Hot, tired and in dire need of a bathroom, I had been circling the Calistoga train depot in hopes of finding some relief. A tiny building located behind the depot that I had never noticed before beckoned. I wandered inside and immediately forgot about the bathroom. A vintage dining table was set with glassware. Wine bottles were artfully displayed. A low-slung upholstered chair invited me to sit and stay for a while. This was my kind of place, and I had almost missed it.
Claire Ducrocq Weinkauf, owner and proprietor of Picayune Cellars welcomed me to relax and asked if I’d like to do a wine tasting accompanied by a preset musical playlist. She usually has several different genres, from jazz to rock, but that day she had only a Parisian soundtrack. Hmmm, why yes! I would like that.
As I made myself cozy in the window seat, Claire explained that she believes pairing wine and music is an excellent way to help people, perhaps uncomfortable with wine, to understand it better. Or, in her words, “I want to break the elitism of wine tasting and connect people to wine.”
She suggested that with each of the four wines I would taste, that I pay attention to how the music made me feel. Being a creative person, I love a full sensory experience. I closed my eyes and tasted the first wine, a Sauvignon Blanc, while listening to Charles Trenet singing Ménilmontant.
I imagined I was on a terrace overlooking the Cote d’ Azur. It was a very festive atmosphere, like a party. People danced and sipped Sauvignon Blanc paired with fresh oysters. The wine tasted slightly of tropical fruit and citrus and finished with a hint of salinity.
The second wine, the 2016 Picayune Rosé, was paired with fresh langostinos to the sounds of Edith Piaf singing Mon Manégé a Moi. I felt like I was traveling or perhaps sailing, as I listened. Manégé means carousel in French, however I didn’t know the song at the time.
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? A nice glass of wine paired with the right music is like that. It can take you places that you’ve been before, and even places you’ve never been, but would like to go. That’s exactly what happened to me. In my imagination I was at the Cote d’ Azur. In reality, I was sitting in a cozy window seat in Napa Valley. It’s no surprise that Wine Enthusiast has named Picayune Cellars a top tasting room experience in 2017.
In 2006, Claire arrived in Napa Valley via renowned wine maker and consultant Paul Hobbs, who she had met and worked with in Argentina. After gaining international experience and expertise in the wine world, (she also worked the harvest in the Rhone Valley and St.Emilion), Claire naturally wanted to try her hand at making her own wines.
A native of France, Claire wanted to capture the fruit flavors of California but with more restraint on the palate, combining the styles of France and her adopted home.
She also wanted to make wine that was exceptional and affordable, To that end Claire decided to become a negociant, meaning she would purchase the fruit or the juice, from high-quality producers and vineyards, but the blend would be her own. In this way she could produce the wine she would like to share with her California customers at what she believed was a fair price point.
It seems Claire is onto something. Her wines have been on the wine list at some of Napa Valley’s best restaurants including Press and the French Laundry. She’s also been featured in the Wall Street Journal as a woman to watch in the wine world.
In addition to the Picayune Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé, I tasted two red wines: the 2014 Pinot Noir and the 2014 Padlock, a Bordeaux blend. Pinot Noir is one of my favorite red wines because it pairs well with many different foods, including fish, and the tannins are usually very soft.
Claire chose La Bohéme, (sung by Charles Aznavour with great emotion), to pair with the Pinot Noir. The recording made me think of dining in a romantic café by a river with a full moon overhead. A lovely ruby color, the wine had a fragrance of blueberries and strawberries with a hint of forest floor.
Padlock—a Bordeaux blend of Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon—exhibited the best of France and California, with bold California fruit on the nose but it is restrained on the palate. A nicely balanced wine it is ready to drink now. No need to wait as with many California Bordeaux blends.
To be honest, the music pairing—Les Copains d’abord by Georges Brassens, seemed incongruous to me. It felt playful and fast-moving. Typically, but not always (that’s wine making for you) Bordeaux blends are better with a little age. So I would probably have paired something a little sexier and slower with the Padlock.
Picayune Cellars is also a great place to pick up a unique memento or gift. Here you can find handmade leather bags, colorful scarves, linens, and other gift items made both locally, and in France. The concept of Picayune fits perfectly with the translation of the name, which means, a little bit.
With Picayune Cellars, Claire has achieved her goal of making high-quality wines accessible and affordable. Whether you do the music pairing or not, you must visit Picayune Cellars. I think my experience illustrates that wine is subjective. You can listen to the same music but you may not have the same experience I had. However, the music may help you to appreciate the wine more. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy this beautiful boutique tasting room where you’ll find a little bit of France in Napa Valley.
Listen to the Parisian playlist and decide for yourself. In the top left corner of the video is the list in order of the wines they were paired with. Simply click on the icon that looks like three bars and the list will appear. I’d love to hear about your experiences pairing wine and music in the comments.