In the Napa valley, between Highway 29 and the Silverardo Trail, there are just a few access roads that connect to two main arteries which keep the life blood of America’s most famous wine area flowing. For visitors to the Napa valley, it is exactly those wineries on the 29 and the Silverado Trail which see the majority of the business. But it is those little-travelled access roads which often house worthwhile investigation. Raymond Winery is just such a find.
Zinfandel Lane is one of the connecting roads and lies just south of the town of St. Helena. There are actually only two or three public wineries on this road, the rest being appointment-only. The surprise is that I had driven past Raymond dozens of times without realizing it was there, being so well hidden by shrubbery and plant life. Driving through a maze of vines from the entrance, the winery complex comes into view, reflecting a 1950s ranch house in its epoch, lying low to the ground. Despite the sense of entering fifty-year old time warp, the landscaping is open, vast, and inviting due to the predominance of colorful flowers.
The tasting room is similarly austere with a touch of non-tangible nostaligia. There is nothing specific in alluding to the age; perhaps it is merely the architecture. The tasting room is not overwhelmed with retail items and the pouring staff is extremely gracious and helpful. The big draw? The wines — truly excellent quality juice at moderately affordable prices. At a production level of 300,000 cases, it is an impressive facility that is producing a LOT of wine worth tasting:
2003 Napa Valley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc – Golden bouquet of melon and tropical fruit. Very smooth, easy mouth feel with a touch of cream and no stridency. Crisp finish that keeps going, finishing with a heightened green apple flavor. $12.50
2003 Napa Valley Reserve Chardonnay – At a caseload production of almost 25,000 cases, this is a pretty substantial amount of wine. Fresh fruit of pear, mango, and papaya aromas. The smooth, soft entry seems a bit flabby to me, but finishes with a bit more richness than anticipated. $18.00
1995 Merlot Reserve – Port-like dusty floral bouquet. Dark, integrated, toasty flavors of twigs and a faint finish of mint. Reasonable deal if drunk immediately. (On a special sell-off; $90 a case)
2001 Rutherford Reserve Merlot – Relatively small production of only 500 cases. 99% Merlot, 1% Cabernet. Classic Rutherford dust aromas that were slightly sweet with a touch of green pepper. Intense nose that continued into the mouth entry with dark red fruit and a long, balanced finish. $30.00
2001 St. Helena Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot. Almost 1,000 cases. Rich dark red wine displaying dark spice and plum in the nose. Easy, smooth mouth entry of rich blackberry and refined spices in the complex finish. 13.8% alcohol! $45.00
2001 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – 99% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Merlot. Almost 1,000 cases. Hugh, spicy aromas that were surprisingly Syrah-like in blackness; dark fruit, blackberry liqueuer, and dark florals. Sweet entry exudes some dusty floral qualities. The wine smelled older and more developed than it tasted. Easy to drink now, but with a developed integration and supple mouthfeel that will only improve with age. $45.00
2000 Generations Cabernet Sauvignon – Dark spicy pepper and Moroccan spices with a touch of earth in its bouquet. Rich, dark flavors with some green bell pepper and mostly complex, dark currant, berry, and tobacco flavors. $65.00
Raymond Vineyard & Cellar ~ 849 Zinfandel Lane ~ St. Helena ~ CA ~ 94574 ~ 800-525-2659