Durant & Booth Tasting Salon – A Piece of Napa Valley History in Oakville

Durant & Booth Tasting Salon is relatively new to the Napa Valley but the building that houses the tasting room is a historic gem.

Located in the small town of Oakville, lies Oakville Grocery, a popular spot for both locals and visitors alike. If you have been to Oakville or driven through the quaint area, you may have caught a glance of the Victorian home on the property built in 1877 by the McQuaids.

At the turn of the century, Frederick Durant and Joseph Booth, both postmen, took over Oakville Grocery and the whole property, which also housed a doctor, a lawyer, a pharmacy and of course the Oakville post office. At this time, Frederick Durant claimed this house as his residence for over 40 years, and it continued to change hands until it was used as storage for the grocery for many years and finally turned into a tasting room.

Exterior of Durant & Booth Tasting Salon in Oakville, Napa Valley
Exterior of Durant & Booth Tasting Salon in Oakville, Napa Valley

Durant & Booth’s first vintage started in 2012, and the tasting room was set to open in 2014. Six weeks from opening, the Napa earthquake hit and took the house off the foundation.  Howard Backen, the famous Napa Valley architect ( you may remember him as being my Davis Estates Winery architect as well), lifted the house four feet off the ground, reinforcing the foundation using 25′ steel beams and created the stunning interior, using elements from the period and adding a modern flair.

The view of the tasting room from above - Designed by Howard Backen
The view of the tasting room from above – Designed by Howard Backen

Two and a half years later Durant and Booth tasting Salon opened in May of 2016. They make nine different wines with a total of 2500 cases, a tiny production with no distribution and direct to consumer sales only.

This tasting room has stunning updated interior while still encompassing the old charm in keeping with the history of the residence. Upstairs the “Cabinets of Curiosity,” contains artifacts found on the property as well as others representative of the time period. When you come for this tasting, you are as much learning about their wines as you are the history of the people who lived here.

We sat downstairs in the two-story open tasting area where we were each handed a card in a sleeve marked Durant & Booth. Many themes are running throughout the property, one of them being vintage books and a library theme. When you taste each wine, you get a stamp for that wine that resembles a stamp on an old library card.

Old style library card and on of many postcards mailed free.
Old style library card and on of many postcards mailed free.

Our first taste was the 2014 Durant & Booth Sauvignon Blanc. A plethora of tropical pineapple and green apple aromas on the nose and lots of fruit and honey on the palate. It’s crisp and refreshing but also rounder than a typical Sauvignon Blanc. The fruit all comes from the valley floor in Oakville, Napa and Mt. Veeder. It is fermented in both stainless as well as cement eggs, giving a bright minerality to the wine.

Durant & Booth 2014 Sauvignon Blanc
Durant & Booth 2014 Sauvignon Blanc

Winemaker Anthony Weytjens is originally from the Canary Islands off of Spain. He moved to Napa Valley as a consultant to about ten different wineries.  Anthony specializes in wines made from wild indigenous yeast,  no cultured yeast is added to any of the wines. This very organic and natural approach gives a sense of what the grape has to offer.

The 2012 Chardonnay, one of my personal favorites and comes from the Story Creek vineyard in Russian River. It’s 100% Chardonnay and goes through three fermentation styles, full malolactic fermentation in new French oak and neutral barrels,  then stainless steel, and finally cement eggs to finish it off. Typically a Chardonnay will sit in a barrel for 14-15 months, but this Chardonnay stays in barrel for 16 months and on the skin and lees for 13 months due to the natural yeast fermentation.

This wine is a journey, with aromas of honeydew, golden apple, and hazelnut on the nose, flavors of toasty buttered brioche, creme brûlée and hazelnut combined with a hint of lemon and finally finishing with some nice minerality on the palate. It would be fantastic with a goat cheese soufflé or a beautiful piece of sole. The complexity accurately represents the three fermentations styles, boldness up front, tapering down into a nice tartness and finally a touch of minerality.

The 2012 Chardonnay goes through three fermentation processes - oak barrel, stainless steel and cement egg
The 2012 Chardonnay goes through three fermentation processes – oak barrel, stainless steel and cement egg

The next wine, a 2013 Cuvée was an interesting blend of 77% Zinfandel and 23% Petit Syrah and sits in new French oak for 19 months. It had a beautiful garnet color and showed hints of cracked black pepper, savory spice, jam, plums, dates and a nice Mediterranean brininess. There is a lot of complexity to this wine yet it is very smooth and doesn’t sit heavy in the mouth like a Petit Syrah normally would. The complex nature of the spice, plum and date flavors will age beautifully. This wine will go well with bbq chicken or pulled pork, but I enjoyed it on its own.

2013 Durant & Booth Cuvée - Complex flavors from Zinfandel & Petit Syrah
2013 Durant & Booth Cuvée – Complex flavors from Zinfandel & Petit Syrah

After finding the Cuvée so compelling; I was excited about my next red wine, the 2012 Durant & Booth Reserve, their flagship. The Cuvée is one of the more traditional wines Durant & Booth makes but not an entirely traditional Bordeaux Blend because it contains only three of the five Bordeaux varietals. This red leads with 47% Cabernet Franc, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon and 21% Malbec. All the fruit comes from the valley floor, aged for 30 months in new French oak.

Durant & Booth's flagship wine - The 2012 Reserve
Durant & Booth’s flagship wine – The 2012 Reserve

The Reserve was a beautiful dark wine with aromas of spice, cedar, cherry and tobacco on the nose and intense flavors of cherry, currant, and cola, and oak on the palate. If you like cigars and a roaring fire with your wine, this would be a perfect match.

While enjoying the Durant & Booth Reserve, we took a trip up to the “Cabinets of Curiosity.” On the way up hanging on the wall was the original Oakville mailbox from the properties post office adorning the wall along with several stacks of different postcards which can be sent from the tasting room at no charge.

The original mailbox from 1877 and various unique postcards
The original mailbox from 1877 and various unique postcards

The balcony overlooks the whole tasting room from all sides with three large chandeliers that hang from the center. You can stroll along the balcony, viewing the curiosities which include an original lobotomy kit, Fredrick Durant’s original Caligraphy set, a diary, gold chest, and a stuffed peacock named “Gorgeous George.” Also on display was Mary Durant’s mirror at which time we learned about Mary’s fate.

Fredrick Durant had a mistress living in the house while Mary was away in San Francisco. When Mary came home to find the mistress living at the property, she went insane and killed the mistress. After that incident, Mary resided at the Napa insane asylum and eventually passed away in the house as well. She was one of three of Frederick’s wives that passed in the house and may still linger when the sun goes down.

Authentic lobotomy kit - One of many 'curiosities' upstairs
Authentic lobotomy kit – One of many ‘curiosities’ upstairs

After our tour and fascinating tales about the property, we sat down to try a unique white wine. The 2014 Blanc incorporates Rhone varietals grown all over California, with 46% Chardonnay, mixed in with some Grenache Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Roussanne and Greco di Tufo. The nose of the wine highlights more of the Chardonnay qualities. On the palate, a lot of citrus, especially peaches and quince, dry straw, honey. It is a unique wine, definitely a porch pounder. The body is round but still, retains some crispness. I found it sweeter than your typical summer white. A nice pan seared salmon with lemon or a crab feast would pair wonderfully.

I took home a Chardonnay and a Cuvee, and like most of the wines I buy while writing my blogs, I couldn’t wait and drank them immediately. I would love to visit again to see how the wines are evolving, especially the 2013 Cuvee.

If you like learning about the history of Napa Valley while trying some unique Napa Valley and Russian River wines in a beautifully remodeled 19th century Victorian, this would be the perfect fit for you. Don’t forget to mail your friends and family a free postcard from the Durant & Booth Tasting Salon!

Enjoy… Wine Ho

The Tasting Salon is open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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