The minute I start to describe Jericho Canyon, I know what some readers are going to say: "Oh boy, here we go." Boutique Cab from celebrity winemaker Michel Rolland and some Napa Valley folks who used to jet to Hawaii for the other half of the year? That's what I thought also, when their press agent suggested I check them out. And that's pretty much what founder Dale Bleecher thought to himself, too, when friends suggested that his family stay at their house in the island paradise.
Like many who once shunned Hawaii, says Bleecher—a one-time logger and tree planter who at long last made his way to college and a one-time career in finance—he had preconceived notions involving tourist hordes. But his family liked the island life so much that the Bleecher daughters stayed on for high school, while mother Marla Bleecher taught at a local school. So what about Napa? Long story short, another "Oh boy, here we go" moment, culminating in the purchase of a cattle ranch on Old Lawley Toll Road where, yes, old man Lawley used to collect toll from carriages. But he also provided refreshment in a bar inside his barn.
The barn's still standing, refreshments now being served in a handsome new redwood winery. Dale Bleecher's son Nick, who, when we was a young sprout, liked to sleep under the vines while his older sisters did their mandatory summer work in the vineyards (his family likes to tease him about it today) eventually woke up from his nap and earned a winemaking degree from UC Davis. Nick and high school sweetheart Tara Katrina Hole, who tagged along when the family returned to Calistoga, run the hospitality angle—which includes an ATV tour up and down the steep vineyard terraces—with the unaffected enthusiasm of young folks who've lucked into a dream job.
The Polaris cup holders are perfectly sized for a glass of 2011 Sauvignon Blanc ($30). Lychee fruit, melon, a nice middle—this is not a swirl-and-spit situation, so down it does. Likewise, the 2009 Jericho Creek Cabernet Sauvignon ($55). With a dusting of anise and leather, but plush, black cherry fruit, this and the 2009 Jericho Estate ($90) are not your overblown "mountain Cab" monsters, they're fun to drink, and have some class.
The wine, the landscape, the buzzards lazily gliding on thermals: it's a coffee-table-book-perfect scene. But much of the vineyard is under contract, custom crush helps to pay the bills in the winery, and visitors roll in almost daily. This little corner of paradise is a real place, too, so it's back to work for the Bleechers.
Jericho Canyon Vineyard, 3322 Old Lawley Toll Road, Calistoga. Tour and tasting by appointment only, $30. 707.942.9665.