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 the Spanish Codorníu Winery Holdings (the Raventós family) – who trace their winery history back to the mid 1500’s. Codorníu 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. Also note that if you find yourself in Barcelona – the Caves Codorníu make a nice visit, located less then an hour from the city.
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. 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) – changing 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 an hour; 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 – visit: www.gordonhuether.com
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.
Excellent Sauvignon Blanc – the 2005 Reserve 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 Carneros Pinot Noir, the rich concentrated fruit flavors of the 2004 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.
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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.
For more information and or to signup for their mailing list or to join the Club Artesa wine club, visit: www.artesawinery.com