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Far Niente for the First Time

03.19.12

Far Niente for the First Time

People often share the story of their first taste of Far Niente wine with us. My first time was many years ago during a formal tasting at the private club where I worked in Anaheim that had Far Niente Chardonnayon the wine list. I remember how the flavor was so distinctive that it stood out head and shoulders above the rest.

I also remember the first time I visited the winery. I had recently moved to Napa to oversee the special events at another winery in Oakville and had the opportunity to visit Far Niente on a trade tour. In those days, the winery was not open to the public. My tour included a group of artists: a landscape architect, a florist/interior designer and a painter—all big food and wine lovers. I am an old nurseryman myself so you can imagine our excitement when we first approached the ornate iron gates. As we drove through the dappled shade of the woodland garden at the entryway, we realized that we weren’t in Kansas anymore—or, I should say, in the flora from the parts of California we were familiar with. We passed dogwoods, azaleas and rhododendrons; redwoods, forsythia and ferns, oh my!

When we drove by the old stone retaining wall crowned with ancient-looking olive trees, the beautiful chateau loomed overhead. You can see the winery from the highway, but nothing can compare to seeing the details and textures of the walls made up of fieldstones and bricks that seem randomly, almost whimsically placed, supporting the slate roof edged with verdigris copper flashing. After parking, we slowly walked up the flagstone path under the canopy of the massive, old oak trees. I remember stopping to pick up an unusual acorn from the stairs. The pointed body of the acorn was black and the cap was a light tan. None of us had seen a Black Oak acorn before, so we filled our pockets with nature’s souvenirs.

At the top of the steps, we met our guide, Katherine, who welcomed us warmly and we headed up the hill to the highest point on the property to begin our tour. We strolled down into the caves, visiting the wine library, and eventually working our way up to the Carriage House to view the vintage automobile collection. In my youth, I had restored a 1963 Dodge Dart convertible with a slant six under the hood, but nothing compared to the 1961 red and white Corvette that I fell in love with at first sight. The only way Katherine was going to pry us from the cars would be the promise of wine yet to come.

We walked back up the path, taking in the fragrance of the unusual “Southern garden” plantings and entered the winery’s Great Hall where the heavy oak table was set with an array of glasses pre-poured with 2 vintages each of Far Niente Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. As we sat down to our tasting, the breathtaking view off the balcony almost distracted us from the flavor nuances in the wines. After we all discussed what culinary creations would best pair with the aromas and essences in the wines, she brought out the golden nectar called Dolce. Soon we were beside ourselves with dessert ideas for dinner that evening so we ordered a bottle to go. As it happened, we were celebrating a big birthday, and what better way to cap off the night than with a glass of Dolce!

the great hall at far niente’s napa valley winery estate

Years later, I was hired to help launch a visitor program for Far Niente when they decided, after so many years of requests, to offer the public to visit by appointment. I am privileged to sit at the entry of our Great Hall and greet those lucky individuals who come to experience our wine estate and unsurpassed hospitality. As I approach my eighth anniversary with Far Niente, I will always remember my first time visiting the winery, and I smile as I watch our new visitors stroll up the path, pausing to pick up an acorn, or stopping to smell the sweet perfume of the Osmanthus bushes.

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