Tasting Notes, 2008: Quixote Winery

Quixote Winery, Napa Valley, CAIn the context of Napa wineries, the term “cult following” usually conjures up images of those boutique Cabernet producers with outrageously high prices: Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Bryant Family, and all the rest. But another Napa winery has developed a different type of cult following for its unique architectural design. Constructed by Austrian painter and sculptor Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the tasting room at Quixote Winery draws scores of visitors each year (many with little interest in wine) who schedule tasting appointments simply to admire Hundertwasser’s avant garde craftmanship.

Quixote is the vision of long-time Napa vintner Carl Doumani, who founded the label shortly before selling Stags’ Leap Estate to Beringer-Blass in 1997. Doumani retained about 150 acres from the sale, and planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Syrah on about 27 acres. For Doumani, creating Quixote was an effort to recapture the whimsical spirit of winemaking. In 1988, he enlisted the architectural services of Hundertwasser after seeing the artist’s work in a calendar, and the two embarked on a 10-year collaboration.

Hundertwasser, who passed away in 2000, had designed 16 buildings around the world, but the Quixote Winery is his only structure in North America. The buildings at Quixote have no straight lines, and the roof of the facility features olive trees growing in about 30 inches of soil. Brilliant color schemes adorn the building inside and out, and the walls of the tasting room house dozens of interesting photographs. To align the brand with the property, Hundertwasser also designed the Quixote label.

I tasted four wines during my visit to Quixote, including the 2005 Panza Grenache-Mouvedre, the 2003 Quixote Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2002 Panza Petite Syrah, and the 2004 Quixote Petite Syrah. The Quixote wines are 100% varietal wines, while the Panza wines (in some ways, the winery’s second label) are blended. Keeping in the spirit of Napa counter-culture, both labels have featured screw-cap enclosures since the 2001 vintage. For me, the two Petite Syrahs were the stars of the tasting, and it’s encouraging to know that Quixote plans to increase its focus on this varietal.

Of course, making Petite Syrah in the Stags Leap District, an appellation so well-known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, is a bit of a departure from the norm. But then again, that’s also the fundamental idea behind Quixote.

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