There's a certain sort of person who looks over the gently rolling, perfectly manicured, toxin-drenched turf of a golf course and says, "What a waste—we could grow gardens and feed people on that land!" Sheldon S. "Hack" Wilson was a different sort of person. In 1980, he looked upon the 18-hole Chimney Rock Golf Course in Napa and thought, "Hey, I could grow great Cabernet Sauvignon on that land."
Not that Wilson had any particular antipathy toward golf. It's just that he'd spent years circumnavigating the globe in search of his dream vineyard, when the cosmopolitan wine importer and writer Alexis Lichine sagely advised him to go west. A WWII Bomber Command veteran and international beverage businessman, Wilson spent 30 years bringing Pepsi-Cola to Africa, but his heart was in Bordeaux. Perhaps because he felt his wife's heart was still in South Africa, he built his house and the winery in a distinctive, 17th-century Cape Dutch style. And despite his fine wine aspirations, the late Pepsi-pusher was remembered in a 2001 Los Angeles Times obituary as advocating a democratic approach to wine, to go with pizza and tacos, and having offered a catchy slogan of his own: "It's always time for wine . . . the civilized refreshment."
Current owners the Terlato Wine Group, who import a good percentage of the world's fine wines, share that outlook. Anthony Terlato is also known for bringing Pinot Grigio to the United States. Terlato completed the golf course's conversion to vineyards, which leaves only the 19th hole remaining.
The tasting room sports a long horseshoe-shaped bar, with plenty of room to mill about when it gets crowded. Whites, like the 2008 Elevage Blanc ($39), opulent with vintage sparkling aromas and a long finish smacking of lemon drop and caramel, are grown off-site, while reds are grown on the contiguous estate. Major themes here are not so much sweet fruit and gloop as savory aromatics and fine, tannic structure. The 2007 Stag's Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon ($69) is herbal up front and lean in the middle, earning its keep with a sensation of liveliness and purity on the palate.
More forthcoming in the velvety, plum-cherry fruit department, with aromas hinting at light Virginia tobacco, the 2007 Elevage ($81) might like to be decanted. Made to Mr. Terlato's specifications, I'm told, the 2007 Terlato Cabernet Sauvignon ($62) offers a whiff of dusty, ground dried herbs and bay leaf coated in a wash of superfine tannin. A taut, polished style of Cab all around, and definitely above par.
Chimney Rock Winery, 5350 Silverado Trail, Napa. Open daily 10am to 5pm. Tasting fees, $20–$30. 707.257.2641.