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Sunday, November 16, 2008

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Traveling to the Wine Country often stops at the foot of the valley for obvious reasons. However, rewarding discoveries await those who can resist the temptation of overtasting in Napa. Let’s take that HW 29 a little farther North, continue when it turns into 128, and proceed to Calistoga for a change. Bennett Lane Winery is located at the northernmost edge of Napa Valley, where a mini vineyard showcasing different grapes for close comparison, and a spacious picnic area surround its cozy tasting room. A blending session, which Bennett Lane offers to groups of six or more, is the highlight of any wine-tasting experience. First, you sniff the aromatics placed in empty wine glasses. Smells of fresh raspberry, blueberry preserves, or a candid pineapple are supposed to spring up in your mind when you are trying to define the aroma of a cab or a char. Then, the group sits down around a table, where Bennett Lane’s own Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah are prepared for the winery’s Maximus blend, characterized as “red feasting wine.” Taking a pipette in hand, and creating your own blend surely makes you think of infinite possibilities of a winemaker’s talent buried deep inside [your profession here]. The process of blending and tasting your own creation surely serves as yet another proof that the best wine is the one you like. You also have an opportunity to see how tastes really differ among the people you thought you knew... After your blend is done, you cork, label, and take home your own bottle of Maximus. Owned by Randy and Lisa Lynch, Bennett Lane is open to the public daily from 10 to 5:30. Blending sessions require a group and an advance reservation. 3340 Highway 128, 707-942-6684, Frank Family Vineyards, located in the historic Larkmead winery in Calistoga and owned by a Disney executive Rich Frank (with wife Connie) just opened a new tasting room. Actually, there are several rooms—one for sparkling wines, generously decorated with Mr. Frank’s pictures posing next to one or another showbiz celeb; another for still wines, plus one for VIP receptions, and one looking like a 1950s club with pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich on the walls. Todd Graff, the winemaker, took us on a tour of the facility, established way back in 1884. He introduced the whole process of winemaking with out-of-barrel tasting. That was a rare chance to follow the journey of Frank Family’s nationally distributed Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from a cloudy yeasty liquid with a smell of laundry detergent to a finished product, delightful with the depth of flavor and color. Open to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free tasting, tours, and picnic grounds. 1091 Larkmead Lane, Calistoga. 800-574-9463, Photography by Yuri Krasov. 1. Wine blending session at Bennett Lane. 2. Your correspondent checks out some grapes with a winemaker's dog. 3. Winemaker Rob Hunter. 4. Out-of-barrel tasting with winemaker Todd Graff at Frank's Family Vineyards. 5. Historic building at Frank's Family.


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