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Elizabeth Spencer: A Small Winery Big on Taste

Elizabeth Spencer: A Small Winery Big on Taste


Stefan Pinto's journey through Napa's off-the-beaten-path wineries continues with Elizabeth Spencer, where he finds balance—both in himself, and in a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. 

Sometimes, during our journeys, we get lost under an overpass only to find ourselves in a bar (if we’re lucky). And, in my quest to find a way to open this article, I found myself reading a book about a bar. The author didn’t take us into an ordinary bar. No. This bar was in Brooklyn, albeit not in the cool part.

Travel has a tendency to teach us a thing or two about direction. Much like Tim, in the book about the bar, the day I visited Elizabeth Spencer, I too was unsure if I was sightseeing or soul-searching.

Table for One?

If you’ve had the privilege of chauffeuring a 22-person party bus, then you already know how tricky left turns can be. Turns we normally take for granted suddenly become treacherous. A once-familiar road now an egg-shell-laden route—an unreliable path, hazardous at every casual twist. The day I was to visit Elizabeth Spencer Winery, I was told I would be going alone.


Located in the heart of Napa Valley, Elizabeth Spencer is the sixth winery in my off-the-beaten-path expedition. And, if you’ve been reading this column from the first winery, you already know that I, along with the two people I met on Facebook, were staying about an hour away in Sonoma, the dueling city in wine country.

It was Tuesday and it poured rain in Napa. It was also the day after our idyllic visit to Tom Eddy which was not enough to cool a heated exchange in a restaurant (perhaps you've also experienced how perplexing owning a mobile phone can be to the people at your dining table). The following morning, I was gobsmacked: a familiar road had become slippery. A causal trip now precarious.

I needed directions. With no other vehicle in the Enterprise lot, I said yes to the party bus. And, as with all searches, Google advised on today’s journey: it would take me literally through Napa’s valley, by way of (ironically?) Trinity Road. A steep, winding, mountainous road, filled with turns, where the ups are beautiful and the many downs—sometimes without warning—can be frustratingly SLOW.

Speaking of slow, the building that houses Elizabeth Spencer Winery used to be a U.S. Post Office. Also of interest, it is technically one of the smallest buildings in Napa Valley, located in the heart of Rutherford. The tasting room is really just one small room—it reminded me of a New Orleans salon (not the hair kind, the intimate kind).


There is a larger tasting area on the premises that can host up to 40 people, but it is typically reserved for wine club members. I would recommend calling ahead to check and maybe make a reservation. FYI: as this is a smaller winery, and tastings are usually only once a day.

It took me ten minutes to park the bus. Incidentally, if/when you do visit Elizabeth Spencer, be sure to schedule your trip when their Meyer Lemons are in season. They are beautiful to behold when in bloom, and the trees are everywhere around the winery. In fact, an exceptionally bountiful one was directly in front of my “compact cars only” parking spot. 

I was disappointed to learn there is no Elizabeth Spencer. The name is actually a combination of winery founders, Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham, both of whom have been making the wines since 1998.

“You Look Like You Need a Drink”

Taking one look at me, the lovely Erica, who was working in the tasting room that day, offered sagacious advice. Oh, I should mention, if you’ve never experienced a wine tasting, typically you start with the whites then make your way to the reds, sometimes ending with a dessert wine. Since today was all about finding your own way, I started with a red.

Balance. We all need more of it. And at Elizabeth Spencer Winery in Rutherford, Napa, they’ve bottled it. The 2012 Elizabeth Spencer Cabernet Sauvignon is expertly crafted with weightless intensity. Elizabeth Spencer strives in modeling their wines with that persistence, simply making wines you want to drink. After all, persistence is really at the heart of any quest, be it a soul-searching mission, or one for a balanced red wine.


Special Cuvée Day

The 2012 Cab Sav was all I tried that day. Sadly, it was all I had time for. I needed to eat lunch (and breakfast), my estranged agent finally called (back) to tell me I got a “bearded guy part” on Bosch… then called back (again!) to make sure I’d be okay to kiss another woman… “she’s really gorgeous.” But most importantly, my party bus was questionably parked.

Most of my visit to Elizabeth Spencer was spent on my own. There was no tour per se, no welcome wagon, no cheese platter, no frills. It was all omitted. I didn’t mind. After all, I believe it was Hemingway who encouraged us to omit anything as long as we knew it would make us feel something… something more than we understood.

Following a quick check to make sure the party bus hadn’t been towed, I ran across Rutherford Road to eat at the Rutherford Grill, when my Facebook friend suddenly texted.

Here’s a link to schedule a tasting experience at Elizabeth Spencer Winery.

Round Pond

Come back next week, where I take the party bus to a winery that houses a rustic Zinc Bar with a terrace lounge overlooking the Mayacamas Mountains. Plus a private, sensory exploration of olive oils and red wine vinegars!

In the meantime, catch up on my first five stops: Tres Sabores, CheckerboardRaymondBlackbird, and Tom Eddy.


Everyone loves a dinner party. And everyone loves wine at a dinner party. But what everyone doesn't know is that wine is best served when decanted. And what better way to decant than with diamonds? Check out this impressive Pineapple Cut Samira Decanter from my new friends at Kneen & Co.. See?! I knew you’d like it. Oh, I’m only recommending this as I know some of you out there can afford it. Personally, I can’t. So when FedEx brings it, invite me. Or better, just send it to me. We’re friends right? Who needs Facebook!


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. He may or may not show up in the season finale of Bosch Season 2. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Instagram

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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