The winery: Clos Du Val Winery was established in 1972 by American businessman John Goelet and French-born winemaker Bernard Portet. The story goes that Portet used a very scientific (sarcasm intended) method to help him get a sense of Napa Valley’s microclimates, he drove through the area with his arm out the car window. Portet apparently took a liking to the Stags Leap District of the valley and convinced Goelet to purchase 150 acres of land and found Clos Du Val.
Located at 5330 Silverado Trail, Clos Du Val gives off a peaceful vibe from the outside and includes large grassy areas and tables and chairs for lounging and sipping near the vineyard in front of the tasting room.
The tasting room: A quick stroll from the parking lot found us winding up a path that led us alongside some budding vines, up a couple small steps and right toward the large ivy-covered building where the tasting room is. Upon swinging open the large wooden door and entering the tasting room, we were immediately struck by two things. First, the large crowd of people crammed around the tasting room bar (more on that later) and secondly, the very dimly lit room (coming in from a sunny day, it’ll likely take your eyes a while to adjust).
In keeping with the winery’s color scheme, we were hard-pressed to find anything in the tasting room that was not some shade of brown. From the walls, to the pottery, to the art, to the signage, to the various racks holding the bottles of wine–everything exuded the Clos Du Val look and feel that you get simply by looking at their label.
The staff: Perhaps it was the rather large crowd that made it nearly impossible to reach the bar, or maybe it was the fact that it was late afternoon (near closing time) when we arrived, but the staff inside the tasting room left quite a bit to be desired.
Now, we’ve arrived late in the day at numerous wineries before and have always had great experiences (in fact, quite often we’ve been allowed to help finish off the open bottles), but this time around, we barely had time to finish one tasting before we were quickly moved along to the next. The person pouring the wine for our side of the tasting room bar seemed far more interested in heading home than in talking to their customers about the wines, the winery, the winemaking process, etc. Not only that, but we were repeatedly asked where we were on our tasting flight and got a strong vibe of overall disinterest, despite us asking a few questions and genuinely trying to be polite.
The wine: Have tried our fair share of Clos Du Val wines over the years (and even having recommended a few of their Cabs to friends), we were excited for this particular leg of our journey. On this late afternoon, there was just one tasting option available–a five flight tasting for $10. On Saturdays and Sundays the winery samples the Clos Du Val reserve and library wines for $20 per person (this fee includes a Clos Du Val logo glass).
After trying the ’04 Carneros Chardonnay, which gave off hints of green apple and other tropical fruits and didn’t taste like many of the buttery chardonnays out there, we moved on to the ’04 Merlot. Again, while not typically our varietal of choice, this wine was very approachable and soft on the palate–quite contrary to many of the Merlot’s we’ve had. Next up was the ’05 Carneros Pinot Noir, which is full bodied and filled the entire mouth with a solid mixture of fruit flavors, followed by spice (but nothing too overwhelming). Always eager to try different Pinots, we spent the $28 and took a bottle home with us.
We then moved on to the Cabernet Sauvignon–the main event in our minds. The recently-released ’04 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which was aged for 17-months in French oak barrels, gives off aromas of dark fruit and had quite a long finish. Perhaps needing some more time to come into its own, we thought this wine might be better in six months to a year. Finally, we finished-up with the ’03 Cabernet with its rich, fruity taste and oak-filled aromas and found it to be, as expected, a very solid wine.
The Cork Board rating: 2 corks (out of 5 possible). A dimly lit tasting room, a staff that seemed less than excited to serve us and a mixed set of wines left us with a somewhat bad taste in our mouth.
Have you visited Clos Du Val lately? Leave us a comment and tell us what your impressions were!