Quintessa Winery Review
Address: 1601 Silverado Trail St. Helena,California 94573.
Phone Number: 707-967-1601
Tasting Hours: By appt. 10:00-4:00
Region: Napa Valley AVA, Rutherford AVA, California
Reviewer: Tom Riley
Review Date: 7/23/2014
Reviewer: Tom Riley
A visit to Quintessa is an invitation to enjoy what’s best about the Napa Valley: committed relationships with the land, dedication to making fine wine, and the insistence on quality and sophistication in every task or gesture, no matter how small.
Built into a bank of wooded hills on the west side of the Silverado Trail, just past Conn Creek Road, Quintessa’s unassuming entrance and the winery’s façade are stunning examples not so much of minimalism as they are of restraint. This sense that a “less is more” philosophy can be elegant and powerful pervades ones time at Quintessa from beginning to end.
When Agustin and Valeria Huneeus purchased Quintessa’s 280 acres in 1989, making them relative newcomers even today, the land was seen as one of the last undeveloped yet prime parcels in the valley. Even today, with 160 acres under vine, the estate retains a rustic quietude not found at many Napa wineries.
One new way to experience the natural serenity of Quintessa is by signing up for the winery’s newest tasting program, Quintessential Quintessa ($125 per person, limited to parties of ten or less, four people minimum). A few months back, I had the chance to take part in “Q squared” and, I have to admit, it was a remarkable 90 minutes.
After a brief tour of the winery’s production areas, where the Huneeus commitment to quality is an orchestration of the finest modern (cement eggs) and ancient (gravity flow processing) technologies, guests are led to a set of steps that are carved into the hill and wind up into the trees behind the winery. Eventually, the group arrives at a glass-walled pavilion overlooking the estate and its many distinct vineyard blocks, high above Dragon’s Lake, with the Napa River in the distance.
Once you enter the pavilion, with its sleek lines, where the wood cabinetry marries seamlessly with the glass walls, you get the sense you’ve stepped into a wine spa. The table is covered with high quality stemware and china trays filled with cheeses and meats. The view across the vineyards on a clear, blue-sky day is breathtaking, and the surrounding woods have reduced any environmental noise to a whisper. You’ve entered another world.
We started our tasting with a splash of Illumination, their proprietary sauvignon blanc that is served only at the winery, while our host, Meaghan Qian-Fu Becker, Quintessa’s marketing director, gave us some background on the Huneeus family and their development of Quintessa. She also went over a map of the estate so we knew what exactly it was we were looking at, and enjoying so much.
Our tasting got underway with a few surprises barrel samples from two blocks contributing to the current 2013 vintage. Cabernet from Mt. Calisse and Dragons Terrace were earthy and savory, with hints of volcanic soil laced throughout. Even at this infant stage, the wine’s tannins and fruit components were in perfect balance.
Next up came the heart of the tasting, a side-by-side comparison of the 2011 Quintessa ($145), their current release, and a selection from their library, the 2005 Quintessa. The younger wine was robust, classic Napa; a Bordeaux blend vibrant and balanced enough to drink now, but with all the tools to cellar for many years. The library selection, now available only to Vineyard Circle members ($175), had passed its primary phase, but showed great composure; supple and long, with great balance, this wine is just getting warmed up.
Alongside the wine, we enjoyed a selection of cheeses from three Northern California producers: Seascape, a goat’s milk from Central Coast Creamery in Paso Robles; San Andreas, sheep’s milk from Bellweather Farms in Petaluma; and, San Joaquin Gold, a cow’s milk from Fiscalini Farm in Modesto. The cheese, along with a few nibbles of cured meats, brought out various subtleties of the wines, underscoring once again the fine complexity one comes to expect of Quintessa.
There are not many bells and whistles at Quintessa. They make only one wine. They have only two tastings and tours. Their winery doesn’t fill up acres and acres with massive hospitality centers and production facilities. But, the singular focus with which they approach every aspect of their work, the dedication to quality at every point, makes them a standout in a region filled with superstars. They know what they are about. I heartily recommend you head for the Silverado Trail in Rutherford and experience their singular vision for yourself. Like their wines, your time there will be memorable.