Duckhorn Vineyards is one of Napa Valley iconic wineries, best known for its Merlots.   In 1994, they began to expand the number of wineries and labels under which it produced wine, the names of which are all related to our little quacking friends.  The first of these was Paraduxx ( which today occupies a rather unique niche in the valley’s winemaking.

All their wines are blends, except their rosé.  That in itself is not so exceptional; many wineries mix their grapes, but most stick either to Bordeaux or Rhône varietals.  Paraduxx follows the Australian example: Blend anything with anything else and if it tastes good, bottle it.  So you’ll find bottles of Paraduxx wines that contain Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, Syrah and Viognier (like Côte Rôtie) and even one made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Tempranillo and Merlot.

Enjoying an outdoor wine tasting at Paraduxx.

The people at Paraduxx want to make visiting their winery a fun experience.  Of course, they want you to come and taste their wines.  But they’d also like you to bring your kids and your dog. (Both need to be well-behaved but only fido needs to be on a leash).  They invite you to relax under trees or umbrellas in their courtyard or on their veranda and stay a while. [Our description of Paraduxx is based on pre-Covid experience.  We sincerely hope that this, like so much else, returns to the way it was in before times.  Today, dogs are still allowed, but no person under 21 years of age.]

The setting at Paraduxx would seem to lend themselves to people who are more interested in a pleasant day out, including good wine to be sure.  A picnic would be perfect, but Napa County’s rules limit the number of wineries that allow picnicking.  However, they do sell plates of charcuterie.

The tasting room at Paraduxx.

The sort of experience offered at Paraduxx may not be to everyone’s tastes.  For our part, we never bring children or pets with us and our objective is to gain a serious understanding of the wines offered by each producer we visit.  And for those like us, you can enjoy wines outdoors or in the winery’s well-appointed tasting room.

One tasting feature we like at Paraduxx is that they pour you glasses of all the wines on offer, provide you with tasting notes and then they leave you alone to enjoy them.  A server will stop by periodically to answer any questions you may have.  He or she usually uses the occasion to urge you to stay a while.  There is, however, a feature we are not as fond of.  They ask you to pay for your tasting as you enter, before tasting their wines.  Of course, we recognize that wine tasting in Napa Valley is a commercial enterprise, but it still feels wrong to ask you to pay ahead of tasting and it leaves a bad impression.

The fun atmosphere at Paraduxx does not preclude serious wine tasting.  Come try their rather individualistic wines and have some fun too, if you wish.





Domaine Paul Autard

There are many wines that show the skill of the winemaker.  There are only a few that demonstrate the artistry of a winemaker.  Today, especially in America, rich people or corporations own wineries; they hire winemakers.  It is difficult to be both an artist and an employee.

When a person owns the vineyard, makes the growing and harvesting decisions and then produces the wine, he or she has the means to express creativity, individuality and style in a bottle.  To experience such artistry, we recommend a visit to Domaine Paul Autard (, in French only).

Jean-Paul Autard.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

The winemaker is Jean-Paul Autard; Paul was his father.  Jean-Paul took over in 2005 and the vineyard was soon mentioned among the best of Châteauneuf du Pape.  Today, Autard makes four Châteauneufs: a white and three reds, foremost among which are La Ronde and Juline.  There is also a Côtes de Rhône and, true to tradition, some local wines unavailable in North America.

Interior of the winery.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

The Domaine is not actually in the town of Châteauneuf du Pape but just outside it in a hamlet called Courthézon.  It’s not hard to reach, just a short drive away from the main town.  In our experience, the winery is nothing like what we Americans are used to.  It’s a large farmhouse, where Jean-Paul and his family make, store and sell wine.  It is not set up for visitors in the way we find in California, although you can expect a pleasant welcome.  When we visited, it was Madame Autard who welcomed us and chatted amiably with us (in French, of course).  After a tasting, we asked some rather specific questions about the winemaking technique and distribution back home, so she called out “Jean-Paul, please come.  We have visitors.”

We then had an interesting conversation and offered him to visit us when he was next in New York (an offer never taken up, alas).  It was not so much that we had a unique experience (although we did) but rather that the man is as approachable as is his wine.  We make no guarantee that you will have a similar experience if you should stop by, but we do think you will enjoy the wine.

Domaine Paul Autard has been making wine since 1924, a talent passed down through the generations.  This continues today.  Jean-Paul is communicating to his children, Jules and Pauline, “une somme précieuse de connaissances, d’observations et le travail de la vigne” (“a precious sum of knowledge, observations and work in the vineyard”).  The winery’s flagship wine is Juline, derived from his kids’ first names.

When we visited, the Autards gave us a corkscrew with the Domaine’s name and logo on it.  To this day, we use it to open his (and other people’s) wines.  Each glass of Paul Autard comes with an extra dollop of memories.



Château Cabezac

At virtually the eastern-most extreme of the Minervois region in southwest France, there is a winery in the village of Bize-Minervois called Château Cabezac (  It is housed in a yellow building that combines Mediterranean architectural touches with some medieval parapets and an inviting terrace where you can sip your wine under skies that seem always to be blue.  You may encounter some confusion because there is also a Château de Cabezac just down the road which is an actual castle renovated today into a hotel.  It is not associated with the winery.

Photo courtesy of the winery.

 Cabezac makes sprightly, fruit-forward wines that are respectful of the terroir.  Most of their wines are from the traditional Rhône-style grapes:  Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Carignan in the reds and Roussanne, Muscat Sec and Grenache Blanc in the whites.  With thirteen wines to choose among, you can have quite a tasting.

The tasting room is handsome and airy, made largely of wood.  When we were there it was not very busy, but that was a weekday in late September.  We understand from our server that it can be quite bustling at times, which makes their terrace even more valuable.  We received quite an education in Cabezac’s viticulture and winemaking philosophies.  We also learned that the same proprietor has properties in Calvados and Champagne, producing the wines and spirits associated with those regions.  Alas, they were not available for tasting.

Cabezac takes its tasting program quite seriously.  Of course, you can just drop by as we did and have a standup tasting of four wines (although we found that “four” is more of a concept than a limitation).  They also offer half-day and full-day tastings that include more extended explanations and tours.  Cabezac also has a program for corporate clients to host tasting events there.

Cabezac is a relatively young winery, established in 1997.  The proprietor, Gontran Dondain, has invested in wine making in a modern, sanitary manner.  We found that these practices at Cabezac are exemplary of a trend that has, happily, swept across Languedoc.  Improved winemaking practices are being followed across the Languedoc region.  When you visit Cabezac tasting room, you’ll find a window that allows to view the production facilities.  They are gleaming and spotless, indicative of the investment and the care that has gone into this winery.  We have observed this in many other leading wineries in the region.

Where once wines were thin in the mouth and harsh in the throat, today Languedoc wineries such as Cabezac are producing wines that, in our opinion, are comparable with many of those from the Rhône valley (excluding the top-most in that region).  Many of the new generation of Languedoc wineries have adopted bio and vin methode nature growing techniques.  Although Cabezac is not among these, they did tell us that they are scrupulous about their growing methods.

Sadly, Château Cabezac’s wines cannot be found in the United States, to our knowledge.  It does make a worthwhile stop if you are wine tasting in southwest France.


Beaulieu Vineyard

There are few wineries in California with more history than Beaulieu Vineyard, familiarly known as BV. Georges de Latour, a Frenchman, established his holdings in Rutherford at the turn of the previous century.  He had the foresight to obtain a license to make sacramental wine, so that when Prohibition came into effect in 1919 and almost all other wineries had to close, BV was still operating, sending bottles to churches across the country.  If a few found their way to a restaurant or a speakeasy, what could Mr. de Latour do about it, eh?

Critically for the California wine industry, in 1938 he induced a famed French winemaker, Andre Tchellichef (“The Maestro”) to be BV’s winemaker, which he was for 30 years.  In his time at the helm, Tchellichef bottled the wine that the de Latour family was keeping for its own use and sold it commercially.  It was one of the first signs of the possibilities of California winemaking.  To this day that wine, the Georges de Latour Private Reserve, is the top of the line at BV and one of the most sought after Napa Valley wines.  If you visit the winery, you can taste it (including well aged versions of this wine).

As with all Napa Valley wineries during the pandemic, tastings are served outdoors.  In the past and we’re sure again in the (near?) future, there are two wine tasting experiences at BV.  As you enter the property, there’s a modern building on your right and a vine-covered old stone building on your left.  There, you can taste BV’s copious selection of widely available commercial wines.  The stone building is where you can taste their finer wines.

The lights are kept low in their reserve tasting room, perhaps to give the impression of a church (remember those altar wines) or a fine restaurant.  The room is not very large, but they have other facilities in the building if they get crowds.  The servers are, for the most part, quite knowledgeable about BV’s wines and wine in general.

The first pour will usually be a Chardonnay but BV has built its reputation on Cabernet Sauvignon.  They have quite a few Cabs at different price points.  We have always been fond of their Bordeaux blend that they call Tapestry.  Like many Napa Valley wineries, BV is experimenting with different, non-traditional grapes.  Today they make a Cabernet/Syrah with a nod to Australia and a Touriga Nacional from Portugal.  We have found that if they’re not too busy and you show a proper appreciation of the wines, the servers will find some gems just below the bar.

Depending on what they’re serving that day, you may get a pour from one of BV’s original vineyards or some single clone wines that are quite unique.  If you want to taste the George de Latour, they’ll charge extra.  We advise you to pay the fee; it’s worth it if only to know what a foundational Napa Valley wine tastes like.

A little extra tip.  BV shares its parking lot with the Rutherford Grill.  We often eat lunch there before we go tasting; if you want to go, you’ll need a reservation. It is a popular restaurant and the food is quite good.

We are never quite sure what Rutherford Dust was all about, but you certainly can find it (if it exists) at BV.

Château Puech-Haut

Château Puech-Haut ( is just about the eastern-most winemaker in Languedoc, France.  Their winery is located in the Pic St-Loup appellation, with vineyards in Saint-Drézéry and in the Cevennes mountains further north.  The tasting room is an easy drive from the city of Montpellier, which is well worth a visit itself.  Now, all these place names may be fairly foreign to American readers.  They’re in a less visited section of southwest France, and they’re worth knowing about.

The tasting room at Château Puech-Haut.

There are a number of reasons to visit Puech-Haut if you’re in the vicinity. Of course, there’s the wine.  For the most part, their wines are quite pleasant, especially their rosés.  They make them from the usual Rhône grapes: Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.  Their usual tasting menu gives you a good idea of what they make in white, red and rosé.  We found that if you show a serious interest in what they make, they’re quite willing to open some of their better bottles for you.

Puech-Haut is located near the foot of the Pic St-Loup mountain, which gives its name to the AOC.  The winery is surrounded by grape vines and overlooked by a vine-covered château that is more of the nice French country house.  A big deal is made about the massive barrel near the château.  It is indeed large, holding so they say, 300,000 litres, which they claim to be the biggest in the world.

One of the painted barrels, with some containing wine in the background.

There is more to say about barrels at Puech-Haut.  It’s not often that we take any notice of bulk wine, a bag-in-a-box.  These serve a purpose; Puech-Haut has a different approach.  They sell wine in bulk is three-litre barrels.  Moreover, the barrels are painted in colorful, amusing, modernistic themes.  When you finish most boxed wines, you throw away the box.  Puech-Haut’s are collectibles.  They also show off some of their actual aging barrels, which are also gaily decorated.

They also make a deal out of some of their bottles.  They’re elongated and nearly triangular in profile with a squarish base.  The bottles for the whites and rosés are frosted and they have glass stoppers (pink ones for the rosés).  In a wine store, your eye is immediately attracted to these bottles and we bet that many people buy one with the thought of reusing the bottles as vases or carafes.  Puech-Haut realizes that they make good advertising and give them away at the tasting room.

A few notes in case you do visit Puech-Haut.  The tasting room is spacious and well furnished, but the layout is such that it can get quite crowded rather quickly.  Those of us who go wine tasting often are used to heading for one winery and then visiting others in the area.  This doesn’t work well at Puech-Haut; there’s virtually nothing else around.

Oh, and by the way, it’s pronounced (sort of) poosh oh.

The Hess Collection

The Hess Collection winery ( is a little out of the way, up on Mt. Veeder.  It’s worth the trip, for two reasons.  The obvious one is to taste their wines.  The other is to see their art.

The winery was founded by one of the Napa Valley pioneers, by Donald Hess of Switzerland back in the 1980s.  He had already made a fortune in Swiss sparkling water and had started collecting art.  So when he opened a winery in California he also used the location to house his paintings and sculptures.  And he continued to collect more widely.  For a visitor to Napa Valley, a trip the The Hess Collection is both an aesthetic and gustatory experience.

The Hess Collection winery.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

The art gallery adjoins the tasting room.  There are other wineries, especially in Napa Valley, that also exhibit fine art.  But The Hess Collection has a museum of modern art with artists and pieces of the highest quality.  Many artists are quite well-known: Francis Bacon, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg and Frank Stella to name a few.  All the works are from Donald Hess’ personal collection.  (The Hess Collection, get it?)

Photograph courtesy of Incollect.

As you enter the gallery, the first painting you see is an enormous portrait entitled Johanna II by Franz Gertsch, a Swiss artist.  It is photorealistic and is the most widely featured artwork in publicity for the museum.  Perhaps that’s to entice visitors who are not as familiar with abstract art, which makes up the majority of the paintings and drawings on display.

There is much sculpture shown as well.  Some are easy to relate to, such as the full length male nudes by Deryck Healy, a South African artist previously unknown to us.  And others, such as the enormous oak log by Polish artist Magdalena Abakonowicz…well, you just have to see it.

Oh, yes, you can taste wines, too.  At one point, there were two quality levels available for tasting, Hess Select and The Hess Collection.  The former was (and is) intended for the mass market.  These wines are still available at retail but not at the winery.

The strength – and in some ways, the weakness – of the wines you can taste there is the enormous variety of wines they make.  Their top wines, in the Icon series (a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Chardonnay), are quite refined and really only for connoisseurs.  It is rare that these will be available for tasting.  Those bottled under The Hess Collection label are the ones you might see in a quality wine shop and they lean towards Cabs.  There’s also a Lions Head series with the same mix of grapes.  Then there are the wines they source from nearby and distant vineyards, which they call Small Block wines; these are only available at the winery.

Overall, you might not like everything in the Hess Collection museum or the winery, but that’s all right.  We don’t like everything in the Louvre, either.  But there is much to admire, and an hour or so spent at this museum is as much a part of the Napa Valley experience as their wines.



V. Sattui Winery

  1. Sattui Winery ( is an American success story. Vittorio Sattui was born in a small town near Genoa and emigrated to San Francisco. He opened a winery there in 1885 and prospered, along with family members who followed him, until Prohibition closed the winery down.  Then in 1976, Vittorio’s great-grandson Dario revived the family business in St. Helena.  (As it happens, our first trip to Napa Valley was in 1977, so we thought that V. Sattui had always been there.)

The original winery in San Francisco.  That’s Vittorio’s son Mario and brother Romeo out front.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

Today, V. Sattui has become an institution.  If you visit Napa Valley for only a few times, you are sure to wind up at their doorstep.  Everybody does.  There are several reasons why this is so.

The first is location. It’s right on Route 29, so anyone going to taste in the northern end of the valley has to pass by.  Heitz and Louis M. Martini are just up the road, so we guess Dario figured back then this was a good spot for a winery, and maybe he knew that Flora Springs would open across the street in a few years.  But he couldn’t have known that Pahlmeyer, Belle Glos and Hall would

someday be neighbors as well.  You could do a day’s wine tasting in walking distance of V. Sattui.

Then of course there’s the wine.  V. Sattui has always had an enormous selection of them, many of which were quite affordable.  This is still the case, but they also have pricier wines sourced from some of the most reputed vineyards in California, including Morisoli, Ramazotti and Quaglia.  Their wines include four white varietals, ten red varietals (plus blends), eight dessert wines, five rosés and four sparkling wines.

So how come you’ve never seen any of these in your local wine store?  It’s because they don’t distribute their wines outside the winery.  These days, of course, everything is for sale on the internet as well.  But for decades, V. Sattui has relied on visitors to buy up their stock.

The picnic grounds at V. Sattui.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

And the visitors have come, year after year, many attracted by the expansive picnic grounds on the property.  Napa County has limited the number of wineries that can have picnic tables, with those that have long had them allowed to continue doing so.  It is a common sight in good weather to see families gathered at the tables eating feasts, like you see in Italian movies.  Somewhere, old Vittorio must be smiling.

The people are eating and drinking food and wine purchased on the premises.  In addition to selling wines, V. Sattui has a very fine deli, or salumeria as Vittorio would have said.  There are cold cuts, cheeses, sandwiches, salads, hot dishes and desserts.  And of course, it all goes with V. Sattui wines.  They have a rule that food and wine must be bought there, and that’s only fair.

Many visitors are new to wine tasting in Napa Valley, so they’ve never heard of, much less tasted, V. Sattui’s wines.  So if you sit the shady picnic area and listen carefully, you’ll hear people saying, “Hey, this is pretty good”.  And it is.

Frog’s Leap Winery

There are some wineries in Napa Valley that are intended to awe their visitors.  They may have long histories, or architecture designed to replicate castles and temples, or they’re highly modern glass palaces.  Frog’s Leap Winery ( has the history, having been established in 1980.  It has the grapes, much of which they sell to other winemakers.  What it lacks is awesomeness.  It was designed and built to make visitors feel like they’re going to visit their country grandma, albeit a grandma with money and good taste.

Photo courtesy of Wine Travel Eats.

The winery building itself still looks like a barn, a very big one.  It’s painted the shade of red that seems to be reserved for barns.  You can take a tour and still see all the equipment and the barrels, but we think you’ll be drawn back to the visiting area.  Of course, that’s where they serve the wine.

While Frog’s Leap makes a broad selection of red wines, it seems to us that they’re best known for their white wines. Maybe that’s because their Chardonnay is so widely available in wine shops around the country.  Taking nothing away from the Chard, we’re impressed that they still make a Chenin Blanc, which used to be much more prominent in Napa Valley.

These days of pandemic-induced changes, all of Frog Leap’s tastings are seated affairs, by appointment only, out on the lawn.  In better times, both in the past and just ahead, tastings are also seated, in a parlor where you perch yourself on a settee.  Now, settee is a word your grandma may have used and it’s that sense of old-style hominess that is for us the premier attraction of this winery.  You feel like much more than a customer; you’re a guest.

This feeling is reinforced at Christmas-time.  There’s always a beautifully decorated tree erected in the parlor.  It puts you in a holiday mood as soon as you walk in the door.  They’re not going to offer you egg nog; you’re limited to wine.  But there is a sense that you ought to leave some milk and cookies behind when you leave.

Now don’t get us wrong.  The wines are modern: crisp whites and robust reds.  Unlike many Napa Valley wineries, including many that are quite nearby, Frog’s Leap still making wines at a price point that the average person can afford on a regular basis.  Nothing among their recent releases costs an amount that requires three digits and that’s quite okay with us.

Oh, and about the name.  We always thought it was a play on Stag’s Leap and that may indeed be the case.  But according to the people at the winery, back in the ‘70s, the location was a frog farm.  A frog farm?  Now, John Williams, founder of the winery, was working at Stag’s Leap when he bought the property.  So believe whichever story you prefer.



Pine Ridge Vineyards

People who visit the Stags Leap district of Napa Valley often drive past Pine Ridge (  Maybe they’re looking for the eponymous vineyards or maybe they’re just hurrying back to Napa town, but they really ought to pull over and stop at Pine Ridge.  We have been there many times and have had diverse experiences, all wonderful.

Another reason people may pass by Pine Ridge is that the building itself cannot compare with the Napa palaces up and down the Silverado Trail.  To us, that’s a positive.  The winery itself is a pleasing structure, in a sort of Spanish mission style.  The tasting room is also attractive but low-key.  It has a bar and some wine on the walls and that’s about it.

What makes a visit to Pine Ridge come alive is the wine.  They are best known by far for their Cabernet Sauvignon.  As you can see on their web site, they have Cab, better Cab (which they call Fortis) and Other Red Wine.  Interestingly, Pine Ridge produces Cabernet Sauvignon from three AVAs other than Stags Leap (Howell Mountain, Rutherford, Oakville) as well as several blends from their properties.  It is unusual for all of them to be offered for tasting but of those we have tried, each has distinctly different characteristics.

Don’t miss some of those “other” reds.  There’s a very fine Merlot and although we’re just getting used to California Malbec, theirs is pretty good.  We’re not as fond of white wine as red, but some of their white varietals are quite interesting.  They have a Rhône blend of Chenin Blanc and Viognier that isn’t quite like anything else we’ve tried in Napa Valley.

These sad days, all the tastings at Pine Ridge are outdoors, but when the pandemic passes and you can taste inside once again, ask for a tour of their caves and their tasting lounge for wine club members.  By itself, that lounge is enough to make us consider joining their club.

We must tell a few stories about the service we have received at Pine Ridge.  On our most recent, and most impressive, visit on a cold December afternoon, we had a true educator who showed Pine Ridge’s wines to their best advantage and then led us on the aforementioned tour.  In all our tastings there, this was the best.

But it was not the most memorable.  We came there once near the end of a hot summer’s day.  It was pleasant to sit out on their terrace and have the server bring us wine from inside.  The fellow knew absolutely nothing about wine (when questioned, he brought us the book he was supposed to have already read) but he sure wanted us to have a good time.  He was a host extraordinaire.  There was a few other couples on the terrace at that time and we were treated to a real party.

By the way, when you pull into the parking lot, look to your left.  There’s a hill with some rows of vines.  At the ridge of the hill, there is a row of pine trees.  Aha!

Preston Farm and Winery

Preston ( isn’t like other wineries and that’s because Lou Preston and his wife, Susan, aren’t like other winemakers.  The Preston winery is…different, verging on odd and definitely unique.  They’ve been making wine there since 1975 and once were into some serious production.  And then in 2001, Lou decided he’d rather be a farmer as well as a winemaker and cut down to 8,000 cases a year.  The land that wasn’t left under vine was used for olive trees, grains, vegetables and lambs.  Lots of vineyards used to be farms; only Preston that we know of has a farm where there were once grape vines.

The Preston Farm and Winery tasting room. 

There are many reasons why a visit to Preston is worthwhile.  For one, the winery is very intentionally in touch with the history of Sonoma County.  The building itself looks like an old farmhouse, with clapboard sides and pitched eaves on the roof.  The tasting room is functional and decorated with farm implements, books and the occasional cow horn.  That latter is because everything at Preston is organic.  (The cow horn is used for…well, it’s a long story.)

The grounds are a well-kept garden, much as you’d expect for a visit to your rural grandparents, if you ever had them.  There are also picnic grounds in a wooded area, so stop at the Dry Creek General Store on your way to bring lunch.  But be sure to bring extra, because you will have to feed some of the many importunate cats who prowl the grounds.  After lunch or your tasting, you can play a little bocce on their court.

Thankfully, Lou didn’t eliminate wine altogether and we always come home from a visit with a supply of bottles.  In the pre-farming days, Preston made an inexpensive red Rhône blend called, cleverly enough, Faux.  It was widely shipped so we never bought it at the winery because we could get it at a local wine shop back home.  In its place today is a powerful blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Grenache and Carignan, called without pretension simply L. Preston, which is stenciled on the side of the bottle…and nothing else.  Did we mention that Preston Farm and Winery is a bit eccentric?

As may be seen, the specialty at Preston is Rhône grapes.  The partner to L. Preston is a white blend called Madame Preston, with a similarly simplistic label.  It consists of Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc.  All the varietals are bottled individually. The Mourvèdre is our favorite, but we haven’t been able to buy it for years because it’s always sold out when we visit.

As you’re tasting, you can usually sample some olive oil and freshly baked bread.  For sure, Lou bakes bread too, though we’re not sure that every loaf available for sale at the tasting room has passed through his hands.  As you leave the tasting room, turn right and there’s a little country store featuring whatever was recently harvested on the farm.  We’ve never bought any vegetables because we don’t have a kitchen in California, but they do look good.

We miss some of the old wines, especially the aforementioned Faux and a dessert wine that they called Moscato Curioso, with the emphasis on the cat.  Still, we keep coming back to Preston and always will, whenever we come wine tasting in Dry Creek.