Drivers looking for the new Black Stallion Winery on Silverado Trail don’t have to search for an address — just look for the big black horse standing on its hind legs.
The statue dominates the entrance to Napa Valley’s newest winery, a 45,000 square foot series of buildings on 11 acres, just north of Soda Canyon Road. Although a black stallion with a flowing mane is featured on the winery’s labels, the 10-foot tall statue differs slightly in appearance, and Vice President and General Manager Laina Brown said future labels will look exactly like the winery’s showpiece statue.
To announce the opening, the winery ran ads in local area newspapers calling it the newest winery in Napa Valley, but a tasting room has been open to the public for a year. It was housed in a trailer while construction was under way, and the newly completed tasting room has been open since May.
The formal grand opening is scheduled for tomorrow, and while Brown said it is an invitation-only event, Napa Valley residents can attend by contacting the winery and asking for an invitation.
Formerly a horse farm
Inspiration for the winery’s theme and the name came from the fact that in the 1950s the property was a horse farm that included a half-mile track with bleachers seating 3,000 spectators. One 24,000 square foot building housed a stable and an indoor arena with a small grandstand where spectators could watch riding events, and still visible inside are marks on the walls where stalls for the horses were located. It wasn’t only for horses — Rich Wilson, Black Stallion’s tasting room manager who grew up in Napa, remembers playing football inside the building.
Today the structure is being converted into a wine production facility.
The owners, members of a small investment group in Minnesota called Exclusive Estate Wine Group, have been in the wine business for more than 25 years. They develop brands by importing wine, primarily from France, and distributing it in the United States.
They decided they wanted to produce wines in California, and looked around the various producing areas in the state. They found this spot, loved the idea that it was within the Oak Knoll District and closed the deal in October 2005. They bought an existing winery permit, allowing them to conduct tasting at the facility.
Construction began immediately after all permits were issued.
“This building was a big stone shell,” Brown said, pointing to the one housing the tasting room and the barrel room. “Nothing but stone walls.”
Brown did not reveal the cost, but said, “These things always cost more than expected. It’s been quite a project. They have not spared any details.”
Large circular bar
The tasting room features a circular bar, and two private dining rooms are adjacent, along with a lounge for wine club members. One of the dining rooms, called the Barrel Room, has a ceiling designed to look like the inside of a barrel and has stacks of barrels on the sides. The view in one direction is of the barrel storage room, the other is of the tasting room.
Outside is a large patio, and just beyond it is an area that will be converted into what Brown called “a petting vineyard” with two rows each of various varietals so visitors can see differences among them.
The terrace is surrounded by landscaping with mostly white flowers, and some splashes of color mixed in. Rows of olive trees have been planted, and the grasses around the property are symbolic of a horse’s mane, said landscape designer Larry Cline, of Evergreen of Napa Valley.
“We want to make this a destination,” Brown said. That’s because the wines will be sold only at the winery or through the company’s Web site. “It’s a large hospitality center for a winery this size,” she said.
The horse theme is even carried out in special promotions — the winery offers what it calls the “Triple Crown,” a package including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and muscat. Other varietals offered include merlot, syrah, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio and a merlot rosé.
Hendricks is winemaker
At present Black Stallion is making about 3,200 cases under the direction of winemaker Charles Hendricks, and the 2007 vintage is expected to grow to 6,000. The winery is permitted for 40,000 cases, but production is never expected to reach that, Brown said, adding, “We’re going to let demand dictate growth.”
Hendricks is working with several Oak Knoll District growers under contract to supply grapes. The first wines were made at neighboring wineries, but the winery is expected to be completed in time for the 2008 crush.
Brown, an Alaska native who started her career as a fashion designer with her own lines of clothing, spent the last seven years working in direct wine sales. She was associated with Domaine Carneros and was responsible for the tasting room, dining facilities, the wine club and the Web site, and business increased by 500 percent in a five-year period. She has also worked for wine.com and for a wine importer and distributor, and most recently consulted with several Napa Valley wineries and designed winery Web sites.
For the past several weeks, though, she has been preparing for the Black Stallion grand opening.
Food traces history
The open house will feature five stations around the property that highlight moments in Napa Valley history, with wine and food to match. For example, a station honoring the Wappo Indians will feature beef brisket roasted in clay; the station recognizing the history of Black Stallion’s property will offer clay baked beans and flatiron steak ribbons, and the one acknowledging the Chinese laborers who built the early wineries will offer slivered fowl noodles with Chinese vegetables and –- what else? – fortune cookies.
Local residents can call 253-1400 to request an invitation to the opening.
The winery plans to have a full catering kitchen and Brown said future plans may include a full-time chef. In the meantime, Kinyon Catering of Yountville will handle food tasks, which may include a Friday lunch program with a box lunch which guests can take onto the patio.
The bronze stallion statue that stands atop a fountain was commissioned to sculptor David Spellerberg. Brown suggested that people who enjoy seeing the statue should return at night. A spotlight reflects the stallion’s shadow on the building, and she said that a couple said they saw it and were so impressed that they made a special return trip to the winery the next day.
The team that put the facilities together included architect, James B. Jeffrey; engineering, MK2; Construction, Songer Construction Management; landscape design, Evergreen of Napa Valley; and interior design, Lorna McClearie.