Raymond Vineyards was founded in 1971 by Roy Raymond and his two sons with their first vintage produced in 1974. Their first estate bottled wine was a Riesling released in 1977. The family has a long history in Napa Valley dating back multiple generations to the 1930’s. When Roy arrived in the Napa Valley in 1933 he was hired as a cellar “rat” at age 18 at Beringer Winery the year after prohibition. Beringer was one of those select few Napa wineries that were able to stay open during prohibition by making sacramental and medicinal wine; the year after prohibition they were hiring additional employees in anticipation of an increase in production.
While at Beringer Roy met and married Martha Jane Beringer, granddaughter of one of the Beringer brothers, Jacob. Yes, there are a number of cross winery marriages in the valley – even today. After Beringer sold in the early 1970’s the Raymonds’ purchased 90 acres just south of the town of St. Helena which surrounds the current winery. Land in the valley was certainly much cheaper back then.
Currently Raymond owns over 300 acres in the Napa Valley including vineyards near Jameson Canyon – (south east of Napa in a cooler growing climate), a small vineyard in St. Helena, just north of the winery and the vineyard surrounding their winery in Rutherford. Their St. Helena and Rutherford vineyards are certified organic and biodynamic. They also source fruit from a variety of other vineyards in the valley ranging from Carneros in the south to Calistoga in the north.
In 1989 Kirin Brewery purchased a majority interested in Raymond Vineyards. In 2009, Raymond sold the winery to the well-regarded Boisset Family from Burgundy, France. Jean-Charles Boisset, president of Boisset Family Estates, owns several prominent wineries in the Napa/Sonoma region including California’s oldest winery, Buena Vista and Pinot Noir producer, De Loach Vineyards (both in Sonoma County). Jean-Charles is also married to one of California’s most recognizable winery families – the Gallo family. His wife is Gina Gallo and they own the home that Robert & Margrit Mondavi used to live in.
Guests who visited Raymond Winery before Jean-Charles purchased the estate and then after, will absolutely not recognize the inside of the winery. It has taken a unique mind, creativity and more than a pinch of flamboyance to turn “what was” into “what is now”. It is impressive in a certain sense to have witnessed this change.
Perhaps in the history of Napa Valley there is no one else who has combined such extreme creativity with the financial means to build a continuously growing empire built around wine and food – connected by a visual flamboyance & opulence rooted in unique and memorable experiences. One may only see a part of this empire – but when one starts connecting all the spaces and projects, one realizes how vast a reach the Boisset empire has become – deeply rooted in both the Napa Valley and the No Cal wine scene in a remarkably short amount of time.
While Jean Charles continues to embrace change in all aspects of the wine business, there is one constant found at all of his properties. These are the framed newspaper articles promoting his accomplishments hanging on walls in the bathrooms of his wineries. They are strategically placed above the sinks, the men’s urinals and near the hand dryers or paper towel dispensers – one doesn’t generally linger longer then needed in restrooms, so these reads tend to be only a brief glimpse into the man’s varied accomplishments.
After Jean-Charles Boisset acquired the property, the hospitality center was completely renovated.
The Crystal Cellar offers a semi-lighted and sultry tasting experience. Fake models hang from a raised catwalk connecting wine tanks, jewelry for sale sparkles in glass cases, glittering chandelier’s hang from above, mirrors fastened to tanks offer special reflections and the fine Baccarat crystal pieces add an element of opulence to this space. And it is here you might be able to purchase your very own smiling Jean Charles Boisset bobble-head figurine.
Despite the opulence this is a working part of the winery – during the harvest season, grapes are fermented and processed here. There is no other winery space quite like this in the Napa Valley and we have been told by several employees over the years that workers had to get used to working in such a glamorous space!
The Crystal Cellar focuses exclusively on Raymond Vineyards produced Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
The nearby Barrel Cellar also features a dimly lit environment – but is for more intimate tastings (by reservation) rather than the “open to the public” Crystal Cellar.
What is arguably the Napa Valley’s most intriguing tasting salon and “private club” (The Reserve at Meadowood, aside) is the Red Room featuring an opulent used of the color red. Red velvet drapes the walls and ceiling, plush red couches await seductively and borrowing from the theme of the Crystal Room, an impressive crystal chandelier hangs from the ceiling (one of the few objects in this room that is not red).
Originally a member’s only club – it is now accessible for guests by appointment only – to enjoy limited production wines in the comfort of an exceptionally opulent space. Guests may also enjoy bottle service including a variety of Cabernet Sauvignon and also sparkling wine.
Corridor of Senses
This unique interactive exhibit contains a row of objects for guests to touch and smell representing texture or smells commonly found in wines. Particularly of interest are the smell displays – some of the most prominent smells in wines are isolated and available for visitors to guess their identities.
Aromas such as raspberry, coffee, truffles and much more are lined up along this corridor. Simple press the sniffers and inhale. However, don’t look at the ID above the display – try to guess before checking. Correctly identifying some of these smells can be extremely challenging.
Theatre of Nature
This two acre outdoor garden highlights Biodynamic farming (the largest live educational exhibit of its kind in Napa Valley). In the spirit of the word “theatre” visitors actually enter the garden through a dramatic white canvas curtains shielding the pathway. Equally dramatic are the stark white chairs plopped on the lawn (that appear to be from another era) located next to the Theatre of Nature with the word “Raymond” as the backdrop. Needless to say, this is a very popular photo spot especially for passengers exiting tour vans or buses.
As visitors walk through the garden on the rock path, signs provide education about types of plants on site, types of cover crops used in the vineyards, trellising techniques, a sample of various soils found at Raymond vineyards, composting and other practices and benefits of Biodynamic farming. One may hear the goats or the chickens before seeing them; these animals are kept in pens next to the garden.
Soon after purchasing Raymond Vineyards – Jean-Charles started converting the 90 acre estate property to organic and bio-dynamic farming practices. In regards to this, numerous vines were replanted following the change in ownership. And the 100% of the winery’s energy needs is provided from solar cellars on site.
This is the only winery open to the public on Zinfandel Lane; it is located just a few miles south of St. Helena. Several small buildings are on the property; the one closest to the parking lot that looks like a 50’s style ranch house contains the Tasting Salon, Crystal Room, Barrel Room and the dramatic Red Room.
In the early 1990’s additional barrel storage and winemaking facilities were constructed. With extra space in the actual winery Raymond originally opened this up to number of smaller wineries. These “custom crush” clients were producers who did not own physical winemaking equipment,rather they rented space. These producers had access to state of the art winemaking equipment. At one point, Raymond even provided a full time consulting winemaker for their custom crush clients.
While no longer offering custom crush services for clients, the winery is used for both producing the Raymond wines and a limited number of wines from some of the other Boisset owned properties in Napa or Sonoma.
Walk in visitors do not need appointments for tasting at the primary tasting salon. A tasting includes a flight of current release wines including both red and white wines. As of our latest update to this review, Raymond Vineyards produces wines bottled under nine different unique labels. While offering a wide diversity of wines – their focus is on Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2004 Raymond Vineyards, 100% varietal Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon is worth seeking out. There is a reason people discuss the merits of Rutherford dust. This wine has it, with initial aromas offering up notes of crushed rock, mineralities – a noticeable dustiness intermingled with fruit. The mouth feel is smooth and supple complemented by ripe layered fruit including blackberry and black cherry. A singular thread of desert spices from the oak show on the finish.
Also of note is the “Generations” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2004 Raymond Vineyards Generations is rich and layered in flavor; it strikes a nice balance between acidity and structure. The bouquet shows floral notes with very ripe fruit aromas including blackberry and blueberry. Elegant chocolate and pepper are interwoven with cherry and blackberry notes. This is a fairly big wine – while the finish shows excellent structure, it doesn’t overwhelm the palate and is quite approachable in its youth.
Dessert wine lovers be sure to try the late harvest Chardonnay, called “Eloquence”. This wine is not made every year and is made from some of the ugliest grapes one will ever see. If you’ve never seen advanced stages of grapes covered in botrytis cinerea, you are not missing much! This type of mold must be present on grapes for making this type of wine. Looking like rotting fruit, how can these grapes produce a wine that tastes so incredibly good?!
The 2005 Raymond Vineyards Eloquence is a rich wine both in sugar, flavor and alcohol. Tropical aromas including honeysuckle are found on the bouquet – these tropical notes also continue onto the palate. Shows flavors of apricot, raisin and a satiny honey caramel nuance towards the finish. It even comes in its own unique box – certainly appropriate for a wine named so eloquently. Dessert lovers may also be interested in the Raymond Vineyards late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
Like at Boisset’s De Loach Winery in neighboring Sonoma County, Raymond also offers a “Barrel to Barrel” service. These are miniature wine barrels (real wood) with a thick plastic bag inside containing 3 liters of wine. A wine spigot is even built into the barrel. The advantage of this storage, other than the “cool” factor is the larger volume of wine, once open the wine lasts much longer than a 750ml bottle – up to 6 weeks.
Private tastings, blending seminars and winery and vineyard tours must be reserved ahead of time; a tour involves seeing the actual winemaking facilities and barrel room (its huge) as well as provides information about their rich history. Private tours end with a tasting in the main tasting salon. Private events can be reserved and are held on the grounds of Roy Raymond’s original home which now also hosts wine club functions. Raymond is distributed in select markets in all 50 states.
Winemaker for a Day
This is Raymond’s most popular experience; it lasts about 90 minutes and is available by reservation only. Visitors get to play the part of a “mad scientist” while creating their own wine blends, one of which will be bottled. After guests reserve this experience they will submit an image and a label name via email – which will be printed ahead of time. Held in the old Raymond Winery lab – this room looks nothing like the original lab. The entire room is lined with metal from the walls, ceilings and counter tops. Guests even dress up in shiny silver lab coats to match the interior. While a number of scantily clad mannequins decorate the tank room outside – only one wayward model mannequin has made her way inside the lab room.
The room can seat up to 16 although they have hosted groups up to 60 with larger groups using parts of the adjoining tank room. Especially popular with couples – but also fun for corporate events.
Guests are assigned to a lab station and provided four small glass bottles of wine – all barrel samples of red Bordeaux varieties. These are the ‘spices’ if you will that will be used to create various blends. One bottle will contain an unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon, another an oaked version and then select other red varieties – perhaps Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It is recommended to pour and then taste small samples of each of these wines before creating any blends.
Two of the most important aspects of this ‘edutainment’ as our host described the experience are: there is no such thing as a perfect blend – so don’t try to over think things. Since this is a blending class, any wine chosen for bottling must have at least two of the provided wines in the blend. And certainly a third ingredient – have fun!
Once the host stops talking, the real fun begins. Music is turned up, perhaps Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding or Sugar Sugar by the Archies will get everyone moving. Graduated cylinders are used for measuring out percentages of the samples – pipets are used for more precise measurements – our host indicated that sometimes in the afternoon guests will often use the pipets for drinking samples rather then measuring samples.
Once a desired blend has been created – provide the percentages to the host for bottling. Then guests will use the hand corking and encapsulation machines in a side room – before placing the front label on the bottle. Now its ready for some social media. And allow up to 5 years for aging – or simply drink it before you even leave the world famous Napa Valley.
One bottle is included in the ticket price – but guests may also order more of their blend at this time or in the future (in 12 bottle/case increments). Want to read more about this experience in addition to our notes here? We sent one of our writers to experience this first hand, years ago. And she wrote a nice article on our travel site here: Her review is here.
Along with JCB lounges in San Francisco at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Yountville (including the Atelier and the JCB Salon Privé) and on the Healdsburg plaza – there is also one here – located in the Raymond’s old pool house in the ‘back’ of the property across from the Raymond’s old primary residence. Walk in guests often won’t know about this lounge space; that is because it is generally only available for private tastings through prior appointments. Like Jean Charles’ other lounges, this one is about elegance, flamboyance and surprises. One such surprise is the sparkling ‘machine gun’ – which apparently will shoot out sparkling wine. Best used on super special occasions. Wines, perfumes, jewelry and lavish decorations all make for a memorable experience. For our readers looking for more information and photographs about these other JCB lounges – view our notes here.
JCB offers tasting flights inside the lounge featuring wines from the portfolio of the Boisset Collection (including some of their most premium offerings) – light snacks may also be paired with the wines. This lounge can also be used as a private event space for small groups. Tastings are hosted at a table or if guests prefer a more casual environment, they can take full advantage of the comfortable sofa.
This is one of a select few wineries in the Napa Valley to be associated with the Napa Valley Wine Train – special wine train packages include a visit and tour of Raymond Vineyards in conjunction with a ride on the Napa Valley Wine Train.
At one point visitors to the valley could continue the “Raymond Experience” outside of the winery. For a while, Mount View Hotel & Spa in Calistoga dedicated one of their rooms to Raymond Winery (suite 207). Not surprisingly, Raymond wines were only served to guests who stayed in this room. And of historical record, at one point, Raymond was planning to move into a tasting space on the ground floor at the Mount View Hotel and made some interior modifications – but then changed their minds.
For more information or to join one of their select wine clubs, visit: www.raymondvineyards.com Raymond also operates a small winery on site devoted to dogs and dog lovers – but with the tastings for the owners. Visit: www.frenchiewinery.com
Winery & Hospitality Center
Theatre of Nature
JCB Lounge, Raymond