Quixote Winery, from the exterior, is visually one of the Napa Valley’s most intriguing wineries (completed construction in 2000). Quixote resembles a building out of a fairy tale; the reason being is that it was designed by the famous Viennese creative (often working in the nude) artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000).
While this is his only structure built in North America, he created a number of well-known works in Europe including a housing complex in Vienna in which some of the rooms feature real trees growing out of windows. His work is all about curvilinear forms and avoiding vertical design in structures. He tried to incorporate buildings that blend in with nature, hence the roof of this winery is covered with grass and small trees. Two large “hills” of dirt were built up in front of the winery which now hide the building very well (helped in part by the grass that grows here).
One of Friedensreich’s philosophies was to never throw away construction materials even if they break so this winery has several sections constructed of broken material. It took over ten years to construct, partly due to the rigidity of his design ideas – he would visit the winery and find something he didn’t like (sometimes major) and it would have to be entirely torn down and reconstructed.
Once he visited the winery during construction and whacked on a nice hand-made column imported from Europe with a hammer. The column looked too nice for his taste and he wanted to give it a broken look all the while, the founder and owner at the time, Carl Doumani looked on in disbelief.
And another cute story – this one involved their attempted first meeting: Carl was to meet Friedensreich in a restaurant but after some time Friedensreich’s agent showed up and told Carl that Friedensreich had to cancel their meeting because he was spending some time with the “ladies”. Friedensreich was truly a free soul who lived his life impulsively in strict accordance to his tastes, desires and imagination.
Carl was born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles where he eventually made a career of property development and restaurant ownership (he owned two Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles at one point). He first came to the Napa Valley in 1969. Associated with the Napa Valley for decades, Carl was the founder of the nearby Stags’ Leap Winery in 1972 (the driveway to both wineries is the same until finally splitting off to each respective property). After selling Stags’ Leap Winery in 1997 to Beringer Wine Estates (now owned by Treasury Wine Estates), Carl kept some of his original land next door and made the first vintages under Quixote in the late 1990s. The land the Quixote resides upon used to be part of Stags’ Leap Winery – but was sectioned off as part of the sale of Stags’ Leap Winery.
Carl sold Quixote in 2014 to Le Melange, a Chinese-owned private firm whose parent company Jilin Yatai Group Company Ltd. is based in Changchun, China. And once a vintner, always a vintner – not satisfied with retirement, Carl started another wine project – Como No wines which he ran for several years before ultimately stopping production. And he was one of the founders of the still active Napa Valley based men’s only social group composed, mostly of vintners called the Gastronomic Order of the Nonsensical and Dissipatory (GONADS).
Incidentally, Carl’s daughter Lissa was the chef and co-owned and operated with her husband Hiro Sone, Terra Restaurant in St. Helena for 30 years until it finally closed in 2018 (due to a shortage of qualified help).
Total production here is small – it has been higher but is currently around 2,000 cases with the focus being on Petite Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon along with smaller productions of Malbec. All varietals for their wines are grown on site including including the ubiquitous for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, of course Petite Sirah and small plantings of Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The property is 42 acres (located below the dramatic backdrop of the rocky Stags Leap Palisades) of which 27 acres are planted to vines – all farmed organically – no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are used. Quixote does not sell any of their grapes nor do they purchase grapes – all wines are made from estate grown grapes only. Fortunately the property is well served with water – several natural springs are on site which feed the reservoir directly above and behind the winery. And several well-regarded winemakers have worked here over the years including Aaron Pott and Philippe Melka.
Visitors often will be given a quick tour of the small winery and provided an overview of the building’s history. Tastings are usually held in one of two intimate rooms with the wines paired with select premium cheeses. If you feel unbalanced while standing in the rooms, it cannot be blamed on the alcohol. In reality, the floor undulates – just another part of the quirkiness of this place; Friedensreich felt feet were best designed to walk on uneven surfaces so that is reflected in the design of the floor. Also note that no two windows are alike within the hospitality building; this was done on purpose of course.
Some of the Quixote labels were designed by Friedensreich (who was also a painter) – these labels are reserved for their premium Quixote wines. The Panza label represents blended wines which are selectively distributed. The primary Quixote wines are all 100% varietal – and these are typically only available at the winery or through their website. And unlike many area wineries, Quixote advertises and offers older vintages available for sale and may taste visitors on one of these older wines.
The first vintage of Quixote was from 1998 – David Ramey was the winemaker back then and the wines were made at Rudd Winery as the production area at Quixote was not yet completed. Quixote has employed numerous head winemakers over the years including Aaron Pott. All wines are bottled unfined and unfiltered.
The select vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon wines we have tried over the years have been medium bodied, silky and smooth with highly appreciable fruit driven bouquets. Quixote’s philosophy is to refreshingly not over oak a wine – as a result, the varietal characteristics are showcased rather then secondary characteristics from oak aging.
The 2014 Quixote Malbec is dark in the glass with purplish tinges on the rim. It is savory showing aromas of mushrooms, forest floor and earthy nuances – also somewhat floral with notes of violet along with a darker spice component. Approachable in its youth, the wine is medium bodied – there are no harsh edges across the palate. Savory, with very good acidity lingers slightly tight dusty tannins. A red cherry tartness also shows on the finish.
The 2004 Quixote Petite Syrah features a very fruit driven bouquet (also showing hints of chocolate, mocha and coffee; the palate offers both ripe blackberry and black cherry flavors. The finish is clean and long with beautiful silky tannins. Contrast this with the 2002 Quixote Petite Syrah which has more of an earthiness, minerality, and dusty quality to the bouquet. It is not as fruit forward as the 2002 vintage – notes of plum, currant and blackberry are interwoven together nicely on the palate.
The 2015 Quixote Petite Syrah is dark purple in the glass – very dark in the core with purplish tinges framing the rim. We love wines that have aromatic character and this wine certainly has this. Meaty and savory, this diverse and layered bouquet shows aromas of crushed pepper, black licorice, dried herbs, sweaty leather, bittersweet chocolate, hints of cedar and dark fruit notes. Big and bold on the palate it reveals a noticeable density – both with fruit and of structure. Well concentrated as this varietal often is, the finish is juicy and leaves one salivating. Firm and slightly chewy tannins linger for quite some time on this wine’s big and extended finish.
And Quixote’s most premium Petite Sirah is the Helmet of Mambrino – named after Mambrino, a fictional Moorish King whose helmet allowed him to be invincible and omnipotent. Cervantes even referenced this helmet in Don Quixote. And the light-hearted myth sometimes perpetuated by tasting room staff, indicates consumers of this wine will also gain similar powers.
Their Cabernet Sauvignon is only sold direct to consumer through visits to the winery or the website while their Petite Sirah has some distribution locally at restaurants and select wine shops. For more information and to join one of their membership clubs or allocation list, visit: www.quixotewinery.com