Vermeil Wines’ Napa tasting room adds a bit of nightlife

By Carey Sweet

The original Vermeil Wines tasting room is in downtown Calistoga, but ownerDick Vermeil has bigger dreams, so he opened a satellite salon at First and Main streets in downtown Napa lastsummer.

His presence adds a bit of celebrity to the corner, since Vermeil is the Super Bowl-winning NFL head coach who worked with the Philidelphia Eagles ,St. Louis RamsandKansas City Chiefsuntil he retired in 2005. Since 2008, the Calistoga native has been in the professional wine business, making a Vermeil brand in tribute to his father, Jean Louis Vermeil II.

The vibe: Similar to the Calistoga location, it's football, football and more football. Photos are everywhere – of stadiums, players, sports celebrities and Vermeil himself. An alcove boasts leather chairs and a big-screen TV showing football, and a stylized logo on the wall looks like afootball.

But look again and you will see vineyard photos, plus an old-growth vine trunk featured as sculpture. Vermeil partners with the Frediani family of Napa Valley for its grapes, first planted in 1895, when Abramo Fredianisettled on Pickett Road near Calistoga after emigrating from Vallico Sotto, Tuscany. Today,Mary Sue Fredianiis also the tasting roommanager.

The experience: Napa is bursting with tasting rooms these days, with nearly two dozen choices. Vermeil isn't high-energy or distinctive, really, but it does please with its cosmopolitan design and intimate, relaxedmood.

You can taste at the bar, but it's more fun to take a seat on a leather banquette with a restaurant-style table, or on outdoor sofas so big they nearly swallow you as you people-watch next to the sidewalk. The hosts will bring the wines to you, describing each, then leave you to enjoy your sampling. As a bonus, the space stays open as late as 11 p.m., proving that downtown is finally evolving a decent nightlifescene.

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