Winery Visit: O’Brien Estate

We travel to the Napa Valley at least six times per year, so I’m always looking for new wineries to explore. I asked around about O’Brien and not many folks in the Valley seemed to know a lot about the place, only that they have a “gimmick” of printing love poems on their bottles. I am so very happy that I decided to visit!

O’Brien is as laid back as it gets. This is what Napa used to be like years and years ago, before all of the big, splashy and showy wineries opened up their fancy-pants and exclusive tasting rooms. It’s not that I don’t enjoy those stunning tasting rooms, but there’s something so comforting and relaxing about enjoying a leisurely wine tasting on the back porch of someone’s home — literally.

Jason was our host and he was very professional. This isn’t the place if you want or need to have your hand held when tasting wines. Jason talked to us briefly about each wine and left it up to us to taste and make our own conclusions. I really like this approach. That shows me it’s a place for serious wine lovers. It was a cool, casual conversational experience and it felt like we were a group of old friends just hanging out and talking about wine and food. I mentioned that it was my birthday (which it actually was) and Jason put a little surprise winery logo gift in our wine box with all the vino that we purchased. That was such a nice touch and very much appreciated!

More bonus points were scored for the cute little tray of nibbles (a large portion of raw almonds, crackers and tasty cheese) to go with our wines, fresh wildflowers on the table, and a friendly winery cat who plopped down on our table to check us out. Yes, we ARE cat people, thank you very much!

The wines are pretty great all around. I’m very, very picky about wine but these are some rich, velvety, fruity, big reds. If you are a fan of that type of Napa cab, you need to try this place. To give you an idea of my palate, the wines I typically drink (and the wines that dominate most of my cellar) are made by Paradigm, Plumpjack, Odette, HALL, Groth, Harlan, Mi Sueno, Mending Wall, and Beringer (the reserve single vineyard cabs, not the mass-produced junk). Do you enjoy big reds like that? Then O’Brien is your place.

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What surprised me most about my visit is that I was blown away by the Merlot, a varietal that I like but one that I rarely drink (I’m a Cab Sauv and Cab Franc kind of girl). I had read about how great the O’Brien Merlot was and it truly is a spectacular wine, especially for the below $60 price point. It drinks like a bold Cabernet Sauvignon and is an excellent value. It was obvious to us after the first sip of that bad boy that we’d be joining their wine club (since you can’t buy these wines anywhere else but at the winery).

As with most wineries in Napa these days, you should expect anywhere from a medium to hard sell to join the wine club. I’d say it was a medium sell here, but Jason didn’t have to try too hard since we’d already made up our minds early on. But he didn’t know that, so we let him pitch us anyway.

What was really interesting to me is that during our first visit, and although we signed up for the wine club, the hosts were more than a little hesitant to pour any of their reserve wines for us to taste, saying that they didn’t “want to overwhelm” us. Fair enough, but that felt a little bit strange, especially since (I thought) it was obvious that we are tasters, collectors and connoisseurs, not folks looking to get drunk or take advantage of the complimentary tastings that we received as a perk of signing up for the club. We were pouring / dumping during our tasting, and I found this a little bit strange. Not a criticism, just an observation. Eventually we talked our way into a taste of the 2013 Reserve Merlot and it was great. I’m guessing the wines are in very limited supply or weren’t open the day of my visit.

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Even if you don’t become a club member, this is a very nice tasting. Bart, the winery owner, even personally stopped by to welcome us and chat for a bit. I like to savor and relax while tasting so I was super appreciative of the unhurried pacing. Allow at least 90 minutes to two hours (if that sounds too long to you or if you are a power taster, don’t bother). It’s difficult to get an appointment because the winery is quite exclusive and doesn’t have a ton of space to host lots of folks, so be sure to request one early and in advance online. Don’t just show up at the winery! It’s not that kind of place! We were happy to snag a 10 am appointment on a Sunday morning.

These are some terrific wines and it’s a rather nice tasting experience.

Note: We fully paid for our wine tasting experience at this venue, it was not comped.

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