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Award-winning Raymond Vineyards, a Napa Valley pioneer since 1970

2013 Fall Home Tour: Raymond Winery

Join our November Home Tour as we explore a Napa Valley vineyard's creative renaissance

We arrived breathing in the setting – picturesque grapevine-studded acres, rimmed with mountains. And in the wine country, there is always the light – spun like gold, mellow as a benediction.

We came because there’s no better place to raise a glass to the good life than Napa Valley – and this month, to celebrate the launch of the Frontgate Estate Wine Club, our Home Tour comes to you from award-winning Raymond Vineyards, a Napa icon.

Named American Winery of 2012 by Wine Enthusiast, Raymond and Frontgate are in many ways simpatico – both are driven by the quest to create extraordinary products that are part of a luxurious lifestyle.

Nestled in the hills of Napa, the estate spans more than 300 acres

California Dreaming

Roy Raymond arrived in the Napa Valley in 1933 – just in time for the first harvest after Prohibition. Even as California’s wine country was being born in this terroir, Roy did the work of a pioneer, painstakingly learning about every aspect of winemaking. Finally he decided it was time to stamp his family’s name on the deep roots they’d laid in the region, and in 1970, Raymond Vineyards was born.

Five generations of the Raymond family worked toward creating the landmark winery. Spanning more than 300 acres today, the Raymond estate vineyards have an enduring reputation for wines that balance elegance and finesse with power.

"I believe that even at the luxury level, the heart of real hospitality is a sense of conviviality and warmth."

- Jean-Charles Boisset, proprietor of Raymond Vineyards

The dynamic entrepreneurs meet. Raymond proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset and Frontgate founder Paul Tarvin.

Enter the Visionary

In 2009, Raymond Vineyards was acquired by the esteemed Boisset Family Estates. Charismatic proprietor Jean-Charles Boisset leads the family firm by combining his passions for wine and the history of each vineyard with a deep respect for the environment.

Inspired by his vision, Raymond Vineyards has become a dynamic destination for wine-lovers – a world-within-a-world, dedicated to exhilarating one-of-a-kind tasting and educational experiences.

“Within the Boisset family of estates, the goal has always been to respect the personality and history of each winery,” says Lisa Heisinger, vice president of operations. “From that grounding place, Jean-Charles unleashed his imagination – and the result is a number of different experiences on the Raymond estate, unique ways for guests to heighten their passion for wine. We really wanted to cater to many different tastes, personalities and levels of wine knowledge. So you’ll find the serious educational experience sitting alongside other offerings that range from light and whimsical to very chic.

“Jean-Charles has incredible exuberance and zest for life,” Lisa continues. “None of us can keep up with him. He reminds me of a child on Christmas Eve ... you know, when they don’t want to sleep because they’re afraid they might miss something? I think this love of surprise and delight has woven its way into everything we’ve created here.”

Walls of French oak casks flank the Barrel Cellar tasting room.

It's All About the Experience

In the Barrel Cellar, for example, walls are lined with casks of tightly grained French oak, each holding a young cabernet. Guests can taste these still-maturing wines, and then compare them with their finished counterparts.

By contrast, the Red Room is a sumptuous experience – ensconced in deep claret velvet, dotted with plush sofas and illuminated with a Baccarat chandelier. It’s the ultimate enclave for guests to enjoy bottles of still and sparkling reds. The estate’s elegant Tasting Room is like a light-filled extension of the vineyards themselves, with floor-to-ceiling windows that create a visual mingling of indoor and outdoor spaces.

The Crystal Room gleams with crystal, mirrors, and stainless steel.

Live and Learn

Innovative educational experiences abound at the winery. Learning about the art and science of decanting a wine, for example, becomes an immersion experience in the Crystal Cellar – where stainless steel walls, an endless mirrored bar and a collection of historical crystal decanters from Baccarat combine to dramatically illustrate the effect of aerating a wine.

As part of one of Raymond’s most popular offerings, the Winemaker-for-a-Day program allows guests to learn something of the winemaker’s art by creating their own custom blend. "It's a program designed to help people understand the role blending plays in winemaking and what each varietal contributes. In this little hands-on seminar, we provide participants with a beaker, a pipet and a sample of four different wines, telling them what each contributes," Lisa says. "Then they get to make their own wine. After that, the wine is bottled with a real cork and a label that they designed from one of our templates before class. So when you leave, you actually have a bottle of your own wine to take home with you. It’s a playful experience, and yet you gain the same understanding you would in a classroom."

Raymond's Theater of Nature, a two-acre exhibit on biodynamic farming.

Back to the Future

Originally developed by Rudolph Steiner in 1924, biodynamic farming views the agricultural process in a holistic light. Larger in scope than simple organic farming, this approach tends to see crops, soil, animals and even planets as a singular unified system. In recent years, a few forward-thinking vineyards, including Raymond and other vineyards in the Boisset family, have adopted biodynamic viticulture practices, director of winegrowing Eric Pooler explains.

"When you farm in the biodynamic way, what happens to a grape over the course of its season – the weather, the soil, all of it – that is what defines a vintage," Eric says. "So you embrace it. You take what comes and deal with it using all your skill. Through allowing the grape its natural stresses, you actually end up with a wine that is more expressive and vibrant. It's something you can actually taste.

"Think of it this way. The purpose of the grapevine is to 're-propagate'. That’s what the plant is programmed to do. This means the vine wants to create fruit that is delicious as possible; it wants to attract animals of all sorts who will scatter its seed. As a plant comes into balance with its surrounding ecosystem, it has to struggle a bit more – so it develops fruit that is more resilient and tastes better. And the wines that come off the fruit are going to be of a higher quality."

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Conviviality and warmth abound around a sumptuous outdoor feast.

The Art of Living Well

For many, it becomes difficult to separate a good wine from the urge to share, the impulse to entertain and the whole idea of living expressively. These notions are behind what is Jean-Charles Boisset’s philosophy: "I believe that even at the luxury level, the real heart of hospitality is a sense of conviviality and warmth," he says.

"Food, fine wine, gracious outdoor living... all are essential when it comes to the art of living well. In this sense Frontgate and Raymond Vineyards are a perfect pairing."

- Jean-Charles Boisset, proprietor of Raymond Vineyards