The Quintessa Experience
Quintessa is a landmark on the Silverado Trail and I have driven by many times. Each time I’d driven past Quintessa, I wondered if I would ever taste and tour there. It’s one of Napa Valley’s most expensive wineries for visiting and purchasing wine, and totally out of my pocketbook range. But lo and behold, Janelle and I received an invitation from Quintessa to tour and taste there along with fellow wine blogger Mike and his wife Mary. What a great visit it was, indeed, and very informative. This was last Thursday on a rainy but lovely day in the Napa Valley. The Quintessa experience was fun and not over the top as one might expect.
Agustin and Valeria Huneeus purchased this beautiful property of 280 acres in 1990. The land was in a natural state, with not a single vine planted in the area. They named the property Quintessa, relating to the five small hills and the microclimates on the land. There are presently 126 acres planted to vines, and these are all Bordeaux varieties, except for four acres of Carmenere. The winery began operation in 2002 and produces only one wine under the Quintessa label, a red wine. It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Carmenere.
There is one white wine that is produced at the winery but has a totally different label, Illumination. Once we settled in with our tour guide, we were poured a glass of this lovely Sauvignon Blanc. I must say, a very nice touch to start the tour. More on this wine later in our blog post. With a glass of Illumination, we climbed a set of stairs to the top of the hill. What was waiting for us on the other side was a spectacular look at the Quintessa Estate, and the Napa Valley looking towards the Mayacamus Mountains. Now this was a rather dreary day, cold and a bit of drizzle, but even in these conditions the view is magnificent. We will certainly be back to take a look at this view throughout the year. Now it was down to the cellar to see how the wine is made and aged at Quintessa. Lucky for us we were able to meet and speak with the Quintessa winemaker, Charles Thomas. Charles gave a quick rundown on how he makes the beautiful red blend. It is predominently Cabernet Sauvignon along with other Bordeaux varietals. The percentage and types of grapes used will vary slightly from vintage to vintage. The wine is aged for 20 months in mostly new French oak barrels. The wine cellar is state-of-the-art. All the grapes are gravity fed into the tanks for fermenting and then into barrels for aging. The wine cave runs in a U-shape and is lined with the French barrels.
We noticed that in the fermentation area there were several small concrete eggs, perhaps 200 gallons in size. Charles was the first winemaker to bring the concrete egg to the California wine scene. These concrete eggs were designed for the famous French winemaker, Michel Chapoutier. Charles ferments and ages Sauvignon Blanc in the concrete eggs. This amounts to about 20% of the juice that goes into making the Illumination. It gives the wine a nice mouth feel and a floral character that cannot be achieved in stainless steel.
Now for the highlight of the day, the sit-down tasting. The usual experience is a vertical tasting of the prior three vintages. For us, they threw in an extra, the 2008. We were duly impressed with each wine, but in particular the 2011 vintage. The 2011 vintage in the Napa Valley was a rather difficult year for Cabernet Sauvignon. The weather was overall cooler than usual, and then came the early October rains. However, as this vintage begins to mature in the bottle, it is becoming a stunning wine. We enjoyed this wine more so than the 2010 and 2009. The 2008 is a stunning wine and easily the best of the tasting, and perhaps an indication of the aging potential of the 2011. A cheese platter of three styles of cheese was served to accompany the wines.
If you would like to visit Quintessa, you have a couple of options. The first is what we had, the Estate Tasting Experience. This includes the tour of the vineyards and cellar, and a sit-down tasting of the three vintages of Quintessa. It takes about 90 minutes for the total tour. A second option is the Quintessential Quintessa, where the tasting is done in a private pavilion that overlooks the estate vineyards. Barrel samples are included in the tasting. Both tasting options are by reservations only. Check the Quintessa Website for complete details of each tour.