A visit to Palmaz Vineyards, Napa Valley

Inside Palmaz

View of Palmaz Vineyards

Inside Palmaz

Computers monitoring the vats at Palmaz

Pairing at Palmaz

New French oak barrels at Palmaz

Tunnels inside Palmaz

Tunnels inside Palmaz

As I drove up to Palmaz Vineyards, I was pretty excited. The winery is located in Mt. George, east of the city of Napa, just north of American Canyon. That’s right, in Mt. George. After a brief, “Yes, Ms. Joyce. Welcome to Palmaz” at the security gate, I drove up the steep incline with vines on either side to near the top of the hill to meet Florencia in the main building.

What intrigued me to start with was that there really isn’t anything to see from the outside.  Everything is inside the mountain.  Also, the winery is built specifically to incorporate an innovative gravity-flow method in its winemaking process. The grapes travel from the first floor to the bottom floors in a process that is gentler on them, and tends to better hold the flavors of the fruit. This kind of thing is expensive — and with everything highly computerized, it combines the concepts of quality Old World winemaking with sparkling new equipment and sophisticated technology.

It would have been easier to build an ordinary winery, of course, but the Palmaz family seems to like putting a scientific and technological spin on things. Julio Palmaz, after all, is a doctor of vascular radiology who became very wealthy after inventing the Palmaz-Schatz Stent, which is now used in operations on patients with coronary heart disease.

Florencia met me in the cool lobby and explained the family history as we walked into the winery. Even the lobby is very tranquil, with only a few visitors being granted access at a time, and the Palmazes themselves taking small groups through, it’s a very personal experience. The winery is actually made up of a series of caves and tunnels on several levels that span the height of an 18-story building. Looking down from the balcony over the fermentation tanks below will give you an impressive view, as will the touch screen computers on the walls that seem to be in control of every detail.

Being a student of biology herself, Florencia is very detail oriented and can explain the most complex processes, down to what goes on at the molecular level in the winemaking process. If it hasn’t hit you already, chatting with Florencia you will quickly realize how complex the chemistry is, and the lengths that winemakers will go to to ensure the quality of the wine in order to produce the perfect Cab. Every single detail you can imagine, from the way the barrels are cleaned, to the specific forest in France they are from, to the winemaking process itself, gives you an understanding why this business is expensive — and why their Cabernet commands $80 plus a bottle.

After our tour, I sat in Florencia’s office and we tasted through a flight, paired with a lovely selection of small bites. Though I’d just seen the detailed care and attention that went into it, I was still very impressed. And if that didn’t blow my mind, I also toured their collection of vintage Porsches and, of course, the vintage Land Rover. I left fascinated, excited about my new discovery, and eager to tell all my friends about the gem inside Mt. George.

WineryCritic Ratings

9/10 Overall visitor experience

10/10 Knowledge of guide

8/10 Location

9/10 Architecture and design, landscaping

9/10 Other experiences: Landrover tour

N/A Knowledge of tasting room staff

8/10 Friendliness of staff

8/10 Signage & ease of access

8/10 Quality of the wines poured

Appointment required:  Yes

Address:  

4029 Hagen Road
Napa  CA 94558

Tasting room hours: N/A Appointment only

Tasting fees:

$60 per person for a tour and tasting of five wines, each paired with a small small hors d’ oeuvre.   For groups of 12 or more the charge is $80 per person.  Allow 2 hours.

Good for: Cabernet lovers, architectural fans, those looking for premium wines and an off the beaten path experience.

Wines produced:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, Muscat.

What’s nearby:  Ackerman Family, Whetstone Vineyards, Porter Family, Oxbow Market.

District/Appellation:  Coombsville, Napa Valley

Contact for appointments:  707-226-5587

Date of visit: October 2011

E-mail: mindy@winerycritic.com