Pity the residents of Napa County. Their burden is not so much the spas, the great wine and the world-class restaurants as it is the world-class restaurants, great wine and spas. Regular working people not directly benefiting from these luxury industries might be just as well off with a GM plant. Scratch that—a Toyota Prius plant. Up in Adventist Angwin, there's refuge from the deluge of fermented grape—and from coffee, a deal-breaker.
With fees trending upwards of $25, winetasting is often an annual event when the folks fly in from Ohio. Now the Napa Neighbor program brings back the old days. Residents need only show their driver's license at 103 participating Napa Valley Vintners member wineries. All offer free tasting of at least an introductory flight; some offer purchase discounts of as much as 25 percent. Napa Neighbor does not mean "neighbor of Napa," so Sonoma citizens must still bring a loaded wallet. But Napans are encouraged to get out and explore such landmarks as Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, a winner in the 1976 Judgment of Paris and world-famous ever since.
Stag's Leap has a tree-shaded, campuslike layout with a scattering of tanks and cellars tucked into a knoll on Silverado Trail. Tasting in the invitingly cool cellar is a no-nonsense affair. Napa Neighbors may start with the citrusy 2006 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($26) and finish with 2005 Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon ($55). Big and grippy with dry cocoa and a deep well of cassis, very nice for a first-tier Cab. At the reserve bar, still-thirsty and spendthrift neighbors may start with the lean 2006 Arcadia Vineyard Chardonnay ($50) and enjoy a slice of Meyer lemon and golden butter on a wafer of woodsmoke; on through the warm and balanced 2004 Cask 23 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($175), brimming with complex dried fruits and baked berries, notes of allspice and clove, on a raft of surprisingly soft tannins. Yokel opinion: not particularly bad for a world-class Cab.
One wonders, is Napa Neighbors a preemptory welcome mat, before the mob from the village marches to the chateau gate with their pitchforks, torches and land-use-restriction ballot initiatives? Our host at Stag's Leap says that he doubts that is a factor, and adds that the program doesn't do much for his bottom line vs. case-hoarding tourists. It's just a goodwill gesture. And goodwill gestures, if they are anything at all, are good.
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, 5766 Silverado Trail, Napa. Open daily, 10am to 4:30pm. Reserve tasting, $40; portfolio tasting, $15 (free for Napa residents). 707.261.6441. For information about the Napa Neighbor program, visit [ http://www.napavintners.com/ ]www.napavintners.com.