I’ve never been to a winery before. Somehow in all those previous times I’ve been to San Francisco, the timing just didn’t tie in with a visit to Napa Valley. My desire to go to one is not because I fancy myself a wine connoisseur or anything like that; a winery just seems like a fascinating place to visit. Well, thanks to our California Cheese Crawl with Real California Milk, I got my wish granted with this visit to Louis M Martini Winery.
The winery is located along the South St. Helena Highway, with an appropriately wine-colored sign marking its location. I somehow forgot to take a photo of the exterior of the winery’s main building, but it’s a lovely piece of work. It’s reminiscent of a large wooden cabin in the middle of a huge expanse of greenery, surrounded on all sides by trees. That is, if a cabin could house something akin to a mansion inside.
Let’s wine all day long.
We were greeted with some rosé the moment we arrived. A sign of good wine-related things to come! While sipping on the wine, we were told a little bit about the building we were about to enter. Originally constructed in 1933, the winery just completed some huge restoration work in March of this year. As one of the first wineries in Napa Valley established after the repeal of Prohibition in the United States, they tried to preserve many parts of the building while adding a lot of modern touches.
The effect is a place that is classy, but at the same time inviting. There are different rooms with tables and chairs perfect for long periods of wining and dining. The tall ceilings and wood elements give the entire place a spacious polished look. At the far end of the room, there are scarily tall shelves lined with huge barrels of wine biding their time until they’re ready to be poured into bottles.
It almost feels like you’re visiting your wine-obsessed uncle’s manor.
The story of Louis M Martini
One of the most interesting things about this entire tour was learning about the history behind the man, Louis M Martini. The story of his struggles and subsequent success is inspiring, and it spoke to me a lot. Imagine a 12-year-old boy in 1899, knowing no English, venturing out at sea from Italy on his own to seek his father in America.
7 years later, Louis M Martini makes his first wine in a backyard in San Francisco. Apparently it wasn’t very good, but his father saw his interest in it so he sends Louis back to Italy to study wine-making for 2 years. Louis excels at a faster pace compared to his classmates, especially with the technical aspects. When his instructors decided to pull a trick exam on him to test his palate, he was able to identify that there was a piece of metal inside the barrel of wine he was tasting. Turns out his instructors threw a nail in there.
Armed with this new confidence and knowledge, Louis returns to the US, working as a winemaker up until the Prohibition era. While the alcohol ban hit the wine-making community hard, Louis saw a workaround for him to be able to continue his passion. He starts selling sacramental wine to the church, eventually starting L.M. Martini Grape Products Co. in 1922. Of course, the Prohibition era eventually ends, and by December 1933, Louis M Martini begins to sell wine again in his new St. Helena location. The same place the winery still stands.
The following years were focused on improving the business using new innovations, as well as purchasing new lands to turn into vineyards. Louis even helped establish the Napa Valley Vintners Association in 1943 with a mission to promote Napa Valley wines worldwide. By 1954, Louis M’s son Louis P is given the reigns as head winemaker by his father.
Unfortunately, none of the succeeding generations of the Martini family went into winemaking. In 2002, the Gallos, a fellow winemaking family and close friends of the Martinis’, decided to purchase the winery and the vineyards. They wanted to continue the beautiful work that was started here. Louis M Martini, meanwhile, continues to be credited as one of the pioneering figures of the California wine industry. He was even indicted into the Vintner’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
Everything about Louis M Martini’s story feels like a mixture of talent, hard work, and also perfect timing. It’s like he was meant to establish this place. And with the wine we tasted this day, I’d say the current people running the show are doing a great job continuing his legacy.
Wine and cheese belong together.
Part of going on a tour in a winery is obviously getting to swirl, sniff, and taste a lot of wine. We started with a 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, proceeded to a 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, then walked out to a lovely al fresco garden area for what I will say is the highlight wine of the day. I am always partial to red wine, but this was a truly exquisite one.
I don’t drink enough to be able to say that I’m good at wine appreciation exercises, but I do have tastebuds and they deemed the 2015 Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon to be my favorite of the day. This wine is hard to describe but easy to drink. Just a bit bitter, with the right amount of sweet and fruity. I think the word I’m looking for here is balanced. Funnily enough, my tongue seems to be more refined than I give it credit for, because it picked a $100 wine as its favorite.
We were ushered into a private room at the end of the tour only to find out that the chef had prepared a mouth-watering cheese board for us. The Louis M Martini Winery offers a number of events on the regular, but I’m pretty sure feasting on a California Cheese board is a special activity. The cheese board was complete with cured meats and pickled vegetables, plus an absolutely delightful marmalade on the side. Surprising me not in the least, my favorite from the board was the aged hard cheese. (Apparently it was actually a Fiscalini cheese lol.)
Remembering those few hours we spent swapping stories, drinking wine, and eating more cheese, I am struck by this phrase I read on the Louis M Martini Winery website: ‘We believe that wine is about more than what’s in the glass—where you are and who you’re with are always part of the enjoyment.’
I couldn’t have put this entire experience better into words.
Read more about LOUIS M MARTINI WINERY on their website, like them on Facebook, or follow them on Instagram! To know more about the man Louis M, here’s an awesome article. And finally, here’s a video to give you a bigger idea about this winery:
Full disclosure: This trip was part of the California Cheese Crawl organized by the California Milk Advisory Board. Facts and figures have been taken from the company’s website, but all opinions stated above are my own.