After eight long years and several setbacks on the official opening date, Piazza Del Dotto has finally opened to the public for tastings and food pairings — fittingly on the 20-year anniversary of the Del Dotto family’s wine journey.
Proprietor Dave Del Dotto is calling the family’s third winery “the gateway property to Napa Valley,” as it’s the first winery visitors will see as they pass Yountville heading north, and Highway 29 goes from two lanes to one.
“It’s the first winery when you come off the highway, and you can go right off the highway, directly into the driveway,” he said.
That driveway was built with a million-and-a-half red bricks, hand laid by Italian professionals. Though subtle, it’s the first sign of the thought, detail, time — and money — put into this project.
For Piazza Del Dotto isn’t just another venue to experience the Del Dotto family’s signature caves and barrel tastings. Instead, this property takes things outdoors, with a large courtyard, gardens, second-floor decks and an outdoor kitchen.
“It’s very Tuscan,” said Desiree Del Dotto, daughter of Dave Del Dotto and COO of the family business. “It has that Old World Italian vibe, where you come in, you eat off the land because you have the gardens, but maybe a little bit fancier than you’d see there.
“This is what Piazza is all about, the beauty of Napa Valley, the indoor/outdoor vibes,” echoed Dave Del Dotto. “When people come to the Valley, they want to enjoy the outside. All of our other properties are in the caves, so we wanted to do something a little bit different and get outside.”
Of course, there will be caves and barrel tastings at Piazza Del Dotto too, but we’ll get to that later.
The Piazza’s tasting room is named La Barchessa, which translates to “The Barn.” But La Barchessa, a yellowish, two-story, Tuscan-inspired villa, carries virtually no resemblance to a barn.
“It’s a Del Dotto barn,” joked Desiree Del Dotto.
Some people likely won’t notice, but just before entering through the Italian chestnut doors, sits a little reminder of the original, intended opening date. Set permanently in marble, the floor reads, “La Barchessa 2015.”
But for the Del Dottos, that little detail isn’t very problematic. The family acquired their first winery, the Napa Historic Winery & Caves, in 1997. The second, St. Helena Venetian Estate Winery & Caves, opened in 2007. It’s actually a bit poetic that Piazza Del Dotto will now open in 2017.
The facade of the tasting room is deceiving, seemingly modest and traditional, not unlike the wineries you might stumble into while rolling through the hills of Tuscany. Yet inside, it’s dripping in luxury, and in true Del Dotto style, practically floor-to-ceiling marble, even in the bathrooms, where the antique sinks resemble ancient drinking fountains.
La Barchessa’s large, open space on the ground floor features a couple of tasting bars, a VIP lounge and an open kitchen that most of us can only dream about. The kitchen’s range, for instance, has been nicknamed the “Rolls-Royce,” because according to Dave Del Dotto, “it cost as much as a Rolls-Royce.”
In front of the kitchen is a horseshoe bar meant for food and wine pairings. Del Dotto is bringing their Delicacies by Del Dotto experience from the Venetian to the Piazza. For $95, it includes five, gourmet small plates and seven Piazza Del Dotto wines, like a Maine lobster roll toasted brioche paired with chardonnay, or American wagyu black truffle slider with cabernet sauvignon. The final pairing matches a dessert or cheese with Del Dotto Port.
The Piazza Del Dotto label consists of three tiers of cabernet (sourcing from Napa Valley vineyards and their estate Oakville vineyard), in addition to many other varietals, including sangiovese, rosé, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, petit verdot and pinot noir.
Executive Chef Joshua Schwartz, formerly with Thomas Keller at The French Laundry, Per Se, and Bouchon, has been with the family as Executive Winery Chef for a decade now.
“Dad used to eat lunch like three times a week at Bouchon, so he could actually tell the difference in the food with the different chefs,” said Desiree Del Dotto. “So when Josh would come on, Dad was like, I need to meet this guy, the food’s gotten even better.”
At the Piazza, Schwartz and his team will now find themselves working just down the street from his old stomping grounds.
While Delicacies will be the tasting room’s signature experience, guests can also come in for a traditional bar tasting of five wines, which for $45 includes a cheese plate. Or, they can opt for the Poppers experience ($60), featuring five wines and four, snack-sized bites, like crispy frog legs paired with chardonnay, or house-cured bacon and black truffle in sfoglia (egg pasta dough), perfect with pinot noir. On some days, they also plan to churn out free pizzas in their outdoor brick oven.
“What we’re all about is hospitality. We’re connecting with people, spending time with people; it’s all about that interaction,” said Dave Del Dotto. “We’re highlighting Napa Valley. We want people to want to come back to the Valley after having that quality experience. That’s why we’re adding the food. When you add the food to the wine, it really rounds out the experience. We’re connecting with people on a one-on-one basis.”
Hanging down from the top-floor ceiling (the center of the second floor has been cut out) is La Barchessa’s biggest ‘wow’ factor: a colossal, 1,500-pound chandelier made in a small workshop in Florence. It’s a recreation of 18th century lanterns with gold metal shavings.
“Everything is from Italy, all the materials. We’ve had 77 containers come in from Italy over the last three to four years,” said Dave Del Dotto.
Another two purple chandeliers (these ones made from Murano glass), tasting areas and a large dining table flank the second floor, as do several outdoor decks looking out over the estate’s Oakville cabernet, all also available for Piazza Del Dotto’s experiences.
Out back in the gardens, you’ll find patio seating, a 17th-century fountain and a collection of hand-carved “nani” statues, dwarf-like characters that play tribute to Italian folklore. They’re a subtle reminder of the local controversy surrounding the new property’s original fairytale theme and name, Ca’Nani, meaning House of Dwarfs.
Following local backlash, the family renamed to Piazza Del Dotto. In retrospect, they agree that the new theme is a better fit and reflection on the overall Del Dotto brand.
“As we were building, we realized this is much more sophisticated and a bigger property than just having fun with the fairytale theme,” said Dave Del Dotto. “This is a little more serious.”
And perhaps the only resemblance to a barn that La Barchessa bares is the animals on property: chickens providing farm fresh eggs, doves, pheasants, Heritage turkeys that they raised from chicks, and peacocks. A dozen peacock eggs are expected to hatch any day now. Desiree Del Dotto is hoping to add some pigs.
But even after nearly a decade of work, La Barchessa is just Phase I of Piazza Del Dotto.
To the right of the barn is a lot of unfinished construction— so much that one can’t really yet envision what’s to come without seeing the plans themselves.
Phase II involves a pool-sized fountain, with statue heads spitting water. Over it, will be a walking bridge, which guests will journey across to reach the cave. Currently 8,500 square feet, the Del Dotto’s plan to nearly triple the size of the cave, expanding to 24,000 square feet.
The cave will be completely lined in Carrara marble and feature 100-year-old, colored terrazzo floors. Parts of the ceilings will be frescoed, Sistine Chapel-style.
It will likely take several more years before the finished product is unveiled, but you can be certain that it won’t be like anything else in Napa Valley. Instead, it will be much more akin to the monuments built in ancient Rome, from the inside and out.
While they don’t make buildings like that in modern day, the Del Dotto’s are sure putting in the effort.
“We’re doing it old-school,” said Dave Del Dotto, adding that the entire project is inspired by his belief that “wine is sacred.”
“My dad believes that wine is art, and so it’s like building a museum for your art,” said Desiree Del Dotto.
Del Dotto Piazza is at 7466 St. Helena Highway, Napa. For details, call 707-963-2134 or visit deldottovineyards.com/visit/piazza.