posted on June 12, 2007 16:29
Wine Touring by David Gaier
A Top Winery at the Top of the Valley
The end of the line for me in Napa is typically Bennett Lane in Calistoga, north of, actually.
Owners Randy and Lisa Lynch purchased the property in 2003, choosing Napa because of their love of Cabernet. Randy is a NASCAR guy and the winery sponsors a team, so if you're into that you can get your fill - what with a car in the barrel room, racing photos everywhere and merchandise for sale. I'm an open-wheel SCCA man myself and I think the NASCAR stuff is a bit overdone in any event. But having said that, I really like this place, the people, and the wines, and you will, too.
I came for the Maximus my first time - a scrumptious blend of Cab, Merlot, and yes, Syrah (20%), which is a rather unusual mix in this part of the country. As I walked into the small tasting room I was greeted by Keith Hargrove, the national sales manager, who's really the Ambassador of Bennett Lane to the wine-drinking world. Keith, who often mans the tasting room when he's in town, spent the better part of two hours walking me through their selections, topped off by a barrel tasting of some unreleased wines. Together we tasted and compared the 2002 and 2004 vintages of Maximus, which were noticeably different although they have mostly the same proportions of varieties. And while their Chardonnays do little for me (I am a real hard sell on California Chards), the Bennett Lane White Feasting Wines are outstanding, made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc but with a few percent Chard and couple percent Muscat as grace notes.
For my money, Randy Lynch really scored when he brought Rob Hunter in as winemaker. Rob is a former Vice President and Director of Winemaking for Sterling Vineyards and before that was winemaker at Markham Vineyards, and Lyeth Winery. The wines really show not just care - every winemaker in Napa "cares", after all - but a philosophy put to the taste.
I walked out with a smile on my face and I've stayed in touch with Keith for the last couple years. I've also bought a 3 liter Maximus in an etched bottle, which lends a noble Roman character to my wine table. Ironically, though, Maximus was a Spaniard from a small town in Galicia...so shouldn't this wine be made from Mencia or Garnacha?