Artesa Winery is located in the Carneros District of southern Napa Valley; from an architectural point of view this is a very unique winery – the main building is mostly set within the confines of a small hill rather then located above ground. As a result, it is somewhat difficult to distinguish where the winery ends and where the ground begins. In other words Artesa fits extremely well within its natural surroundings. During construction (designed by Barcelona architect Domingo Triay), the top of the hill was leveled – the winery was then built and the earth was moved back over. Four levels are built deep into the hill. And wondering if that hill directly behind the winery has a name? It does, it is refereed to as Milliken Peak (named after an earlier settler in the area).
Artesa is owned by Spanish Codorníu Winery Holdings (the Raventós family) and The Carlyle Group. Codorníu traces their winery history back to 1551 and is the world’s oldest producer of bottle fermented sparkling wine and one of the largest producers. Note that in Spain, sparkling wine is called Cava. Born in Barcelona, Raised in Napa Valley – the winery’s tagline.
Codorníu’s original intent with this “new world winery” was to make sparkling wines; these wines became their initial focus for a number of years. Eventually they converted their production to still wines which was also when they changed their name over to Artesa from Codorníu Napa (a change that made sense, considering that Codorniu is synonymous with sparkling wines). In the Catalan language of Spain, Artesa means craftsman or ‘something that is hand crafted’. However, as of our latest update, they do still make several sparkling wines through a unique arrangement with Mumm winery. During one of our visits, we were told that Artesa no longer has their own sparkling production equipment so in part they use Mumm’s facilities – and Mumm being a sparkling producer that produces a still Chardonnay uses Artesa’s facilities for this one wine. Not a bad arrangement.
From their outside porch on a clear day you can see the skyscrapers of San Francisco far in the distance, several Bay area bridges, Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. Diablo, the San Pablo Bay – and in the foreground, the di Rosa Art Preserve and Domain Carneros. The entire estate property is 350 acres of which nearly 200 acres are planted to vine. Much of Carneros is planted at a lower elevation but this part of Carneros is typically higher then the surroundings – their vineyards are planted at an elevation from 200 to 400 feet above sea level.
Artesa has picturesque grounds including modern statues, waterfalls, and a serene inner courtyard. After you climb up the steps from the parking lot you will walk down a long path to the entrance – across what appears to be square concrete pavers. You are walking directly on top of their barrel room so if your footsteps sound a bit hollow, there is a good reason for it.
And those in the know – have discovered Artesa’s side entrance (also for wheelchair users) and good for drivers who want to make an under the radar trip to the bathroom (located right next to the elevator on the hospitality floor). Once you enter from the outside, you will be next to the barrel room and some intriguing plaques on the wall highlighting the history of the region from the 1700’s through to present day. An elevator will take you to the hospitality floor and the main tasting salon.
A wine members only tasting room is located near the main tasting salon – visible from the outside so you can see who is inside. However, we recommend they take the next step in VIP room windows like the one in the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. The Dolby has installed “soft glass” so that when you walk past the outside of the room, the windows instantaneously turns fuzzy and you cannot make out the features of those inside. However at certain angles you can see who is inside; this is done so those outside of the VIP room have at least a glimpse of who is inside there, but at the same time gives the VIPS their privacy.
We have been visiting Artesa off an on for more then 10 years – and we have noticed they often change the interior of the hospitality center (more then most wineries) – updating either the spatial arrangement of how tastings are conducted or interior decoration. As a result if your visits are several years apart, you probably won’t recognize the interior of the tasting salon because it has been altered since your last visit.
Tours at Artesa are given daily at 11 and 2pm. A tour also includes a tasting and lasts about 90 minutes; weather permitting the tour begins outside on their porch (overlooking the rolling hills of Carneros with the San Pablo Bay in the background). As you move inside the winery, notice the statue of Madonna in their central courtyard. Not many Madonna statues will have braided hair such as this one. Also note the very unique reflected image of this Madonna seen indoors – this image varies in location depending on the time of year and the sun’s angle. The tour highlights both the history of Carneros and the winery and includes a stop in their production facilities.
Their barrel room is one of the larger ones you will see in Napa Valley. You may hear Benedictine monks chanting from the hidden speakers which adds an “old world” flavor to a stop here. Perhaps this soothing music is even good for the wine as it ages, who knows? During one of our tours, the guide was appropriately a Carneros local and grew up before the rolling hills were covered in grapes – this entire area used to be sheep and dairy farms.
Notice the art decorating the inside and outside of the winery. These pieces are from noted local artist Gordon Huether – he has been the resident artist at the winery since 1997. He maintains his own studio just north of the town of Napa.
The exterior of Artesa played a role in one scene in the movie Wine Country starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey (released in 2019). A movie poster and a signed bottle of wine by the actresses in the film are on display inside the tasting room.
Choose from two tasting flights; a Salon Bar tasting (indoors either physically at the circular bar or seated on tables near the bar) or the outside Terrace tasting (weather permitting). Despite having a number of tasting spaces, summer weekends are typically crowded and advance reservations are strongly recommended.
Artesa produces an excellent Sauvignon Blanc on a consistent basis – the 2005 Artesa Reserve Sauvignon Blanc has rich aromatics and a wonderful creamy mouth feel with flavors of fruit including melon and pear with notes of caramel and vanilla lingering softly on the finish. Other nice wines are the 2006 Artesa Carneros Pinot Noir, the rich concentrated fruit flavors of the 2004 Artesa Reserve Merlot, a Cabernet Franc and their very food friendly Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
True to their Spanish roots Artesa produces an Albariño wine – we know of only a handful of other Napa wineries producing this varietal. The 2018 Artesa Vineyards Los Carneros Albariño (planted on their estate vineyard) is a fruit forward representation of this variety – especially on the bouquet. Light straw yellow in the glass. Smells lovely with ripe aromas of yellow pineapple immediately showing along with sweet aromatic floral threads of citrus blossom and jasmine and ripe pear. Well-balanced, the palate offers more citrus notes then the bouquet would lead one to believe. Great acidity, with flavors of lime, flinty mineralities and mandarin. A lively finish with flavors of green apple and a subtle tartness that lingers. Should pair well with oysters and sashimi. 1200 cases produced.
The 2016 Artesa Vineyards Los Carneros, Napa Valley Estate Vineyard Chardonnay shows a pretty yellow hue in the glass. Immediately reveals aromas of popcorn butter on the bouquet but as the wine breathes offers much more. Aromas of melon, white peach, dried straw, honey, a sweetness of vanilla and a slightly tropical floral note. Velvety across the palate, silky without being overtly creamy in texture. Shows concentrated flavors, mineralities and lively acidity. Very clean finish with just a kiss of baking spice and a buttery component that lingers. Well focused with plenty of depth. 2,500 cases produced. Very nicely done.
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And for serious wine lovers, or for those looking to simply have a fun experience, be sure to check out the remarkable variety of pairings and special culinary focused tastings (including pinxtos or tapas or caviar, among other offerings) available only by appointment. These are either held in the main salon or in a smaller more intimate room.
While documentation shows the company dates back to 1551 when founder Jaume Codorníu grew and made wine, it is much more recently that Cavas Codorníu began making sparkling wine. Their sparkling wine lineage dates from 1872 when Josep Raventós created the first bottle of Cava in Spain (his family married into the Codorníu family back in 1659). In 1885 Josep’s son Manuel hired prominent Spanish architect Puig i Cadafalch to design a grandiose winery – construction began in 1895 and finished by 1920 with the caves ready for use by 1915. The company focused its winemaking efforts entirely on Cava beginning in 1895.
Cavas Codorníu was under family ownership until late 2018 when after 17 generations of ownership, The Carlyle Group (an International asset management fund/private equity firm) purchased a majority interest in their parent company. Today along with owning Artesa, the company also owns 9 other wineries, 8 of which are in Spain along with Séptima Winery located in Mendoza, Argentina.
Conveniently located only about 35 minutes from the Barcelona Prat Airport (BCN) or about 50-60 minutes from the center of Barcelona, a visit to Cavas Codorníu should be on any sparkling wine enthusiasts list. Accessible via Barcelona by bus or train (the winery is about a 30 minute walk from the closest train station of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia). If driving, after parking across from vineyards visitors enter the welcome center, often called “the Cathedral of Cava” due the architecture of this building perhaps resembling both the exterior and interior of a cathedral. This was one of the more enjoyable winery tours we have been on (and we have been on several hundred over the years). The combination of the family’s history, site and entertaining guide made for a memorable tour.
Highlights include a visit to “Cellar Gran” Museum which displays a number of historical wine making pieces of equipment as well as a sensory table highlighting specific aromas found in wine followed by a visit to the underground cellars.
Not many wineries have caves large enough to justify offering train tours – the other one that comes to mind is the train tour we took of Cricova Winery in Moldova. During our visit to Cavas Codorníu, our tour guide took us on a high speed ‘race’ through a small section of the 18.6 miles of Codorníu’s caves – followed by a visit to a large underground tasting room where samples were provided of two of their wines. Several private tour and tasting experiences can also be booked through their website.
Incidentally the largest export markets for their wines are Belgium and the United Kingdom. For more information about Cavas Codorníu visit, www.visitascodorniu.com
Including Artesa and Cavas Codorníu, Codorníu Winery Holdings owns 7 winery/vineyard sites from Europe to South America. They are Bodega Bilbainas, the oldest winery in Rioja Spain, Raimat (about a 2 hour drive west of Barcelona), Bodegas Legaris (north of Madrid) in the Ribera del Duero region, Scala Dei in the Priorat and Septima in Mendoza, Argentina. We will visit all of these properties and updated this review as time and budget allows.
For more information and or to signup for their mailing list or to join the Club Artesa wine club, visit: www.artesawinery.com
Artesa Winery, Exterior
Artesa Winery, Interior
Artesa Winery, Vineyards
CODORNIU WINERY HOLDINGS, WINERIES
Cavas Codorníu, Exterior
Cavas Codorníu, Reception/Wine Shop
Cavas Codorníu, Wine Museum
Cavas Codorníu, Cellar
Bodegas Bilbainas Rioja, Spain
Photos coming by 2021
Bodegas Legaris, Spain
Photos coming by 2021
Photos coming by 2021
Scala Dei, Priorat Spain
Photos coming by 2021
Septima Mendoza, Argentina
Photos coming by late 2019