Napa: The Wine Clubs

“Don’t join all the wine clubs!” I was cautioned by a friend even before I set foot in the rolling hills of vines. As the wine flows and the ambience captivates, one can be easily swayed to join wine clubs which offer unique perks to their members. Knowing myself, I probably would’ve joined at least half of them, but I’m proud to say that I only joined two over the course of the whole trip. Pat on the back? Why yes, thank you!

I also made sure that I didn’t rush to join anything on the first day. It was my first time in Napa and undoubtedly everything would taste delicious. The whole experience could’ve easily swayed my decision to join a wine club. So I gathered the papers from the wineries we visited earlier, just in case I needed them in the future. 😉

The first one I joined was actually a planned visit. My sister-in-law had told me about a vineyard which was affiliated with Disney. I looked into the vineyard, and found myself impressed with their story and sustainability (not to mention their solar panels!)…

Silverado Vineyards 


Walt Disney’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and her husband founded the vineyard in the late 1970s and initially sold their grapes to other local wineries who won many awards for their wines made with Silverado’s grapes. Diane and Ron thought, “Why don’t we do this ourselves?” and got cracking at making their own wines.

Silverado Vineyards is located along the Silverado Trail (appropriately named, no?), which runs parallel to the main stretch of road running through Napa Valley. It’s nestled high on a hill, and the drive up to the doors can get a bit narrow – I can’t imagine maneuvering one of those massive tour buses! We arrived for our 10am appointment a bit early, so we wandered a bit around the front of the building, taking in the unique water features set along the grand staircase, as well as this amazingly ornate wagon:

We were warmly welcomed into the indoor tasting room and shop. I couldn’t stop looking at everything, well, nearly everything. What I had completely overlooked upon entry was a Ratatouille poster that hung just inside the entryway. There are only two copies, apparently, one at Silverado and one in a Pixar executive’s office. It wasn’t officially released because they didn’t want to portray irresponsible drinking to children:

It’s also been stolen on a couple of occasions, so they keep good tabs on it!

Diane has quite the poster collection of old advertisements they used to put up in subways. The hallway looks gorgeous, but also isn’t accessible by all visitors. We toured the barrel room and even went to see where the bottling happens; one staff member was actually labeling the bottles when we were there! After a tour of the spaces, we were taken to the outdoor patio overlooking one of the estate vineyards to accompany our tasting. We had the pleasure of trying four different wines:


  • 2016 Chardonnay Carneros – an amazing wine if I do say so, and I rarely say that about chardonnay. This was aged 60% in new oak, 40% in stainless steel and it still had a crispness, yet slightly creamy texture (sounds unusual, I know) and lightness to it. Its color literally paled in comparison to the traditional chardonnays, and it offered some beautiful lime and citrus notes on both the nose and palate.
  • 2014 Malbec, Mt. George Vineyard Coombsville – I love malbec, and this one was very much of the French style. With a light to medium body, there was an abundance of fruit on the nose and tongue, boasting black currant and cranberry.
  • 2013 GEO Cabernet Sauvignon Coombsville – 88% cabernet sauvignon with 12% petit verdot to bring a deeper color and complexity, this wine offered what they consider a ‘new world’ style of cab. It was earthy, with big tannins and a full body.
  • 2011 SOLO Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District – contrasting the one above, this 100% cabernet is reminiscent of the ‘old world’ style (European), with a relatively high acidity, low to medium tannins and bright cherry fruits.

I honestly loved them all – the view didn’t hurt either. Even across just four wines, I could tell that Silverado prided themselves on creating unique flavors in each of their wines – no two are alike. They don’t have a massive line, but what is there is done exceptionally well. They hold on to their wines and release them at intentional times; many of their 2015’s are now just being released. And there are some that are only really available to club members. Some of those that we tasted aren’t available for purchase online.

I joined as a ‘Case Club‘ member so I’m only getting 12 bottles per year which is definitely manageable. 😉 I have a feeling I’ll be reordering some wines from them, though!

A few more pictures from Silverado, before we head to the next:

Now I said we had planned to go to Silverado, but the second wine club I joined, though also a recommended stop, was one we randomly decided to drop in on:

Buena Vista Winery 

Buena Vista is touted as the oldest of California’s premium wineries, as it was founded in 1857 by Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian who became known as “The Count of Buena Vista.” The Count is revered for his innovative wine growing techniques and continued improvement to the quality of grapes, although there are a few interesting tidbits about this man who grabbed my attention:

  • IMG_0257He comes from a long line of grape growers and vineyard owners in Hungary, and his sons all became heavily involved in the wine biz
  • After traveling to America, Agoston first landed himself in Wisconsin, and founded the Wollersheim Winery (woohoo Wisconsin!! There’s my tie!), but eventually felt that what he could grow and produce was limited by the climate. So he sought out warmer weather, and arrived in Sonoma Valley.
  • While at Buena Vista, the Board of Directors accused The Count of having bad viticulture techniques and dismissed him from the enterprise, as a large percentage of the vines were getting sick and dying. If you’re like me, you immediately thought, “Phylloxera!” And you/we would’ve been right. The Board of Directors were quick to oust him, before realizing the true culprit behind the ill fate of the vines. Buena Vista began grafting and/or replacing their vines with phylloxera resistant vines, so all is good again. But The Count moved on to greener pastures, so to speak, and found himself in Central America.
  • The Count met his fate, so the story goes, in Nicaragua, being eaten by a crocodile. Yep,  you read that right. No one actually witnessed the event, but I guess all evidence points to him meeting his demise as a crocodile’s dinner.

Wisconsin roots, so to speak, brought me closer to the man, the myth, the legend. 😉

It was about 11am when we arrived at Buena Vista, so we opted to share a tasting flight. Unbeknownst to us, our wonderful bar-host had other plans. We opted for the Press House Tasting, which included a tasting of:

  • 2017 Count’s Selection Pinot Gris – such a light wine, fragrant, and crisp. Definitely carried more peach flavors, with some underlying citrus notes.
  • 2016 Jovita’s Selection Chardonnay – another great chardonnay in my opinion.  With an aroma of honeysuckle and tropical fruits, this wine, although it seemed to have been aged in oak, wasn’t a “butter bomb” as some refer to chardonnays. Score for me!
  • 2014 Otelia’s Selection Pinot Noir – while this was on the menu, our bar-host actually poured us three different pinots to compare.
    • Otelia’s was the lightest of them all. Delicate, as I find most pinots to be, and a bit thinner in body for my taste, but this actually had more weighty fruit flavors, making it a nice selection.
    • Second to try was the 2015 Bela’s Selection, which my mom thought my dad would like best. A step up in body and color from the Otelia’s, this pinot noir actually had more strawberry and plum notes. It came off as a bit more structured than Otelia’s, and I was definitely pleased with the direction we were headed.
    • Finally, we were poured the 2016 Private Reserve Pinot Noir. Oh my gosh, so good. Characters of dark cherry and a depth that made me question whether this was pinot noir or not. My favorite out of the bunch, but really, all three were excellent in their own rights.
  • 2016 Sheriff of Buena Vista – this is the one that caught my eye on the menu. A blend of petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, syrah, petit verdot, mission and cabernet franc, this one had so many layers to it. Ugh, it was like a dream wine for me!

We also tried their Private Reserve Cabernet SauvignonPrivate Reserve Zinfandel, which I ended up purchasing to share with a friend, AND we tried The Count’s Revenge. Tell me this bottle isn’t beautiful:


We definitely got the royal treatment, tasting way more wine than we expected!

Buena Vista has such a wide variety of wines, I feel like I could spend forever tasting through them. Though they are all produced in smaller quantities than one might expect, making them a rarity (also because they don’t sell across the market!). This was a gem of a place if I ever experienced one, and I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get my hands on more of this wine. Not to mention that the grounds are beautiful, and I just really loved the ambiance and passion exhibited by their staff. So I joined the Count’s Club, which will get me five shipments of four bottles a year.

Here are some other fun photos from Buena Vista:


I couldn’t pass up this photo op! Located in the center of their courtyard, just a few steps from the tasting room itself.

Moral of the story for these wineries: if you can impress me with a chardonnay, it’s likely you’re going to hook me.

I’ve got one more post for you about our Napa trip, so stay tuned!!

Cheers, wine lovers!

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