By Alexa Chipman December 1, 2017
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary dinner.
Beringer Vineyards is a charming Victorian estate of sparkling fountains, Gothic inspired “gingerbread” 1880s buildings, and tree draped pathways that meander through cottage gardens and a miniature geometric hedge maze. Relax on countless benches and tables set throughout the grounds with views of vines and bright purple flowers. Check in at the stone gatehouse for orientation, or go straight to the building you are interested in.
Beringer’s Old Winery is set up the hillside, where the $25 light bodied wines can be enjoyed with a cheese plate or à la carte nuts and olives. They have small café style sandwiches available in a refrigerator by the door. Tours begin at the front, moving through a history of their winemakers and venturing into the wine caves, which are 1,200 linear feet chiseled into the mountain. Inside are long corridors and several private dining rooms, one of which is behind iron gates which used to be locked when the caverns were in use for wine storage. The crumbling volcanic rock has been sprayed with gunite for safety reasons, giving them a concrete look.
For the $40 single vineyard and full bodied wine flight, or higher end options such as vertical and AVA tastings, walk left from the guest lot toward the impressive Rhine House, completed in 1884, which was the family residence until being converted into a tasting room. Upstairs bedrooms are now used as comfortable parlors for the more expensive tastings, such as the Howell Mountain AVA Varietal. They often include cheese platters, and feature intriguing displays of soil from the region.
I had a tour of each room during the Wine Blogger’s Conference, and it was like being led through Professor Kirke’s house in The Chronicles of Narnia; I kept waiting for a magical wardrobe to appear! The Rhine House architecture is influenced by German designs, but it reminds me of Oxford’s finest colleges, with ornate woodwork and intricate stained glass. If you believe in ghost stories, rumor has it that odd occurrences take place in the house—doors closing without a draft, objects seem to move, and the staff commented that it can get eerie late at night!
Both tasting rooms offer gift shops with fun vintage accessories, like snow globes and 1920s hats. The Indiana Jones fedoras are a popular choice, although there is no particular connection with the winery: people just love to buy them!
Beringer has come full circle in the last few years; the family sold the property to Nestle due to issues with inheritance taxes, and it is currently held by Treasury Wine Estates, but the current winemaker is family member Mark Beringer. The winery has weathered crisis years such as Prohibition, when they managed to sell sacramental wine, and has been in continuous operation since 1876.
Mark Beringer is fond of blends, which taste delicious, but can be confusing to navigate. Don’t hesitate to ask tasting room staff to help you figure out which wine is what. For example, the “3 Acre Red Blend” is basically Sangiovese. Let them know what kinds of wine you like, and they can point you in the right direction.
2016 Riesling (Napa Valley)
Roasted apricots with a honey glaze and squeeze of fresh orange make up this lovely somewhat dry Riesling.
2014 Sangiovese (3 Acre, Knight’s Valley)
Crisp, bright berry flavors and intense cranberry juice layer over notes of stewed plum and pepper for a diverting wine.
2015 Zinfandel (Red Hills, Lake County)
Stacked on a tannic architecture is a balanced range of raspberry, herbal, and earthy flavors.
2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)
Relax in a leather chair watching the fireplace, enjoying an infusion of blueberries, tart blackberry and walnut. This velvet, easily drinkable cabernet is sourced from St. Helena near where Mark Beringer grew up, using valley and mountain grapes.
2014 Knight’s Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Moist and chewy, it has echos of tawny port characteristics, with syrupy caramel and licorice while maintaining fruit flavors. Of the wines I tasted, this is the one I would bring home to age and open for a special occasion.
2014 Quantum Red Wine (Napa Valley)
No, it’s not the next James Bond film—this saucy wine of tart boysenberry, all-spice, plum jam and dash of roasted nuts has a tannic punch to it with complexity of berries and spices.