By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: The best parts of Napa lie behind lock and key, far away from tour buses and tasting rooms. Up quiet dirt roads and past heavy electric gates are exotic private worlds that go all but unseen.
Among them is Quixote Winery, hidden in the hills east of Yountville. This tiny 8,000-case-per-year winery is by many accounts (my own included) an architectural wonder of the modern world, built by the slightly twisted Viennese architect and artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser in the mid-1990s. Hundertwasser is known for his cartoonish creativity in building, using few straight lines, employing bold colors, domes and spirals, and incorporating natural elements like grass and mold into his work. Quixote Winery is the only building by Hundertwasser in the United States, constructed over 10 years with startlingly brilliant mosaics, enormous golden onion domes and a sloping roof planted with grass and flowers.
Due to tight zoning restrictions that have become legendary in Napa, the winery won't open to the public until 2007. So until then it sits quietly in its curvaceous, whimsical splendor eliciting stares of amazement and wonder by a few lucky visitors, quietly being reclaimed by the native flora that grow above and around it.
Owned by Carl Doumani, who made his fortune first in restaurants and property and then by selling his Stags' Leap Winery to Beringer for a reported $17 million, the small winery sits just yards away from Doumani's own home and reflects the devil-may-care attitude of the owner, a legend in his own right. Doumani has lived in the valley since the early 1970s, and counts among his personal friends many of the giants of California winemaking, including Robert Mondavi and Bill Harlan.
So when Carl makes small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah, it's worth taking notice. Far from cult status, Doumani's wines are closer to everyday reality--at least a little closer, ranging from $40 to $65 per bottle rather than the hundreds, or even thousands that neighbors are selling their wines for. Suddenly, $40 seems like a pretty good deal.
Mouth value: All of the Quixote wines are organically grown on the 27-acre vineyard, and with the most recent vintage, all come with screw-tops. The Panza label, which are at the lowest end of the price spectrum, are billed as "everyday" wines, though at between $40 and $45, everyday might be stretching the purse strings a bit. They're well worth the splurge, however--the 2001 Panza Cabernet Sauvignon ($40), recently released, is big and smoky, with a lovely balance of dark fruit and oak. For such a young wine, the tannins don't overwhelm and will age even better. The 2001 Quixote Cabernet Sauvignon ($60) picks up where the Panza leaves off, with a more mature balance of fruit and oak, and a mix of spice and plum that should drink well for 10 years or so. Assuming you'll be able to let it sit that long.
Spot: Quixote wines can be found, among other retailers, at Dean & Deluca, 607 S. St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena. 707.967.9980.
From the November 23-29, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.
© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.