“I think it’s a Pinot rosé. Probably French,” says Solbar’s sommelier as he swirls the richly pink wine in his glass.
Michael Hill Kennedy II grins. In fact, he’s beaming.
The wine he’s just poured is actually from Missouri; it’s a 2011 Chambourcin rosé, the first estate-bottled wine produced by Chandler Hill Vineyards, which is located within the Augusta AVA. It’s not Chandler Hill’s first estate wine – they have also produced estate-grown 2010 and 2011 Chambourcin, a 2009 late harvest Vignoles and a 2010 Vignoles – but they recently installed their bottling line and this is the first wine to be under their direct control from vineyard to bottle.
Which brings us back to Solbar, the Michelin-starred restaurant at Solage, a resort tucked into the northern end of the Napa Valley in Calistoga, Calif.
Kennedy, who is Chandler Hill’s director of wine, had a few bottles of the rosé shipped to California so he, along with Chandler Hill CEO Chuck Gillentine, could toast the final night of what had been an educational and delicious trek through wine country. This was the second trip Gillentine and Kennedy had arranged for members of Chandler Hill’s wine club. The first took members through Oregon’s Willamette Valley and this trip introduced members to hand-picked wineries in the Napa and Sonoma regions.
Each of us raised our glass to Chandler Hill’s elegant, dry rosé and then headed off to our rooms to rest up for the next day’s journey back to St. Louis.
But let’s rewind a bit, back to the first day of our five-day trip. We all met at Lambert at the crack of dawn on a crisp Monday morning, were handed a cup of coffee and given our itinerary. The trip would take us from Napa’s valley floor to the top of Diamond Mountain and along the way we’d be meeting some notable winemakers, dining in incredible restaurants and drinking remarkable wines.
But why was Chandler Hill, a Missouri winery, taking its club members to California? Visit Chandler Hill and when you step up to the tasting bar, they hand you a menu with their Missouri wines on one side and their non-Missouri wines on the other. This isn’t, however, a wine bar. Gillentine and Kennedy have collaborated with West Coast grape growers and custom crush facilities to craft their non-Missouri wines. And this isn’t a situation where Chandler Hill is putting their label on someone else’s finished wine. Kennedy and Gillentine oversee each wines’ production, working in conjunction with vineyard managers and winemakers on the coast, flying out a number of times each year to taste, blend and monitor quality. This may seem unusual: In Missouri, most wineries are estate wineries, meaning that they produce wines made from grapes that they’ve grown (although there certainly are exceptions). In places like California, however, a lot of wine is produced in custom crush facilities, where grapes are shipped in and crushed, aged, blended and bottled for a number of clients under a number of labels.
When Chandler Hill opened in 2007, they planted their rows of Vignoles and Chambourcin, but it takes years for vines to mature. So in the interim, they sourced juice from Noboleis Vineyards and Crown Valley Winery. Chandler Hill’s first Vidal was made with juice from Augusta Winery, which worked with them to make the wine. And, they explored relationships with West Coast growers and producers, which is where we pick up our story.
During the trip, we met some of Chandler Hill’s partners – both current and potential – and made some just-for-fun stops along the way. Here, in this photo essay shot by Napa-based photographer Eric Peralta, I take you along on the journey, one glass at a time.