Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Del Dotto St. Helena Venetian Estate Winery and Caves

Del Dotto St. Helena Venetian Estate Winery and Caves is very unique and quite amazing!  The mosaic marble floors, fresco paintings by the resident artist Carlo Marchioriand, ornate Venetian architecture (in honor of the Del Dotto family origins), inlaid gold ceilings and opulence make it appear more like an Venetian palace than a winery.  It is a fascinating, exotic and visually stunning winery that provides many photo opportunities.  Their wines, especially their Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs, are excellent and their wine cave tour and barrel tasting are very informative and are done with elaborate care.

Del Dotto building

During the tour, Del Dotto offers generous pours of many of their wines; we tasted eleven of them. You might want to have a designated driver who does not swallow all of the wine, and be sure you do not visit when you have an empty stomach.  Although Del Dotto requires an appointment to visit, they can sometimes accommodate same day appointments so give them a call if you are in the area.  They are one of the very few wineries that are open 365 days a year. Much thanks to Desiree Del Dotto and to our friendly, helpful and informative hosts Kristina and Simon. 

Del Dotto inside entrance

There are actually two different Del Dotto wineries.  The one we visited, the Del Dotto St. Helena Venetian Estate Winery and Caves, is the new one on Highway 29 south of the town of St. Helena that opened in 2007.  There is also a more historic one (Del Dotto Napa Historic Winery and Caves), with wine caves that were dug in 1885, that is in Napa up on Atlas Peak and opened to the public in 1999.  The newer one is modeled in a Venetian estate style with new wine caves and is done with Italian marble, ancient mosaic tiles depicting the history of wine, Venetian crystal chandeliers and ceilings inlaid with gold.  During the several years it took to complete the construction of the new winery, stone masons were brought over from Italy to assist. It is amazing to walk into a wine cave that has crystal chandeliers and beautifully tiled floors after having visited so many more rustic wine caves.

Del Dotto pillars and painting

The Del Dotto family can trace its origins back to 1150 and have been making red wines since 1450.  The family moved from Tuscany to California in the late 1800's and began producing wine in Merced.  In 1988 David del Dotto and his wife Yolanda visited Napa Valley and ended up purchasing a lovely 1906 Frank Lloyd Wright designed house and 17 acres of property, moving there in 1990.  After they arrived they planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese.  Their first vintage was the 1993 Del Dotto Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon that received a score of 92 points from The Wine Spectator.  Not bad for a first release!  And they managed to obtain the same high scores for the next three vintages.  By 1997 Del Dotto increased their production from 500 to 5000 cases and by 1999 they opened to the public.  In 2004 Dave visited Italy, where wine has been made since around 5000 BC, and returned with four clay wine aging vessels that were 300 years old and weighed over a ton each.  They accommodate up to five tons of Zinfandel or Sangiovese that are released each year as a featured wine.

Del Dotto wine cave

In addition to the vineyards at their two wineries (Rutherford and Atlas Peak), Del Dotto owns vineyards in Oakville, St. Helena, Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain and Sonoma Coast.  All are organically farmed, and allow Del Dotto to grow a number of varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah. Total acreage is 437 acres with 121 planted. They also experiment with over fifty different types of oak barrels with a variety of oak toasting levels, something that will be demonstrated during the barrel tastings where you will view the barrel staves with their various stages of toasting and barrel grooving and then sample the identical Cabernet Sauvignons, one  aged in American oak and the other in French oak.  Del Dotto continues to be family run with an annual production of between 8000 and 12,000 cases yearly.

Del Dotto frescos

We had reservations for the Del Dotto Estate Cave Experience and Barrel Tasting which actually began at the tasting bar with a pour of the Del Dotto 2012 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc at $39.  It was a bright straw in color with a very good nose of grapefruit, lemon and melon.  On the palate I got mostly grapefruit and lemon with a lush mouth feel and good, but very well balanced, acid.  It was the perfect combination of dryness, fruit and acidity with a good, medium plus length finish.  Quite nice.  The second pour, and only other white wine, was the Del Dotto 2011 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay at $85.  Our tour guide arrived before I could take any tasting notes, but I remember this Chard as being excellent with lemon, white peach, minerality, and a full body with a very good finish.  Very classy!  I really liked it and highly recommend it.

Del Dotto tasting bar

Most of our other pours were in the wine cave.  With a glass in one hand, a camera in the other, a notebook under my arm and wine cave lighting, I was simply unable to take any tasting notes.  We had the Del Dotto 2011 Cave Blend (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc) at $49 first followed by the Del Dotto 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $65 and both were good.  For the Del Dotto 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Lot R we were able to taste the same wine aged in Missouri oak compared to some aged in French oak (both at $65).  This provided a very interesting comparison.  I preferred the French oak, but the American oak wine might be better if paired with barbeque.  Both were nice Cabs but my favorites were to follow.

Del Dotto tasting room ceiling

The Del Dotto 2012 Allier Vosge Pinot Noir at $75 was especially good and is enthusiastically recommended as are both the Del Dotto 2011 Lot W Cabernet Sauvignon at $85 and the even better Del Dotto 2011 Oakville Jupille Sylvain Cabernet Sauvignon at $125.  I would love to have spent more time and taken careful tasting notes on each of these three excellent wines.  These three stand outs brought an end to the wine cave educational tour, and we returned to the main tasting room where we were able to sit down at a table and were brought Italian meats, gourmet cheeses, fresh bread and Del Dotto's own excellent olive oil.  The salami is made by their own chef and we were able to pair the food with a pour of the Del Dotto 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir at $75.  This Pinot had a great nose of cherry and raspberry with a lot of fresh fruit on the palate, mostly cherry, cranberry and blackberry with some mushroom, spice and cedar, followed by a long finish. It was nice but I preferred the Pinot we sampled in the wine cave, one that has not yet been released.  The finale to the tour and tastings was the Del Dotto Port Wine Ca'Nan Blend at $55 for a 500 ml bottle.  This is a blend of 56% Zinfandel, 22% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Cabernet and was quite good.  It paired perfectly with the dark chocolate.

Del Dotto fountain

Del Dotto combines a spectacular setting with excellent hospitality, a great tour and outstanding wines.  The tasting and tour cost $60 but are well worth it.  (The bar tasting, with six pours, is half that price, but you will miss the educational tour, the barrel tasting and the wine caves)  They are very generous with the size of the pours and the number of wines sampled, with the wines being very high quality. They also provide you with a gourmet meat and cheese plate, bread and their own olive oil, plus dark chocolate and their port.  (Friday through Sunday there is homemade pizza as well.)  The tour is fascinating and educational.  The setting is a feast for the eyes.  Actually the Del Dotto experience is a feast for all of the senses and we enthusiastically recommend it!

Del Dotto outside buliding

Del Dotto Venetian Estate Winery and Caves
1445 Saint Helena Highway
Saint Helena, CA 94574
Phone: 707-963-2134

Hours: 11 A.M. to 5 P.M.
Reservations can be made at above phone number or online here: Reservations
"Hours of Operation 11am to 5pm 7 days a week
Open Every Day of the Year"

Del Dotto vineyard

Del Dotto old olive trees

Del Dotto skylight

Del Dotto mosaic floor
Del Dotto gift shop
Del Dotto entry sign
Del Dotto vineyard
Del Dotto 300 year old wine vessel
Del Dotto balcony
Del Dotto inside entrance


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