Hourglass Vineyard Review
Address: 1104 Adams St, Ste 104 St. Helena,California 94574.
Phone Number: 707-968-9332
Tasting Hours: By appt. for active or wait-listed customers
Region: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
Review Date: 3/9/2016
Reviewer: Mark and Sonja
The Napa Valley is as old as it is well-known, though what few realize is just how diminutive the nations most famous wine region truly is. Accounting for less than 5% of Californias total wine production, from point to point, the Napa Valley runs no more than thirty miles in length, from Mt. St. Helena in the north to Carneros in the south. Side to side, from the Mayacamas range in the west to the multiple noteworthy landmarks of the east, including Howell Mountain and the Chiles Valley AVA, the Valley tapers in the middle, like the figure of a Victorian lady in a corset, lending the Valley a similarly elegant hourglass figure if viewed from above by those willing to see it.
In 1992, at the behest of a friend, Dr. Mark Kliewer, Dean of Viticulture at UC Davis where more than a few famous vintners have undertaken their studies, paid a visit to Jeff Smith, the owner of a tiny vineyard situated in the heart of the Napa Valley. During his visit, Dr. Kliewer pointed out a couple of things to then industry-newby Jeff Smith that would prove transformative to Smiths future winemaking endeavors: First, the soil was rocky, chunky, and arid, inhospitable to most living plants including the fruit trees that Jeffs father, Ned, had attempted to plant there previously and that made it utterly perfect for planting the hearty vines of Cabernet Sauvignon. The other thing Dr. Kliewer pointed out that day was that the vineyard sat squarely over the narrowest point of the valley, where the eastward reach of the Mayacamas range gets as close as it ever does to the mountains on the valleys eastern side, a unique geographical feature that soon became the winerys namesake.
North of that volcanic taper, just off the Silverado Trail to the west, is the Blueline Estate, situated upon the Selby Creek Alluvial Fan, itself a fascinating property for its lush planting areas, ready access to water, and seclusion. Seclusion isnt something every winery is looking for; many build the most audacious structures they can afford on Highway 29, in the hopes of attracting passing motorists with the promise of Napa Valleys most famous product. Hourglass is different, however. Barely marked, the directions were sent via email the night before an arranged visit, and Audra, who has been with the estate for six years, sees no more than ten people a day, most of them in the caves where the barrels of Hourglasss maturing and yet un-bottled portfolio make their home. Immediately upon arrival, one gets the sense that this is not just another winery, but somehow much more intimate, unique, and special than some of the monuments to mass production that line stretches of the busier valley roads.
Inside the mighty oaken doors, framed with the colored punts of hundreds of wine bottles, the caves of Hourglasss Blueline Estate are lined in new French oak barrels, full of gradually aging fine red wines. Before Audra stepped into the room from a side corridor, a backlit table deep inside the entry stood waiting, supporting a single bottle of wine and three glasses. Coming in out of the light into a cave, it was difficult to discern optically even whether or not the wine was red or white. Audra arrived quickly from around the corner to fill the waiting glasses by way of a greeting, first explaining the significance of the glass topped table, which displayed in compartments strikingly different soil samples juxtaposed next to one another from many of the Valleys storied AVAs. The wine on the table was a Sauvignon Blanc, 2014, a new addition to estates previously red-only portfolio, and it was exceptional.
From the singular white wine, a barrel tasting of the maturing 2014 Cabernets, and from the barrels into an unexpected side-cave, stunningly adorned with a one-ton blue marble slab for a table a subtle nod in the direction of the estates name, a plush leather couch and high-backed chairs, and a chandelier made of something resembling a large hunk of coral reef, giving off enough, but not too much, gentle light. On the slab of the table where Aslan might have lain was instead a gorgeous bouquet of fresh flowers and a neat row of four shapely bottles, a Merlot, a Cab Franc, and two Cabernet Sauvignons. Audra spoke casually, knowledgeably, sometimes laughing, and often inspiring laughter; as she spoke and poured, the smile never left her lips. An employee of over six years, her knowledge of the product was exceeded only by her enthusiasm for it. She poured taste after taste, discussing the history of the winery, the vision, and the successes and struggles of vintages over time: Mother nature is your investor, whether you ask her to be or not, she explained casually, refilling a glass with Blueline Estate Merlot, as if she didnt realize just how poetic the statement was. Kind and confident, Audra became as much a part of the experience as the stunning cave in which it took place, even as the wine itself.
Ninety minutes passed quickly and were not enough; twice as much time would not have been sufficient to spend tasting such excellent wines in such a peaceful, inviting space. As is almost always the case, wine is in large part about the experience, and while Hourglasss extraordinary wines are certainly capable of speaking for themselves, the experience of tasting in the caves of the Blueline Estate made them all the more memorable and enjoyable. Uncommonly special, relaxed yet refined, and necessary to book far in advance, Hourglass truly offers one of the premier tasting experiences available in the Napa Valley.