Today we departed Napa River Inn, our home for the past 6-nights, it felt like leaving a nice and very familiar place. Our home for the next 4-nights is The Les Mars Hotel in Healdsburg (owned by the Foley Family (FF) – and along with many wine properties, hotels and golf courses they also own Foley Family wines listed on the second tier NZSX, which includes Vavasour, Grove Mill, Te Kairanga and Martinborough Vineyards wineries), a period style hotel of outstanding style, which we were looking forward to very much.
Enroute we had a visit to a FF winery named “Kuleto”, situated at 1450 feet in the hills overlooking Lake Hennessey and east to the Rutherford mountains. Thankfully we had transferred to a smaller coach for today (our normal coach would not have gotten up the long, precipitous drive), even so our driver was at times anxious as we ascended with lots of caution, finally reaching the summit in front of the winery to be greeted by Marie Derr and Laurel, a longtime member of the estates staff.
This 760-acre estate is a very different place alright… constructed by founding owner Pat Kuleto around 2,000 (Pat is a noted San Francisco restaurateur, who has opened and operated numerous icon establishments over several decades. He also has a love of growing and making wine allied with a strong affinity with Europe, particularly Italy). The buildings constructed under the ownership of Pat Kuleto are a crazy blend of Tuscan and Mexican architecture and feel, remote and hardly practical. He is focused on all food sources being grown on site and although he sold the winery and 90-acres of precipitous hillside vineyards to FF in 2009, he has retained the remaining 600+ acres of the original ranch property he purchased (a bit like a rundown farm, hidden away high in the mountains).
The vineyards are separated into 100 individual blocks encompassing a diverse array of soils and aspects, planted in many clones. It is interesting that they are close neighbours to Continuum who we visited on Tuesday previous (who focus on making one wine, a single estate Cabernet blend), but Kuletos focus is across several varieties (including the Italian grape variety Sangiovese), which they make well, but perhaps do not truly reflect the potential of their vineyards.
We adjourned to a tasting room above the winery to taste 4 Kuleto Estate wines and enjoy a picnic lunch prepared by noted deli… “Dean & Deluca”.
Kuleto Estate Chardonnay 2013 – a challenging Chardonnay experience, the colour very golden (gives the appearance of a very aged wine that you would expect to be full bodied and developed), but the real challenge was the style… 60% of the blend was made like a red wine including plunging on skins (hence the colour) with 20% put through malolactic, then aged in a mix of new and old oak. Winemaker (since 2002) Dave Lattin has pushed the boat out here and frankly, I think most Chardonnay drinkers would struggle to reconcile with this wine.
Kuleto Sangiovese 2013 (94% Sangiovese, 5% Syrah and 1% Malbec) typical of the grape, very spicy with dark cherry and berry fruit profile. The flavours are pure, but the mouthfeel a bit too firm, not enough generosity and smoothness in this wine.
Kuleto Proprietary Red 2013 – A Cabernet dominant blend with good weight of dark fruits and strong flavours, soft Cabernet leafy/graphite characters and firm tannin grip.
Kuleto Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 – 2-years in French oak, it has a mix of fragrant, spice, herb and back fruit aromas. The palate was more generous, complex and the tannin feel more composed, clearly Cabernet Sauvignon is the grape that does best in this environment if these 4, same vintage wines are a true measure.
We consumed our Cabernet in the beautifully sunny outdoor entertainment area directly outside the winery, then boarded our coach for the 1-hour drive to Healdsburg.
When we arrived in the lobby of Les Mars Hotel, Manager Brian greeted us all with a flute of Champagne, a lovely way to be welcomed to our home for the next 4-nights. The group put their bags in their rooms and immediately headed out to explore the town, Virginia and I headed to the room to catch up on some work and this blog, so we could later enjoy a quiet dinner in town.