Home California An Abandoned Chateau In Napa Valley Gets New Life

An Abandoned Chateau In Napa Valley Gets New Life

written by Penny Sadler

In Whetstone Wine Cellars’ sunny 19th century courtyard, our host guided us through a classic tasting. The Stones, Fleetwood Mac, and other 70s music icons played in the background. Although 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 has likely caused many impetuous declarations regarding an immediate move to Napa Valley. Actually, I said so myself.

entrance to whetstone wine cellars

Off-The-Beaten-Path at Whetstone Wine Cellars

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 (like most vineyards located in the Russian River Valley). Jamie arrived in Napa in 2002 with the idea of staying for a year and then returning to his home in South Carolina to open a restaurant. He was also working for noted winemaker Larry Turley at the 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.”

Napa Valley chateau winery

Inside the tasting salon at Whetstone Wine Cellars

The chateau had been abandoned for fifteen years when Jamie and his wife Michelle first saw it. It 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. The tasting room opened two and a half years after they purchased the property. With the original stone fireplace, dark wood beams and rustic but elegant furniture, I’d say the Whetstones achieved their vision.

Cozy atmosphere at whetstone wine cellars

Imagine sitting here with glass of wine and cozy fire…

The Classic Tasting

Michelle guided us through the tasting, which 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. See my guide to exploring wine country in Sonoma County for more info. 

The Whetstone Wine Cellars Wines

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 site in Napa Valley and farmed biodynamically. The Syrah is a beautiful wine, dark purple in color, with a big nose of cherry and cassis. Long finish with smooth tannins. That said, 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 the Whetstone Wine Cellars 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 Syrah were produced. If you find something you love, buy it. Or, 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.

Whetstone Pinot Noir, Jon boat vineyards

The Jon Boat vineyards Pinot Noir. Flavors of Bing Cherry strawberry and rhubarb pie. Yum.

If you go:

Whetstone Wine Cellars
1075 Atlas Peak Road
Napa, California

Whetstone Wine Cellars front door

Thanks to Downtown Napa for sponsoring a visit to Whetstone Wine Cellars

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Therie February 15, 2017 at 4:27 am

That chateau looks really cozy and charming. It must’ve been a wonderful wine tasting experience!

Lauren January 26, 2017 at 11:54 pm

I love wine tastings and tours, especially when I travel. Napa Valley is on my list for this reason. This spot sounds fantastic! Thanks for introducing me to it!

Penny Sadler January 27, 2017 at 11:20 am

It’s you!

Megan Jerrard January 24, 2017 at 10:15 pm

Sounds like a magical day – thanks for the note to make an appointment – we visited Napa last year and got the impression that a lot of places allow you to rock up … good to know otherwise we would have missed out on our next trip!

Penny Sadler January 29, 2017 at 8:51 am

You’d love it.

Sandy N Vyjay January 24, 2017 at 1:08 pm

What an exhilarating experience. The wine and the settings make for a classic and vintage French experience.

Penny Sadler January 29, 2017 at 8:50 am

they really do.

Jenna January 24, 2017 at 4:18 am

What a cool building and unique winery! Looks like a great place for a wine tour and the wines sound fantastic! I would love to explore Napa sometime!

Penny Sadler January 24, 2017 at 10:21 am

Thanks Jenna.

Susan Manfull January 23, 2017 at 11:23 am

I added this to my wine bucket list when I am in Napa! Sounds like the owners have a great story !

Hannah @GettingStamped January 23, 2017 at 10:02 am

I love spending time in the wine country. My last time was in October 2015 on our US road trip. Could really go for a nice class of wine currently in Asia where the wine is lacking…

Penny Sadler January 23, 2017 at 10:41 am

I know China has a thriving wine economy. Not sure where you are?

melody pittman January 23, 2017 at 1:53 am

Nice read. Viognier’s are one of my favorite kinds of wines and I love the sleek, simple look of the bottles. I love touring wineries and tasting rooms. Whetstone…nice name, too.

Jo January 23, 2017 at 12:29 am

Napa valley is a mecca for wine lovers, I hear. Would love to visit some day. Looks like you had a nice time in this chateau – they are always so fancy and lovely, aren’t they? Glad you had such a wonderful experience.

Penny Sadler January 23, 2017 at 9:20 am

Napa Valley is indeed a mecca for wine lovers. 🙂 Highly recommend.

Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie January 22, 2017 at 10:54 pm

Isn’t that the dream to move away and start a vineyard somewhere idyllic? Sounds like that’s the case with Whetstone! The classic tasting would be great and even more so with the story of the revitalized chateau. I visited Calistoga years ago and found the smaller vineyards with appointment only to be the sweet spots as opposed to the larger more popular ones. I’d love to get back soon for a visit and include a stop at Whetstone.

Penny Sadler January 23, 2017 at 9:22 am

Calistoga is my favorite stop in the Valley. You’re correct. The smaller wineries usually offer something unexpected and wonderful. You’d love Whetstone.

Kavey at Kavey Eats January 21, 2017 at 3:59 am

What a great find of a winery! We visited Napa and Sonoma in the late 90s and really enjoyed it but Whetstone seems one to bookmark for our next trip!

Penny Sadler January 21, 2017 at 2:45 pm

Definitely. It’s time to go back!

noel January 20, 2017 at 11:16 pm

What a delicious collection of Sonoma and Napa whites, I’d love to try the classic tasting, sounds like a nice variety from the region.

Penny Sadler January 21, 2017 at 2:45 pm

The viognier is to die for!

Barry Benton January 18, 2017 at 9:28 am

Nice writeup! We’ll have to add this stop to our next visit to Napa.

Penny Sadler January 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Barry, you’ll love it! Take your camera. Very photogenic place.


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