Do you have that one place you drive by frequently and keep saying, we’ll stop next time? It’s not as though you have a compelling reason for the drive by. It just happens. Well, I can happily cross one of those “next time” places off my list because I finally made the stop. And, ironically enough, this time it took a cross-country flight to do it. But it was well worth it.
Moving the Dial
My next time place was Jamieson Ranch winery, located about as far south in the Napa AVA that a winery can be before it’s outside the limits. When living in the Bay Area, my husband and I had probably driven by the winery close to a dozen times over the course of a few years. We always thought it looked nice, it was quick and easy to get to, but we were always on a mission to go somewhere else. Truth be told, we just didn’t know enough about it to turn off the highway and into the winery’s driveway. However, on August 12, 2016, we finally walked through the winery’s doors.
So, what was the impetus that finally moved the dial? We were sitting at Bar Red Beard in Fort Lauderdale, where we live now, tasting five wines from the Jamieson Ranch collection. As we sipped on the winery’s Lighthorse Chardonnay we explained the irony of the situation to Dave, a manager at Opici, who is a distributor for Jamieson. As chance happens, my husband and I had a last-minute trip to Napa scheduled for the upcoming weekend so Dave kindly offered to arrange a visit for us. We enjoyed the wines we tasted that evening—and we had time on our first day in Napa—so it seemed it was meant to be for us to finally visit Jamieson.
Making an Impression
As soon as our flight landed in San Francisco, we made a beeline for Napa to make our afternoon appointment at Jamieson. For the first time, we finally turned off of Highway 12 and slowly made our way down the driveway —one of the things I always admired about Jamieson—that leads to a large
circular grassy knoll occupied by a bigger-than-life modernistic metal sculpture of a horse.
After parking, we entered the building and were welcomed by Anna Leigon, one of the owners. She ushered us into a beautiful tasting lounge, where I would have happily spent the whole afternoon. Surrounded by beautiful wood columns that look hand carved, the building evokes that warm, comforting feeling you get when you step into a ski lodge for a relaxing apres-ski libation. But there was much to see so, upon meeting the VP of Sales Doug Fitz Gibbon, our host for the day, we headed on to tour the operations with glasses of Reata Chardonnay in hand.
A Bit of History
As we walked through the production area, Doug gave us the low down on the property. Jamieson Ranch comprises 300 acres of land, 100 of which are planted vineyards. Back in the day, the property used to be part of a huge cattle and horse ranch, which Jamieson proudly incorporates into its wine brands, environment, and culture. The winery produces more than 100,000 cases annually, and we were surprised to learn that the winemaking process at Jamieson Ranch is managed by a mere 5 person-team.
Bill Leigon, owner of Jamieson, has more than 40 years in the California wine industry. He formerly served as the president of Hahn Estates, where he created the Rex Goliath brand and eventually sold it to Constellation. He then developed the Cycles Gladiator brand before joining the management team of what is now the Jamieson Ranch wines portfolio.
Today, the winery was abuzz with activity somewhat atypical of a quiet summer Friday afternoon. Dave explained that with harvest just around the corner, the winemaking team was engaged in various preparatory activities. We stopped for a photo with three members of the team, Juan Jose (far left), Noelle (far right) and Miguel (back center). We then had an opportunity to taste the 2015 Double Lariat directly from the barrel, which the wine team affectionately calls “the egg,” given it’s unusual shape.
Is that a Wine Oasis?
After the tour, we climbed a set of stairs and crossed over a metal lattice-work walkway surrounded by the tops of the fermentation tanks, which will soon be busily tended to by the winemaking team. Doug eventually led us to a room where a table was awaiting our arrival. Complete with beautiful cheese platters, rows of wine glasses and a sign welcoming us to the winery, it was like one of those moments you see in movies where the weary and dehydrated traveler finally encounters a water source in the desert and angelic music slowly ascends from nowhere. Okay, so maybe I’m being overly dramatic, but after being up before the crack of dawn and dealing with sardine-packed, cross-country flights, it was a special moment!
Jamieson has six brands, including Light Horse, Whiplash, Reata (this is one of the former names of the winery, whose origin comes from the Spanish word for“lariat”), Silver Spur, Double Lariat and Sweet Jane. We tasted the following wines. Note: Visit Jamieson’s web site for more information about these wines and the complete portfolio.
- Reata “Los Carneros” Chardonnay, 2014: This one is for lovers of toasty, buttery Chardonnays. Creamy citrus and apples are enveloped in light minerality. It would be good alone as an afternoon sipping wine, or with lobster.
- Reata “Three County” Pinot Noir, 2014: This Pinot is made of 52% Sonoma, 31% Monterey, and 17% San Benito fruit. The aromatic fruit, cherry on the palate, and elegant structure would make this ideal with a roasted pork tenderloin or Coq Au Vin.
- Whiplash Lodi Zinfandel 2014: There are loads of juicy fruit and jamminess on this one, with a slightly spicy finish. Can we say barbeque?
- JRV “Double Lariat” Cabernet, Napa Valley, 2014: Black fruit-forward aromas and flavors are coupled with chocolate undertones. It is a relatively smooth Cab with a lingering finish. This one is steak all the way!
No, She’s not a Unicorn
About halfway through our tasting, we were presented with another special treat. As we talked with Doug about the wine, in walks Molly, one of three miniature horses that the winery supports through its Light Horse wine label. (We already had the opportunity to taste both the Light Horse Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at the Fort Lauderdale tasting event and enjoyed both. In fact, I prefer the Light Horse Chardonnay over the Reata due to its crisper, lighter style.)
Molly was so adorable I could hardly stand it. She may as well have been a unicorn for how surprised I was to see such a gorgeous creature unexpectedly appear at our table. She was sporting tiny black leather boots to provide traction on the wood floors, and she had the most gentle, kind eyes a horse could have.
Brandy, her handler and trainer, explained that Molly is part of the Light Horse Foundation (founded by Leigon), an equine therapy program primarily focused on special needs children. Having an opportunity to pet her silky mane and feel the warmth of her back on my hand, I could easily see how Molly’s patient and calming presence would be therapeutic for a child, or anyone, for that matter.
Environment Fit for a Rancher
After we finished our tasting, we walked down the hall to the spacious 3,000 square-foot tasting room whose décor pays homage to the winery’s ranching history. Suspended from the high ceiling is a large chandelier made of a cluster of antlers. The focal point of the room is a large tasting area flanked by a wall that seems high enough to be a rock climbing wall, but instead is studded by rows of wine bottles whose perfectly aligned symmetry would impress anyone obsessed with order and precision.
We walked through a set of glass doors adjacent to the wall, where the cavernous tasting room and outdoors seem to merge into a single entity with sweeping views of the valley. Terraces, patios, and lawn collide to create a peaceful outdoor space, making it hard to decide whether to sit inside or outside.
Doug walked us around the corner to view a project in progress. We happened to visit on the day before a fundraising event called Fresh Coat, an installation of graffiti art from six prominent urban artists as well as art from children at Aldea Art Therapy Program. Proceeds benefit Aldea Children & Family Services. The artists were in the process of putting the final touches on the gigantic murals, which were to be unveiled during the event the next afternoon.
A Final Farewell, But We’ll be Back!
As the afternoon drew to a close, we found ourselves not wanting to leave and wishing we had taken advantage of the many previous opportunities available to us when we lived in such close proximity to this winery. But rather than cry over spilled milk, we decided to savor the remaining half hour by enjoying a final sip of the Andalusian Merlot, which we loved, while sitting on one of the comfy outdoor couches on the terrace.
So, next time you pass by that place you keep meaning to try, do it! And, I encourage anyone heading to Napa who hasn’t stopped into Jamieson to check it out.