Let me set the stage for you: It is Wednesday afternoon of my Napa trip (day four), and I am sitting at the end of the bar inside Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, Calif., sipping on a glass of wine with Sean Larkin and Jack Edwards. A man walks up and starts talking to Jack and Sean. Now you need to realize that Sean Larkin is like the mayor of Yountville (not really, but he knows everyone). Pleasantries are exchanged, and Sean introduces me to Jonathan Ruppert. It turns out Jonathan is director of operations for a new start-up winery, B Cellars Vineyards and Winery, located in Oakville. Sean explains to Jonathan that I am going to Somerston in the morning to see Jack and do a tasting of Somerston’s wines. Then he asks if Jonathan would have time to show me around B Cellars in the afternoon. Jonathan agrees, we exchange cell numbers, and I have another winery tasting and tour arranged.
After my time at Somerston, I headed down the mountains toward Oakville. I texted Jonathan to make sure it was still okay to come to the winery, and he confirmed. With my trusty GPS programmed and barking orders at me, I was off to B Cellars on Oakville Cross Road.
B Cellars was started in 2003 by Jim Borsack and Duffy Keys. Both successful executives in other industries prior to starting B Cellars (Jim Borsack at El Portal Luggage Group and Duffy Keys as an executive with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts). Shortly after the Borsack and Keys partnership began, Kirk Venge came on board as B Cellars’ master winemaker. Kirk brings a passion for winemaking and a rich heritage from a family of winemakers. In October 2005, he was named one of the top 20 young winemakers in the world by Food and Wine Magazine.
As I was walking to the Hospitality House upon arrival at the winery, I was met by Jonathan, and my B Cellars tasting experience began. B Cellars has developed an interesting concept for its guests. It has created a series of “wine experiences” (rather than just calling them tastings) for guests to choose from. Each experience is priced differently and provides a different level of winery/tasting experience. You have the following options to choose from:
- Oakville Trek: $55 per person
- Private Heritage Excursion: $125 per person
- Beyond the Glass: $75 per person
- Chef’s Garden Party: Starts at $125 per person
- Sojourn: $35 per person
For detailed descriptions of each of the tasting experiences, go to B Cellars’ website. Here’s a great video about the winery:
I was treated to the Oakville Trek Experience, which began with an introduction to the winery. Each of the tasting experiences is a combination of wine and food pairings. The dream of B Cellars’ founders was to create a food-centric winery. Because of that dream, food plays a primary role in every tasting.
The first wine I was presented with was the 2011 Blend 23 Chardonnay, which was paired with a wild San Francisco sardine, garden carrot and winter citrus garden violet.
With my glass in hand, I was led on a tour of the Hospitality House, the surrounding patios, the gardens and the fancy chicken coop, where the chef gets eggs each day. From there we went into the 15,000-square-foot caves and barrel storage area. About halfway through the tour of the barrel storage area, I was treated to a barrel sample of Cabernet Sauvignon. From there we were off to the winery and production area and then back to the Hospitality House for more wine and food.
I was seated at a table in the Hospitality House for the next round of tastings. While Jonathan and I were touring the facility, the great staff in the Hospitality House had prepared a personalized menu (see below) and arranged all the glassware, a really special and impressive touch.
FOOD AND MORE WINE
As Jonathan explained, B Cellars’ goal is to take an ordinary wine tasting and turn it into an experience. I think the winery is on the right track. My time spent at B Cellars certainly was more than an ordinary tasting…it was an experience and one that I really enjoyed. My favorite pairing was the 2011 Stagecoach Sangiovese and the chef’s flatbread, which was really tasty.
Here are my thoughts on the wines I tasted at B Cellars:
2011 Blend 23
This is a blended white wine consisting of 51 percent Chardonnay, 37 percent Sauvignon Blanc and 12 percent Viognier. In the glass, the wine’s color was a pale yellow. On the nose, there were aromas of fresh flowers and citrus fruits. On the palate, as the winemaker states, “There is an exceptional balance of acidity and body,” with which I agree. Each of the wine components brings a unique taste to the palate. There are hints of citrus, floral notes and tropical fruit. The finish is crisp and of a nice length. It sells at the winery for $37 per 750 milliliter bottle.
2011 Stagecoach Sangiovese
This red wine is 100 percent Sangiovese. In the glass, the wine was a deep red. On the nose, there were aromas of sweet red fruit, cola and vanilla. On the palate, you could taste the sweetness of red fruit, some coffee flavors and maybe some herbs. The finish was balanced between the tannins and acidity. The wine is full-bodied and provides a great texture.
Although I am a diehard Cabernet Sauvignon fan, I have been drinking more Sangiovese lately and find the wine quite appealing. The wine sells at the winery for $47 per 750 milliliter bottle.
2009 Blend 24
This is a blended red wine comprised of 56 percent Cabernet, 22 percent Sangiovese and 22 percent Syrah. In the glass, the color was a deeper red than the Sangiovese. On the nose, the wine again had hints of red fruit such as strawberries, plums and cherries. On the palate, it was rich and chewy. Fruit and then more fruit came out as the wine opened. The finish was long and offered differences. In the throat, it was a little spicy, while in the mouth, it was rich and textured. It was very pleasant. The wine sells at the winery for $49 per 750 milliliter bottle.
As with most tastings, you start with the light wines and work your way up the flavor profile (light, then medium and finally full-bodied wines). This was certainly a fine example of that theory. Like the Blend 24, the next two wines were certainly examples of full-bodied wines.
2010 Blend 25
This too is a big full-bodied blend red wine made up of 58 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 42 percent Syrah. The wine color in the glass was a deep purple. On the nose, there were hints of black fruit and tobacco. On the palate, the wine had tastes of black cherry and spice with a hint of floral. The finish was good, with velvety tannins, a big coating mouth feel and a good aftertaste. This was a well-balanced, full-bodied wine. This wine will cellar well and be good to drink for years to come. This wine sells at the winery for $62 per 750 milliliter bottle.
2011 Stagecoach Cabernet Sauvignon
This wine is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were sourced from the Stagecoach Vineyard. The nose was a little stubborn, and it took the wine a while to open. Once it did, there were aromas of black fruit, hints of floral and coffee. On the palate, again, the wine was stubborn but had flavors of black cherries and spice. This was an exuberant mouth feel red. The finish was structured and long, leaving a nice aftertaste. This is a well-made wine. This wine sells at the winery for $85 per 750 milliliter bottle.
Every winery strives to provide its visitors with great experiences when they visit. It is very apparent that the B Cellars team is highly motivated to do just that. From start to finish, my visit to B Cellars was very rewarding.
Each step of my B Cellars Experience seemed seamless and well-executed by a courteous and friendly staff. Everyone seemed committed to the B Cellars vision of a creative, memorable experience for guests. I spoke with other guests, and they all shared my feelings and spoke of the good time they had while at the winery. All said they received good value for the small fee they had paid for their “experience.”
As a side note, several days after the visit, I received an email from Duffy Keys inquiring about my experience at the winery. I am reasonably certain that everyone who visits the winery gets the email, but the fact that they do it (and those of us in sales know everyone should) shows the commitment that Jim Borsack, Duffy Keys, Jonathan Ruppert and Kirk Venge have to their program.
On your next trip to Napa Valley, you will certainly want to include B Cellars on your list of wineries to visit. You’ll need to call ahead at 877-229-9939 and make a reservation, or you can contact them through the winery’s website. I would guess the winery, located at 703 Oakville Cross Road in Oakville, is about a 40 minute drive from Napa. I hope you all get to go there at some point, as I am sure you will enjoy your “experience.”
One other note for this week’s blog: You are now able to sign up and pay for the Tiedemann On Wines Wine Club via our website. Check out the “join” icon in the navigation bar at the top of the page to sign up for the wine club today.
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Until next week,