Gorgeous vineyard views, a calm and relaxed atmosphere, and elegant wines are what I discovered when I visited William Hill Estate Winery in Napa, California.
I was invited on a tour of the property and to taste their latest releases paired with delicious cheese-focused small bites.
Even better, I could bring a guest! I invite my father to join me. He’s in his 70s and retired to Sonoma Wine Country a few years ago. He’s always up for a glass of free wine!
William Hill Estate Winery
William Hill was founded in 1976 by, you guessed it, William Hill. A vineyard developer (he designs and plants vineyards), Hill purchased 200-acres at the bottom of Atlas Peak on a piece of land called the Silverado Bench, the latter which contributes to the mesmerising rolling hills one sees from the winery.
He planted 145 acres with vines and by the early 2000s, the winery was producing 75,000 cases of wine a year, specializing in Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, with a touch of merlot in the mix.
In 2007, the winery was acquired by E. & J. Gallo, one of the largest wine producers in the world and the second largest in the United States. It’s like Coca Cola buying your company. It’s *that* big of a company. Despite the ownership, the winery continues to maintain their own vineyards and produce their own wine, independently of Gallo.
But, one benefit of being owned by Gallo is that many Americans can find William Hill wines at their grocery store. They’ve also expanded the wines they make, adding a sauvignon blanc.
The winery offers appointment only tastings, including at their tasting bar, or paired with small bites.
They’re also big golf fans and partner with the PGA Tour to offer PGA exclusive wine tasting experiences.
I’m not a golf fan, so it was wine and cheese for me!
Mark Williams is the winemaker at William Hill. He’s worked in the industry in both California and Australia. At William Hill, he produces sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
The vineyard soil at William Hill is a bit different than that in other areas of Napa Valley. It’s more mountain like – dry and rocky, meaning the vines have to really work hard, sinking their roots deep into the ground to find water. This makes small fruit with big flavor.
They make four levels of wines – from a less expensive collection that uses fruit from Central and Northern California, to the more luxurious Winemaker’s Series, which are handcrafted by Williams and super limited production.
During our visit, we tasted wines from the upper echelon – the Winemaker’s Series and the Benchland series, the latter which are made from the winery’s estate vineyards.
Upon arrival, we were greated by winery staff and joined other guests for a taste of 2012 Benchmark Chardonnay overlooking the vineyards. Our host shared the history of the property and talked about the geology behind what makes the land primed for growing grapes.
We soaked in not only the chardonnay, but also the view of the vineyards.
Next, we stepped inside the tasting room for our private, guided tasting.
We proceeded to taste through a selection of five winery exclusive wines, meaning you can only purchase them directly through the winery (onsite or online), not at stores.
The wines included two chardonnays, one cabernet franc, and two Bordeaux blends (“Meritage” and “Benchmark”).
The wines were paired with cheese-focused small bites, using cheese from nearby Sonoma County.
After a lovely food and wine pairing experience, our host asked if we wanted to “revisit” any of the wines she poured – my dad and I opted for the 2009 Unfiltered Chardonnay. It was an exceptional wine (from a great growing year) – elegant, with the right touch of oak to represent New World chardonnay without being a butterbomb – it was just right.
When our glasses were refilled, we stepped outside to enjoy the views. Even with the chilly weather, we had a lovely time watching hawks fly over the vineyards and chatting.
Two other guests had joined us during the tasting, a couple. They joined us outside, too.
Final thoughts + wines not to miss
William Hill is a lovely winery, off the beaten path to most visiting Napa Valley. Lovely views, a modern facility, and a nice, unpretentious wine tasting experience. Even though they are owned by a huge company, we had an intimate experience that felt local and special.
When there, be sure to taste these two wines:
- 2014 Carneros Chardonnay is the wine formerly known as the “Unfiltered” chardonnay I enjoyed so much at the tasting. Using grapes from the nearby Carneros winegrowing region, a few miles away, it’s an elegant wine with a touch of oak, mango and nice acid (that makes your mouth water!).
- 2014 Benchmark Red Blend is a cabernet sauvignon-based Bordeaux blend. It also has petit verdot and malbec in it, meaning it’s a big, bold wine. Dark purple and inky, it’s jammy, fruit forward, and lush with baking spices. Get out the steak and light up the grill.
William Hill Estate Winery isn’t for kids. Dogs can hangout outside, but tastings take place inside and no dogs are allowed, except for service animals.
Tastings at William Hill are by appointment only. They range from $25-$40. Visit williamhillestate.com for more information.
This blog post was originally shared on Steemit in January 2018.