One hour and 10 minutes after our original appointment, we had to call again to say we'd be late. Who could have guessed we'd be stuck in traffic on Highway 29 on a holiday weekend? The tricky part of winetasting appointments is that one is obligated to keep them. The upside is just about everything else. With Napa Valley tasting fees creeping steadily up to $25 just to join the crowd at the bar and stand around like cattle waiting for hay, it's not enough to merely pay your fare anymore; the real estate ain't cheap, folks. So here's a strategy for having a better time in Napa: make the call, pay the little extra and be treated more like expected guests than nominal "guests." Many old-timers have such programs, while newer outfits like Round Pond, somewhat off the well-traveled road, often have fabulous facilities, are well-staffed, eager to please—and graciously understanding to egregiously late guests.
Round Pond is at the end of a palm-tree-lined drive. Tasting is upstairs in the atrium or on a big, well-furnished terrace overlooking the vineyards with sweeping views of the area. Far from traffic, the center of Rutherford proves to be quiet as any far-flung California farmland on a midafternoon that would seem to last forever. Just to the south, Round Pond's new biodynamic kitchen garden is surrounded by two-story spikes that give it the look of some savage stockade. They're teepee poles, topped with bird houses—a warning only to bugs.
Grape growers on some 400 some acres in the heart of Rutherford since the 1980s, the MacDonnell family recently got in to olive oil, then the wine business. Most of their harvest fills the bottles of their more well-known neighbors.
I like the tasting notes describing the 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($65) as having an aroma of baked earth; it resonates with the wine and sounds like you could make an eco-friendly adobe with it. Black cherries, dried fruit, licorice mix with a muted potpourri of tobacco aromatics. The bright cherry, cranberry fruit soaks up the 90 percent new French oak with ease, leaving only a mild, wood-fire baked bread toastiness. The food pairing, asiago tartlet with leeks, was so scrumptious that we asked for a second helping.
The 2008 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford ($26) had bright, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc aromas tinged with lemon-butter and artichoke, and was viscous on the palate with a sensation of sweetness but without heat on the finish, a rich, not crisp, style. But the soup pairing soon stole the limelight: a little boat of garden-fresh sweet pea soup with Meyer lemon olive oil drizzle had a surprising, bright, vegetal taste to charm each spoonful.
Who can't imagine returning on a late fall evening, say, and cozying up next to the big gas-burning hearth, watching the sun set and savoring that Rutherford dusk?
Round Pond Estate, 875 Rutherford Road, Rutherford. Tastings by appointment daily, 11am to 4pm. $25. 888.302.2575.