Wine Tasting Notes, 2008: Kuleto Estate

kuletoestate

The impressive view from Kuleto Estate.

My recent quest for Zinfandel lead me up Sage Canyon Road this afternoon — about 1400 feet above the valley floor — to Kuleto Estate. This remarkable mountain-top property, with a driveway as steep and as crooked as it is long, certainly ranks as one of the most remote destinations in the Napa Valley. Yet the winery is absolutely worth the trip, even as gasoline prices continue to soar into the stratosphere.

To be sure, Sage Canyon Road tends to be off the radar for most of Napa Valley’s visitors. Anything with a Sage Canyon address is a destination winery by definition, and few of these places (if any) are open to the public without prior appointments. Sage Canyon Road, which is also a segment of Highway 128, begins at the Silverado Trail (just a touch south of Rutherford Cross Road), and runs along the southern edge of Lake Hennessey, towards Lake Berryessa. This long and winding road that leads travellers up into the Vaca Mountains is quite a stark contrast to the simple, straight thoroughfares that trace the valley floor.

Adventurous spirits will be rewarded, however, with some of the most captivating scenery in Napa County. I’m willing to go on record that Kuleto Estate has the most breathtaking view of any winery in the area (a bold statement). The estate towers far above Lake Hennessey, making it seems like a distant puddle, with a narrow swatch of the valley floor visible even futher in the distance. On any given visit, you will be likely to see hawks soaring in large, lazy circles below you. The property itself, with far too many interesting details to list here, has plenty of personality to match.

Carpenter-turned-restauranteur Pat Kuleto has always had a keen eye for design, and the estate winery doubles as his home. Of the seven or eight hundred acres that comprise the property, a little more than one hundred acres are under vine, with the bulk of the land being far too steep to be farmable. Kuleto did an admirable job making the facility seem part of the landscape, having sacrificed only one tree during the construction. The large oaks that dominate the landscape make Kuleto seem as though the winery has been there for generations (it has been there since 1992).

There is at least one large oak that protrudes through the roof of Kuleto’s office, equipped with an indoor drip system for irrigation. Other majestic oak trees dot the property, with their long dipping branches resting comfortably within notches in the flagstone fencework. The winery itself, including Kuleto’s home, is nestled behind a large facade of ancient oaks, obscuring the buildings from the adjoining properties (Kuleto had been careful to construct a property that did not spoil the view for his neighbors).

The tasting room at Kuleto seems a bit like an outpost for the Martini House, which is one of Kuleto’s most well-known restaurants (located in St. Helena). I had spent nearly a year working as a pastry chef at the Martini House, so stepping into the tasting room provided a real deja vu experience for me. I tasted several wines at Kuleto (you might as well taste as many as you can, if you’re going to make the trek), with my favorites being the 2005 Estate Syrah and the 2006 Estate Zinfandel. I had tasted previous vintages of the Syrah, so I expected pretty good things from this bottling. Both wines exhibited the characteristic traits of mountain-grown fruit — bold and flavorful, yet paradoxically lean and focused. These are the ones to buy.

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