Yesterday afternoon we visited Starmont, a “new” winery in the Carneros region of the Napa Valley that I predict will become an instant hit due to its combination of location, ambience, and delicious affordable wines.
Although the building and property have been in place since the late 2000s, the winery did not open to the public for direct sales until late last month (July, 2015). It seems the economic crisis of 2008 hit just as the winery was getting ready to open, and it was too much of a hardship for the owners to go direct at the time. Instead, they focused on wine production for distribution, and also sold many of their grapes to their sister winery, Merryvale, located in St. Helena.
Now, with the wine economy in full gear again, the owners felt it was time to reach out to the direct market and open the winery to tours and tastings. While reservations are required for the daily estate hike and barrel tasting, no reservations are necessary if you just want to drop in, which is what we did, with our dachshund Sadie, late on a Saturday afternoon. (Yes, they are dog-friendly!)
Situated just to the south and west of the towering Butler Bridge off highway 29, the Starmont winery is located at the end of Stanly Lane, which is accessible from highway 121 off of 29. The modern visitor center is very open air, and is surrounded by a sea of vineyards. This cool climate gets some lovely afternoon breezes from the San Pablo Bay, making it a comfortable place to sit outside and sip their wines, as compared to the blistering heat you might find this time of year up valley.
Being Carneros, the winery produces wines that thrive in these cooler conditions. Along with the usual suspects of Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, they also produce several other wines, including a Merlot, a Cabernet (which I did not taste), a Viognier and a really nice Syrah, which is made in the Côte-Rôtie style (meaning that it has some Viognier blended in with the Syrah.)
Commensurate with the opening of the new tasting facility, Starmont has introduced two new label designs for its wines. The label with the S wrapped around a star is for their distribution wines, and the label without the S-star is for their Limited and Estate wines. Both labels still feature the distinctive shape of their building.
The 5 distribution wines, produced in large volumes, are referred to as “Starmont Signature Wines” and range in price from $19 to $29 retail. Yes, you read that right.
The “Limited and Estate Wines,” which are made in much smaller production lots and only available through the winery, range from $19 to $55. Yes, you also read that right. The tasty Syrah I mentioned above, for example, is only $45, but only 50 cases were produced.
Two tastings are available: The Starmont Carneros Tasting (four Signature/distribution wines and the Estate Pinot Noir for $20 a flight) and the Starmont Single Vineyard Tasting (Rosé, Viognier, Estate Chardonnay, Estate Pinot and Estate Syrah for $35 a flight). We had one of each so we could try all the wines. As a wine writer, they comped our tasting, although I tried to dissuade them from doing so. (I never want to feel obligated to write a nice review just because I was comped.) However, we ended up purchasing a case of wine anyway, so in the end the point was moot. I decided to write about the winery due to it being new, and a great alternative to many of the high-priced wineries in the valley.
A suggestion for those of you electing to visit is this: If you go as a group of 4 people, buy three different bottles of their wine (less than the cost of 4 tastings) and sit on the patio, soak in the breeze and the classic rock music playing on the speakers, and enjoy the Carneros experience! On the patio they even have couches and fire pits, which will be great as the weather gets cooler. They have lovely seating areas inside and outside, a laid-back vibe, and even Cornhole stations set up on the lawn. This is a great winery to visit as your last stop of the day due to its location at the south end of the Napa Valley and its proximity to the highway back to the bay area.