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09.12.07

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Black Stallion Winery

Napa's newest "retail destination" winery is packed and showy, but dang if the wine's not great.

By James Knight


Napa Valley's newest winery is a short trot north of Napa on the Silverado Trail. Its stonework facade is reminiscent of Old California, olive trees line the drive, parking is amply provided and the entrance is framed with palm trees that have stately stood for the past several months, at least. Inside, guests may warm themselves by the massive fireplace or commiserate in the wine-club room, where members can look out windows at the rest of us.

The wraparound tasting bar, in the midst of the high-ceilinged hall, can host dozens at a time. The highlight, of course, is visible from the road, bookended by great wooden cellar doors: a striking statue of a black stallion rearing up on its hind legs, nose pointed skyward, its mane crackling electrically, its hindquarters, round as grapes, thrust in the general direction of Rutherford.

In Napa, if you build it, they will come. This place isn't even on Napa's most well-traveled road, but already tourists are decanting in droves from cars and limousines. Their kids run laps around the tasting bar, tugging on parents' sleeves, demanding that things be bought. On a recent holiday weekend, the staff was too preoccupied to be especially attentive, but for a winery with a production of only 3,200 cases, its instant popularity is puzzling. (Perhaps it appeals to everyone who never had a pony. Personally, I came because the press release promised a "petting vineyard.")

In times past, the property was the site of the Silverado Horseman's Center. Hence, the theme. It's owned by a pair of Midwest liquor-distribution barons who hired a capable winemaker and envision it to be a retail-destination winery.

Black Stallion's Napa Valley wines (produced offsite for now) are quite good. A whiff of the 2004 Sauvignon Blanc ($18) suggested white peach and honeydew melon. It hits the palate full and round, leaving a bit astringent. The 2004 Carneros Chardonnay ($26) has a nutty pecan-pie aroma, is sweet and full and light on the butter, and flinty or steely toward the finish line. The 2005 "Painted Pony" Rosť ($18) is an extracted style, a dry, chewy pink wine, and I won't argue with their own notes concerning the "hibiscus blossom and rose petal."

The 2004 Syrah ($36) has appealing, sweet aromas of caramelized oak, raspberry drizzle and vodka, with a curious plasticity on the lips. The 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($45) has a complex aroma of red leather, cassis and county fair, supple on the tongue while having a sturdy tannic bite.

We purchased a bottle of the Pinot Grigio ($22). The tasting fee is understood in light of the crush of visitors and the small production. But the practice not to apply the fee ($20 for two) toward a wine purchase is shocking for us Sonoma folk, something akin to selling horsemeat. However, inquiring about the usual tasting-fee waiver and announcing our status as locals produced a fee waiver by our thoughtful if overwhelmed host. Try your luck, and remember--you didn't hear it from this horse's mouth.



Black Stallion Winery

Address: 4089 Silverado Trail, Napa

Phone: 707.253.1400

Hours: Open daily 10am to 5pm. Tasting fee $10, four tastes


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