Sounds like an old Wrigley’s Doublemint gum commercial, but in wine-speak, it refers to two of my favorite Napa Valley wineries, which have just joined retail forces.
Harris Estate Vineyards and Jones Family Vineyards, both Calistoga appellation wine producers, have opened a dual tasting room in the tiny, tony town of St. Helena (population 6,000 … but 6,008 when eight visitors crowd into the new, small, designer tasting room).
The dual venture, which provides an extremely sophisticated tasting experience, is called Salon St. Helena. It’s on Hunt St., between Main and Railroad Avenue, where it shares space with Martin Design.
The Harrises and Joneses met at a luncheon last year hosted by Thomas Brown, consulting winemaker for both families.
“It seemed like such a natural thing -- for us to open a dual tasting room,” says Mike Harris, “since neither of us are permitted to conduct tastings on our respective properties.”
“Thomas is an extremely gifted winemaker,” says Stephanie Jones Bailey, daughter of Rick Jones and director of operations of her family’s wine business.
“Thomas is self-taught,” she continues. “He started his wine career at Turley, and went on to become winemaker at Schrader Cellars where he produced 100-point Cabernets. The guy’s a Cabernet wizard.”
Yes, quite the wizard. So much so that Thomas was named Winemaker of the Year last year by Food & Wine Magazine.
Today, Thomas Rivers Brown is the consulting winemaker of more than a dozen star Napa Valley brands, including Outpost, Casa Piena, Maybach and Revanna.
And let’s not forget Harris Estate and Jones Family wines, which I swooned over at a tasting at the Salon.
I tasted six wines, which are offered as a flight for $35. We’ll get to my tasting notes in a minute, but here’s what a wine writer colleague had to say about new vintages of Harris and Jones wines.
Roy Piper, whose palate and tasting judgment I respect, penned these notes in a recent column on wineberserkers.com:
2009 Jones Family Cabernet, Napa
Okay, if you like the Spottswoode/Gemstone styled combo of power and finesse, this is the one to get. Classical Napa style with juice red cherry and blueberry fruits,a really nice structure and smooth mouthfeel. Good balance. Medium-full body. This is the second straight excellent vintage of this producer. Voluptuous and sexy. Sourced from a single block. 95pts
2009 Harris "Lakeview" Cab, Napa
If I had to rank my favorite wines of the day, this was it. A wholly complete wine in every way, with power, balance, purity, complexity and nice long finish. Black fruits in the nose with stacked flavors and a good structure and grip in the mouthfeel. This has it all. Could use 3-5 years to get in the zone but is balanced enough to approach now with a nice decanting. Worth hunting down. The best wine from this producer I've yet had. 96pts
Rick Jones, whom I knew in my former days as a consultant to Safeway, was executive vice-president of supply for the grocery chain, where he worked 12 years. Upon retiring, Rick bought a vineyard in Calistoga and says that when he realized how good his fruit was, he decided to bottle it for his own label.
Rick is CFO of the family wine biz and his two daughters have specific responsibilities; Stephanie runs the day-to-day biz and her sister, Heather Jones Melvin, is director of special events.
Over at the Harris ranch (not to be confused with the steakhouse – no relation), Mike is the face of the business while his sweet and charming wife Treva (I can say these things because the Harrises are good friends) oversees bookkeeping and the backroom. Their wonderdog Jake, a black Lab, is responsible for chasing rabbits and catching Frisbees. (He’s not as successful at his job as Thomas Brown is at his – which is probably a good thing for wine lovers.)
Mike, who was a pediatric dentist for 32 years in Milpitas, has a wicked sense of humor. He comes by it naturally; his father owned Tommy’s Joint, a landmark bar and performing venue on Van Ness, in San Francisco. Mike grew up with some of the biggest names in entertainment who paraded through his family’s night club.
Everything about the tasting experience at Salon is chic. Including the hostess, Janee Delancey, who manages the tasting room and makes guests feel totally at home. Her onsite helper is wonderdog Presley.
If you’d like to have some snacks, or appetizers with your wine tasting, Janee can arrange to have tasty fare brought in from Cook restaurant next door.
“We’d prefer that groups and individuals book an appointment for tastings,” says Janee. “Our Salon isn’t big,” she notes. But the wines sure are.
2009 Jones Family Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc
The first white wine produced by the Jones Family, a beguiling, elegant Sauvignon Blanc, produced from fruit grown in Rutherford. Fabulous with food. $40. 92 points.
2007 Jones Family Vineyards The Sisters
A great $50 Napa Valley Cabernet, whose nose suggests smoke, and deep purple grapes. The addition of a small percentage of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc add a touch of spice and complexity. What a lovely, approachable wine. $50. 92 points.
2007 Jones Family Vineyards Estate Cabernet
Huge nose of fresh ripe red fruit, a gorgeous silk texture like that of velours; hints of tobacco and cedar and a long, lingering cherry finish. I really love this wine. I followed the word “wonderful” in my tasting notes with three exclamation marks. $110. 94 points.
2008 Harris Estate Vineyards Indulgence
The Harris’ first offering made with fruit sourced off the estate. The vines are young, the nose is tight and the wine, at this stage, is slightly angular. While made from 100 percent Cabernet, this is a blend of three different Cab clones. $95. 90 points.
2007 Harris Estate Vineyards Jake’s Creek Vineyard
A voluptuous wine, filled with red and black fruit flavors, a stunning middle palate and a great finish. Aged 20 months in new French oak. Bravo! $110. 93 points.
2008 Harris Estate Vineyards, Lakeview Vineyard
Whoa! This wine socks it out of the park! A stupendous achievement. The wine is filled with minerality and complexity. One of those “ Aha!”wines that make you slap your forehead with wonderment. $110. 94 points.
One of the take-aways from the tasting is how different areas within the Calistoga appellation produce different tasting wines. The Harris Cabernet vines are planted on the western side of the valley, the Jones’ Cab vines are planted on the eastern side of the valley. The wines are made by the same winemaker who pretty much uses the same barrels and winemaking techniques for all these wines. So what has changed most is the source of the grapes – east versus west.
After a rousing afternoon of tasting at the Salon, I’d suggest visitors dine at Cook, on Main Street, or at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, around the corner on Railroad Avenue, or a few blocks south on Main Street at Tra Vigne. You will have a fun, fine dining experience and any of these restaurants, and if you’re really smart, you’ll bring some wine along from your Salon tasting for dinner.
Salon St. Helena is located at 1118 Hunt. St. Call Janee at 707-963-3193, or on cell at 707-328-1001 to book an appointment.