As we drove up to the ornate metal gates that guarded the entrance to the winery, it was only natural to feel like something special was about to happen. That was certainly the feeling as we approached the A Rafanelli Winery for a private tasting. I must remember to hold the glass with my pinkie out!
We were mid-way through a day of wine tasting with Cliff and Katie, founders of the Hella Wine blog. After tasting at Rochioli and Porter Creek, we were grateful that Cliff had arranged a private tasting at A Rafanelli. We had driven past the winery before, but had never put together a schedule tight enough to allow an advance reservation. Thanks, Cliff and Katie, for making this happen!
Cliff did something mysterious at the gate box, and the gates swung back, admitting us onto the grounds, free of any riff-raff tasters without reservations. We drove up the winding driveway and parked by the flowers and grapevines. The previous tasting party was just filing out,so we knew it was our turn!
The exterior of the winery was visual feast! Flowers everywhere, with whimsical decorations along the front. Everything came together to give us a feeling of tranquility and reinforced the idea that these folks can grow anything!
|Natalie and Rick|
We entered the winery and met Natalie and Rick, our wine guides for the day. As we settled in, we learned a bit about the history of the winery. Back in 1911, Alberto Rafanelli founded the winery at a location that is now a high school. Alberto’s son Americo moved the winery to its current location in the 1950s. The family tradition of wine making continued to current day, with Shelly making the wine and sister Stacy running the business.
|Katie and Cliff take it all in|
We sat at a table nested in among the wine barrels and prepared ourselves for our tasting. We started with their 2013 Zinfandel, a spirited and flavorful representation of the Zinfandel grape. One taste in and we’re already building our purchase list. We moved on to their 2012 Merlot, made with 19% Cabernet Sauvignon. We appreciated the hay and leather nose and the smooth layers of fruit on the palate.
We next tasted their 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (possibly the same wine that was blended with the Merlot?). Rick told us that this Merlot is unfiltered. Instead, it was racked (siphoned from barrel to barrel) a total of five times. The resulting wine was fantastically mellow, with smoke and leather on the nose and balanced tannins on the finish.
As we completed our tasting, we learned that we were the last group scheduled for the day. Natalie and Rick needed to close up and turn off all of the lights, and they invited us to join them in the wine making area. Sure, why not? This was an exciting add-on to an already fun tasting.
The work area was chock-full of grape bins, with all the great aromas associated with harvest. A quick look around revealed everything the modern wine maker could need to produce top quality wine in volume. We were immediately intrigued, though, by what we spotted in the distance: a cave!
Yes, the A Rafanelli Winery includes cave tunnels painstakingly carved into the hillside. We entered the tunnel, immediately feeling the temperature drop to a lovely mid-60s level. As we walked, we learned a few things. First, there are A LOT of barrels in the cave, turning grape juice into fine wine. Second, the Rafanelli family really enjoys Halloween! The tunnels were already decorated in full Halloween regalia, with fun vignettes around every corner.
Eventually, though, all of the lights were extinguished and we were out of excuses to dawdle. We returned to the tasting room, purchased our wine and said goodbye and thank you to Natalie and Rick. We drove away, enjoying the closing gates in our rear-view mirror. A truly remarkable tasting experience!
About the Author: John grills a mean steak and is always in the market for another wine fridge. Believes that if a winery has more than 10 employees, it's probably too big. Buys wine faster than he drinks it, but who cares?