I'm a very lucky girl. Not only do I have one of the coolest, kickin', Sicilian grandmas the world has ever known, I also have a cool, kickin' grandma who happens to live in St. Helena. So, for me a trip to grandma's house is extra special because not only do I get to spend quality time with her, I also get to refine my wine palate in the downtime...and get a little tipsy in the process.
In the last three years I've visited many of the lesser-known, excellent wineries in the area and have fallen in love with many of those found along Spring Mountain. Most of these wineries are small productions, each with their own specialty wines that can be difficult to find if you're not a member of their wine club or on their mailing list. Almost all of them also require you to make an appointment for a tasting well in advance, and charge a fee large enough to scare off visitors who aren't particularly serious about their wine. Luckily, I'm a very, very serious person, and I also happen to know that any high-priced fee can be waived when you purchase a bottle. Drink up! Because of this, I stumbled onto what is now my favorite winery in Napa: Behrens Family Winery, previously known as Behrens and Hitchcock.
Almost everything about this winery sets it apart. First of all, you instantly know that this place is kind of a big deal the second you pull into the property and are met with one of the most spectacular views of the valley any vineyard has to offer. And you can enjoy it for as long as you'd like! After a tasting, I like to take a seat at their wonderful picnic area, munch on the pepperoni, salami, and various cheeses that I purchased from the Napa Valley Olive Oil Company earlier, pour a glass of my newly purchased wine, and stare out over my empire. It is my empire. I don't care what you say. It's mine, and you can't have it.
The tasting itself is easily the least pretentious, down-to-earth experience you can imagine. If you're into a lot of pomp and circumstance, this isn't the place for you. If you prefer a more low-key experience that keeps things personal and limits the number of people per tasting to six, Behrens is your dream. For starters, it all goes down within the cozy, air-conditioned interior of a restored, vintage camper trailer. Well, a 1947 Westcraft trailer to be exact. Yep, that's right, get ready to take a load off on some comfy, cushioned sofa seats and huddle around the built-in dinette that may give you flashbacks of that camping trip with your Aunt and Uncle Hippie. What makes it extra cool is that it wasn't some abandoned trailer that Extreme Home Makeover re-purposed to make it work with the landscape - the owners (Lisa Drinkward and Les Behrens) found it somewhere in Alameda and hauled it all the way back to Spring Mountain because, well, it's perfect.
Your guide on this adventure is a straight-shootin, wine-lovin', die-hard Yankees fan named Robin who has "New Yorker" written all over her. She's also a big part of why I love this winery. Robin has been doing this for quite awhile and has a very relaxed style in walking you through the wines, which makes everyone feel instantly at ease. And, she speaks to you as if you're already a part of the family. Being an avid wine collector herself, she describes every wine on the list in a way that's totally approachable even for those new to the whole wine tasting experience. And while she may have her own opinions on what she tastes in each wine, or which she prefers, she doesn't assert them in an intimidating way that makes you shy away from expressing your own thoughts; she lets you discover each wine on your own and form your own opinions. Finally, take advantage of the time you spend with Robin and tap her for all the information you can get! She can tell you all about the history of the winery, the people involved, recommend wines or wineries in the area according to your tastes, and can chat at length about the wine making process, the Napa Valley region, its vineyards and producers, or baseball. Really, if you have a question, she'll have an answer.
And last but not least, the wines. The wines are phenomenal. Les Behrens has a truly special talent for taking varietals from all different vineyards and creating blends that are completely unique both from other wineries, and from one another. On my most recent visit, I purchased a juicy, fruity wine that I could open tomorrow (Spare Me), as well as a velvety, rich mountain Cab (Labor of Love), a spicy, smokey, winery-only Syrah/Cab (Resurrection), and my favorite, a full-bodied, black-fruit, tannic Cab blend called the Heavyweight. Clearly with even those short descriptions, you can see that the flavor profiles vary dramatically. But all of them will undoubtedly excite your taste-buds and tempt you to buy far, far more wine than you had prepared for.
If you're planning a full day of tastings, I'd suggest putting Behrens Family Winery first on your list so, well frankly, that you're not too drunk to miss the subtleties of each of their wines. You'll appreciate the whole experience much more, trust me. And if you happen to schedule a tasting because of this write-up, feel free to say "thank you" by sending a bottle of The Heavyweight to:
P.O. Box 2212
My Mouth Street
My Empire, CA 94110
Behrens Family Winery
4078 Spring Mountain Road
St. Helena CA 94574
Tastings by appointment: Robin@BehrensFamilyWinery.com