Off the Vine: When in Napa, take the road less traveled

August 15, 2012 

The Silverado Trail runs north/south on the eastern side of Napa Valley and parallels the more traveled Highway 29 that is home to many well-known wineries that put Napa on the map. Driving south on the Silverado Trail, the Waca Mountains loom large to your left. The wineries on this side of the Valley are more spread out than those on Highway 29, and better yet, there is less traffic on this roadway.

It is best to put aside an afternoon to visit the southern end of the "Trail," as it is known by locals. The stops include Silverado Vineyards, Pine Ridge Winery and Regusci Winery, just to name a few. These wineries are open to the public and do not require advance reservations. Each pours a variety of wines at a fairly low cost and they all have very friendly tasting rooms.

These wineries are all in the Stag's Leap region of Napa Valley. If you want to experiment, try to only taste Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines at the above wineries to try and see if there are common characteristics amongst the wine's flavors since the grapes are harvested from the same Stag's Leap region.

Silverado Vineyards was opened by Diane and Ron Miller in 1981. Diane is the daughter of the late Walt Disney. The winery is situated on a hill overlooking the southern end of Napa Valley and the view from the terrace is quite magical, especially in the late summer and early fall when the vines are full of ripe grapes. The winery produces a couple of very tasty Cabernet Sauvi

gnons that usually contain deep flavors of cherries and blackberry. If you stop there don't bypass the chocolates filled with Merlot. It is amazing how well their Merlot pairs with chocolate!

Pine Ridge Winery is also situated on a hillside just below Silverado Vineyards and its grounds contain one of the better gardens in the area. Although you are able to just walk in and do a tasting without a reservation, try taking a tour because their caves are remarkable, stretching a half-mile into the hill. Pine Ridge produces a number of different varietals, but it is most known for its Cabernet Sauvignons. I enjoy the one with the Stag's Leap designation the best.

Almost across the street from Pine Ridge lies Regusci Winery -- one of the few "Ghost Wineries" remaining in use in the Valley. In the late 1800s a large number of wineries went out of business due in part due to a pest named phylloxera that feeds on the roots of grapevines, eventually killing the entire vine. Many of these vacant wineries were destroyed over the years for various reasons, but the Regusci Winery most likely survived because it was constructed entirely of lava stone with walls that are 2-feet thick. The tasting room staff makes this a fun stop with their light-hearted humor echoing off the walls.

I have found that the Cabernets from the Stag's Leap region generally contain an earthy character. A wine with an "earthy" flavor should not bring to mind the taste of dirt, but instead the aroma of moist soil. The Silverado Trail is the road less traveled in Napa Valley and like the famous Robert Frost poem suggests, sometimes it makes all the difference to take a different route.

Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at jimrawe@gmail.com.

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