Hall Rutherford, 750 foot above the valley floor
The price of winery tours in Napa Valley has nudged north like the price of premium Cabernet itself.
Back in the early 2000s, you could take a great winery tour for $20, and simple tastings were $10, with the fee waived against a purchase.
Not any more.
The newest valley tour, called Appellation Exploration Experience, is offered at Hall Winery’s Rutherford campus at $125 per guest, ($100 for club members).
Promoted as the hedonistic, Triple Crème of winery tours in Napa Valley, the Hall Rutherford tour features a 90-minute walk around the gorgeous property and a tasting of impeccable wines from no fewer than three Napa Valley sub-appellations. (The Halls get fruit from 15 of the 16 sub-appellations, so for them, it is not a problem to choose three – any of which will dazzle you.)
Trying to stay abreast of new tours, and do the homework for readers planning to visit Napa Valley, napaman signed up for “Appellation Exploration” to learn what makes the tour so special.
There are gorgeous – and playful – works of art outdoors, and many exquisite sculptures inside the winery at Hall Rutherford.
Additional pieces which I loved on my tour:
Hall Rutherford is an experience for your palate AND your eyes.
There are more than 30 pieces of contemporary art here and they wines you will taste are so good that you will want to swallow, not spit. Those kind of wines.
The winery is built at the Sacrashe vineyard site which sits atop Auberge du Soleil on a peak on the east side of Napa Valley.
Sacrashe Vineyard in the winter – before bud break
I never heard the proper pronunciation for this site until my visit.
It’s SACK-RAH-SHAY, originally named by the three partners who owned it before the Halls – Sacri, Craig and Sherwin – using the first few letters of their respective last names.
Kathryn and Craig Hall acquired the vineyard in 1995 and intended to beef it up quickly, but their plans were sidetracked when Kathryn was named US Ambassador to Austria, where she served from 1997 to 2001.
Craig and Kathryn Hall, pictured in 2012
Upon returning to Napa Valley, the Halls did more than just update Sacrashe – they went on a buying spree and acquired a large property with vines in St. Helena, which became Hall St. Helena, where the bulk of the winery’s annual 100,000 cases are produced.
If you missed my napaman story about the St. Helena campus, check it our here:
But back to Hall Rutherford
Your tour begins with a walk around the property and a pit stop at the Sacrashe vineyard itself. This is followed by a tour of the production facility where my guide discussed all elements of wine making.
Hall wine educator, Sol Gold
My guide was terrific, filled with knowledge which he leaked out at just the right moments during the tour. A big round of applause for wine educator Sol Gold.
HALL has custom-made, custom-shaped, fermentation tanks and favors gravity flow production.
One of the reasons Hall Cabernets are so damn delicious (the 2011 Kathryn Hall [red label] Cabernet was my single favorite contemporary release Napa Valley Cab last year) is the fact that all the wines are made with free-run juice, not pressed juice, so even before you put the wine into barrel to age 22 to 24 months, it has a head start in silkiness, sensuality, and textural purity, which is amplified through the barrel-aging period.
Cabernets here are unctuous, exhibiting an uncommon silky texture, a suppleness, and exquisite balance; this is partially due to the winemaking practice of NOT pressing the skins and seeds, which can extract harsh tannins.
To get from the production facility to the gorgeous Crystal Cave tasting room, you traverse a long, barrel-aging tunnel. Here, in the tunnel, you stop to thieve a sample of the still-aging 2013 Kathryn Hall Cabernet from barrel. A major charmer even from cask.
Bravo to Steve Leveque, Hall’s director of winemaking; during the Rutherford tour, you will get to taste his 2013 (red label) Kathryn Hall Cabernet from barrel (it won’t be released until September 2016). It is already a delicious, forehead-smacking wine, capable of bringing a wide grin to a seasoned wine writer’s face. We’re talking A Beverage of Natural Beauty.
I’m told that Robert Parker tasted the 2013 Kathryn Hall Cabernet from cask and declared it a 99-100 point wine and it still has another nine months to age in barrel and then a full year to age in bottle before it ever sees the public– so that is quite the compliment from Mr. Parker.
On my tour, we tasted three 2012 Cabernets, none of which will be released until this fall. But visitors to Hall Rutherford may purchase these particular wines now, ahead of release.
The wines are tasted in a most impressive space, a cave hollowed out beneath the Sacrashe vineyard.
From the ceiling hangs a chandelier made to look as though it were the roots of a vine. The one-of-a-kind chandelier, designed by artist Donald Lipski, sports more than 1500 Swarovski crystal “petals.”
Wines I tasted
Guests taste wines from three different sub-appellations -- from the same vintage -- to learn about distinctions, which soil and terroir bring to bear on a finished wine.
On my tour, I tasted 2012 Hall Cabernets, one from each of St. Helena, Stags Leap District and Diamond Mountain.
2012 Hall, Bergfeld Vineyard, St. Helena, Cabernet Sauvignon
Starts with smoke and alluring fruit on the nose. Has a gorgeous, spicy complexity on the palate, with hints of cinnamon at this point in its evolution, which are likely to disappear with age and integrate into the wine.
2012 Hall, Stags Leap District, Cabernet Sauvignon
The fruit for this wine comes from a leased vineyard adjacent to Shafer in Stags Leap District, one of my favorite sub-appellations.
This wine had me jumping out of my seat. My notes included: “THIS IS THE DADDY!”
The wine exhibits sublime aromas and flavors, which pop from the glass.
A gorgeous wine, seamless, filled with ripe red and dark fruits, and totally in balance, from the initial sip through to the swallow.
This is wine candy for adults.
2012 Hall, Diamond Mountain District, Cabernet Sauvignon
The darkest, most brooding, wine of the three sub-appellations tasted; this wine is darkly purple, heavily intense, showing more structure than either of the other wines.
Impeccable winemaking here – you can’t put more wine into a wine. Absolutely first-class Cabernet.
In the winter off-season just now, it’s reasonably easy to reserve space for Appellation Exploration, but come spring and summer, be advised that they will be booking weeks, if not months, ahead.
The reason: Hall only offers two tours a day – 11 am and 2 pm and the winery is limited to hosting not more than 15 people during the whole day. They can sign up 14 people for one tour and one individual for the other tour on a single day – or can mix n’ match any combination of guests, but can’t exceed 15 total guests on any one day.
So if you like what you learn here, book early.
To book a tour, contact Laura Garrow, on the phone at 707-967-2626, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out tour and winery details on the web at hallwines.com.