Visiting Dutch Henry Winery in Calistoga brings me to another dimension of wine tasting trip in Wine Country. It’s delightful to experience a relaxed, chill vibe while enjoying bold wine flavors. Photos by Christian Hadidjaja.
When I moved to the Bay Area in 2008, it did not take long to realize that weekend trips to wine county is one of the most favorite passtime for locals. I enjoy wine, thanks to my study abroad semester in Paris the year prior, but green tea is my drink of choice (genmaicha to be exact). For me, alcoholic beverages are reserved for social sessions with friends.
My trips to Sonoma or Napa have been done with friends. Wine tasting hops at three different wineries left me tipsy one time. It ended with me talking loudly while giving a male friend some styling feedback at a J. Crew outlet in Napa. It’s hilarious, but not pretty. Needless to say, Chris and I are usually not in the mood of driving to the wine county with just the two of us.
So when I got an opportunity to visit Dutch Henry Winery in Calistoga last month, I was reluctant at first. Calistoga is two hours away from our place, and I was not sure we would be able to enjoy the experience fully. But a quick look at Trip Advisor and Yelp convinced me; Dutch Henry’s wine cave and Argos (Bourdeaux blend) variety wine. Plus, we’d get to meet the owner-winemaker Scott Chafen and learn more about the winery. Let’s go!
The drive up to Dutch Henry Winery (4310 Silverado Trail, Calistoga, CA 94515) was pleasant that Saturday. The weather and the scenes were super gorgeous, so two hours passed by fairly quickly. The winery is easily accessed from the main road, and upon entering the premise, it immediately felt very different from other wineries I’ve been to. The manic tourist pace and full-house restless crowd were thankfully nowhere to be found. On the contrary, the vibe was intimate, precious, quaint, surprisingly and delightfully…chill!
Shortly after taking a quick tour of the tasting room’s interior, Scott Chafen approached us to introduce himself and offer us wine. Almost immediately, I got a glass of Pinot Noir on my hand and our chatting began.
The Bay Area native was a really great company; laid back, humble, generous, and really knowledgeable and passionate about the work done in Dutch Henry. Scott clearly loves what he’s doing; from the day-to-day operations to creative winemaking process. His warm hospitality is reflected on the overall atmosphere of Dutch Henry. No matter if you’re walk-in visitors or part of a bigger tour group (like Platypus), Scott and his staff always want to ensure your good experience.
As we’re making our way to the famous Dutch Henry wine cave, he shared the history of the estate. The estate produces 3,000+ cases of handcrafted wines annually, sourced from different vineyards in St. Helena, Sonoma Coast, and Rutherford in addition to the Calistoga vineyard. We got to see some tiny baby grapes at the Calistoga vineyard that day!
The curved walkway leading to the door reminded me of a Hobbit’s dwelling, and apparently that’s what Scott was going for too, when he had the cave built. As we entered the cave, we were welcomed by the cave’s amazing acoustic quality. Scott has a music playlist on, and apparently one small speaker is enough for the whole dome-like cave.
The 4,500 sq. ft. cave, completed in 2008 by family friend Vincent Georges, was made to ensure consistency of Dutch Henry wine quality. The temperature and humidity are pretty much constant throughout the year. The temperature outside was 80F that day, yet it was a cool 66F inside the cave. Scott and his family are serious about saving energy, organic farming practices, and reducing carbon footprint in winemaking process.
In addition, there is also a dining room for private tastings and gatherings. The reserve wine bottles are here too, waiting to be consumed for that special occasions. From time to time, they invite musicians and bands to play in this dining room while the guests enjoy food and drinks. That sounds really cozy, in my opinion.
The more we explored the cave, the more we loved it. I cannot help but suggesting Scott to hold some intimate runway show at this cool setting, and he seemed to genuinely consider the idea. (Guest seatings would be nearly impossible though, and photographers would struggle in low-light setting.) As we continued to chat, Scott poured me some “young” Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon from the barrels. As they continue to mature, the barrel tastings are necessary to see when they’re ready.
Emerging from the cave gave our eyes a temporary shock, but thank goodness we had our sunglasses handy. Going back to the tasting room, Scott had me try the “Argos” blend. It was a strong flavor, and I was surprised to taste its boldness. Scott noted the taste was already ‘over the edge,’ which some customers really like. As for me, my favorites are the 2010 Pinot Noir, 2007 Terrier Station Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2013 Chardonnay. The Argos blend was a little too much for me to handle.
Scott generously provided our boxed lunches of turkey and roast beef sandwiches, and I opted to do a glass of Pinot Noir. Chris and I went to the picnic area (we skipped the bocce ball courts), just across the tasting room to enjoy the weather and atmosphere. It would’ve been so peaceful if not for the bossy rooster. He kept crowing at anybody who came too close to his hens. At one point we just had to come closer to take a picture or two. Attitude aside, he proved to be a much easier model than Scott’s cat and Airedale terriers.
Before we left, we just had to take several snaps at the vineyard. Scott joined us for a couple of shots, and the visit was concluded with beautiful photos and several bottles of wine I purchased for my friends. What a beautiful Saturday; we were so glad we get to experience this kind of wine tasting!
We are truly grateful to Scott Chafen’s generous hospitality during our Dutch Henry Winery visit, and special thanks to John Tiffany for making this possible. It’s such a pleasure discovering Dutch Henry and enjoying the perfect spring weather at the perfect place. I certainly recommend this place for relaxed, unpretentious wine tasting experience, as well as small parties and special occasions!
Thanks for reading; until next time,
Photos by Christian Hadidjaja