Tuesday, June 24, 2014

IN PHOTOS: A Trip to HALL Rutherford - Napa's Most Glamorous Chandelier Cellar

It's hard to know where to start in describing HALL in Napa.

Focus on the glamor, the Texas connections or the stunning, art filled presentation? The 200 acres of certified organic vines, the LEED certification (first to be both LEED and certifed organic in the vineyard)? Or just the world class touring experience with thoughtfully designed hangout areas, the historic winery and sculptures among the gardens? Or should it be the wines alone - which have captivated both Parker (who gave its Exzellenz a 100 pt. score) and the Wine Spectator (which placed Kathryn Hall Cabernet #1 on its Top 100 List)?

With more than 200 acres of organically farmed vineyards in Napa, HALL is one of Napa's biggest organic vineyard owners. All of its organic grapes go into its estate wines (along with grapes from other sources). For wine lovers seeking wines sourced solely from organic vines, look for HALL's two wines from its Alexander Valley estate in Sonoma and two of its most expensive single vineyard designates (Bergfeld and Sacrashe).

I spent yesterday at each of HALL's two locations - St. Helena and Rutherford - to understand the wines and the experiences offered for my app Organically Napa: A Tasting and Touring Guide. I came away deeply impressed with HALL's attention to detail, the quality of experiences, the wine and the art.

While the St. Helena experience provides both walk in and by appointment options and is conveniently located on Highway 29, the Rutherford estate is by appointment only ($60, three tours a day offered at 11, 1 and 3) on a private road above Auberge du Soleil.

Judging from the comments of my tour companions, reservations take awhile to get. On my tour, 2 out of 4 couples were from Texas, including two couples from Dallas (where the Halls have their business offices and real estate investments; Craig Hall, involved in many enterprises, was a part owner of the Dallas Cowboys). One couple said they had called in March and were unable to get on the 11 am or 1 pm tour on June 24 - those times on date three months in advance were already booked.

The winery is also offering a combo tour including lunch ($250 per person; available on Peek.com).

Our guide said that Madeleine Albright and Nancy Pelosi had recently held a dinner at the estate. Clinton is also a regular visitor.

Here are some photos from the tour yesterday. 

The rear of the house with the winery below…Hall makes most of its
wines in St. Helena but the cellar and winery here are for single
vineyard designate red wines
The most spectacular aspect of HALL Rutherford for many people
is the Swarovski chandelier in the cellar  
The chandelier armature is made of bronze in the shape of a
grape vine root system
There are some 1,800+ crystals, each representing one day in
Kathryn Hall's tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Austria in 1997-2001
In a town with stiff competition on glamor, HALL's cellar might
just be Napa's classiest. It's constructed solely out of imported,
antique Austrian bricks, each bearing the seal of the Hapsburgs.
Antique bricks provide the structure; niches on the side feature art
from the Hall's personal collections
The tasting set up inside the cave…yesterday's featured a WALT Pinot
Noir ($65), the Ellie Cab ($80) and the Jack's Masterpiece Cab ($125)
The entrance to the cave features art commissioned by Kathryn Hall
in the winery's signature red color
Austria had quite an influence on the overall winery;
the stainless steel fermenters were hand crafted by German and
Austrian artisans
A tour at Rutherford includes a quick stop at the vineyard's edge -
the Sacrashe vineyard here is the site from which HALL makes
its Sacrashe sourced Exzellenz Cabernet, which Parker awarded a score of
100 pts. last year for the 2010 vintage ($200, 160 cases; sold out). 
The Sacrashe vineyard's distinctive volcanic ash soils are unique in Napa.

It's lovely to see an estate that's both elegant and committed to organic viticulture, even if all of the wines are not from organic vines.

Because HALL is not an estate only winery, almost all of HALL's production is a blend of organic and non organic grapes with the overall blend around 50/50. The winery is committed to a program emphasizing Cabs from a variety of appellations. Its own vineyards are in St. Helena, Rutherford and Pope Valley in addition to newly planted vines on Atlas Peak. It buys fruit from Mt. Veeder, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, and other locations.

Enjoy this great new addition to the organic landscape in Napa. With 200 acres of organic vines in the county, HALL accounts for 5 percent of the county's organic acreage - a number that increases as the Halls purchase additional vineyards in the area.

This winery is sure to rise quickly to the top of Trip Advisor's lists - it's done all the right things to promote visitors to share in its vision and bounty. More than 60% of the wine is sold directly to consumers at the winery or via its three clubs. It makes four (out of 19) wines for general distribution.

It's #1 on my list of wineries to recommend to friends and family heading to Napa. All of the visitors on my tour yesterday booked it based on the recommendations of friends.

The Halls have succeeded in creating a destination spot that caters to a broad market, with many different experiences in St. Helena aimed at making the wine newbie comfortable and conversant with wine and food as well as serving the needs of collectors - and all in a spectacular environment in which all wine tourists will enjoy being engaged with the landscape, the art and the wines.

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