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Blackbird Vineyards: Napa Chic Winery and Gallery

Blackbird Vineyards: Napa Chic Winery and Gallery


Stefan Pinto's journey through Napa's off-the-beaten-path wineries continues with Blackbird, where wine served at breakfast time is not only acceptable, but recommended. 

You’re in luck. This week, we learn how to drink wine at ten in the morning — better yet, at 10 in the morning on a Monday (well, if you're going to be rebellious, you may as well do it on the day of the week they say is most like a man, as it always comes too quickly).

But before we do that, I need to change into my smarty pants as I must address the whole “Bordeaux wine thing.”

Last week, I mentioned Bordeaux for the first time, in particular, its usage surrounding the grandfather clause. Yes, said clause is a controversial one (as with most regulations). A reader on Facebook asked if such “regional clauses” also pertain to other types of alcohol, like Scotch (I happen to love Scotch ever since Holden Caulfield taught me how to order one).

According to The SAGE Encyclopedia of Food Issues, there are alcohol clauses that also pertain to other regions, the most controversial being the Champagne region. In 2006, a code prohibited the sales of goods bearing the name champagne, burgundy, port and sherry that are not produced in an associated geographical region. So, yes, Scotch must be derived from Scotland, Cognac from the Cognac region of France and (this one is tricky, but also applicable), Tequila must be produced under the regulations of the Mexican government.

So much drama!

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Let’s drink

Located in the Oak Knoll district of Napa Valley, about five miles from downtown Napa, the fourth winery on our “Off-the-Beaten-Path” adventure takes us to Blackbird Vineyards. And, according to Blackbird’s president, Blackbird specializes in (and as luck would have it)… “California Bordeaux” wines. Sip.

As we’ve already learned, Bordeaux wines are red wine blends almost always consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Blackbird Vineyards focuses on wines produced primarily with Merlot grapes grown in their own vineyard.

Gallery owner, Michael Polenske, purchased Blackbird in 2003 as a vacation retreat. And, as with all creative people, everything they do is touched with an idiosyncratic persuasion for art and design.

Lacoste Towel

Blackbird is the first winery following my Sunday-day-off tour through beautiful Sonoma. (Meet a friendly goat. Eat at Catelli’s, one of my favorite restaurants) and it is ten in the morning. With the two people I met on Facebook, one isn’t so sure if they can have wine for breakfast. Franky, neither am I.

Originally a walnut orchard, a visit to Blackbird’s 10-acre estate is like killing two birds with one stone (disclaimer: no blackbirds were killed during my wine tasting). A wine tasting inside Blackbird’s cozy Oak Knoll House, is a treat for four of the senses… the Knoll House also serves as an art gallery, but you shouldn’t really touch the art.

Wine consultant, Kelli McCrea, chaperoned our 10 A.M., private wine tasting. I should advise, if you plan on visiting Blackbird Vineyards, you need to know there are two separate locations: Blackbird is part of the Bespoke Collection, which consists of Blackbird Vineyards, in Napa Valley, and Ma(i)sonry in Yountville. A wine tasting at Blackbird focuses solely on the Blackbird wine portfolio: we tasted five of Blackbird’s six limited production wines.

Blackbirds are in the Details

Before you begin to sniff ’n’ sip Blackbird’s collection, you really need to see and appreciate the bottles themselves. And by bottles, I mean look at the labels (I discuss wine bottles more when we visit Odette winery. It’s for tech buffs like us).

Designed by Polenske and David Hughes, Blackbird’s wine labels have flocks of blackbirds on them. That’s because Blackbird produces its own Merlot, and Merlot means “little blackbird” in French patois, and Merlot is a key component in making a Bordeaux blend… well, you get the picture.


Arriviste Wine for Breakfast

10 A.M. is really early on a Monday morning (reminded me of working on a farm), so Kelli poured something light to start. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc, Blackbird’s puckish rosé, Arriviste, is mildly citrusy and fruity, making it an ideal breakfast wine.

Arise Fly Blackbird Fly

The label for Blackbird's proprietary red blend, Arise, features blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire (remember those?!). And, this is interesting: the birds on the wire are in the same layout as the starting notes in the Beatles' song “Blackbird”. This was my favorite of the quintet. It has a long, licorice and fig finish (specific aftertaste) yet soft texture. To me, it’s a perfect medium-bodied wine to pair with any herb-infused meat dish.

Illustration and Infinite Possibilities

If you’re a reader to this column, from the beginning, you know I like “Cabs.” Blackbird’s Illustration is elegant and multi-layered, meaning it is rich in flavors with a persistent length and smooth on the palette. I liked this wine, a lot… but it’s almost twice the price of the Arise and sadly, I had to make it my second favorite (Hey, I got bills, lots and lots of bills).


Paramour for the Perfect Pair

Consisting mostly of Cabernet Franc and Blackbird’s Merlot, the Paramour blend contains smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged for 21-months, in barrels the same length as the final wine of the five, Blackbird’s Paramour is a balanced man’s red wine. Such a man is authentic and tends to develop over time… these are the ones that get better with age. If you know such a man, he’ll most likely be in your life for decades;  feisty in the spring, peaceful in the fall.


Mostly Cab Franc, Blackbird’s Contrarian red wine is the most dense of the five we tried. It is one of those wines you buy to enjoy or to keep in your fledgling wine cellar. Ideal with — or after —dinner, the Contrarian is an instant indulgence you can savor now or, if you’re a collector, hold onto for something (eventually) more special. I do like this wine; it wasn’t like any of the others we tried. I suppose this makes the name suited for such a finish.

Blackbird’s wines are elegant and balanced, ideal for buying to enjoy now, or to save for later. Call ahead and make an appointment before visiting as there likely won’t be anyone at the Oak Knoll House if you were to just pop in to try the Contrarian. Here’s a link to Blackbird Vineyards

Norwegian Airlines PYT

New! Wine Accessories

Speaking of “smarty pants” someone texted and said that it’s nice to visit wineries, but how do you get the wines home? Good question. If you fly out of the Sonoma airport (Charles Schulz), there is a carry-on wine allowance (Sonoma is about an hour away from Napa). However, I would check with the airline to make sure what exactly is allowed in an “allowance.”

For the glamorous of us who like to carry our wine in style, you will love the Adagio Wine Tote (may not be suitable as an airplane carry-on, just FYI). It’s a leather-ish tote with a removable interior divider and room for two bottles of wine — or other liquor. It doesn’t look cheap (like a brown paper bag), nor does it look like a wine tote — which I love. If you get one, take a pic and share! Feel free to share the wine, too.

Next Week: A Man and His Cave

Wine caves are integral to any winery and next week, I have a really, really special treat. I’ll take you to Tom Eddy Winery to met Tom and his wife Kerry, two of the warmest, most sincere and genuine people I was fortunate to meet on my journey through Napa. We’ll take a walk up the hill, stop in at their home-made, outdoor “saloon,” appreciate some of Kerry Eddy’s sculpture and sample some of the Tom Eddy Collection —inside the awesome Tom Eddy wine cave. What a treat! See you then!

In the meantime, catch up on my first three stops: Tres Sabores, Checkerboard, and Raymond.

About the Author

Stefan Pinto is a male model and photographer. In 2007, he spent one week on expedition with National Geographic in Oaxaca, Mexico. His work has been published in Maxim, Forbes, Out Magazine and The Advocate. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram

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