On a recent spring day, I took a trip to Napa Valley with friends to do some wine tasting. We wanted to stop at a winery we had not visited before, and chose Clos Du Val. Located on the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District AVA (American Viticultural Area), Clos Du Val was established in 1972 by American entrepreneur John Goelet and French winemaker Bernard Portet. The pair made an extensive search for the perfect location to produce Bordeaux and Burgundy style wines and chose what would become Stags Leap District and Los Carneros AVAs.
Clos Du Val purchased 150 acres in the Stags Leap District in 1972. The winery established itself as a quality producer early on. Their 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon, produced from purchased grapes, was chosen as part of the now-famous 1976 Paris Wine Tasting between Napa Valley and Bordeaux. And at a re-tasting ten years later the 1972 Clos Du Val Cabernet Sauvignon took first place.
Stags Leap District received AVA designation in 1989. This very warm appellation is located along the eastern side of the Napa Valley, 5 to 7 miles north of the city of Napa along the Silverado Trail. Night-time temperatures cool significantly due to cool afternoon breezes from San Pablo Bay and cool air that sinks to the valley floor from surrounding mountains. Soil types are diverse and include volcanic, loam, rocky and gravel.
Cabernet Sauvignon is the premier grape of Stags Leap District, and along with Merlot constitutes 80% of plantings. Petite Syrah and Sangiovese are also planted, as is Sauvignon Blanc.
In 1973 Clos du Val purchased 180 acres in the Carneros AVA which is the source for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Los Carneros AVA, its formal name, is an interesting one. It means “the rams” in Spanish.
The Carneros AVA was designated in 1983 based on climate, not geographical location. It is located in southern Sonoma and Napa counties just north of San Pablo Bay. It is a very cool AVA, perfect for cool-weather varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is kept cool by the breezes from San Pablo Bay. Soils types include loam and clay.
Chardonnay, followed by Pinot Noir are the most-planted grape varieties in this AVA. A good deal of the grapes are used to make sparkling wines. Merlot, Syrah and Albariño are planted here as well.
Clos Du Val produces wine in an elegant style that is food-friendly and ages well. Current senior winemaker Kristy Melton joined Clos Du Val as assistant winemaker in 2010. She was promoted to winemaker in 2012 and recently to her current position. She is in charge of all winemaking and cellar operations. Kristy was recently included in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 40 Under 40: America’s Tastemakers, a list of “rising young stars changing the way the world drinks”.
Here is a sampling of the wines we tasted.
2009 Clos Du Val Carneros Pinot Noir. $32. The lovely transparent ruby color was followed by scents of dark berries and earth. The flavors were full and tasted of spice and blackberries. There was plenty of acidity, smooth tannins and a very light feel in the mouth. The combination of ample flavors and very light mouthfeel hits the spot. This wine is great to sip alone or pair with salmon or a lightly seasoned pasta dish.
2008 Clos Du Val Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir. $55 Once again this wine was a beautiful transparent ruby color in the glass. Scents and flavors are more subdued in this wine with dark fruit, a bit of spice and very significant but well-integrated tannins. This wine is one I would like to just sip. No food required.
2010 Clos Du Val Merlot. $35. This recent release is 87% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. The flavors are a complex mix of floral and dark fruit with a hint of vegetal in the background. Tannins are well-integrated and the mouthfeel very light. Great food wine.
2010 Clos Du Val Napa Valley Primitivo. $40. Darker ruby color with scents of dark fruit and spice on the nose. Flavors tasted of ripe dark fruit and black pepper. Tannins were smooth and well-integrated. This wine tasted good without food, but would taste great with pizza, pasta or pork dishes.
2010 Clos Du Val Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. $38. This is the winery’s classic representation of Cabernet Sauvignon. This ruby colored wine had a significant nose of dark fruit with vegetal back notes. Tannins were significant as were plum and black berry flavors with spice and vegetal notes. There was more of everything in this wine, but not too much. It is not over-ripe and the ABV is only 13.5%.
2009 Clos Du Val Three Graces Red. $65. This Bordeaux- style blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 5% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot is a step-up in complexity. Chocolate, smoke and dark fruit scents are followed by complex dark fruit and tobacco flavors with significant grippy tannins. This wine is a mouthful of flavor and texture. Fruit is from the Stags Leap District and Yountville AVAs. The wine was aged 24 months in French oak, 40% new. Roasted lamb or steak would taste amazing with this wine.
2008 Clos Du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. $80. This is what it is all about. The grapes are sourced from Clos Du Val’s Stags Leap vineyards and is 94% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Merlot. The choicest fruit is selected for this bottling. A luscious dark-fruit nose greets you and is followed by smoke, licorice and complex dark fruit flavors and spice. Tannins are significant but so smooth. This wine tastes amazing now, I can only imagine how it will taste in five or ten years. It was aged for 24 months in French oak, 50% new. So much flavor and complexity with only 13.5% ABV.
2008 Clos Du Val Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. $120. This blend of 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot and 1% Cabernet Franc is sourced from 80% from Stags Leap District and 20% from Rutherford AVAs. This wine had the most complex flavors of the group. Dark-fruit, tar and smoke on the nose was followed with complex dark-fruit flavors and spice. Tannins are significant and a bit grippy. This wine had lots of flavor and texture. This wine could become great over time.
This collection of wines was well-made, sophisticated and ageworthy. All of these wines had plenty of flavor, most were very complex. None are too ripe and all have very moderate alcohol levels. The price range of $32 to $120 is wide and fits most pocketbooks. Maybe not as everyday wines for most, but certainly these are fine special occasion wines.
The winery is surrounded by vineyards. There is a great trellis demonstration showing various training and trellis systems directly in front of the winery. When you visit the winery, take some time to check it out.
Picnic tables are available and may be reserved ahead of time as well. The weekends can be very busy. If you don’t want to just sit and enjoy the view, you can play pétanque, the French version of bocce ball, on the court directly in front of the winery.
The wines certainly are reason enough to visit this beautiful winery. Everything else is icing on the cake.