Unlike storied Freemark Abbey (read our visit: here), Raymond Vineyard opened with the Napa bandwagon of upstarts in 1970. Roy Raymond did begin by marrying into and working for Beringer in the 1930s. Since then, five generations of Raymonds had created elegant serious Cabernet, Chardonnay, and dessert wines.
Although Freemark’s power-tasting nearly wiped us out, we had time before dinner. I sell Raymond, so we decided to visit them for more depth.
The winery campus looks odd and eclectic. Colored frames hang from fishwire. A small, winding, biodynamic garden full of wild plants and vines captures nature in “Acts” of soil, plants, etc. Oh, and it ends with a photo opp for your imperial dog:
Yes. That many-costumed dog is Frenchie: Jean-Claude Boisset’s French bulldog. The pup has these portraits on its own line of wines. Wait…so, what happened to Raymond?
In 2002 in France Boisset ratcheted his family’s Burgundy house from negociant into grower, owner, and importer from Italy to Napa. He married Gina Gallo (yes, that Gina Gallo). In 2009 he bought Raymond and could not help himself. Unlike the stuffy, stolid, historic castles in Napa, today, Raymond looks like something out of Moulin Rouge.
There are multiple “Experience Rooms”: a red room, soil room, blending room, crystal cellar, barrel cellar. They all have a different price and audience in mind. We have no idea where to start. We end up in their basic tasting room.
Video of Boisset swaggering and smirking throughout his mercurial estate plays on repeat. Bobble-heads of him and his dog wiggle on the shelf. The entry estate wines taste fine, safe, fruity, typical. This space is meant to be fun. Don’t think too much about the wine. Yet, surprisingly, our older tasting bar pourer “Cézanne” (clearly not a Cézanne) passed the Diploma Level WSET years ago: Napa evidently has a glut of talent.
Baccarat decanters line the walls of the “Crystal Room”. Pop music bounces between the stainless tanks. A red “Dance Floor” button awaits pushing on the wall. Cirque du Soleil projects above us, mimicked by manikins. Smart, red-shirt, young things pour at the bar.
Legacy leftovers of district-specific wines include usual, well made cab suspects from each Napa AVA (Rutherford, St Helena, et cetera). They taste typical, slick, if hotly alcoholic. The Chardonnay is hazy. But you do not come here for wine.
Red velvet ropes cut us off from long tables and private rooms. We could stay. We hear that an 1986 Cab from before all this was open somewhere. But Raymond is for the young and aspirational, wishing to purchase wine class without having to think about it. Oddly, there is little eclectic or fun about these fairly seriously made wines. The disconnect is real.
Feeling hungry and old, we head to dinner.
Although slightly moist today, Greystone is the Culinary Institute of America’s extension in Napa Valley. While living in Upstate New York, a jaunt down to Hyde Park’s CIA provided a great, inexpensive, treat into cutting edge food made by ambitious student chefs.
Only those East Coast chefs get to work at Greystone’s Conservatory Restaurant. Here they learn to create menus based solely on seasonal, farm to table, options. We sit for seven, fixed courses with wine pairings. But, happy with wine today (and the list is mainly Sonoma-based), we opt for cocktails.
Japanese whiskey is delicious! The mocktail: tart, fruity magic.
Finely tuned, carrot-themed, complex, small plates build upon each other. The student staff seem nervous but energetic. Dishes range from a deconstructed Greek Gyro to savory Asian noodles.
The chile seared Ahi Tuna has beautiful outer crunch and pillowy core resting on kale and black rice risotto.
AA Cabernet infused Fois Gras medallion sneaks its way onto a peppery arugula salad. The main course Poisson breast and leg tastes stellar.
After a warm, bitter Teasan, desert is deliciously balanced between a dark chocolate cabernet base, lifted beet sorbet, and carrot-persimmon soup.
They even send us home with a Morning Glory carrot muffin!
Stay tuned as our Napa tour continues through the week!