Dutch Henry Winery Review
Address: 4310 Silverado Trail Calistoga,California 94515.
Phone Number: 707-942-5771
Tasting Hours: By appt. 10:00-4:30
Region: Napa Valley AVA, Calistoga AVA, California
Reviewer: James Houston
Review Date: 5/31/2013
Reviewer: James Houston
Five seconds after I missed the turn for my intended destination of Rombauer Vineyards, I realized I didnt really want to go there anyway. So I kept following the Silverado Trail into Calistoga. The afternoon was dwindling, and I wanted to hit at least one more tasting room before–hopefully–beating the Friday traffic back to San Francisco.
A few winery signs passed me by, and I realized that if I didnt quit being indecisive, I would keep careening northwards and end up on Mendocino Forest back roads with low gas and the sun setting. The sign for Dutch Henry Winery popped up as the road bent west. With no idea what to expect, I pulled in.
Next to the parking lot was a bocce ball court, free for use by guests. Having recently moved to California from New York, I had deluded myself into thinking bocce was only played in Brooklyn bars by PBR-clutching, derby-wearing hipsters. I forgot that real people do it too.
A scruffy Airedale and a nervous-looking black cat eyed each other warily near the front door of the tasting room. The room itself is literally a warehouse–on your left as you enter the gigantic sliding door are shrink-wrapped pallets of wine cases, stacked low and high. You can take your pick of standing at several tables, arranged in a half-rectangle. I headed for the empty one, the others being occupied by large groups.
One guy with a mild British Isles accent I couldnt quite place handled the whole crowd–the selection of picture-enhanced staff business cards near the register identified him as Julius Orth.
He first poured me the 2009 Chafen Family Sauvignon Blanc. Theres a small point of confusion here, as two apparently distinct labels–Chafen Family and Dutch Henry–are produced under this roof. According to Julius, there is no inherent difference between the two labels. Both are made by winemaker Scott Chafen, and one line is not necessarily of higher or lower quality than the other. Scotts parents, owners Less and Maggie Chafen, reserve the right to designate any wine Scott makes as Chafen Family. Depending on what factors? I dont know.
(Dutch Henry himself–a mercury prospector and highwayman active in the area in the 18th century–has no direct connection to the winery.)
As I tasted the Sauvignon Blanc, the black cat from outside jumped up next to me and nudged my tasting note-writing hand. The wine had nice melon and fig flavors with a trace of sweetness I could have done without. Next was the 2009 Pinot Noir. Its nose was amply spicy and complex, but–as Ive encountered more than once with Napa Pinot Noir–the palate was short on acidity.
Heavier reds began with the Chafen Family Zinfandel 2009, wound tight but possessing solid strawberry jam character and a note of coffee. Julius was hung up with the crowd on the far table when I finished it, giving me a few minutes of extra time to consider the wines Id had so far and the surroundings.
This is a laid-back family winery that is making pleasant wine and having fun doing it. While Im sure excellence is the goal in the vineyards and winery, lets just say its not the sort of outfit I envision paying astronomical consulting winemaker fees for a Helen Turley or a Thomas Brown in order to ensure they will kick Harlan Estate and Shafers butts on the auction blocks and in the pages of the Wine SpectAdvocate.
If that makes no sense, how about this small but telling detail: Where certain Napa wineries might display something like a French Laundry cookbook or a $200 Laguiole corkscrew for sale, Dutch Henry offers Last Voyage–a homebrewed CD of great Jimmy Buffett-esque tunes written and sung by General Manager Gary W.M. Koehler. (My personal favorite: Wednesday Night Koehler Poker Palace.)
Its good that there are places like this in the Valley, making solid wine while providing a respite from everyone who takes the whole damn thing so seriously.
I digress. There were more wines to taste. Alas, Julius was still on the other side of the room. A tipsy fortysomething woman in the crowd standing next to me struck up a conversation, mentioning that her group was from out-of-state but still regulars here and members of the wine club. From this I assume Dutch Henry is doing alright for itself.
Julius returned and poured the 2007 Argos, a Bordeaux-style blend with ripe fruit and a solid kick of licorice. He warned of sediment as he poured, but my glass was clear.
Last was the 2009 Syrah, poured slightly too cold but a substantial wine nonetheless. It was more bright berry flavors than smoke and game and finished with a little sweetness. It was this one that concealed a gravelly layer of sediment at the bottom. With the wines done, I had small tastes of their proprietary olive oil and Zinfandel vinegar, which were at least salad-worthy.
The tasting was not the best $20 I spent all day, but of all the places I could have blindly visited after missing my turn on the Silverado Trail, Im glad it was Dutch Henry.