Friday, November 30, 2012

Surprising Napa Valley Vineyard

Are you looking for a truly unique Napa Valley experience?  Raymond Vineyards in St. Helena has put a incomparable twist on wine tasting in Napa Valley while still delivering great wine.  I have toured dozens of vineyards around the world, yet none of the wineries left a strong impression on me.  The vineyard tours and wine tastings became predictable.  Nevertheless, I was excited to visit Napa Valley this past fall with my wife Nora and good friend Daniel.  However, my expectations were tempered from past vineyard letdowns.  I thought I knew what to expect from Napa Valley...until we visited Raymond Vineyards.  

What to Expect

Theater of Nature, Raymond Vineyard
Our visit to Raymond Vineyards was not planned.   On our drive through Napa Valley, we stopped to check out several vineyards, but they all seemed to be copycats of each other.  Each vineyard offered beautiful views and exceptional wine, but they lacked creative distinguishing features.  After a couple of hours of driving, we had given up on finding something different and instead focused on finding a vineyard close to our lunch destination of Farmstead in St. Helena.  Just before we entered St. Helena, we decided to pull into Raymond Vineyards and take a look around.  From the highway, it seemed like every other vineyard in Napa Valley.  We were wrong.

We were immediately impressed by Raymond Vineyards outdoor Theater of Nature that combined art, nature, and Biodynamic farming education.  While Nora and I explored the Theater of Nature, Daniel went inside to scope out the tasting room.  He returned minutes later very excited. "We are staying here. This is exactly what I've been looking for...there isn't anyplace else like it!"  Nora and I looked at each, shrugged our shoulders, and figured we better see for ourselves what got Daniel so excited.

Once inside, Daniel pointed out several tasting rooms, each with a unique theme.  Some were open to the public, while others were only available to members.  The Tasting Room was open to the public and offered a traditional experience where one can sample wines in a room with windows overlooking the valley.  We also liked the vibe from The Library Room, which was a small space tucked behind the tasting room.  One area that we only got a glimpse of was The Red Room,  a plush space packed with old-school elegance, that unfortunately was only open to members.

Yes, that is a mannequin hanging upside down between us. 
The Crystal Cellar is what made Raymond Vineyards stand out from every other vineyard I have visited.  The space was surrounded by stainless steel tanks, mirrors, and scantily clad mannequins.  It was so absurd, but in a strange way...perfect.  We wandered around the room commenting on the chandelier, jewelry cases, and mannequins, all while sampling several of their tasty red wines (cost $25 a person).  We also paused to check out the Barrel Room, a candle-lit room surround by the vineyard's oak barrels.  It was unlike any wine tasting any of us had experienced.  The uniqueness of visiting Raymond Vineyards left me with something no other vineyard has accomplished.  A lasting impression.  

Just the Basics

  • Address: 849 Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena, CA 94574
  • Tasting Room Hours: Open daily year-round from 10am-4pm
  • Website
  • Advice: Bring a camera...and a designated driver.