Americans have long had a love affair with horses, from the tale of Black Beauty to the modern “Triple Crown” races and even embracing Mr. Ed.
And so it is in wine country, where a number of estates embrace the equestrian lifestyle and even include horse imagery in their names and/or logos. Among them are Black Stallion Winery along Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail, and Bridlewood Estate Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County.
Located on the grounds of an historic equestrian center, Black Stallion Winery opened its doors in July of 2007 in Napa’s Oak Knoll District. The facility was renovated with reclaimed materials and luxurious furnishings to evoke the rugged sophistication of early California.
Fifty years ago, the Silverado Horseman’s Center covered 32 acres and included an indoor riding track, as well as an outdoor arena with seating for 3,000. The property also boasted a half-mile racetrack, recreation buildings, a private paddock, riding trails and a stallion breeding station.
Remnants of the 36 original horse stalls can still be seen on the stone walls of the facility, which is being retrofit to house the winery’s production operations.
“Our aim as a winery,” notes Black Stallion President Laina Brown, “is to craft wines that reflect the attributes of this dynamic region and to deliver them directly to our customers.”
Toward that end, production is purposely kept low. Although Black Stallion presently crafts nine different varietal wines – including a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay, a rose and a dessert wine – its total case count is a mere 3,800.
Well down California’s coast, just north of the resort town of Santa Barbara, Rhone varieties take center stage at Bridlewood Estate Winery in Santa Ynez.
The 105-acre estate was a horse ranch before being transformed into a working winery. Specifically, it was a place where local horse owners brought their injured animals to be rehabilitated. The traditions of California’s past are echoed by the mission-style winery with its long, cool verandas surrounding a stone courtyard, graced by the sounds of fountains splashing in the sun.
Winemaker David Hopkins takes a unique approach to his craft, “tasting” blends in his head as he tastes wine grapes from all over the Central Coast region each harvest season.
“It’s a vintage year every year in California,” Hopkins explains. “Just not in every vineyard.” To he travels from viticultural area to viticultural area, seeking out grapes with specific attributes that would contribute to his “mind’s eye” cuvee.
While Hopkins makes a number of varieties for Bridlewood, he has a particularly deft touch with Syrah. In fact, he makes seven different and distinct bottlings from that one variety.
Why so many? Because the various microclimates of the Central Coast region – some cold, some warm; some windy, some not – produce Syrah grapes possessing strikingly different aromas and flavors. Yet each of Hopkins’ seven bottlings offers generous texture, complexity and elegance.
Whether visiting Black Stallion Winery in the Napa Valley or Bridlewood Estate Winery in the Santa Ynez Valley, one needn’t be a genius to recognize the exceptional winemaking. All it takes is a little horse sense.
BLACK STALLION WINERY
4089 Silverado Trail
Winemaker: Elaine St. Clair
BRIDLEWOOD ESTATE WINERY
3555 Roblar Ave.
Santa Ynez, Calif.
Winemaker: David Hopkins