The Napa Valley, beyond the vineyards
It’s even hotter than yesterday. It’s no surprise: Calistoga is one of Napa Valley’s most sweltering areas, located in an arid corridor that looks like the Kalahari Desert this afternoon. When I walk into Tank Garage Winery, housed in a 1930s gas station across from Buster’s Southern BBQ, the lights are off. The city’s power supply was temporarily cut off to prevent the air conditioners running at full speed from overwhelming the power company.
Fortunately, it is cool here. In more ways than one, with its old gas pumps and vintage signage, Tank Garage Winery doesn’t have the look of a typical Napa winery. Looking at the tasting list, I can see that it is also different, with varietals like Barbera, Trousseau Gris and Mourvèdre. You can find a natural sparkling wine from red vinification and even a white from carbonic maceration.
“About 93% of California’s territory is planted with the usual grape varieties: cabernet, chardonnay and pinot noir”, tells me the winemaker Bertus van Zyl, originally from South Africa. “The remaining 7% are original and very interesting. I like wines with a more acidic style, from another era. »
Simply put, Tank Garage Winery’s wines are not the traditional, full-bodied reds of Napa Valley.
By tasting this original collection, I learn that each wine is unique. Even if the grapes come from the same vineyards each year, they will never be vinified twice in the same way. The goal is to innovate: as long as it’s delectable, anything goes.
La Loba white wine, made with petit manseng and bianchetta trevigiana, is one of my favorites. The grapes, however, do not come from Napa; Bertus van Zyl sources them in El Dorado County, while the fruit used for his other wines comes largely from neighboring counties like Sonoma and Mendocino. The high price of land in Napa does not allow the cultivation of atypical grape varieties; it just doesn’t make financial sense.
As the lights come back on, another difficulty encountered in the region is explained to me. This one came to me during my two sweltering days there: the reason the electricity is turned off on hot days is that it reduces the risk of grid overload and, therefore, fires. Napa Valley has already seen too much: in 2021, devastating fires tore through Meadowood, its resort.
“We are facing forest fires, but also frosts, record rains and floods,” says Bertus van Zyl. Along with the other Napa producers, he is on the front line in reacting to these events and recognizes the need to anticipate them.
Is there a better argument for diversification in the valley? Relying solely on Cabernet Sauvignon leaves no other way out. Innovations from people like Bertus van Zyl, whether in more resilient grape varieties or new growing locations, can provide options in this uncertain future. “Our best long-term asset, he says as I drink my last sip of his unique wine, is creativity. »
Ashes & Diamonds Winery
The design of this winery just outside Napa town is a head-turner: a minimalist, whitewashed block with a window-lined tasting room. The wines are refreshing, less alcoholic than many others in the valley, relatively sober and superbly balanced. Come and experiment with the combinations offered to you: must-try beverages, as well as a feast that surpasses the tasteless charcuterie boards of some other places. You will certainly be served a salad of fruit and vegetable wedges with herb tahini and crispy quinoa, or tender chicken with chickpeas, pickled peppers and chorizo. Count 156 euros for a lunch including five dishes and four wines.
This chic but unpretentious restaurant, located in the new Stanly Ranch hotel, is the perfect example of Napa City’s growing food scene. Take a seat on the terrace at sunset and let yourself be seduced by Californian products reworked according to influences from around the world: such as honeynut squash garnished with bee pollen and guajillo peppers. It is both delicious and surprising. Count 90 euros for three courses, wine not included.
In Francis Ford Coppola’s wine estate, tastings are a real experience. The sumptuous French-inspired castle gives us the impression of being on a film set, with Persian carpets, lounge music and dim lights. Would you expect less from the film’s director? The Godfather ? Cabernet Sauvignon is delicious, but don’t miss the Blancaneaux, in the style of a Vallée du Rhône Blanc, made from Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. Consider taking a look at the subtle artwork hanging inside, painted by Francis Ford Coppola himself. The tasting costs 78 euros.