While wine labels have progressed dramatically over the years with critters, etchings and bespoke materials, the tasting room experience in wine country has not evolved at the same pace. Certainly there is beauty in tradition but also a need to take us somewhere new. Thankfully a recent addition to the downtown tasting scene aims to change what one can expect on their next trip to Napa - welcome CRU @ The Annex.
Ironically, the provocative inspiration was not born from a brash young vintner but instead a very lauded winery, Vineyard 29. Chuck and Anne McMinn are the proud owners and visionaries who entered the wine business 17 years ago, investing in the original estate through vineyard acquisitions, a new state-of-the-art wine making facility and renowned winemaker Philippe Melka at the helm. In the years following, their vintages were quickly recognized for elegance and the estate for its impressive design. Though after attaining such heights and reaching tasting capacity at the winery, Chuck wanted to expand their passion for wine and share with a broader circle. Hence, the idea for CRU @ The Annex was born and with the help of Keith Emerson, Director of winemaking, a new extension to the legacy began in 2004.
Though Chuck's desire was not limited to the tasting room alone, as he's always strived to enhance and support the Napa community overall. As Kelsey Hertig, CRU @ The Annex Director, describes, "Chuck wants visitors to see Napa as a destination to not only experience wine but also explore the town by foot and soak in the whole lifestyle". Part of this dedication is his sponsorship of the cherished Vine Trail which currently stretches over 12 miles from downtown Napa, north to Yountville, giving people a scenic path for biking, running and walking through the valley. Ultimately, the Vine Trail Coalition has ambitious plans to connect the entire valley from Vallejo to Calistoga totaling 47 miles – a grand project indeed.
And a nod to this great effort is one of the CRU @ The Annex centerpieces, an incredibly intricate C&C milled LED backlit veneer map depicting the Napa Valley Vine Trail in its entirety. The interior overall is the work of talented designer Erin Martin of St. Helena whose homey but edgy eclectic style gives CRU @ The Annex the chicness of a SoHo gallery but also the welcoming comfort of a local coffee shop. A centuries old salvage Bay Laurel trunk is the perfect greeting to visitors at the entrance. From there many options abound from tasting tables banked by the Vine Trail installation, to the focal point of the main tasting room, a grand 10’ x 10’ 8K video wall (the perfect Nod to Chuck's background in tech). It's hard to break your gaze from the four vibrant screens featuring a variety of stunning photography and videos on loop from curated artists. Though the adjacent wall-mounted vintage Parisian bicycle holds it own as well. There's a great deal to soak in as your eyes wander from interesting artifacts to soft leather couches - the whole space is a great mix of patina and modern finishes.
Of course all this would be for none, if not accompanied by wine of the same caliber. Classic cab lovers will be delighted but also those seeking other varietals such as sauvignon blanc, pinot and merlot (with soon to be released rosé - hooray!). Total CRU @ The Annex production is well under 10,000 cases annually, so attention to crafting these wines is in the tradition of Vineyard 29. Though holding true to a unique tasting experience, you will not only enjoy finely paired cheese but also a sampling of their custom seasoned popcorn - a very fun accouterment.
Also, should you choose to sip and soak in the sun, a splendid patio is available as well. The same inviting accommodations await outside enclosed by a most unique fence designed in the spirit of the "love lock" bridge in Paris. You too can leave a permanent token of your memorable experience in Napa. We hope you do on your next visit to CRU @ The Annex.
CRU @ The Annex | 1046 MCKINSTRY STREET | NAPA, CA 94559
- Mike Casey | The 29 Napa