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The Carneros Inn and Adastra Wines

I’ve just returned home from my most recent adventure in Napa and Sonoma!  I always have some very memorable tastings, and this trip started with one.

My husband and I stayed in one of the cottages at The Carneros Inn.  We’re long time fans of Plumpjack’s wines and have always wanted to stay at their lovely hotel.  For my birthday celebration we did just that!  The indoor fireplaces and outdoor fire pits do not disappoint! 

Upon arriving at the resort we were seated at their registration desk and offered a glass of Merlot or some hot apple cider.  Duh!  Guess which one we chose????   Assuming that they’d be pouring one of their Plumpjack wines, we were surprised when they began telling us about the Adastra Merlot they were serving.  We loved it!  They offered to check with the winery to see if they had an available time for us to visit them for a taste.  We were in luck and did just that!

Surgeon Chris Thorpe and his Internist wife Naomi Thorpe founded Adastra.   Started as a cattle ranch in 1984, they began planting vines in 1989.  Their son-in-law Edwin Richards joined the team in 1995 as general manager.  They began selling all of their Pinot Noir grapes to Etude in 1997, but began withholding a small amount to make some estate wine beginning in 2002.  They also began farming organically in 2002, becoming certified organic (no easy task) in 2005.  They currently have 20 acres of vines, of which they sell about half of their grapes to other wineries.  Adastra produces about 1500 cases annually.

We arrived at the winery on a cold rainy day.  Dr. Thorpe showed us around, beginning in the barn where we learned some interesting history of the ranch.  We also learned the origin of their name.  Adastra comes from a phrase and sentiment that was loved by Naomi Thorpe’s father.  The quote, “Per aspera, ad astra”, means “Through striving, to the stars”.   It’s certainly appropriate for this winery, which has obviously been a lot of hard work, and produces some lovely wines.

There are other astronomy connections with this winery, including the name of their winemaker. Pam Starr has been Adastra’s consulting winemaker since 1997.  Formally with Spottswoode, Starr also has her own highly respected label, Crocker & Starr.

Thorpe led us from the barn and into his warm, homey kitchen.  We sat at his kitchen table, which sits under stained glass windows and overlooks the gardens, and tasted some wine!

We started with their 2011 N’Oak Chardonnay, which obviously saw no oak.  Still creamy due to lees stirring, this wine has citrus on the nose, and vibrant golden delicious apple on the palate.

Their 2011 Adastra Chardonnay saw 100% French oak, 70% of which was new.  This Chardonnay is made up of 5 different clones and has a lovely lemon curd palate and a long finish.  We bought a couple of bottles of this wine.

Another favorite of mine was the 2011 Adastra Pinot Noir.  Made from 5 clones, including Joseph Swan, Dijon 115, Dijon 777, Pommard and DRC, this wine is lovely with cranberry and forest floor on the palate.

The 2006 Pinot Adastra Proximus Pinot Noir is made from the Pommard, Dijon 777 and Dijon 115 clones.  This is a bigger Pinot with lots of fruit and spice.  My husband really liked this wine.

The wine that we were served at The Carneros Inn was next up to taste!  The 2010 Adastra Merlot had a long hang time, which produced a big, juicy wine.  This Merlot is very easy drinking and has lots of plum and dark cherry on the palate.

Their 2009 Adastra Proximus Merlot spent 2 years in mostly new French oak.  Also loaded with plum and dark fruit, this wine has nice complexity and is well balanced.

The final wine we tried was the 2011 Ed’s Red.  Adastra’s second label, this wine is Edwin Richards’ baby.  It’s a robust wine with lots of cherry and plum, along with a bit of licorice and spice.  The 2011 vintage is a blend of 52% Merlot, 24% Zinfandel, 14% Barbera, 9% Petite Sirah and 1% Syrah.  This wine is widely distributed and can be found in places such as Total Wine.  At $18 retail, it’s a great everyday wine that goes well with many different foods.

To read more about Adastra, check on prices, or to schedule an appointment, here’s their website:

To check out The Carneros Inn:

Opus One’s Second Wine – Overture

Top wineries and chateaux blend together their best grapes’ juice to produce their best possible wine for the Grand Cru or “first wines”.  What do they do with the remaining juice???  Many of them make a second wine. Usually made by the same winemaker in pretty much the same way as the winery’s famous wine, the big difference is that the juice for the second wine is often from younger vines or the second press. Although these wines may not be as complex, balanced and sublime, they ARE a lot less expensive!  It’s a great way to try big name Bordeaux or other famous wines without the big time price tag.

Opus One is a winery in Napa that produces a second wine.  Founded as a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild of Chateau Mouton Rothschild and renowned Napa vintner Robert Mondavi, Opus One’s goal was to create a Bordeaux style blend based on Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  The other four Bordeaux varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec) are also used.  They use grapes from some of the most well respected vineyards in Napa.  The winemaking, however, is modeled after the techniques of Bordeaux.  This happy marriage produces some of Napa’s finest wines.

While their signature wine is called Opus One, their second wine is appropriately (especially if you’re a music enthusiast) called Overture. Overture is only available at the winery or on their website.  We had a tasting at Opus One a couple of years ago, and had purchased a bottle then. We cracked it open the other night.

I decanted this wine for about an hour before pouring.  The color is a medium purple and has a wonderful aroma of chocolate-covered cherries.  On the palate are some nice dark fruit, specifically black cherry and currant, as well as some tobacco.  It is well balanced with some earthiness and a hint of baking spices.

Yes, the vintage Opus One is a fabulous wine with a lot going on.  I wouldn’t mind having cases upon cases of it resting in my cellar.  With the going rate of about $235 a bottle, not many people can afford that.  Overture isn’t cheap, but at about $80 a bottle most of us are a lot more likely to be able to afford multiples.  If you’re someone who doesn’t feel comfortable with a price tag over a couple of hundred bucks, but you’d like to splurge a bit, Overture is a very nice option.

2007 Caymus Napa Valley

My husband is a huge lover of Caymus wines.  They do some lovely Zinfandels that are only available at the winery.  They also do a fun Sauvignon Blanc, among others.  They are most famous, however, for their two bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon.  There is the Napa Valley Cab, which is wildly popular and generally big, oaky and easy to drink young.  Then there is their “Special Selection” which is their flagship wine.  They use their very best barrels for this wine, and it is not produced in every vintage.  That being said, even in challenging vintages Caymus does a consistently good job with their wines.

The other night we cracked open a 2007 of their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  What a treat this was.  It’s the exact reason I encourage people to try to hold on to some of their bottles, so that they can see how they change and progress after a few years of bottle aging.

This wine is clear with a ruby red color and a purple rim, indicating some age.  On the nose is leather, deep cassis, and chocolate covered black cherry.  The palate bursts with dark fruits, especially black cherry.  It is complimented by some licorice and shaved chocolate.

The oak is beginning to dissipate, bringing the fruit and some earthiness to the forefront.  This wine has great complexity, is wonderfully balanced and is singing right now.  I’m so thankful to have a few more in my cellar.  I also have a couple of their ’07 Special Selections.  I can’t wait to try them!

If you see a 2007 Caymus on a wine list in a restaurant or on the shelf of a reputable wine store, don’t be afraid to grab it.  I doubt you’ll be disappointed!


Blackbird Vineyard 2009 Arise

To celebrate the 12th day of Christmas, and the NFL Playoffs, I opened a great Right Bank Bordeaux blend from California last night.  The 2009 Blackbird Vineyard’s “Arise” Proprietary Red Wine from Napa Valley is made of 53% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc and 22% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Aged in French oak for 21 months, this lovely wine offers blackberry, some fun cola and a little smokiness on the nose.  On the palate are plum, cassis, the cola, chocolate and lots of dark fruit.  The finish is fabulously long with some wonderful spicy oak.  This dry wine has nice sweet tannins, which makes it very drinkable now.  I do, however, plan to get a few more bottles to tuck safely into my cellar to enjoy three or four years from now.

Blackbird Vineyard’s winemaker is Aaron Pott, who began his winemaking career at Newton Vineyard in Napa.  He then went abroad where he was the winemaker for Chateau Troplong Mondot and Chateau Las Tour Figeac, both highly respected entities in St. Emilion.  He was recently named the 2012 Winemaker of the Year by Food & Wine Magazine.

Another fun fact is the winery’s name.  When Blackbird’s owner, Michael Polenske, was searching Napa for a nice house with a pool on a hill, he instead fell in love with a nice house with a pool surrounded by a vineyard.  This vineyard was already producing beautiful Merlot fruit being used in world-class wines.  Merlot means young or little blackbird in French patois!

With the help of his team, Polenske has turned his property into a successful winery with some terrific wines.  If you’re a fan of Right Bank Bordeaux, as I am, be sure to check out the wines of Blackbird Vineyard!



2009 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon

With dinner last night I had the 2009 Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s still a baby, but with some decanting it is very approachable now.  And what a nice wine it is!

This Bordeaux blend is 76% Cabernet Sauvignon (just past the required amount of 75% to be called a Cabernet Sauvignon in California!), 11% Malbec, 9% Merlot and 4% Petit Verdot.  The grapes are grown in the dry, rocky soils of Pritchard Hill in Napa Valley.

The nose produced a wonderful floral aroma, specifically violet, along with some currant, black cherry and plum.  On the palate were the currant and plum, along with blackberry, cassis and some cinnamon and ginger.

This is a complex wine that is nicely balanced with just a touch of oak.

What a great bottle with which to start the long weekend!



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