In the sunny courtyard of a nineteenth century French chateau, our host guided us through a classic tasting while the Stones, Fleetwood Mac, and other 70s music icons played in the background. Though it was fall, it felt like a perfect spring day, clear and crisp, with no humidity. The company was congenial, the wine was superb and I couldn’t have imagined a more magical day. It was the kind of day that I’m certain has been the cause of many impetuous declarations regarding an immediate move to Napa Valley. My certainty arises because I said it myself.
Unlike most winemakers in Napa Valley, Jamie Whetstone owner and winemaker at Whetstone Wine Cellars, is not growing Bordeaux varietals. A free spirit, Jamie has made a name for himself growing Rhone varietals and Pinot Noir (most vineyards located in the Russian River Valley), and producing exceptional wines. Jamie arrived in Napa in 2002 with the idea of staying for a year, then returning to his home in South Carolina to open a restaurant. He was also working for noted winemaker Larry Turley at that time. As often happens, the wine life called to him. I’m mighty glad he stayed.
From the website:
“Whetstone is a small, family-owned, luxury wine brand located in the heart of the Napa Valley. We specialize in Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs, Carneros Chardonnay, cult favorite Russian River Valley Viognier, and Napa Valley Syrah.”
The chateau that was to become Whetstone Wine Cellars tasting room had been abandoned for fifteen years when Jamie and his wife Michelle first saw it. The chateau was designed by Hamden W. McIntyre, who also designed Chateau Montelena, in Calistoga. Despite the abandonment, they recognized that the bones were intact – and purchased the chateau in 2011.
Jamie and Michelle wanted a place where they could nurture a community in a warm and stylish environment. Michelle’s exquisite design sensibility is seen everywhere – the chateau is the perfect setting for sharing their excellent wines. Two and half years after they purchased the property the tasting room opened. With the original stone fireplace, dark wood beams and rustic but elegant furniture, I’d say the Whetstone’s achieved their vision.
The Classic Tasting
Michelle guided us through the tasting, which also came with detailed notes from winemaker, Jamie. The tasting consisted of four wines. With the exception of the Syrah, the vineyards are all located in Sonoma County, where the cooler climate is better suited to Pinot Noir and Viognier.
2014 Viognier, Catie’s Corner
The clone for this Viognier comes from Condrieu, a town in the northern Rhone Valley of France, once the only place Viognier was found. Catie’s Corner vineyards are located in the Russian River Valley and are sustainably farmed.
This is 100% Viognier. Wonderful! It has all the usual traits of a truly good Viognier – very aromatic with intense white floral notes. Ripe stone fruits on the palate, full-bodied, with a long finish.
2014 Pinot Noir, Jon Boat Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
This Pinot is a blend of grapes from several Sonoma coast appellations. It is a very juicy, fruit-forward Pinot Noir. It’s also a favorite at The French Laundry and Angele restaurants in Napa.
2013 Pinot Noir, Pleasant Hill, Russian River Valley – A complex wine with floral, ripe fruit notes on the nose and secondary notes of forest floor and mint. On the palate, I tasted cherries and blueberries. This wine was very fine and had a long finish.
2013 Syrah, Phoenix Ranch, Napa Valley
The Phoenix Ranch vineyards are located at a cooler sight in Napa Valley and farmed bio dynamically. The Syrah is a beautiful wine, dark purple in color, with a big nose of cherry and cassis. Long finish with smooth tannins. I would have liked some food with this – perhaps a nice lamb stew.
To learn more about these wines, read Jamie’s extensive tasting notes.
Every one of these wines was exceptional, just as Jamie planned. The classic tasting is $40.00 and is by appointment only. Keep in mind that these wines are made in very small lots – for example, only 228 cases of the Syrah were produced. If you find something you love, buy it (or you can become a wine club member and have it automatically shipped to you).
You don’t have to visit Whetstone to order their wines, but if you’re in Napa, I recommend setting an appointment. Relaxing in the hospitality of Jamie and Michelle is a real treat, and one of those experiences that exemplifies the good life.
If you go:
Whetstone Wine Cellars
1075 Atlas Peak Road
Thanks to Downtown Napa for sponsoring a visit to Whetstone Wine Cellars