If you are on a quest for the ultimate wine-tasting experience, where you can sample three different styles of wine, each from a small-production elite label, you need to visit The Caves at Soda Canyon. On a recent, perfect afternoon, we were able to spend time sampling, enjoying, and being amazed by the wines of Hertelendy Vineyards, Husic Vineyards, and Innovatus, three Napa Valley superstars.
I have been fortunate to have known Ralph Hertelendy since the release of his initial 2013 vintage. At that time, his Cabernet Sauvignon received a 95 (Parker) score. One night, a few years later, we were together for dinner, and I congratulated Ralph on his scores and how he had already achieved a reputation for high-quality, exceptional wines in just a few years. I asked Ralph: What’s next? With a twinkle in his eyes, but a seriousness Ralph replied: “A Parker 100-point score.” Ralph has always strived towards perfection. And tasting Hertelendy wines you will understand why.
In addition to his estate vineyard, Ralph sources from other elite vineyards. Along with consulting winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus (of Chappellet and Titus Vineyards), Hertelendy produces a select line of Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, in addition to a Chardonnay that may just make you close your eyes as the liquid gold plays with your palate.
Ralph is a perfectionist, a dreamer, a creator, and as he describes himself, “a modern Renaissance man.” He plays by no rules, takes no shortcuts, and is focused on creating the best wines that are reflective of not only the terroir but his personality.
Over the years I have been honored to be able to follow Ralph’s journey and experience the progression and the maturity of his wines, as he has grown, and matured himself. Being able to sample an assortment of Hertelendy wines at The Caves is a rare treat.
As to that 100-point wine? Parker recently awarded a score of 98-100 to his 2021 (Cabernet Sauvignon) LEGEND. Still being aged, there is no question this will be an extra special wine; look for this to be released in 2024. 2023 celebrates Ralph’s 10th vintage, and he is just 42 years old. I can’t wait to continue watching his journey and see what the future holds. Join the adventure, experience Hertelendy wines at The Caves at Soda Canyon, or for a truly elite experience, reserve a private tasting with Ralph: https://acquire.hertelendy.com/Wines/Tasting.
Another passion project whose wines you can experience at The Caves is the wines of Frank and Julie Husic’s Husic Vineyards. Vintners, Julie and Frank Husic were committed to growing and producing small lot wines, of the highest quality. After purchasing the property in 1995, in 1997 they engaged one of Napa’s most notable viticulturists to plant and manage the vines, legendary Jim Barbour. Barbour Vineyards has been their vineyard management company continuously from the start. With an unbridled passion and determination to produce wines that would stand shoulder to shoulder with “the best,” in 2010 the Husics sought out one of Napa’s most respected winemakers to head the Husic project: Mike Hirby of Relic Wine Cellars.
The combination of Barbour’s expertise (Barbour was honored as Napa’s Agriculturist of the Year in 2015) in planting and managing the vines on this rocky, steep, hillside vineyard, along with Mike Hirby’s talents, has consistently produced elegant, small-lot, award-winning wines. Recent scores of 95 have been awarded to Husic’s 2016 and 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon (International Wine Report) …sip and taste the excellence.
During your tasting at The Caves, you will sample the two elegant estate Cabernets that Husic produces. Additionally, Husic sources from two small, exclusive vineyards on the Sonoma Coast for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Taste what Napa and Sonoma are famous for.
Perhaps one of the most enticing wines you may have the privilege of trying is Husic’s late-harvest Semillon. Currently, the 2014 is being poured, and it is simply a mindblower. If available, don’t go home without it, this is a special wine (which you will want to save and share with your most discerning wine-loving friends).
The Husic’s passion and commitment to farm the best possible grapes, and producing elegant small-production wines has been realized by always striving to do the best. On those perfect days, sitting outside at The Caves, looking over the mesmerizing Stag’s Leap District, a feeling of bliss will overcome you, as you celebrate the “richness of life,” as is Husic’s vision for all who enjoy their wine.
The innovative wines of Cecil Park round out this elegant trifecta of wines. Cecil Park emulates “The American Dream.” She is Napa’s first Korean-American winemaker, a viticulturist, consultant, innovator, and trendsetter.
Korean-educated (with a degree in biotechnology engineering), Cecil immigrated to the United States in 2001, at the age of 27. She went on to earn a degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis. Little did she know she would become a trendsetter, shaking up “the old guard” as far as Napa wine production and blending was concerned.
Cecil bursts with energy, has an infectious smile, and a passion that knows no bounds, her wines produce a true “wow” factor.
Cecil’s career started in 2007 as a lab tech for Napa Wine Company. Moving forward, she began consulting projects, which today include about 18 private label clients, among them being the PGA and LPGA
In 2014 Cecil took another leap, launching her own INNOVATUS label, and moving into vineyard management. Cecil focuses on elite vineyards such as Preston and JD Estate in Rutherford, Ogle Vineyard in Coombsville, Epps Vineyard in the Oak Knoll district, and Herrick Vineyard in Howell Mountain.
In addition to her personal INNOVATUS project, a substantial private client base, and managing over 80 Napa Vineyards, Cecil travels the world educating in viticulture and winemaking practices.
Several years ago, Cecil faced a severe personal trial that affected her life and winegrowing philosophy. As she shared with me, “I have faced personal challenges, including a stage three cancer diagnosis in 2019. I chose a treatment approach that combined Western and Eastern medicine, and this experience has influenced my exploration of similar approaches in agriculture. I aim to challenge the conventional reliance on analysis and chemicals in American agriculture by focusing on the health of the soil and cultivating grapes through natural methods. This approach, inspired by the recognition natural farming has gained in Korea, can lead to reduced expenses and improved soil health in the long term.”
Cecil loves to think out of the box, trying new ideas and methods. Her INNOVATUS Cuvee is a marriage of Burgundian Pinot Noir, Rhone Syrah, and Bordeaux Cabernet Franc. This eclectic fusion merges three varietals, each with a distinctive personality, into an elixir that produces delicate intermingling flavors and aromas. It challenges an “old guard” traditional “Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot” blend. Cecil Park is simply innovative, which is what INNOVATUS stands for.
A companion to her reds is the Viognier. One whiff of the aromas, and a sip, and you will instantly understand why the tasting notes say this wine has “unusual depth, and profound flavor, described as sensuous.”
Cecil Park is a winemaker who is beautiful, smart, delightful, talented, and creative, with an infectious smile. The same can be said of her wines.
For the wine lover, or the novice wanting to expose themselves and their palate to three distinctively different, elegant, and enticing wines, make it a point to visit The Caves at Soda Canyon: Taste the creative wines of Hertelendy, Husic, and INNOVATUS.
Don Sonderling is a freelance writer covering California’s Wine Country lifestyle, and culture. He and his wife are constantly sipping their way from Santa Barbara to Napa, focusing on Paso Robles and the Central Coast, where they have explored for about 25 years. Don has earned his WSET2 (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) certification, has completed the Bourgogne Masterclass through the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and is a member of the LA. Wine Writers.
Focusing on the people and unique experiences to be had, Don’s goal is to have people read about California’s amazing wine country adventures, seeing it through his eyes, and say: “I want to go there, try that, meet them,” and enrich the lives of others as his has been, by exploring California’s wine roads.