Artesa Vineyards & Winery: Napa – In Search of Snobs

In an area with something like 400 wineries, sometimes you choose by careful planning, research and recommendations. Other times, it’s “Look at this ad. Cool building! Hey, it’s nearby. Let’s go there!”

And thus we decided to visit Artesa. The ad we saw showed a starkly geometric window protruding from under a grass-covered hill, with an abstract sculpture out front. It looked interesting and different. Nikki adds: It looked like a spaceport from the best cerebral ’70s science fiction film that was never made.

Dude, I am SO THERE! Are you kidding?

What the photo failed to impart was the sense of grandeur and elegance we experienced when we arrived. The facility is on a high hill protruding from the valley floor, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The approach to the building is modern and austere.

Backing up a bit… these lead up to the area in the first picture…

Stairs lead straight to a pavilion before the front entrance, passing by reflecting pools that extend the sky. Fountain elements and the abstract sculpture add dynamism, and the whole approach feels almost ceremonial.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your left you’ll see fountains…
… and to your right is the abstract sculpture.

We later learned that this was no accident. The winery even has monks come and sing to the wine in the barrels, in honor of the unique role wine has played in ritual and ceremony for millennia.

But back to the building: Upon entering, you see an elegant reception desk adjacent to a wall of windows looking into an inner courtyard with a reflecting pool.

Piazza my heart.

The foyer has tall columns, and it feels like entering a high-end luxury hotel. Or possible an elegant spaceport.

Off-world shuttle to Phobos, now departing at gate 16.

Moving through the art-adorned foyer and the gift shop, you go through glass doors to the expansive tasting room. The large exterior windows offer stunning views of the valley below.

Artesa Vineyards and Winery
Yes, the foreground is the roof of a lower floor.
Artesa Vineyards and Winery
Fun fact: “Vast” in an anagram of “vats”, which are used in winemaking!

While thoroughly modern, the architecture is reminiscent of Mediterranean villas with details that evoke classic shapes of champagne flutes and wine glasses. It was all designed to reflect the centuries-old winemaking heritage Artesa is part of, while honoring the benefits that modernity has brought to the art of making and sharing wine. Nikki notes: Sadly, that modernity did not include purse hooks at the tasting bar.

Artesa Vineyards and Winery
Rorschach test! What shape that could conceivably hold sparkling wine do you see in the metal support on this chair?

David was the associate who poured for us at our visit. He was congenial and engaging, and his knowledge of wine (both in general, and of Artesa’s wines, practices and heritage in particular) was vast. Nikki adds: Also, dude does Crossfit and it shows. David did manage to disappoint us by not exhibiting any snobby tendencies whatsoever. I’m starting to think the snob thing is just a myth.

Artesa Vineyards and Winery
Thanks David!

The Wines

2010 Pinot Blanc (Carneros): This has a welcoming aroma with citrus and star fruit. Nikki adds: The smell specifically reminded me of the scent when you peel grapefruit. The flavor reveals a hint of peach and apple, accented with oak. The acidity is gentle, imparting a nice balance of tart and mellow.

2010 Chardonnay (Carneros): I got marshamllow, oak and a hint of fruit on the nose. Nikki adds: The smell made me think of Christmas in New Zealand. The flavor has enough acid to add some brightness without becoming tart. The flavor mellows and has a hint of butter at the end. Nikki adds: I found it more oily than buttery, but in a pleasant way. Quite delicious, another very well-balanced wine.

2009 Reserve Chardonnay: I wrote “A bit more of everything.” It was reminiscent of the 2010 Chardonnay above, but a bit more assertive with elements of toast and bublegum. Nikki adds: It also seemed a little more oily, but a lighter oil.

2009 Pinot Noir (Carneros): The aroma gave me images of buttered grapes and grass. Nikki says: I got pepper and peppertree wood. This is why we keep separate notes. There’s also a floral quality in the aroma and flavor. The body is fairly light, but the wine also has a rich quality that adds substance. A perfect example of that specific space Pinot Noir occupies, revealing how it has distinctive character but could play well across a range of food types. Nikki adds: This is one of the first vintages winemaker Mark Beringer did completely on his own for the winery.

2009 Pinot Noir Estate Reserve: The fruit and oak are a bit more defined in this Pinot than the one above. I noted that the flavor has higher peaks. Nikki notes: I got a strong aroma of carnation and a little hint of band-aid aroma on this (if you look back, you’ll see I mention the band-aid aroma a lot). This was definitely more assertive than the previous one, also delicious.

2009 Tempranillo (Alexander Valley): This wine has a gorgeous deep ruby color. The aroma is spicy and smoky with cherry and cocoa. These elements continue on the tongue. Given the exuberant aroma, I didn’t expect the flavor to be as velvety smooth as it was. There’s a nice hint of wood followed by molasses at the end. The wine is deep, but not at all heavy.

2006 Limited Release Merlot (Napa Valley): Fruit, vanilla and spice are prominent in the aroma here. Nikki notes: I got hints of pepper and barbecue. The flavor is ripe fruit with a nice swell of oak underneath. Tannins are mild. Again, the body is not heavy even though the wine has a certain richness to it. Nikki adds: For me, it was fruity while on the tongue, and I got a peppery bite when I swallowed.

2009 Artisan Cabernet Franc (Alexander Valley): The aroma offers wood, then fruit, predominantly cherry and black cherry, with vanilla. Nikki notes: I got pepper, cardamom and a little cedar. Nice oak up front on the palate, but not too tannic. The fruit evident on the nose then emerges. It’s much more accessible than many of the Cab Francs I’ve tasted.

2007 Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley): I found cherry and oak on the nose here. The flavor starts with mild fruit, followed by a spicy crescendo. The tannins gently remind you of their presence, without dominating. The overall sense is of a very smooth experience, a very friendly Cabernet Sauvignon. Nikki says: This tasted like a Christmas dessert party in my mouth!

2007 Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa): By contrast, this Napa Valley Cab gives a warmer impression in the aroma, with more sugar and vanilla notes and just a hint of wood. The flavor is a little more formal and structured, with distinctive oak notes that stop well short of tannic domination.

2008 Artisan Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): There’s a toasty scent, followed by blackberry and cherry aromas. The berry and cherry continue on the tongue with a nice rounded flavor framed in at the end by tannins. The fruit is on the jammy side, and the tannins are appropriately matched.

2007 Butala Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley): I got a bit of sulfur in the aroma, plus wood. Nikki notes: I got hints of ruby port. The flavor starts with a parade of fruit – blackberry and cherry. The sulfur is not apparent in the flavor, but there is a nice meaty quality here at the end. The tannins are muscular but restrained, without revealing much wood flavor.

Cava Cordorniu Napa Grand Reserve (Carneros): The scent had toast and a whiff of styrene. Nikki says: I got warm nougat and nutmeg. The flavor avoided being tangy or too-sweet, it found a nice elegant balance with a hint of almond. The effervescence was perfect, not too intense. Nikki says: This is the champagne-lover’s sparkling wine.

2004 Gewurtztraminer (San Benito County): The aroma gave me warmth, paper, raisins and star fruit. The flavor was sweet and rich, but with a certain almost savory inflection. I noted the finish as “crunchy sugar” with a slightly smoky quality. There are lots of layers in this wine.

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