With a rich history filled with names such as Dick Grace, Heidi Barrett, David Abreau, and Philippe Melka, I knew I would be in for a special treat during my visit to Vineyard 29. Austin Gallion, Directory of Hospitality, swung open the huge metal doors at the entrance to the winery to greet us and lead us upstairs to the terrace with gorgeous views of the surrounding St Helena area.
Our first taste, surprisingly, was their other label Cru – a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and an elegant Pinot Noir from the high-regarded Shea Vineyard in Oregon. Yes, we tasted a Pinot from Oregon that they sell at their St Helena-based winery. I loved it! The Cru Cab is the lion’s share of this label and at $60, a relative bargain for a wine of that caliber.
Including the recently acquired Aida Vineyard in Calistoga, Vineyard 29 consists of 14 acres of vineyards used to make 6 estate wines, each made in small quantities of 50 to 800 cases with some selling for as much as $250 a bottle. I was looking forward to getting to that part of our tasting but first Austin led us on a brief tour of the production facilities.
Getting juice from one place to another is part-and-parcel of making wine. Ideally, you would use gravity to do the work but not every winery is set up to take advantage of gravity. Instead they use mechanical pumps to siphon the fermenting juice from the bottom of the fermenter and pump it back up and over the top of the cap. Pumping is thought to be bad for wine, as it introduces a lot of air and can cause “bruising.” But what are ya gonna do?
Well, at Vineyard 29 they built an ingenious freight elevator to fill, lift and empty tanks. By shuffling the different vessels around they’re able to avoid pumping almost entirely. Only someone with a tech or engineering background could have conceived this set-up. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s the exactly case with the current owners.
Austin then took us into their wine library inside the caves where we were surrounded by vintage after vintage of every size bottle format they make. (I did not see the elusive Nebuchadnezzar, however.) The best part of all — at least for me — was a food pairing especially created for each wine.
Vineyard 29 is fortunate to have Austin running their hospitality program, not just because of his exuberant and informative personality, but because he is a trained chef. Having previously helped open Redd and Martini House, he also led the wine and food tasting menus for La Toque. His talent and passion for wine and food pairing make this a huge asset for guests. And I’m not talking just local cheeses and chocolates, though Austin’s favorite cheese — Fiscalini, a 34-year aged cheddar from California — is a regular at his tastings. It was almost like a pecorino and was truly the perfect compliment to the estate Cab. The rest of the food was outstanding and each flavor note so carefully paired with each wine. I’m talking a meal in a spoon. Our bites included a Colorado lamb loin with green garlic potato puree and strawberry, and a beef short rib with risotto, cherry and fried shallots. Each highlighted the hints of berries, cherries, licorice, all spice and other flavors in their incredibly accessible Zinfandel and two Cabernets, one from the St. Helena estate and the other from Aida Vineyard.
They don’t take many visitors, but the few lucky are in for a real treat!