Tag Archives: Vineyard Tour

An Aussie Wine Guy tour of Napa Valley

Greetings and apologies for the lack of new content this year.  There’s been a number of factors, but hopefully the drought of new wine posts will come to an end.  In the meantime though, this post is all about a recent visit Aussie Wine Guy and two friends made to the famous Napa Valley wine region in California, USA.

Napa is not far north of San Francisco, in a secluded location away from the hustle and bustle of the bay area city and its surrounds.  We approached Napa from the Silicon Valley area, to the south of San Francisco, and opted to cross the bay just south of Oakland.  Our trip took us up through Alameda, Oakland and Berkeley before we started to enter wine country.  The trip was uneventful, although it was exciting to see a very large rollercoaster theme park not too far away from our destination – perhaps for another time.

Crossing the bay

AWG made a call out to social media to enquire as to whether any Napa producers would like a visit and mention in this article but unfortunately none responded during the time of our visit.  This is an unfortunate consequence of AWG’s random planning..

Entering the region was much like entering any other wine region, the vineyards and estates started to pop up slowly but surely, and the landscape started to feel more rural, if ever so slightly.  We were somewhat worried about the effects of drought, manifesting as very pale grass colouring and stress on the vegetation.  Whatever the impact, it wasn’t hurting crops, because everywhere we looked there were swaths of green healthy vines.

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Rollercoasters! / Napa vineyards

A trip into Napa town (proper) is a treat.  Unlike most wine centres, Napa is reasonably developed from a modern standpoint.  A large array of three storey buildings and an artificial waterway framed the area which supports the Napa Welcome Centre, which was our first stop.

Outside the imposing building complex which houses the Welcome Centre

The Welcome Centre is a must for first time visitors, or even for the more seasoned travellers.  The centre is well appointed, and contains a wealth of information about the region, including a scale model map and hundreds of leaflets from the vineyards within Napa.  We toiled around the iPads until a greeter became available.  Our objective was simple enough – AWG wanted to introduce his travelling companions to a tour of a cellar (cave).

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Friend of AWG, Will, and the Welcome Centre / iPad trumped by a good map

Scale map of the top of the valley

Our greeter was more than able to accommodate, as well as providing very useful (and as it turned out, accurate and well matched) suggestions on where we could eat, taste wine and visit an original medieval Italian castle!  Loaded with a purpose and a direction, we gathered maps, guides and 2-for-1 tasting coupons and returned to the car.

Robert Mondavi – Kalon Vineyard

Welcome to Robert Mondavi Kalon Vineyard

Our first stop in the valley after the Welcome Centre was the renown Robert Mondavi estate.  The namesake is a Napa legend, helping to hone and craft the quality to evolve and escape the valley over many decades of winemaking.  His name is synonymous with Napa wine, and made for an obvious port of call on our way north.

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Entrance to the estate / Further vines run into the distance

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The 2012 Reserve / Tastefully appointed

Our taste at the estate came from the more exclusive reserve wine, a single 2 oz. glass (at USD $20 Inc. tax) of the 2012 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon – 95 points (Robert Parker).  It did not disappoint.  We took the glasses outside to lounge on the comfortable seating with a view across the vines.  We spent easily an hour sitting, quaffing the wine and engaged in an array of different topics – all the stuff a trip to wine country should endear you towards.  The attractiveness of visiting a region like Napa has to be the ambience, the friendly characters behind the bar and the climate of relaxation paired with good food and wine.

However, the tour must go on and we belatedly returned our glasses, paid, and then beat a quick march to the car to continue our journey.  We passed a number of estates and small towns, many charming and unimposing. Traffic was reasonably light, and we had no time arriving at our next destination.


Owned by Treasury Wines, an Australian outfit, Bellinger is actually the oldest continually operating vineyard in the valley.  The first thing you notice when entering the grounds of the winery is the impressive estate house which guards the entrance from a leafy, sun drenched position.

It also has some of the oldest caves (cellars), and is open for tours without prior arrangement.   It cost us $30 USD for a basic tour, which included a taste of four different estate wines, a Chardonnay, a Sangiovese, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Riesling Botrytis dessert wine.

Long Weekend Vineyard Tour in Canberra

Over the recent Canberra long weekend, we decided to head out across the border to Murrumbateman (in New South Wales, but part of the Canberra wine region) to pay a visit to the cellar door of local producer Clonakilla.

We’ve previously visited a couple of times, primarily to keep tabs on the development of their heralded Shiraz Viognier.

Clonakilla  Vineyard
Outside at Clonakilla / The vineyard

The weather during summer earlier this year was not particularly kind to wine makers in the region and it had an adverse effect on crops and yields.  Clonakilla, by its own standard, were not spared.  Nonetheless, the 2011 Shiraz Viognier was released, and we’ve now stocked the Aussie Wine Guy cellar accordingly.

Inside the cellar door

Price Lists  O'Riada
Clonakilla Price List 2012 / The district O’Riada Shiraz

We tasted a range of Clonakilla releases starting with a remarkably memorable Semillon Sauvignon Blanc and ending with the regional Shiraz, the O’Riada.  Most likely due to lower production, the Shiraz Viognier was not available for tasting.

The cellar door was particularly busy and in all the chaos we ended up with a bottle of O’Riada instead of Shiraz Viognier.  We were able to return the next day and the bottle was swapped over, no fuss – many thanks to the folks at Clonakilla for sorting that out.

Our next stop took us pleasantly east along Murrumbateman road towards Lake George.  The countryside has a beautiful serenity to it, framed by a wonderful blue sky, and punctuated every now and then by local wildlife (an echidna crossed the road in front of us) and cattle.

Once we had crossed the Federal highway, we made a line towards the small township of Bungendore.  Our route took us to the local vineyard of Lark Hill, of which we’d become more acquainted at a recent 8-course degustation.

Lark Hill  The Line Up
Lark Hill Cellar Door / Tasting Range

The estate is set back from Bungendore road nestled in the bush.  When we arrived a party had just left the cellar door, so we had a few minutes to look around.  It costs $5 (per patron) to taste the wine, but this is deduced from any purchases one makes after tasting.

Now, in all honesty, if (at bare minimum) you took home one bottle of the “Auslese” dessert Riesling, then you’ve come out well ahead.  We tasted the selection on offer starting with the (non-sweet) Riesling and running through some very interesting performers including a biodynamic wine (the Austrian inspired Grüner Veltliner)..

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Biodynamic Wine / Disgorgement Defined / The luscious Auslese Sweet Riesling

Afterwards, I had a chat with winemaker Chris Carpenter and he mentioned that they had moved to screw cap closures from 2002 onwards. We lamented the degradation in the quality of cork (which reminded me of our 2009 trip to Portugal and the cork plantations), that had ultimately led them to make the change to screw cap.  There was also mention that they were planning on expanding their biodynamic certification – so keep an eye on Lark Hill wine.

The folks at Lark Hill also have a restaurant which looked quite nice and it can be booked for weddings and other functions.  They evidentially pair their excellent Auslese to fruit desserts (poached pear) at the restaurant, which sounds simply divine.  Their website also has some very useful tips on caring for your wine.

Canberra Region
Map of our journey

Check back with Aussie Wine Guy for more tasting notes from both Clonakilla and Lark Hill.

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