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Appellation St. Helena dazzles during annual Première Trade Tasting

Entrance to Raymond sparkling Crystal Cellar creates anticipation.
Entrance to Raymond sparkling Crystal Cellar creates anticipation.
Linda C.

Concurrent with the 2014 Première Napa Valley, Appellation Saint Helena (ASH) hosted their annual trade tasting in sunny St. Helena at Raymond Vineyards. The event was graciously hosted by Jean Charles Boissett at his Raymond Vineyards Crystal Cellar in St. Helena. The event was not open to the public but was packed with industry and media people sampling the exquisite offerings from about 25 of the ASH member wineries including a number of Première wines highlighted in the Première Napa Valley auction.

Raymond hosts 10th Annual ASH Trade Tasting
Raymond hosts 10th Annual ASH Trade Tasting
Linda C.

St. Helena appellation, which wears the mantle "birthplace" of the Napa Valley wine industry offered a unique opportunity to taste so many of the brilliant wines made from appellation St. Helena grapes. The Appellation is a very special place with great history, wonderful vineyards, growers and winemakers who possess unique and charming personalities with excellent wines to match. With the California Culinary Institute, the Wine Spectator's Greystone Restaurant and many other fine dining locations downtown, St. Helena deserves your attention!

The 10th annual trade tasting offered an opportunity to taste wines from ASH members and some associate members. Present and pouring were large and famous wineries like Beringer, Raymond, J. Lohr and Charles Krug Winery, to the medium sized like Trinchero Napa Valley and Vineyard 29, to the very small including Califia Cellars, Sequum and Varozza Vineyards. All this while tasting flavorful mouth treats and palate refreshers provided by Dean & DeLuca, a St. Helena favorite.

With a constellation of famous wines and many ultra premium boutique wines being poured it is especially fun and very often rewarding to search out the smaller, lesser known micro-wineries. St. Helena boasts a collection of wineries in this category. A few of this years favorites follow:

Charles Krug - Peter Mondavi Family poured their 2012 St. Helena Sauvignon Blanc. The tropical fruit and melon offered a very refreshing opening to a sunny February day. Behind the table were Peter Mondavi Sr. family members, Janice Mondavi and daughter Angelica. Nice down to earth people.

Varozza Vineyards (about 600 cases total production) grows eight different varietals on their 40 acre estate. They sell most of the fruit but reserve enough for estate Cabernet and Petite Sirah. Dianna Varozza gleefully presented their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Estate Petite Sirah. A very historic winery, Varozza recently celebrated 100 years of family ownership.

MaryLee and Randle Johnson have been producing Calafia Cellars wines for over 30 years. They own the vineyard and Randle is the winemaker. They produce about 350 cases annually of their Bordeaux blend called LaReina. The 2009 and 2010 LaReina were both exceptionally lush, brilliant and very well balanced. Calafia is a perennial favorite. Appointment only at 707-963-0114.

Benessere Vineyards specializes in Italian varietals. At the event they poured several wines including a relatively rare Sagrantino (Umbrian varietal), a Zinfandel (vivacious) and a red blend but the stand out was the 2009 Sangiovese. Great brambly flavors and full mouthed flavors. Their tasting room in St. Helena is open 7 days a week. 707-963-5853

Salvestrin Winery is another Italian immigrant multi-generational operation in St. Helena with three (3) generations living on the property today. Although they make several estate wines including Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc was fresh with delightfully restrained fruit and melon flavors. Tasting by appointment only 707-963-5105.

Robert Biale Vineyards is widely known as a Zinfandel extravaganza and they didn't disappoint with three (3) 2012 Zins and a 2011 Petite Sirah at the event. Rich, robust and beautiful fruit are the characteristic of these wines. Since the late 1930s, when Zinfandel grapes dominated Napa Valley, Aldo Biale has been farming grapes and raising chickens. Aldo's son Bob and his friends Dave Pramuk and winemaker Al Perry have been leading the charge in recent years to great success. Daily 11am - 4pm 707-257-7555.

Pellet Estate was one of the youngest wineries at the event, just established in 2010, but it has a rich history reaching back to namesake Henry Alphonse Pellet, a contemporary and colleague of Charles Krug. GM Eric Risch poured two (2) wines including a 2010 Estate Cab and the amazing 2012 Estate Petite Verdot (A Première Napa Valley Barrel Sample). 707-363-3281.

This trade tasting is meant to give the industry and media an opportunity to experience the quality and consistency of these unique and often hard to find wines. Travelers to Napa Valley should make it a 'must do' to drive a little further north on Highway 29 to bask in the sun and history of St. Helena!

Watch for bASH, an ASH sponsored event hosted every year at the CIA. This public event pairs CIA student chef's with St. Helena winemakers to create unique food and wine pairings that attendees get to sample and judge. Very Special!!

Appellation St. Helena (ASH), is an organization of 80 winery and grower members, which promotes the high standards of grape growing and wine making for which the St. Helena American Viticultural Area is famous. Originally founded in 1875 as the St. Helena Viticultural Society and then disbanded during Prohibition, the organization has been revived recently and includes associate membership for wineries outside the appellation that use grapes produced by member growers.