Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Raymond Vineyards

Raymond Vineyards was established by Roy Raymond in 1970, and its first crush was in 1974. Kirin Brewery bought a controlling interest in the winery in 1989, but the winery was subsequently purchased by Jean-Charles Boisset in 2009 who completely remade the winery, adding a two acre educational exhibit about organic and biodynamic farming called Theater of Nature, an extravagant red velvet lined room called The Red Room, another room called The Crystal Cellar with a Baccarat crystal chandelier and a winery for dogs called Frenchie Winery.  (Honoring French bulldogs.)  Although many Napa County wineries are now fairly dog friendly, M. Boisset takes this to a higher level, encouraging visitors to bring their dog for a walk through the Theater of Nature to Frenchie Winery where their dog may wait while the owner is inside tasting.  (See description and photos below.)

Raymond entry sign
M. Boisset received the Wine Star Award for Innovator of the year in 2009 and Raymond Winery was chosen as the American Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast in 2012.  Numerous Raymond wines have recently scored 90 plus, with two of their 2008 Cabs scoring 94 points by Wine Enthusiast.  In addition to the 90 acre estate at the winery, Raymond Winery owns vineyards in Jameson Canyon and just north of the winery in St. Helena, totaling 300 acres.  M. Boisset also owns De Loach Vineyards and Buena Vista, both in Sonoma County.

Garrett assisting us in the Crystal Cellar
Much thanks to Garrett for hosting us during two of our visits and being so informative and helpful. Staff members at the winery all seemed very friendly, unpretentious, enthusiastic and hospitable.  Whenever I encounter such cheerful staff at a winery, I know that they are not only well trained but well treated by the owner and manager.  Jean-Charles Boisset is not only admired by his staff (who told us stories about him), but he obviously has his act totally together.  No wonder they were the 2012 American Winery of the Year.

Crystal Cellar

Raymond Vineyards offers three different tastings.  In the Limited Tasting one may sample limited edition, very small production wines that are available only at the winery.  Their flagship wines are offered under the Reserve Tasting.  Their ultra premium wines are offered in the Crystal Experience.  The first two are $20 with the later being $50.  Wine club members may have complimentary tastings and Raymond Winery is also in the Napa Neighbor Program.

Barrel room

Because of the extensive line of wines, the extremely friendly staff and their award of  The Wine Enthusiast's 2012 American Winery of the Year, we opted to try all three tastings by visiting three consecutive weeks, something we have never done before in our over 40 years of visiting wineries.  (Wine Enthusiast is also my favorite wine magazine.) 

Regular tasting bar

The Limited Tasting includes limited releases including: The Raymond 2011 Small Lot White Wine at $32, the 2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay at $42, the 2009 Napoleon Red Wine at $30, the 2009 Louis XIV at $30 and the 2009 Small Lot Petite Sirah at $40.  All of these are made in very small quantities and are available only at the winery.

First was the Raymond 2011 Small Lot White Wine at $32 which is 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Chenin Blanc.  What an unusual blend for a California wine.  I was prepared not to like it, thinking the soft and fruity Chenin Blanc would ruin the dry, crisp, acidic Sauvignon Blanc.  The wine was light gold in color with a pronounced and delightfully pleasant nose of flowery Chenin Blanc. On the palate I got Meyer's lemon and Sauvignon Blanc varietal flavors with almost no Chenin Blanc varietal coming through. The Chenin Blanc added to the aroma while seemingly adding almost nothing to the palate, although I suspect it helped to balance the wine.  Anyhow, it was a pleasant white wine with a lovely Chenin Blanc nose and a nice Sauvignon Blanc palate. I think it should appeal to many.

Of the two whites, though, I preferred the next wine which was the Raymond 2011 Barrel Fermented Chardonnay. This saw eight months in 100% French oak with 50% of that being new French.  Only 168 cases were produced.  Grapes are from their Jameson Canyon vineyard near Carneros.  I got mostly butterscotch, vanilla and peach on the nose, followed by tart apple and lemon on the palate and a medium length finish.  We both found it quite likeable.

The Raymond 2009 Napoleon Red Wine was next.  It is described as a "Bordeaux, Rhone Tuscan blend" and 500 cases were made.  It has an intense aroma of raspberry. On the palate I got lots of fruit with some spice. We both liked it, although I preferred to next two red wines.

Raymond 2009 Louis XIV was next.  This is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese blend with 520 cases produced.  I got a light nose of red fruit with some forest floor.  The rest was fruity, mostly cherry, with some black pepper and a tart cherry moderate length finish.  It did not have the great nose of the Napoleon but had a more interesting presentation and finish.  But my favorite of the line up was next.

The Raymond 2009 Small Lot Petite Sirah is 94% Petite Sirah and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon with 168 cases produced.  I would score this one about 91 points.  After a good nose I got some blueberry, black cherry and spice on the palate.  It was not a big, tannic, monster Petite Sirah, but had good substance and structure with good body.  It was my favorite of the Limited Tasting line up.

Raymond gift shop

The Reserve Tasting includes: the Raymond 2011 Reserve Selection Chardonnay at $20, the 2011 Barrel-to-Barrel Field Blend at $56 a 3 litre box (party time), the 2009 Reserve Merlot, the 2011 Barrel-to-Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon at $56 a 3 litre box and the 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at $35.

Raymond 2011 Reserve Selection Chardonnay at $20.  No malolatic conversion. Some French oak. Very nice flowery nose.  Apple and white peach. Good length on finish.  Quite nice for the price.

Raymond 2011 Barrel-To-Barrel Field Blend at $56 or a 3 litre box.  "A blend of Bordeaux, Rhone and California Varietals."  For parties or get togethers.  Light cherry nose. Rather light bodied  and fruit forward with cherry and plum. Well integrated tannins.  Hint of spices. Medium length finish.  Not bad.

Raymond 2009 Reserve Merlot at $24.  88% Merlot and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon.  25% saw 18 months on new oak. Very lovely pronounced vanilla and cherry nose.  Lighter bodied with soft tannins and fresh red fruit, mostly raspberry.  Good finish. Well done for a lighter style Merlot.

Raymond 2011 Barrel-To-Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon at $56 for a 3 litre box.  100% Cab.  Good red cherry and vanilla nose.  Light to medium bodied.  Fresh fruit of bright red cherry with a good medium length finish.  Pleasant.

Raymond 2009 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon at $35.  89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc.  Aroma of cherry, cedar and vanilla.  Smooth red cherry on the palate with interlaced tannins and a medium plus length cherry finish.  Medium body. Very easy to drink. Nice cab for the price and my favorite of the Reserve Tasting.

Raymond Crystal Cellar

The Crystal Experience, is the third tasting option offered by Raymond. This tasting is held in the Crystal  Cellar and not in the regular tasting room.  The following wines were included:

Raymond 2008 Rutherford Merlot at $45. We were informed that this is the last vintage for this one. Much bigger and riper than the Raymond Reserve Merlot.  Intense aroma of plum and raspberries.  It had good structure, with a medium body and nice balance. I got mostly bright red fruit of plum and raspberry.  The finish was medium length.  It was decent but not memorable.

Raymond 2008 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon at $75.  This one is a real winner.  The nose was light but pleasant, mostly blackberry.  It had a great mouth-feel, broad and full but not at all overpowering.  On the palate it was multidimensional with blackberry, cherry, currant, and mocha accompanied by interesting tannins and outstanding structure.  The finish was long with some distinct chocolate.  This is an excellent cab and the one I'd recommend most for immediate consumption. I'd rate it a 94.

Raymond 2008 St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon at $75.  This was given 91 points by Wine Enthusiast and is a fairly good cab but, to me, was not nearly as interesting as the Oakville above.  It did have a great aroma.  I got mostly red fruit, namely soft cherry on the palate and a decent finish.  It was very interesting to learn that our host tasted this same wine about six months ago and it was mostly dark fruit with dark chocolate and much different tannins. This is an excellent example of how wines change over time, even a few months.  A person drinking this six months or a year from now will probably encounter a much different wine.

Raymond 2009 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon at $75.  This is a very good Cab but still needs some time to develop.  I got a rather light but interesting nose followed by dark chocolate, cherry, blueberry, spices and some forest floor.  It had plenty of tannins that were very well integrated.  Finish was medium length and chewy.  Although drinkable now, I think this one will improve with some age and has a lot of potential.  I hope to sample it again next time we visit.

Raymond 2009 Generations at $115.  This was just released.  Sometimes the Generation is a blend but this year it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was aged in new oak for 18-20 months.  This is still a young wine but shows excellent potential.  The aroma was fairly light but it was pleasing delight on the palate.  I got blackberries, plum, spice with a hint of mocha.  Good structure and balance with interlaced tannins and a medium length finish. This wine is drinkable now but should really start coming into its own in a year or two.

Winery of the Year

The wines listed above that are in bold and underlined will be added to our next list of favorite Napa Valley wines. Raymond Vineyards is an interesting, unique, creative winery that offers a feast for the eyes as well as one for the palate.  Although we recommend all three tastings, if you need to limit it to one, we recommend The Crystal Experience so you may taste their outstanding premium Cabernet Sauvignons.  Couples might want to consider splitting two different tastings.  We spread our tastings out over three different visits and are glad we did.  Rather than listing three or four photos as I usually do, I'm also posting additional photos at the end for those who might want to view more of this very unusual winery. (see photos below.)

Raymond Vineyards
849 Zinfandel Ln
St Helena, CA 94574 (707) 963-3141
Dates of visits:  February 6, 13 and 19, 2013

Note from the winery's web page:
"Napa Valley's first dog winery"
"Frenchie Winery was built with the belief that ALL creatures deserve a beautiful tasting room where they can enjoy the beautiful Napa Valley. So, instead of feeling guilty about leaving your 4-legged family member in the car, bring them to Frenchie Winery in the heart of the Napa Valley. Here they will enjoy the lavish Napa Valley lifestyle in the comfort of their own outdoor, shady dog suite, complete with their very own wine barrel bed. You can watch your best friend, via our "Frenchie Cam", enjoying themselves outdoors while you enjoy your wine tasting experience indoors."

Welcome sign to Frenchie Winery

Frenchie Winery

Frenchie Winery

Raymond Crystal Cellar

Coco and Channel


Theater of Nature entry way

Lambs at Raymond Vineyards

Bat hotel

Owl box

Biodynamic cow horns

Raymond Frames

Raymond entry way

Visitor to Frenchie Winery

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