By James Knight
When Burgundy wine scion Jean-Charles Boisset bought De Loach Vineyards, he scarcely added a French accent to that name. With Buena Vista in the portfolio, he only plans to restore that historic cellar. But at Raymond Vineyards, a steady Napa Cab producer since the 1970s, he's gone all-out. A cursory glance at the grounds, the glitz and the choice of activities that comprise the "Raymond Vineyards Experience" might prompt observers to confirm that old saw about Napa being a "wine Disneyland." But no, that does not quite capture it at all. This is Jean-Charles Land.
An overgrown 1950s ranch house, Raymond looks sedate enough on the outside. The grounds have been transformed into a "Theater of Nature," where visitors may tour (with the aid of an iPod app) a demonstration biodynamic garden complete with herbs, vines, compost and animals. Chickens scratch around in their coop; goats thoughtfully munch hay.
Inside, a left turn leads to the conservative main tasting room, while a right turn leads to the "Corridor of the Senses," where a "pleasure pole" represents wine textures—velvet, fur, rubber—and a series of glass pots offer up a panoply of aromas. A wine library displays past vintages; wine seminars are held in the cool, gray Rutherford Room. Further on, the members-only Red Room is a dimly lit speakeasy decked out in red velvet, with leopard-print carpet. Out back, the surreal "outdoor living room" is furnished with white, Louis XV–style chairs.
Extravagant? We're not done yet. Beyond gold curtains, the JCB Room is outfitted with gold bricks, plush sofas and vintage Playboy magazines, while a replica stuffed leopard snarls in the corner. If this seems over-the-top, our host points out the faux gold-plated lamp in the shape of an AK-47. Ah-ha moment: Boisset's personal touch is not merely lavish; there's an abundant—if unironic and exuberant—sense of humor here.
Just want to taste some Napa Cab? Welcome to the Crystal Cellar. Down a stainless-steel-sheathed hallway, the bar is located within a tank room. Lit in red and blue, with mannequins camping on the catwalks, it's a clublike scene. Chandeliers and crystal doodads abound, and "everything here," our host explains, "is for sale as well." Over there, Boisset himself, wearing his trademarked gold smoking jacket, is leading a group in a song. After that, he bounds across the room to talk with a few ladies at the bar, ending their visit with an expansive gesture of his arms, declaring, "Life is but a moment of pleasure," or words to that effect—it sounds better with a French accent.
Raymond Vineyards, 849 Zinfandel Lane, St. Helena. Daily, 10am to 4pm. Tasting fees vary. 707.963.3141.
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