Rob & Chris

Posted on September 15, 2009

I spent a memorable Saturday afternoon in the upper Napa Valley with my good friends, Chris Dearden and Rob Hunter. Due to occupational and familial duties, they were unable to make it to Stryker, so, with no small sense of satisfaction, I tooled off to St. Helena in the Stryker S-10 (feeling slightly cool because I might be mistaken for a local) to see my old buddies.

Chris met me at Benessere Vineyards, his home base. Just North of St. Helena, Benessere has the distinction of being one of the few wineries in the Valley that concentrates on Italian varietals. They make, by the estimation of more than a few critics, the finest Pinot Grigio in California. For me, and I think, Chris, their flagship stuff is theSangiovese. They’ve been making it since 1995, and it has always been a favorite of mine: great fruit and a pronounced, peppery finish. We had a few minutes (I love when busy people make you feel like time is frozen, and there is nothing pressing), and had a chance to catch up. We made a quick tour of the grounds, tasted some incredible wine, laughed a lot, and then, sadly, Chris was corralled and off to a table of patrons demanding his attention. Chris also consults with a number of wineries and is a partner at Chanticleer Wines…look them up.

Rob Hunter has a reputation that precedes him, and I say that with no small amount of conviction. He helped make Merlot (pre-Sideways, and ridiculously maligned) a star at Markham, and, as Head Winemaker at Sterling, brought a flagging giant to new heights.

He now has his own label, Hunter III, and is also the winemaker atBennett Lane in Calistoga. His dad, Bob, has a vineyard in Sonoma that produces primarily sparkling wine under the label–ready? Robert Hunter, which Rob oversees.

Does it seem like I have a bit of pride in my friends? Guilty, with cause.

Rob and his daughter Haley met me at the Silverado Brewing Company in St. Helena for a late lunch. I ordered a double order of the shell-on spicy shrimp appetizer, and the Hunter’s had ribs. Note the absence of photos. We had, as usual, a great time catching up, and, as the proud father of two now-not-so-young ladies, admired Haley’s manners and grace.

After a great Hunter hug, I made my way back to the Alexander Valley. To get there, you must log about a ten-mile drive through Knights Valley, the unspoiled gem of the wine country. Drive it whenever you can. You’ll thank me later.

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