Wine Country’s international tapestry weaves a melting pot of flavors and experiences to savor.
Dana Estates // ERHARD PHEIFFER PHOTOGRAPHY
It is not uncommon to see wineries flying the Stars and Stripes side by side with French or Italian flags. But look closely, and you’ll also find nods to countries like Hungary, China, and Iran. The allure of winemaking draws characters from far and wide, and international proprietors infuse their heritage into their brands and tasting experiences (no passport required).
Cliff Lede Vineyards stays grounded in northern roots.
A builder by profession, Cliff Lede began his wine journey to Napa Valley in Edmonton, Canada, where he developed an affinity for the grape while making wine with his mother in the family’s basement.
As an adult, he became an avid collector of Bordeaux and purchased vineyards in the Stags Leap District to make his own Bordeaux-style wines under the Cliff Lede label.
“The wine business is an international exchange of ideas,” Lede says. “While we have had harvest interns from several countries, we have an important ambassador in master sommelier Jennifer Huether. From her home in Toronto, she introduces Cliff Lede wines to restaurants and collectors across Canada.”
Open daily. Cliff Lede Vineyards, 1473 Yount-ville Cross Rd., Yountville, (800) 428-2259, cliffledevineyards.com.
NBA meets Cabernet at Yao Family Wines.
While sports celebrities turned vintners have made their mark in the valley (Mario Andretti, Tom Seaver), only one holds the distinction of carrying the Chinese flag into the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games. That credit belongs to Yao Ming, proprietor of Yao Family Wines.
Ming, a former NBA star, developed a love for Napa Valley wines while playing on the road with the Houston Rockets. After retiring from the game, Ming debuted Yao Family Wines in 2011 and couldn’t wait to introduce Napa wine to China and share the fruits of his passion.
“To me, wine and food invoke a feeling of friends and family coming together,” says Ming. The bottles’ labels feature an illustration of Napa Valley by artist Chuck House that reflects Ming’s heritage with the ancient Chinese character for Yao.
Yao Family Wines is not open for visits. (707) 968-7470, yaofamilywines.com.
The architecture and wines of Darioush leave a lasting impression.
Darioush, affectionately known as “the Persian Palace,” is one of Napa Valley’s most iconic winery buildings. The yellow stone exteriors were quarried near Iran’s Persepolis region, the ancient capital of Persia. Owner Darioush Khaledi, who grew up in Shiraz, Iran, left the country for a new life in Southern California, where he owns a successful grocery business.
In 2004, he opened his winery just south of Yountville as a temple of Persian hospitality. From the architecture to the bowls of pistachios at the tasting bar—a customary offering in Persian homes—Darioush celebrates the Khaledi family’s origin, and their warm spirit shines in the experiences they offer. Don’t miss the tasting in Darioush’s private cellar, featuring his own Bordeaux collection along with winery favorites.
Open daily. Darioush, 4240 Silverado Trail, Napa, (707) 257-2345, darioush.com.
Eau de France
Aromas abound from Morlet Family Vineyards’ blends.
Luc Morlet is a fourth-generation winemaker whose family grew grapes in Champagne, France. He started in the trade plowing fields at age 13 and later worked in Bordeaux, before moving to Napa Valley in 1996, where he met his wife, Jodie.
While he crafts wines for several Napa Valley wineries, his own label, Morlet Family Vineyards, best expresses his French roots.
Also a fragrance fan, Morlet blended a perfume at the Galimard perfume house in Grasse, France, the perfume capital of the world. That custom-made scent inspired his La Proportion Dorée blend, an aromatic combination of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle.
The winery’s logo, which represents blending old- and new-world wine-making techniques, is based on a 19th century French sculpture, L’Harmonie, which sits on the fireplace mantel in Morlet’s home.
Visits by appointment. Morlet Family Vineyards, 2825 St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena, (707) 967-8690, morletwine.com.
Palmaz Vineyards stakes its multistoried claim.
The winery experience at Palmaz Vineyards is inspired by the best of Argentinean accommodations. The Palmaz Vineyards Brasas wine club hosts an annual asado event, where it treats members to a traditional Argentinean barbecue. Needing the perfect wine to pair with the feast, the Buenos Aires–born owners created a special blend of malbec, Argentina’s signature grape, to make the celebration truly authentic.
The Palmaz winery is completely underground—wine-making equipment, caves, and all—the equivalent of an 18-story building. This gravity-flow structure is the innovation of the owners, Julio Palmaz, M.D., and his wife, Amalia.
No stranger to invention, Julio is best known for co-developing the coronary Palmaz-Schatz stent, which earned him entry into the Inventors Hall of Fame, as well as his collection of vintage Porsche race cars.
Visits by appointment. Palmaz Vineyards, 4029 Hagen Rd., Napa, (707) 226-5587, palmazvineyards.com.
Dalla Valle Vineyards substitutes sake for Sauvignon.
When Naoko Dalla Valle and her late husband, Gustavo, arrived in Napa in 1982, the plan was to build a world-class restaurant and spa. But after acquiring an exceptional hillside in Oakville, they decided to hire the best in the business, plant vines, and build a wine label instead. Given Gustav’s family of winemakers in Italy, it was a natural alternative.
Though her ancestors mastered sake, Naoko, who grew up in Kobe, Japan is considered to be one of the grande dames of the region, often lauded along the likes of Ann Colgin and Delia Viader.
Naoko’s Japanese heritage is evident in the name for her premiere bottling, Maya, named for her daughter, which derives from Lady Maya, the mother of Buddha, and the Maya temple in Kobe.
Dalla Valle Vineyards is not open for visits. (707) 944-2676, dallavallevineyards.com.
Engineering the dream at Kapcsandy Family Winery.
Lou Kapcsandy’s journey to the Napa Valley is a most improbable one. He escaped his native Budapest, Hungary, in 1956, during the Hungarian Revolution, and arrived in America with no money and unable to speak a word of English.
Kapcsandy studied engineering, and eventually ran one of the largest industrial general contractors in the country. Upon retiring to pursue his hobby of collecting Bordeaux wines, he purchased a Yountville vineyard, which marked the beginning of Kapcsandy Family Winery.
From the coat of arms on the wine label paying homage to his native country to the Hungarian antiques that adorn the winery, Kapcsandy’s homeland is far but not forgotten.
“We try to reflect the long and illustrious wine-making history in Hungary in the Kapcsandy Family wines by using Hungarian barrels, in which about 10 percent of our red wines are aged. And that is meaningful to us,” he says.
Visits by appointment. Kapcsandy Family Winery, 1001 Star Ln., Yountville, (707) 948-3100, kapcsandywines.com.
The Spirit of South Korea
An importer realizes his lifelong dream with Dana Estates.
Dana Estates takes its name from the Sanskrit word for “the spirit of generosity.” It also happens to be the childhood nickname of owner Hi Sang Lee.
While working in South Korea importing California wines for enthusiasts, Lee dreamed of creating his own Napa Valley cult wine. His Dana Estates label turned this vision into reality and has a significant following in South Korea.
Through his venture, Lee says he is able to “share our good fortune,” through philanthropic activities such as Auction Napa Valley, where his lot sold twice, the second highest of the day at $1.02 million—a generous contribution to the Napa Valley nonprofit beneficiaries, to say the least.
Dana Estates is not open for visits. (707) 963-4365, danaestates.com.