Alpha Omega: prestige for crowds

Alpha Omega creates an upscale tasting experience for crowds.

Alpha Omega tasting room is just 500 feet away from Napa Valley’s busiest artery, Highway 29. No appointments are required, unless it’s a bigger group, and the tasting room is often full on weekends. On a rainy Saturday in mid-January they see about 300 visitors, and during the peak summer-fall season twice to three times as many.

Alpha Omega owns just a small, seven-acre, vineyard in Rutherford where it grows Sauvingon Blanc and Semillon. All other grapes are sourced from different vineyards across Napa Valley.

Alpha Omega has a short history: it was only established in 2006 by Robin Baggett, an ex-General Counsel to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, and his designer/marketer wife Michelle. (The couple also owns 800 acres of vineyards in San Luis Obispo since 1988.)

Despite crowds, short history and a small own vineyard, Alpha Omega has totally figured out how to impress visitors and sell most of its 12,000 cases direct to consumers.

First, there’re a few big names that tasting room hosts never fail to mention. Michel Rolland is a consulting winemaker; Andy Beckstoffer sells grapes for some of their wines, including from the famed To Kalon vineyard.

Alpha Omega winery in Napa valley, tasting roomSecond, little money was spared on designing the tasting room. It has high ceilings and tall windows, grey color palette, so loved by Californians, and a stylish outdoor seating area with fountains shielding it from highway noise. There’s also a concierge at the entrance greeting and directing all guests.

Tasting room hosts are trained to handle large crowds – they are quick but also  knowledgable, friendly but without too much familiarity.

Finally, Alpha Omega stays open until 6 pm, later than many other wineries.

Wine

Alpha Omega winery in Napa valley, winesThe wines are undoubtedly well-made in a typical Napa style. Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (alc. 14.1%) is crisp and clean, not too acidic and not too fragrant – a “morning wine”, as my friend called it. Chardonnay 2013 (alc. 14.4%), which spent 18 months in new French oak, is round and creamy, with notes of butter and bread crust.

Proprietary Red 2012, a blend of 61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc (alc. 14.3%), offers notes of blackberries, black currents, and cinnamon sticks, well-integrated oak and somewhat abbreviated finish. It was open-top fermented and aged 22 months in 100% new French oak. Cabernet 2012 (76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc, alc. 14.3%) was made in a similar fashion. It smells of black cherries, prunes and sweet vanilla, and is rich and lush.

All of the above – names, design, costly grapes and expensive winemaking – come at a price for the consumer. Sauvignon Blanc is $40, Chardonnay is $72, both reds are $96.

Actually, wine pricing may be another factor that convinces people of prestige. Apparently, there’re enough people who find the prices justified: about 50% wine is sold to club members, and another 40% through the tasting room.

While I personally think otherwise, I would still definitely recommend visiting the winery for those looking for a better Highway 29 experience.

Address: 1155 Mee Lane, St. Helena. The tasting room is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm. Tasting of four current releases is $30, no appointment is required, unless for larger groups. Other tasting experiences available.