” by Valerie Gladstone, is available at the Winery and online.
There are several wineries in the Valley that do combine wine and art, but this winery is quite different from any others that we have visited.