WILLIAM HILL WINERY
Suppose you wanted to spend a day in Napa Valley just kicking back, tasting some fabulous wines, learning some of the history and lore of winemaking and top off the experience with a gourmet picnic luncheon while seated under a wisteria arbor with sweeping, 360-degree views of the valley. Oh, and no traffic jams, no crowds, just the sun and the hills and the vineyards and the wines.
In that case, head to William Hill Estate Winery, just east of the Silverado Trail, where you can make an appointment (don't worry about lots of advance notice) to have this unique wine country experience any day of the week.
The winery was founded in 1978 by William Hill, a Napa Valley vineyard developer and consultant who decided to make wine from his own grapes. Over the years, the winery built a fine reputation for making Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from the estate vineyards surrounding the property. In 2007, the winery was purchased by E & J Gallo (already a major player in distinguished wines in Sonoma County) as part of their expansion program into fine wines in Napa Valley. (Louis M. Martini is another of their premium Napa Valley properties.)
Gallo was interested in the soil and climate of the Silverado Bench, as the area is known. Situated at an altitude of 200-300 feet above sea level, it is neither a valley floor nor a hillside property. Its location gives it unique characteristics that make it perfect for red Bordeaux varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, all of which the winery makes as such. It's not very often that you have the opportunity to try all these wines in one place, a fact that makes a visit even more worthwhile.
William Hill makes three tiers of wines, each with its distinguishing personality. The Napa Valley wines are well-balanced and elegant, with forward fruit flavors. The Napa Valley Reserve series is a deeper, richer version, and the Estate wines are limited-edition wines available only at the tasting room and to wine club members. German-born winemaker Ralf Holdenried has ten years of experience in making wine in California and will be releasing the first vintage of his 2006 William Hill Meritage (a blend of red Bordeaux grapes) this month.
When you visit William Hill, be sure to try the 2006 Dijon Clone Chardonnay. It's a winner with pear and peach blossom aromas, and a pure fruit-sweet flavor. Aged in older French oak, it has a creamy, vanilla undertone and a smooth finish. Notable among the many fine red wines is the 2005 Estate Malbec, blended with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. It's a BIG wine, inky in color, with subdued dark berry fruit flavors and a rich, powerful finish.
Make arrangements to visit by calling the winery at (707) 265-3024. You can talk with the knowledgeable and friendly staff to customize your visit with the tour and/or the wines you want. Fees vary depending on your activities. Please note that the winery has a "by the glass" program, so that if you want to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the beautiful outdoor terrace, you can have just one glass of wine instead of a whole bottle. And that's a good thing when you are driving!
The winery is located at 1761 Atlas Peak Road, just east of the Silverado Trail and the town of Napa. The website can be found at www.williamhillestate.com.