When friends visit us in Napa, they always ask for suggestions on where to go to drink the best, local wines. This is a tough question to answer, given that, between Napa and Sonoma alone, there are roughly 1,000 local wineries.
One winery recommendation I never fail to make, however, is to tell them to visit Ma(i)sonry in Yountville. A local’s best kept secret, Ma(i)sonry is a wine and art collective, housing offerings from 19 small producers who don’t have tasting rooms. These aren’t just random custom crush labels, or amateur winemakers creating a few barrels of wine in their garage. A quick glance at their list of all-star winemakers is enough to make even the most seasoned wine snob giddy with excitement. With names like Tor Kenwood, Jeff Ames, Aaron Pott, and Philippe Melka supplying them with small lots of highly coveted wines, you’ll be hard pressed (no pun intended) to find any other California wine destination with this much quality, all in one place.
I’m a fan of smaller producers, because they tend to infuse their wines with a passion that’s uncompromising. Most of these winemakers work with or consult for high end wine brands, so you know if they’re making their own juice, it’s going to be damn good. And pretty expensive. Expect to pony up at least $50 for most bottles here, with many nearing $150 or more. However, there are exceptions, like the Recuerdo brand, which produces a very reasonably priced Malbec ($20) and delicious Torrontes ($15). Guests have flexible options for tasting, and can purchase a glass, a full flight, or just a few splashes from the extensive tasting menu. Our host catered the experience to the individual, pouring lighter Pinots and white varieties for some, and big, heavy reds for others.
The most recognizable brand in their collection is the Blackbird label. Aaron Pott consults for several great brands, including Krupp Brothers, Quixote, and Bello Family, but I think his best achievements have been made with Blackbird. Each blend seamlessly weaves together various percentages of the Bordeaux varietals, highlighting subtle yet distinct differences. They are all highly drinkable now, but worthy of aging for many years to come. I enjoyed each one and thought the Arise and Paramour were standouts.
Unlike Blackbird wines, which have some distribution and can be found across the country, most of the other labels are much more obscure and unknown, making them fun to explore. Take the Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc made by R.A. Harrison, for example. This silky, smooth dessert wine brings huge aromas of sweet honey and honeydew melon, with a crisp acidity that prevents it from becoming overly cloying, or syrupy sweet-either in flavor or texture. Another favorite of mine was the 2008 Casa Piena “Our Gang” Cabernet Sauvignon ($75), with its thick layers of ripe fruit, oak, and dusty earth unfolding with each sip. Before it sold out, we had a chance to sip on a single taste of the Entre Nous Cabernet, made by Phillippe Melka. Tasting notes describe the flavor profile as ‘dried blueberries…creamy mocha…chocolate pot de crème, circling back to fresh picked respberries’. This gem comes from a scant nine-barrel production, and its exclusivity was reflected in the $155 price tag.
When you go wine tasting, part of the fun comes from learning about the intricacies and unique aspects of what you’re sipping, swishing, and swirling. For this visit, our host was intent upon educating everyone present. He kept the conversation light and fun, without being pretentious and haughty, which was great, considering the high-caliber roster of wines we were tasting. He also made a point to pour several wines from distinct regions and terroirs, so that we could better compare and understand the affects of soil and weather on the grapes, as well as different styles of winemaking. For example, we explored the big, lush Santa Rita Pinot from Husic and compared it to the lighter, more refined and acidic Renteria offerings from the Carneros region.
Aside from the great wines, this place also offers a relaxed setting to enjoy your tasting. Most guests can sit outside, in any one of the comfortable seating areas. There’s an umbrella-shaded table, a firepit, and a long family-style table that’s made from a single slab of wood, presumably from a local felled tree. Art and sculptures are everywhere, with the historic stone building hosting a revolving collection from various artists.
When we visited, they had a huge cast sculpture of Einstein’s head for sale (asking price on the tag: $10,000), along with numerous paintings and other pieces of art that were just a tad bit out of my price range. A $12,000 cast iron Bart Simpson sculpture seems a little on the ridiculous side, but I’m sure that, somewhere out there, a millionaire with a love for pop culture is eager to make its acquaintance. Hopefully in the near future, they can bring more affordable, approachable (read: under $100, and not a cartoon), items into the collection for regular folks like myself.
If you’re interested in visiting Ma(i)sonry, you should make an appointment. It’s worth noting that they are one of the few places you can visit later in the day or evening, with hours extending to 5:30PM on weekdays and 7PM on the weekends. You can browse their vintner partner flights, and learn more about the wines they carry at their website, http://www.maisonry.com.
Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley
6711 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
P – (707) 944-0889
Photo credits: Maisonry Napa Valley