Arthur started his own insurance company in Fresno and turned it into a major producer for AIG. But when the economy collapsed in 2008, he considered a career change and decided that his job would never again be something he didn’t like. A lover of food and wine, and a lover of distillation (he was already making homemade limoncello), he decided to quit his job to start a craft distillery.
He and Lusine love going to Napa Valley in May – he remembers his first trip to the valley in 2000 – they were among the first guests at the River Terrace Inn – they stayed there just one day after it opened. He remembers telling Lusina that he loved visiting Napa Valley, but could never live there – because it was so quiet (remember, downtown Napa had not yet been redeveloped and dining and wine options were much more limited).
That same year, 2009, they founded Napa Valley Distillery, which they established in the valley. It was the first distillery to open in Napa since Prohibition – 76 years! And as of our last update to this review, they are still the only distillery in the city of Napa.
Napastek is an Armenian word meaning rabbit, and the word cleverly combines the Armenian heritage of Arthur and Lusine with Napa Valley. It is also the second word (after Papa) that Arthur and his daughter Lusine first said. Napastäk was founded in April 2013 when they opened their first retail location in the Oxbow Public Market in Napa and focused on selling bitters and other bottled alcohol.
In those days, it was still forbidden for the craftsman to serve tasting food to guests. Arthur was the founding president of the Artisnal Distillers Guild of California and helped the organization pass legislation (AB 933) allowing craft distillers to test their products. That happened in September 2013, signed by then California Governor Jerry Brown, and in early 2014 Napastak offered tastings. This organization has since been responsible for passing more legislation to benefit craft distillers in the state of California.
When the tea room left Oxbow in 2019, Arthur and Lusine opened Napastäk at the former location (with several shops). But when they realized that their products were in conflict with some other stores in the market, they closed that store and opened their current store on 1st Street in downtown Napa.
In Armenia, Arthur said, wine is a food item and since their outlets are so crowded (Oxbow and Downtown Napa), it makes sense that Napastak would also offer wines. Winemaker Paul Johnson (his own label, FiftyRow Vineyards) has been their winemaker since the inaugural 2016 vintage. Paul’s wife Marion worked in Napastäk and helped open the Oxbow and Downtown.
The wines are made in a local winery that presses to customer specifications – thanks to Paul’s own sources, they have access to grapes from top vineyards – their wines have a very limited production – usually only 1-2 ton lots. With the exception of one wine, all of their wines come from the Napa Valley. Through the Armenian community, Arthur met Gary Aghajanian (also Armenian) and through him they purchased a very small amount of Pinot Noir from Sonoma County. The wines are produced in such a way that they can be consumed after being put on the market.
2019 Napastäk Oak Knoll Chardonnay in a medium gold color, it is immediately clear that this is not a Napa Valley Chardonnay backed by the heavy hand of oak aging. The aromas show more fruit, including hints of dried straw, some floral nuances, including citrus and jasmine flowers, and some minerality. Maybe a touch of popcorn oil or vanilla among the flavors. Very balanced on the palate, with texture being an attractive feature of this wine. Creamy but not heavy, the texture, flavor and acidity harmonize on the finish. 100% fermented in French oak barrels and matured on the lees. Only partial malolactic fermentation.
Pinot Noir on the Napastia Sonoma Coast in 2018. Light to medium ruby in color, it immediately offers fruity aromas – raspberry, red cherry and a slight spicy note (but not vegetal). The bouquet is related to the typical character of the variety and not to the effects of ageing in barrels. This is not necessarily the lighter style of Pinot Noir – the palate shows a complex character with some darker fruit, including plums and persistent berry acidity. Also some spicy notes. If we had to guess, perhaps fermentation of whole grapes (we wrote this down during tasting and later checked the wine’s specifications, indeed the wine underwent 25% fermentation of whole grapes). The tannins are visible and remain present for some time.
The 2016 Napastäk Reserve Syrah is medium ruby in color – quite a striking bouquet due to its ripeness, slightly jammy with notes of black licorice, brown sugar and other sweet desert spices. The jam in the bouquet is not transferable to the taste. Plums, blackberries and a little dark chocolate on the palate. Crazy with light to medium tannins that are very well integrated into the finish. Clarity for life. The sources of the vineyards are Mount Howell and Oak Knoll.
The 2016 Napastäk Maroon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon offers spicy notes on the nose, tea leaf, dusty notes and perhaps a hint of dried tobacco. The aroma and flavor of this wine is a pleasant change from the almost ubiquitous riper style of modern Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Nice texture – the tannins are earthy, dusty and rounded. There are no sharp edges. This extremely well balanced wine is a pleasure to drink and did very well during our tasting 5 years after the harvest date.
And in an extremely rare offering, Napastäk produces a late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon. The only other Napa Valley producer we know of who made this product was Van Der Heyden Vineyards (he has since sold the property and closed the winery, which now houses Seven Apart Winery).
Napastäk is open 7 days a week. It is very well located in the center of Napa, on the 1st floor. Street next to the Archer Hotel. The tastings take place in the shop or at one of the 5 tables directly on the sidewalk in front of the shop. This is their main outlet for Napastäk wines, which are sold here directly to consumers.
In addition to the wines, they sell a variety of products, including several fair trade coffees that father and son Berkeley make for them, including an Epicurean (a coffee meant for an afternoon outside) and a Chef Espresso – both made from coffee beans from Brazil and Central America. And various olive oils.
Napa Valley Distillery
This is truly one of Napa Valley’s hidden gems that even the locals don’t know about – it’s tucked away in the industrial part of town, literally just off Highway 29. In 2015, they moved into a severely neglected warehouse and opened a tasting room the following year. Walking into this distillery, you’d think it was located in Los Angeles – perhaps in an industrial area of that city – which is certainly helped by the obvious Hollywood Room sign outside. And the creative interior design was designed by Arthur and Lusin.
While Napa Valley is certainly known for its wine, it’s refreshing to discover a local producer who makes products other than wine. Napa Valley Distillery is the first distillery to open within Napa’s city limits since the implementation of the distillery ban (enacted in 2009). This distillery is located at 2485 Stockton Street, just off Highway 29). The emphasis is on bushcraft spirits (all homemade from scratch).
Guests who want to enjoy a tasting without taking a tour can linger in the quaint Hollywood Room bar, either outside (glass doors open from the bar to the street) or in several outdoor tiki lounges, where you can often enjoy a good cigar. The selection on the drinks menu is impressive, ranging from an intriguing cocktail menu to non-alcoholic drinks, select Napastak wines and even some vintage spirits (the oldest on our last visit was Rocher Cherry cognac liqueur, bottled in 1944). On certain days there are happy hours with interesting discounts. And for visitors who can’t make it to the distillery, there’s a small shop that sells both the products (a wide selection of bitters) and the tastings at the Oxbow Public Market.
Open 7 days a week for tours and tastings at the beginning of each hour. The tours provide a general overview of the distillation process, with more detailed information depending on customer interest. Visitors should take a moment to admire the large American flag hanging on the wall – it’s made from recycled firefighter hoses and features the colors of the American flag. Napa Valley Distillery produced a special whiskey that raised nearly $20,000 to help firefighters who were injured or needed help in retirement.
After the tour, guests head upstairs to sample 5 or 6 spirits in the 1,300 square foot Grand Tasting Lounge – an experience Arthur calls alcohol yoga – not just any tasting, but a highly personalized and curated experience. The interior offers an Art Deco and Hollywood atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else in Napa. The distillery has a commercial kitchen, and the small bites are often paired with various spirits. One of their unique experiences is called Taste Touch and Smell and consists of four small dishes paired with a special cocktail. The food truck is always outside in the parking lot and open during normal business hours.
The room can also be rented for private groups and special events. Napa Distillery also partners with several wineries, mostly in the Napa Valley, to produce its own brand of cognac. Maturing, blending and bottling are all done in-house.
Tasting Bar at Oxbow
One of the oldest tenants of the Oxbow Public Market near downtown Napa. Arthur and Lusine originally opened their store there in 2013 (remember, Oxbow opened in 2007). Inside are several food and drink artisans, each with their own signature. And some of these businesses have large stores or other spaces elsewhere in downtown Napa.
Napa Valley Distillery’s tasting bar offers a wide selection of fruity spirits and seasonal liquors. And there is a large collection of bitters for sale, some of which are only available here (no other outlet). A small bar offers the ship’s drink tasting flight.
Bar Club membership includes quarterly receipt of a case of specialty spirits, complimentary tastings at the Hollywood Bar and access to the unique Speakeasy Store. For more information on each of their businesses, see www.napastak.com and www.napadistillery.com.
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