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Swirl 'n' Spit
Tasting Room of the Week

Hall Winery

By Heather Irwin

Lowdown: You'd think a guy who started his own financial group at age 18 with money he began saving at age 10 would run out of steam somewhere, oh, around age 25. But like many of Napa's boutique winery owners, Craig Hall has a history that includes owning a major league franchise, being a big-time real estate developer, having several published books to his name and being married to the former ambassador to Austria, though Kathryn Hall grew up keeping it real on a Mendocino grape farm. Don't hate them because they could buy you out a billion times over; the Halls happen to make some damn great wine when it comes right down to it.

Word in the valley is that the couple is buying up property as fast as they can. They currently own some 300 acres of prime real estate in Napa and Alexander valleys and plan to spend $100 million to produce enough grapes for their great big reds. No wussy wines, these. Hall wines are beefy, burly tongue-grabbers that are being snapped up faster than Dean and Deluca's Saturday sample trays.

Mouth value: After getting over the $10 winetasting sticker shock, settle in for some real rewards. The 2001 Napa Valley Merlot ($28) is a favorite with rich caramel and burnt wood flavors, and is a good value. My guide called it a "wine s'more" (which I can appreciate): faintly sweet and smoky with hints of chocolate and a plush texture. I love a good, campy Merlot. The 2001 T Bar T Vineyard Merlot ($30) was less camp and more vamp. Rich velvet and violets with a hint of leather hiding underneath make this mistress a sexy catch. Cab lovers should head straight for the 1998 Kathryn Hall Sacrashe Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($65). Think of it as a forest romp with your hot archeology professor--earthy and a little bit raw with lots of tobacco and crushed berries.

Don't miss: Nearby is the foodie mecca, Dean and Deluca (607 S. St. Helena Hwy., St. Helena, 707.967.9980). This New York-based food emporium stuns the senses and empties the wallet in ways you have yet to imagine. Despite its East Coast roots, however, many of the foods featured in the store are local. Plus, all of the 1,400 wines sold in the store are Californian, according to its website. (There are a number of international spirits, however). A favorite recent find: fig and shallot spread ($8), perfect for gliding onto pizzas or crackers.

Five-second snob: The Halls are avid art collectors, focusing much of their collection on sculpture. You can see a number of large-scale works in the tasting room, though scores more are dotted throughout their other private properties surrounding their home. Hall also recently created the Texas sculpture garden in his home state, featuring a number of prominent American artists.

Spot: Hall Winery, 401 St. Helena Hwy. S., St. Helena. Open daily, 10am-5:30pm. $10 tasting fee. 866.667.HALL.

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From the June 30-July 6, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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