Quintessa Winery is a curved architecturally pleasing building which physically sits very low to the ground. It is located on the west side of the Silverado trail just north of the Rutherford Cross Road. The estate encompasses 280 acres; the vineyards are Bio-Dynamically farmed and the winery was founded in 1989 by well-known Chilean vintners Agustin Huneeus and his wife Valeria.
Briefly, Biodynamically farming involves three main factors; you build the soil naturally 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).
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 regions on their property. This was one of the last large (280 acres) “virgin” Napa Valley floor properties available at the time of purchase in 1989. This property had never been planted to grapes before; it sits in the Rutherford appellation and is weighted with hillside vineyards but also a mix of valley floor property.
For the complete Quintessa experience take one of their tri-daily tours. You will start your tour with a walk up the hill behind the winery to an overlook with great views of the valley floor in the distance, many of their vineyards and the large pond below which dates from the 1930’s. A vista here is like a window into a a part of Napa that few see from this particular angle. It is truly a peaceful scene – a rare view of a bucolic part of the valley with the perfectly groomed vineyards lining the rolling hills and the quieting influence of the picturesque pond.
From here you can walk into the edge of one of the vineyards. Next up is a tour of the 17,000 square foot wine caves, a visit to the actual winery facility and then your tour ends with a sit down tasting. Wondering what those raised square boxes are that sit on top of the roof located near the parking? Those “boxes” actually open and are used during harvest for dropping the grapes below to the actual tanks.
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, Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Shafer 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 at that time. Whoever runs up the winning bid on this item is going to be very pleased indeed…and yes for something of this value its going to be a serious bid! All the signatures of the owners and winemakers who contributed wine are listed on a plaque above the box.
The architects have done a great job with this building – from the outside you cannot get a feel for the fairly large space available in the actual winery facility. The winery itself is set back inside the hillside; ‘unobtrusive’ is a good word to describe how well Quintessa fits into the surrounding landscape.
A nice warm fire will greet you for cold winter day tastings once you walk inside the main entrance. It is a very cozy atmosphere. The tasting facility is situated against the main stone part of the building and glass is built into the roof so you always have a neat 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 stand or sit next to your small table and discuss in detail each of the wines and how they are made.
The well-regarded French wine consultant Michel Roland consults for Quintessa. When he is in town for their blending decisions over 100 glasses are poured individually for him, the owner and the 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.
We tried the 2005 100% 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 up in the glass some of these earthy aromas blow off revealing layers of beautiful fruit. Notes of blackberry on the nose lead to a layered elegant palate of blackberry, plum and cherry. This elegant wine is wonderfully balanced and structured with a very smooth finish.
Quintessa has a chef on site and during one of our visits we enjoyed some small delicious pairings with the wine. Try grass fed New York Steak with a green Tarragon Salsa or truffle scented Potato and Spring Vegetable Salad. Other visitors were speaking highly of the rosemary cayenne pepper coated cashew nuts. Nice! Reserve well in advance for busy summer and weekend tasting.
Huneeus also runs a second label, called Faust in which the primary vineyard source is from Coombsville (southern part of the Napa Valley). Visit: www.quintessa.com