Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena has a sweeping set of low-slung buildings amid, incongruously, a front yard sporting a set of empty picture frames slung across a wire line. Add cast white armed chairs set around them and be prepared for something out of the ordinary. And this was before we even entered the place.
The tasting room is large, spacious and clean. A wall-sized picture depicting a scene from the past is a celebration of the end to prohibition. Three cheers for that. I met Bill Farmer there who looked the part of a wine host and guide in his perfectly trimmed beard. We began with a very good 2009 Napa Valley Chardonnay, a reserve selection that reinforced my opinion of Raymond Chards in the past. Crisp with a good acidic bite, this wine is not bludgeoned with oak and lets the good fruit shine.
There are signs everywhere on the property that this is a place to spend a leisurely afternoon, which is not typical of Napa. But if you’re into Bocce ball, there are courts here to test your skill. Looking for a seat under a sheltering shade tree? You’ll find it here. The tour took us through the winemaking area with a forest of stainless steel fermentation tanks gleaming in the subdued light.
Turning a corner we entered an area with racks of barriques climbing to the high ceiling, separated by a long, long table that ended at the Baccarat display. It looked like it could handle a seating of 50, but the far end was set for three. That would be for us. Backlit and red light seemed to suffuse the casks racked against both sides as if hinting at the contents.
Every shade of red radiated and reflected off glass and crystal, and if the lighting had not been dimmed I might have thought we’d entered an amusement park. A gaily costumed mannequin hanging from a trapeze certainly suggested that possibility.
That is until we were fully into the room and the display cases of Baccarat crystal dazzled the eye. For once my powers of description failed me, which is why a picture of this room is included. But even the picture does not do it justice. And that was before we sat down to taste the flight of wines reserved for us. That’s a heck of a prelude.
Bill Farmer as our guide/host was superb; he’s engaging, knowledgeable and passionate about Raymond. As an added bonus it appears we are both fans of the Addams Family, John Astin and the movie Wheeler Dealers. What are the odds of that happening?
The focal point of the tasting were three 2006 Appellation Collection Napa Cabernet Sauvignon wines that had been poured into heart-shaped baccarat crystal carafes. Each sourced their fruit from a different region within Napa; St. Helena, Oakville and Rutherford. Not surprisingly each had a different flavor profile even though the processing and aging were similar. Each showed the impact of terroir on the finished wines and all three were outstanding.
These are all classic Napa Cabs, and since I couldn’t decide which one I loved best I bought all three. By the way, if your last name is Raymond, do they have a deal for you. In fact, I’m almost thinking of changing mine to Raymond. Jim Raymond, it has a nice authoritative sound to it; don’t you think?