I don't think that we received as warm a reception anywhere on our trip as we did at Jim Summers' Winery in Calistoga. Jim and his wife Beth along with a few other friends and winery employees, including winemaker Ignacio Blancas, treated us to a sunset dinner overlooking their vineyards, which are located in the shadow of Mt St Helena and just north of Calistoga.
Prior to dinner Jim took us over to Knight's Valley (a ten minute ride over the County line) to visit his home ranch, which is one of four that Summers farms. The dirt is a bit different here, very rich and dark, and the sun tends to be more afternoon as the hills open to the west rather than the east as in Calistoga. This ranch provides the Merlot for Summers Estate as well as a few other varietals. Jim has owned this property since 1987.
Back in Calistoga, we were treated to a barrel tasting with Ignacio, who has been with Jim for approximately 12 years. He knows every barrel and is an integral part of this family winery. A quiet low key man, it appears that Ignacio is content to let his wines do the talking. He led us through a sampling of a the current barrels and tanks of wine, many of which were prepped for bottling in the next few days or weeks.
We tasted the following wines:
2008, Rose of Cabernet - dry and fresh, really dark color, absolutely refreshing
2007, Adrianna's Cabernet, Napa - easy and smooth
2006, Reserve Cabernet (tank) - big and brawny, showing it's fresh wood notes
2008, Chardonnay Le Nude - clean and elegant
2006, Zinfandel - soft spicy - shows great blackberry fruit development
2006, Merlot Knight's Valley Reserve - elegant, muscular and very deep
2008, Chardonnay Reserve (barrel) - wonderful balance and restraint, clean and fresh - intense fruit - one of our favorites
2007, Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mt (tank) - um, big an burly doesn't describe this animal- like a cheetah: powerful, long and sleek with deep, dark eyes full of fire
2007, Estate Chardbono - Jim is the king of Charbono - this wine is so fun and delicious, dark berry fruit, delicate tannins - wild flavor
2007, Petite Sirah (barrel) - earthy and woody (it is still in barrel) - with huge deep fruit tones
2006, Petite Sirah Port (barrel) - still a ways to go for this one in the barrel, but velvety smooth and quite balanced fruit notes - very easy to drink - no heat
Summers Estate is a smaller production (relative to many other operations in the Valley), but any winery needs to experiment and be continually looking for ways to improve. There are test vineyards at summers with varietals that are not considered common in this area: Dolcetto, Sangiovese, and of course Charbono.
Dinner was grilled wild salmon, fresh garden veggies and loads of great company. The sunset was pretty good, too.