From the Lights to the Vines

A Las Vegas wine pro takes us for a Napa Valley tour

The aromas and colors of the fruit hanging from Napa Valley’s vines are sublime; the freshness in the air is a hit to live for. For a wine professional who makes his living in Las Vegas, this is a heaven away from home.

“You leave Las Vegas in the morning and you are at a destination a couple of hours later that could not be of more contrast from your point of departure,” says Christian Margesson, wine director of the N9NE Group at the Palms. “For a little while you trade the velocity of Sin City for the celestial peacefulness and slower pace of the wine country. Let’s be honest: These are two cities where pleasure is defined in very different ways.”

This isn’t just a frivolous jaunt for the Las Vegas wine pro, but a journey to seek out what’s new and what’s tried. The business connections and personal relationships built on the fertile soils of California’s wine country push winemakers in the region to bring amazing vintages to a table near you.

Harvest time in October is the best time to visit Napa, says Margesson, because the vines are full of fruit, and the smells and colors of the landscape are astounding. This is when you will find the most wine experts visiting from around the world. It’s a time when you will witness the true creative process of winemaking—and as most winemakers will tell you, “It takes a lot of beer to make great wine.”

Margesson recently gave Vegas Seven an inside look at where the pros go when visiting the valley:

Silver Oak Cellars: Not only an icon in the wine industry, but also a visionary, Silver Oak remains a staple in California winemaking. The impressive history is carried on today by Tim and David Duncan, the founder’s sons. Silver Oak’s tasting room presents visitors with a selection of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and sauvignon blanc, from both Napa and the Alexander Valley appellations. Two of its best are the Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet and the always-impressive Silver Oak Napa Valley Cabernet. While there, make sure to taste the current vintage of Twomey Merlot.

Schramsberg Vineyards: Displaying the highest quality method of champagne-making outside of France, this historic winery dates back to 1862. Today, it is known not only for its quality wines but also for its majestic setting. While visiting Schramsberg’s hillside caves, as part of a guided tour, you’ll feel transported to another world. In 2001, the house of sparkling wine embarked on a new adventure and released its first vintage of J. Davies cabernet sauvignon, a project guided by the vineyard’s president. Make sure to get a taste of the 2004 J. Schram, the vineyard’s best chardonnay sparkling wine. Also try the 2007 Brut Rosé, a flavorful, complex and dry wine that is delicious both with food and by itself.

Carrefour Vineyards: A Napa Valley winery owned by a moonlighting dentist and an airline pilot, Greg and Marilyn Nitz make the visit to their storybook winery a special one. Make sure to ask for a taste of their cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc.

Slaughterhouse Cellars: Located in the heart of one of the world’s greatest cabernet regions, this winery represents the gems that Napa Valley has to offer. Don’t miss the 2005 Slaughterhouse Cellars cabernet sauvignon.

Staying, Eating, Shopping

Man cannot live by wine alone, so check out Christian Margesson’s favorite places to relax, eat and shop in Napa Valley:

Calistoga Ranch: This 140-acre property features some of Napa’s most dramatic views of private vineyards and oak groves. Whenever I have the chance to stay here, I immediately find myself in a state of deep relaxation and peace.

Meadowood Napa Valley: The estate, with its own three-Michelin-star restaurant, is one of the country’s top destinations. An escape to Meadowood will forever remain in your memory, as it has in mine.

Morimoto: Sushi lovers, rejoice over the Iron Chef’s wine country outpost in downtown Napa.

Press: My favorite dish is the free-range chicken cooked to perfection on a custom-built wood-fired grill in the restaurant’s dining room. What cannot be culled from its two private gardens the restaurant sources from local farmers, markets and neighboring purveyors.

Woodhouse Chocolates: The best shopping can be found on Main Street at the center of St. Helena, a divine place to indulge in boutique hunting. At Woodhouse, handmade chocolates go hand-in-hand with a great Cabernet. We always treat ourselves to their truffles, caramels and out-of-this-world hot chocolate.

Gott’s Roadside: Formerly Taylor’s Refresher, this place serves burgers, hot dogs, shakes and, of course, wine. Every time I visit Napa I stop at Gott’s—it’s a tradition.

Pennaluna Napa Valley: Décor and design objects including stationary, jewelry and candles all reflecting the Napa wine country.

Pennyweight: This elegant and diverse stationery store is a great place for both the traditionalist and the adventurer to find the perfect gift for any occasion. The store also carries a beautiful selection of home accents and journals.

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