- CHOCOLATE LAB Chris Kollar trained as a savory chef but became intrigued by chocolate and wine pairings.
Modern, minimalist Kollar Chocolates is one of the new tenants in Yountville's revamped V Marketplace.
The ivy-covered building was once known as Vintage 1870, and some locals still call it that. New businesses set in venerable buildings always attract a bit of criticism from those nostalgic for what was, but Kollar fuses the old with the new, and leaves most people happy.
In the small, neat space, futuristic neon-green truffles rub elbows with classic chocolate morsels, European "rochers" and old-school barks. Flavors range from the familiar to the exotic. Everything is packaged in neutral, simple boxes—timeless, yet very of the moment. To complete the tech-inspired aesthetic, the kitchen features a "production lab" open to public viewing.
Atlanta native Chris Kollar is a new-generation chocolatier. Trained as a savory chef, he worked in Denver, Seattle and the Cayman Islands before coming to Napa in 2001. A long list of gigs as executive chef followed, including stints at St. Helena's Go Fish and Tra Vigne, during which time Kollar became infatuated with wine and chocolate pairing.
"It all started when I would make truffles to serve at the end of meals," Kollar says.
There were no local chocolate manufacturers in the area, so Kollar decided to open his own shop—but not until he'd mastered the art of chocolate. He embarked on a self-education tour of Europe, visiting Switzerland, France and Italy, and emerged with expertise—and a couple of unusual ideas for sweets.
His offerings include an award-winning milk chocolate ganache infused with fennel pollen, a sunflower-seed praline, a truffle made with Earl Grey tea and new agey chocolate flavors like cardamom and lavender.
"Napa Valley residents live in a gastronomically rich area," says Kollar. "This definitely makes them knowledgeable about food in general."
There's plenty of natural inspiration to draw from. "I came up with the idea for the fennel-pollen truffle because it grows wild along the back roads that I frequently cycle through, and I would chew on it after long rides," says Kollar.
The surroundings also inspired a truffle infused with Zinfandel, and ideas for fresh wine and truffle pairings.
"We've found that our Earl Grey truffle pairs with numerous Cabernet Sauvignons," Kollar says, "and our passion-fruit truffle goes great with several Sauvignon Blancs."
Kollar makes the chocolates and business partner Naomi Pasztor runs the front of the business, where barks and roasted and caramelized almond concoctions are sold in attractive, see-through packages.
It makes sense that a chocolatier who admits to loving Reese's Peanut Butter Cups would be careful not to neglect the simpler, more traditional chocolates. Mixed together in a gift box, Kollar's curious pollen experiments and old-school sweets satisfy traditionalists and chocolate adventurists alike.
Kollar Chocolates. 6525 Washington St., Yountville. 707.738.6750.