Quintessa Winery is an architecturally intriguing winery located on the west side of the Silverado trail just north of the Rutherford Cross Road. The estate encompasses 280 acres; the winery was founded in 1989 by well-known Chilean vintners Agustin Huneeus and his wife Valeria.
Both Agustin and Valeria were born in Chile and are wine industry veterans. Valeria is a microbiologist and viticulturist and was the one who originally discovered the land for sale that is now home to Quintessa. By age 27 in 1960, Agustin was the CEO of Concha y Toro – a small winery at the time that he ultimately helped build into Chile’s largest producer. In the early 1970’s he worked at Seagram’s and oversaw their worldwide operations. Later he became involved in a remarkable number of wine ventures including Franciscan Estate and Flowers Winery and in 1999 founded Huneeus Vintners (owns Quintessa among other brands and properties). Agustin and Valeria’s son Agustin Francisco currently oversees their family’s wine holdings.
Quintessa specializes in one premium Cabernet Sauvignon each vintage; this wine is reflective of their great attention to detail in the vineyards as well as with the wine making. Their motto is “fine wine is a reflection of place” and their wines reflect the specific terroir of their property. This was one of the last large “virgin” Napa Valley floor properties available at the time of purchase in 1989; remarkably it was never planted to grapes before. The site is located in the Rutherford appellation and is a mix of both hillside and valley floor vineyards.
Their vineyards are organically farmed using at times bio-dynamic practices. This involves several primary factors; building the soil organically using special natural compost, philosophically farm (prune and harvest based on phases of the moon and planets) and control pests and diseases without chemicals (cover crops, use plants that attract beneficial insects).
The winery was designed by the San Francisco based Walker Warner Architectural firm; it is visually appealing from the outside and is difficult for first time visitor to get a feel for the fairly sizable work-space within the building. The winery itself is set back inside the hillside; ‘unobtrusive’ is a good word to describe how well Quintessa fits into the surrounding landscape.
After checking in, visitors will typically begin tours with a walk up the hill behind the winery to an overlook offering excellent views of the valley floor in the distance, many of their vineyards and the large pond below which dates from the 1930’s.
A visit from the top of Dragon’s Hill behind the winery is a window into a part of Napa that few see despite all the daily traffic on the Silverado Trail that passes by their driveway. It is truly a peaceful scene – a rare view of a bucolic part of the valley with perfectly groomed vineyards lining the rolling hills and the quieting influence of the picturesque pond below.
Those who opt for the Quintessential Quintessa experience will have their tasting in one of the glass pavilions (designed by Maca, Agustin Huneeus Jr’s wife) which overlook this part of their property. From here you can walk into the edge of one of the vineyards.
Next is a tour of the 17,000 square foot wine caves and a visit to the actual winery facility. Visitors who signed up for the Estate Tasting will taste at their own private table located against the stone interior of the building; glass skylights are built into the roof so during the day, there is always ambient light shining into the room. The actual sit down wine tasting is in an intimate room – only 5 or 6 small tables are available. Your personal wine guide will help curate your experience and discuss in detail each of the wines and how they are made.
Note the large steel riveted box that sits next to the elevator in the winery. When Quintessa finished the winery they invited many well-known Napa winemakers to bring some of their best vintages of wine. Notables like Araujo Estate (now Eisele Vineyard), Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Shafer Vineyards and many others brought their wine and sealed it inside this climate controlled steel box. This will be opened in 2051 and will be donated to the Premier Napa Valley wine auction which at that time will be in its 54th year (Premiere Napa Valley began in 1997). Whoever runs up the winning bid on this item is going to be very pleased indeed…and for something this rare and historical, it is going to be a sizable bid. All the signatures of the owners and winemakers who contributed wine are listed on a plaque above the box.
Wondering what those raised square boxes are that sit on top of the roof located near the parking area? Those “boxes” actually open and are used during harvest for dropping the grapes below to the actual tanks.
Well-regarded French wine consultant Michel Roland has consulted for Quintessa in the past. When he was in town for their blending decisions, we were told over 100 glasses were poured individually for him, the Huneeus family and their winemaker (over 300 glasses of wine in the same room) – each glass representing different vineyard blocks and parts of the property. Fortunately your sit down tasting is not this complex. Two main vineyard block samples are provided so that you can taste some of the individual components that make up the final blend and then you will taste the current vintage.
During one of our first visits to the property, we tried the 2005 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Initially the aromas are very earthy, almost gravelly – think of the smell of dust after the first rain…there is a reason why people talk about the “Rutherford Dust”. Hints of tobacco and smoke round out the nose and as the wine opens some of these earthy aromas dissipate and reveal layers of beautiful fruit. Notes of blackberry on the nose lead to a layered palate of blackberry, plum and cherry. This elegant wine is wonderfully balanced and structured with pleasing supple finish.
The winery chef creates mini-culinary nirvana moments – offering delicious bites hand picked to be paired with each wine. During one visit, we tried grass fed New York steak with a green tarragon salsa and truffle scented potato and spring vegetable salad. Other visitors were speaking highly of the rosemary cayenne pepper coated cashew nuts. Reserve well in advance for busy summer and weekend tastings.
For more information, to request a tasting, and or to join of their Vineyard Circle Member options, visit: www.quintessa.com