Chimney Rock Winery

Chimney Rock is nestled in the heart of Napa Valley’s Stags Leap district, but it would feel right at home in Sonoma County as well.  It’s a welcoming sort of place, pretty but not overly grandiose, where the wine is first rate and the servers are real educators – unless there is a heavy weekend crush. We recommend you visit Chimney Rock while in Napa Valley but do so on a weekday if you can.

The building looks like a cute Dutch cottage, veering to the point of cutesy.  Still, it doesn’t look much like anything anywhere else in Wine Country, South Africa excluded.  It certainly isn’t overwhelming, inside or out.  The interior contains a U-shaped bar that can get rather crowded at times.  There are also tastings held on the terrace, which isn’t particularly ornate, either.  All of which is to say that Chimney Rock is nicely appointed and cozy.

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Tastings are not inexpensive, starting at $50 for a simple stand-up tasting at the bar.  They can be special enough that the fee is worth it.  More than anything else, we have found that the term “Wine Educator” on the servers’ badges is well earned.  Now, this is not universally the case.  A young person pouring on a weekend doesn’t have the knowledge or communication skills of someone with some grey hair on a normal weekday.  So, choose carefully where you stand at the bar and if you’re not getting the answers you want, move over a bit.


The wines you will be served fall into two categories: Cabernet Sauvignon and other.  Your server will probably start you off with what they call Elevage Blanc, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and the rarely encountered Sauvignon Gris.  It’s pleasant, maybe more than pleasant, but it’s not the reason to visit Chimney Rock; the reds are the stars of the show.

While Chimney Rock makes several single vineyard wines, you are most likely to be served their 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and their Elevage, which is a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot (no Malbec, just to say they have all five Bordeaux grapes).  Often, you have the chance to taste a short vertical of either label or both.  Just such a tasting as this, even without explanation, is a real education and with the expertise of the Wine Educator added can make for a unique wine tasting experience.

Chimney Rock wines tend to get very high marks from the rating magazines, so be prepared to sip some beverages that experts (whatever that means) think highly of.  Also, alas be prepared to spend a lot if you want to buy a few bottles.  To that extent, Chimney Rock is very Napa Valley.

Chimney Rock Winery is owned by the Terlato Wine Group, so you might also get a chance to taste some wines under the Terlato label.  In our opinion, these are also rather god but not quite up to the Chimney Rock-branded wines.  If you engage your Wine Educator with knowledgeable questions, you’ll probably also be treated to some other specials that they keep below the bar.

Some wineries, in both Napa Valley and Sonoma County, play up the architecture, the views, food pairings and other non-wine experiences.  A visit to Chimney Rock is all about the wines.

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