Review: Hall Wines – Saint Helena, CA

Official Review by The Traveling Winers

Craig & Kathryn Hall

Hall Winery is anything but ordinary. This posh winery, located in St. Helena, California, was co-founded by Craig Hall and Kathryn Walt Hall, both of whom have acquired quite the list of achievements in their lifetimes.  Craig, a life-long entrepreneur, investor and art collector, has traveled the world, authored five books, founded and is currently Chairman of Hall Financial Group, and once co-owned the Dallas Cowboys. We would say that he has just been a tad busy! And Kathryn, not to be out-done, has her own list of accomplishments from practicing law as a licensed attorney to serving as the United States Ambassador to Austria to being actively involved in community programs to help the mentally challenged and battered women. So the obvious question may be “Where does wine fit into this picture?” Well, fit it does. Kathyrn’s family has been in the grape growing industry since the 1970’s, and from 1982 – 1992, she and her brother ran the family business selling their grapes to other wineries and also producing two varietals sold under the label of Walt Vineyards. When the Hall’s stint of living abroad in Austria came to an end in 2001, Kathyrn wanted to return to her passion in the wine industry, and Craig, being the neverending entrepreneur, stood right by her side.

Hall Winery is born

The Hall’s purchased the St. Helena property in 2003 and opened the winery in 2013. Yes, ten years does seem like a long time, but you really have to read their book “The Perfect Score” to get all the interesting and juicy details! It is quite a good read!

The original stone building was constructed in 1873 and has changed hands many times over the years. Although we are unsure who owned the building originally, we do know from the book that in 1910 it was purchased for a whopping $10 by Theodore Gier who quickly found himself in jail for violating Prohibition. It was then sold to another unknown party, but then in 1933 was leased to grape grower Charles Forni. Having a gut feeling that Prohibition would end soon and refusing to accept the paltry offer of $7 a ton for his grapes, Charles decided to lease the property and start a cooperative winery for all those grape growers to have a place to sell their crop. Just one year later, with 142 member growers, the winery was renamed to the Napa Valley Cooperative Winery or Napa Valley Co-op. It only took three years for the Co-op to become the largest winery in Napa Valley. Such large quantities of quality wine were being produced that it caught the attention of Ernest and Julio Gallo, who entered into a contract with the Co-op in 1950 and continued to buy all of the Co-op wine from 1952 – 1994. In 1994, the winery changed hands again to the new owner Golden State Vintners producing under the name Edgewood Winery. It remained with this owner until the Hall’s purchased it in 2003.

The Hall’s state in the book that “One thing had been clear from the start: We wanted our winery to be more than just a production facility. We wanted it to reflect our passion for nature, art, and architecture.” And we are here to attest that they accomplished this goal. As we stated at the beginning, this winery is anything but ordinary. Craig and Kathryn have taken some of their most treasured pieces of art and displayed them carefully throughout the property grounds and winery building. Kathryn also adds her sense of humor to many of the pieces with a little quick note to admirers, reminding them to appreciate the beauty..from afar.

“Sanna” by Jaume Plensa

“Camel Contemplating Needle” by John Baldessari; Kathryn’s note: “We don’t offer any camel rides on Feb. 28th of odd years.” Translated as “Please stay off the camel.”

“Bunny Foo Foo” by Lawrence Argent; photo courtesy of Hall Wines; Kathryn’s sign: “Man-eating rabbit (just kidding).”

Winery descriptor…Posh!

The grounds – immaculately manicured lawns with comfortable seating to sit back and enjoy the carefully placed art sculptures and the surrounding vineyards framed by a mountain range so close you could almost reach out and touch it. There is even a section that is reserved only for those willing to pay for an upgraded experience, one they call a “Cabana Cabernet Experience”. At the time of this writing, the cost was $40 per person which allows you to relax in their comfortable lounge area and have “bottle service” (additional charge) at your table.

Members, of course, are waived the fee.

Refreshments – Food is not available for purchase at the winery, but may be brought in and consumed on the premises with a couple of caveats. First, it must be eaten in an outdoor picnic-type area (quite nicely decorated, by the way) which is outside of the tasting room with a beautiful view of the vineyards and surrounding mountains. Second, you must be a member. Once again, the benefits of club membership. 

Photo courtesy of Hall Vineyards

Tasting room – You just have to see it! Glass, windows, views, art….simply classy.

Tasting experiences – They have catered to offering something for everyone, all depending on your interest and your budget. A standard wine tasting starts at $40. From there you can choose from Wine Tasting 101 which teaches you the basics of wine tasting and how to read a label ($40), a Sunset Cruise which includes a tasting paired with artisan cheeses at sunset beside the “Ocean View Terrace” ($50), A Taste of Hall including a seasonal cooking class and wine pairing ($125), or the Platinum Experience which includes a private tour and tasting of their Platinum Collection and a skillful food pairing ($250). It’s simple. It’s elegant. It’s personalized.

Posh…need we say more!

Their wines

Due to the nature of our tasting being with a small group where conversations and questions flowed quickly, we were unable to take tasting notes with the exception of one particular wine. But have no fear because, in this case, the fun is in the stories of the labels.

2013 HALL “Ellie’s” Cabernet Sauvignon – (90 points Wine Spectator; $80) “Ellie” is Craig Hall’s mother, real name Eleanor, and she has a story of her own for this wine label. During World War II, Eleanor was a celestial navigator and later in life she was an art teacher. Ellie sketched the drawing that appears on this label. If you look closely you will see that the Owl’s eyes are really a compass. Aromas: cassis, blackberry, black olive, violet, earth, cinnamon, clove, caramel; Palate: earthy tones and chocolate.

2013 HALL “Jack’s Masterpiece” Cabernet Sauvignon – (96-98 points Wine Advocate; $125) So who is Jack? At the time of this drawing, Jack was the 18 month-old son of then winemaker, now President of Hall Wines, Mike Reynolds. Jack, apparently a creative child, drew this “masterpiece” for his father on Father’s Day. Aromas: blackberry, marionberry, campfire aromas; Palate: rich and dense dark fruit.

2014 WALT “Bob’s Ranch” Russian River Valley Chardonnay – ($65) No story here, but just a darn good Chardonnay! Aroma: earth, truffle and forest floor; Palate: Bold, ripe and concentrated red fruits.

2014 WALT “Rita’s Crown” Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir – ($75) No story here, or at least none passed on to us during our tasting, but this turned out to be our favorite of the bunch. The bright, juicy red fruit was right up front with many layers around every bend, medium tannins as you would expect with a Pinot Noir, and a beautiful lingering finish that left a whisper on the palate. Palate: chalky, minerality, bright red fruit.

Tom Joe
“Hops ‘r Better” Winer

Immaculate grounds, immaculate artwork, immaculate facilities. A place for the discerning eye and palate.  A lot of care and attention has gone into this winery and it definitely shows. I am bummed that I did not see the dove!

Elizabeth
“Hippie” Winer

Shared the 2014 Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir with our traveling buddies.  I found it to be fruity with a slight oakiness that teased the palate.  Easily as good as the wines I drank in Lodi when we were there.

Miki
“This Is The Life” Winer

Some really beautiful wines, scenery and art here at Hall Wines. While on your walk-about, be on the watch for Kathryn’s cute little signs by the art displays. Quite a sense of humor she has!

Brian
“Timeless” Winer

The 2014 Rita’s Crown Pinot Noir was excellent.  It fit perfectly with the four of us sitting at the table and telling tales of our last trip to California.  The color was great, the nose VERY nice.  A shame we only had the one bottle.

Photos

            

The Winer’s Experience

AMBIANCE GROUNDS & SCENERY TASTING ROOM
A very upscale and modern feel throughout the buildings and grounds. This would be a great opportunity to put on that nice sundress or pair of khakis and avail of the photo ops. Perfection is the word that comes to mind. A gorgeous, large patio area complete with cabana bottle service if you choose to purchase, and an amazing infinity pool to enjoy while sipping your glass of wine. Artwork sprinkled throughout. Very modern, complete with art for your visual pleasure. Plenty of space for multiple groups, as well as a balcony area to escape and take in the view of the vineyards and Mayacamas Mountains.
WINE TASTING EXPERIENCE CUSTOMER SERVICE TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE
They offer the standard tasting ($40) at the bar as well as several other second-tier tasting opportunities such as The Ultimate Cabernet Experience ($125) All the staff are very well versed in the Hall story and are quite skilled at delivering the Hall experience. Our wine educator was Jennifer, a newbie at Hall Wines of only 4 months at the time of our visit. Jennifer did a wonderful job at giving us all the details of the Hall story and the artwork scattered throughout the facility.

Vineyard & Winery Information

WINERY NAME ADDRESS
 Hall Wines 401 St. Helena Highway, St. Helena, CA
HOURS
 Daily: 10 am – 5:30 pm
EMAIL WEBSITE TELEPHONE
Contact form on website http://www.hallwines.com/ (707) 967-2626
MUSIC WINE CLUB TASTING FEE
 Check calendar – many activities in addition to music Yes  $40
TOURS FOOD OTHER
Yes, $40  No, but IF you are a club member you can bring your own and picnic in their club area. They have many experiences to choose from (i.e., Wine & Art Exploration, A Taste of Hall, Platinum Experience) – check website for details.

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