I recently received an invitation to attend the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for Gary’s Wine and Marketplace at a familiar spot in St. Helena. When Dean and DeLuca was at this site, we occasionally would drop by to pick up some sandwiches and a bottle of wine for a picnic and were eager to see what founder-CEO Gary Fisch had in store (pun intended) for his first West Coast location.
When we arrived in late afternoon to the all-day event, the store was buzzing with activities that included food samples, live music, and, of course, wine pouring stations featuring winemaker Steve Matthiasson; winemaker and Orin Swift founder Dave Phinney; Paula Kornell Sparkling Wines and others.
Someone mentioned a pouring of an old vintage Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, and I immediately grabbed a glass. In the late 1960s, I was still trying to impress my then-girlfriend, now wife, with a bottle of Mateus Rosé from Portugal that later served as a holder for a drip candle. Today, at Gary’s, the opportunity to taste the wine that I should have been enjoying back then was here. The process of pouring a 1968 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon ($190-$300) was laborious. First, the bottle was opened and the cork was sniffed. Then, the wine was poured under a small light to manually filter out the sediment, tasted, then rejected or accepted. After an initial rejection, the second bottle was approved and I enjoyed a piece of Napa Valley history.
Fisch was obviously excited with the turnout and, as he greeted his guests, seemed to relish at being in the Napa Valley. He expressed his appreciation during the ribbon-cutting.
“We are so grateful and appreciative for all of the support,” he added. “I’ve been coming to the Napa Valley to visit for over 40 years now and seeing the turnout at our grand opening last week made me feel right at home. There truly is no place else like the Napa Valley and we are excited for our future here.”
Gary’s Wine and Marketplace, with four stores in the New York metropolitan area, and its fifth and newest Napa Valley location, emerged from a small wine shop in Madison, New Jersey that opened in the 1980s.
Although based on the East Coast, Gary, after an initial visit to Louis Martini decades ago, has remained actively involved in the Napa Valley and was joined at the event by Peter Mondavi from one of the valley’s iconic families, Kerrin Laz of LAZ Wines, founded in 2016. I wondered if I could find a bottle of the opulent LAZ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($165), a wine I tasted at the 2019 Inspire Napa Valley event.
We combed the shelves looking for recognizable fine wines and found many that piqued my interest.
Gary’s pinot noir section included the 2016 Bergstrom Cumberland Gap Reserve Pinot Noir ($80-$90) from the North Willamette Valley and a 2016 Seasmoke “Ten” Pinot Noir ($80-90), a highly regarded boutique winery from the Sta.Rita Hills AVA in Santa Barbara County. A vintage 2010 Seasmoke “Ten” Pinot Noir is one of the prized wines in my small cellar.
Bergstrom was also included in the fine chardonnay section, with the 2017 Bergstrom Chardonnay Old Stones Willamette ($46). Also notable were the 2017 Mayacamas Chardonnay Mt. Veeder ($53) and the 2017 Peter Michael Chardonnay Ma Belle Fille ($124), both among Napa Valley’s most impressive of the varietal.
The nook of classic wines in the far corner was fun to browse. It included the Colgin Napa Valley Syrah 2016 ($380), considered one of California’s top syrah, and the iconic 2016 Ridge Monte Bello ($225), whose 1971 vintage helped forge California’s global status at the 1976 Judgement of Paris.
Among European wines, there was a 2016 Ornellaia ($225-$250), a Super Tuscan from Bolgheri I had recently tasted; a 2010 Domaine Weinbach Pinot Gris Altenburg ($90-$125) from Alsace; and the crème de la crème, a 2013 Domaine Ponsot Montrachet ($2,100) from the heart of Burgundy. Le Montrachet is a mid-slope Grand Cru vineyard that, arguably, produces the finest chardonnay in the world. One can only dream.
Aside from scanning the wines, we took advantage of the day’s 20 percent discount by purchasing champagne peppercorn pâté, Monte Enebro and Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue from the cheese section, and extraordinary fig and berry macaroons. For those serious about food and wine or seeking out a deli lunch while visiting the Napa Valley, Gary’s Wine and Marketplace on St. Helena Highway is worth exploring.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email email@example.com