BY MARK GUDGEL | PHOTOS BY MIKE LARSON
Just north of Calistoga, where Mount St Helena looms larger than ever over the warm, jagged hillsides that have proven to be some of the most fertile lands in all of California, a winding road leads west through well-cultivated vineyards, up a hill to what appears at first blush to be a simple crush pad with a glass wall behind it. Upon closer inspection, however, it quickly becomes apparent that what sits behind the glass wall, embedded in the mountainside, is perhaps one of the most immaculate and modern wineries in all of wine country. Welcome to Knights Bridge Winery.
2022 marks just the second harvest in this building, about which words like “stunning” and “incredible” fall short. In designing the building, the architect used Mount St Helena to sight the center and built from there, making this view of the sentinel peak one of the best to be found. Fifty acres of grapevines surround the modest footprint, but upon walking through the fourteen-foot sliding glass doors, a massive underground space sprawls out. The first winery built in Knight’s Valley since Peter Michael back in the 1980s, vintners Kelley and Jim Bailey have made attention to detail their number one priority.
Behind the glass walls is a fermentation barn full of stainless-steel tanks. “Every person who visits the winery goes the same route the grapes do,” explained Knights Bridge Vice President Laura Kirk Lee. Beyond them, the Grand Cave features concrete eggs, or rather, concrete tulips, Kelley’s favorite flower, with the Knights Bridge icon emblazoned upon each in bronze. Beyond the eggs, barrel rooms full of sixty-gallon barriques. Director of Winemaking Douglas Danielak, who began his career in Bourgogne, returns annually to select the French oak that will become Knights Bridge barrels. Near the back, the architects have left exposed a wall of rhyolite tuff, the unique sandstone-like mineral that helps give Douglas’s wines some of their incredible flavors. “Hopefully, the wines leave a memory as indelible as the countryside,” he said, looking into his glass with a smile.
The Tasting Salon is a room full of natural light with a cozy feel. A vase full of tulips, a few large-format bottles, and a view of the outside. On the walls are two striking paintings by a South African artist, Werner Smith, whom Kelley met while traveling. A long table and comfortable chairs await all who enter, with Knights Bridge’s incredible wines—including one of the most extraordinary Sauvignon Blancs on the market—waiting to be enjoyed.
To open a new winery is a herculean act. To open a winery with such incredible architecture, with personal touches at every turn, a place that is at once the perfect blend of form and function, well, such a thing is rarely accomplished. Yet, in the shadow of Mount St Helena, the Knights Valley’s first winery in nearly four decades has set the bar high for anyone who might follow in their footsteps, creating one of the most spectacular must-visit tasting experiences in wine country.