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Additional articles BY COURTNEY COCHRAN



Dr. Seuss Comes to Napa

Imaginative winery breaks new ground

Carl Doumani has always loved building things. Whether he’s crafting structures or legacies, the seasoned real estate developer who built and recently sold Napa’s world-famous Stags’ Leap Winery is enamored with the development process. So it makes sense that after years of building so-called “normal” structures he’d try his hand at creating something totally different – a winery unlike any other in the Napa Valley. 

Depending on who you ask, Doumani’s Quixote Winery looks like a psychedelic fun house or something that’s sprung straight from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. But no matter the number of people you ask, chances are good you’ll never hear that the place looks like a winery. And that’s precisely the way Doumani wants it.    

Napa Like You’ve Never Seen It
Fed up with the excessive polish of many of Napa’s newer wineries – and backed by a conviction that the region had started to take itself too seriously – 30-plus-year valley resident Doumani commissioned controversial Viennese environmentalist, artist, and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser to design Quixote in the late 1980s.

But first, it took Doumani a year to track down the free-spirited Austrian, whose more notable antics have included giving lectures in the nude and designing buildings accented by trees that grow, fingerlike, out of windows. When they finally met, the artist and Doumani – himself something of a non-conformist – instantly connected and hatched plans for the winery, construction on which finally broke ground in 1991.

Compared to, say, the 185 years it took to build Nôtre Dame Cathedral, Quixote’s 10-year-long construction period seems relatively brief. But when you consider that the spot only just opened to visitors in February 2007 after a protracted permit battle relating to the spot’s right to receive visits from the public, the significance of the unique winery’s long-anticipated opening comes into focus.

A League of Its Own
I had the good fortune to secure a tour at the "new" winery not long ago, and left with a profound appreciation for the patience and attention to detail that went into every nook and cranny of the place. Case in point: Hundertwasser, who passed away in 2000, believed that nature should be an integral part of man-made structures, so he covered the winery’s roof with 30 inches of sod, out of which now grow native grasses and trees.

The result is at once soothing and surprising. From above, the winery appears to blend seamlessly into its natural landscape, with the notable exception of a startlingly-bright gold dome that punctuates the sod and its surrounding "wilderness." The dome is a signature Hundertwasser flourish and caps the room housing Doumani’s office, a fitting spot since the artist believed domes channel energy and increase productivity.

In keeping with the natural setting affected by the roof, the winery’s façade and interiors are accented in brightly colored tiles that evoke natural earth tones. Everywhere you look, irregular lines and undulating floors highlight Hundertwasser’s gleeful rejection of generally accepted rules of form. He once famously said "an uneven floor is a melody to the feet”, and his philosophy can be experienced first-hand when crossing the winery’s kitchen floor, which indeed tipped ever-so-slightly this way and that when I tested it out.

Local materials were used wherever possible at the winery, which houses several offices, a dining/tasting room, the quirky kitchen, winemaking facilities, and a barrel room. Every room, hallway, floor, and façade has been carefully thought-out and evokes the whimsy Hundertwasser believed to be so important in our everyday lives. In short: It’s a sheer delight.

Wines Just As Charming
Doumani, I think, would be glad to hear that I found the Quixote wines I tasted as charming as his winery. Made from the estate’s 27 acres of organically-farmed Stags’ Leap Ranch vineyards, the wines first debuted with fruit harvested in 1999, eight years before the winery opened to the public. Quixote produces exclusively red wines and specializes in Petite Syrah, the grape that put Stags’ Leap Winery on the map many years ago.

Besides its flagship label, Quixote, the winery produces a second label called Panza, named for Don Quixote's sidekick Sancho Panza in the winery’s namesake novel by Miguel de Cervantes. All wines come with screw cap closures, a practice that reflects Doumani’s disdain for good wine that’s wasted by cork taint contamination. I’ll drink to that!

2003 Panza Napa Valley Petite Syrah, $40
Just 494 cases were made of this charming red which includes a dash of Grenache and Mourvèdre grapes. Primary aromas of brambly raspberries and blackberries are backed by layered nuances of cola, baking spice, beef jerky, lavender, and sage. The palate is full-bodied and delivers more dark fruit along with deeper notes of pepper, toffee, and coffee bean. While it’s drinking beautifully now, this wine will also reward a few years in the cellar.

2003 Quixote Napa Valley Petite Syrah, $60
This 100% Petite Syrah adds classy black currant aromas reminiscent of top Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines to soulful smoke and pepper notes more typical of the grape variety. Toffee, cinnamon, black licorice, herbs, and smoke harmonize with black currant flavors on the palate, which is wonderfully deep and rich. The smoky, caramel-laced finish leaves little doubt why this wine is a perfect companion to a cigar at the end of a long, decadent meal. Put it down for 5 to 15 years for an even more impressive show.

Winery visits are possible by appointment only and cost $25 per person. Contact Lew Price to set up an appointment at (707) 944-2659 or lew@quixotewinery.com.

Quixote Winery, 6126 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558 quixotewinery.com

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