DEER PARK, Calif. – The directions said the gates would be open and the driveway would be steep.
The directions were accurate.
The directions did not indicate that the view would be incredible.
A pleasant surprise upon reaching the top.
The Napa Valley, home to more than 400 wineries and vineyards, spreads out below.
The sun is high in the sky and the temperature is approaching 100 degrees.
It is a good day here on the hillside overlooking the valley, a good day for growing grapes.
This is Somnium Vineyard. Danica Patrick, proprietor.
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“I think the way of the valley is humble,” Patrick, dressed comfortably in cut-off jeans, sandals and blouse, says. “It’s not about Danica’s Bad Ass Red Wine. It’s not about my name; in fact, I almost think my name could take away from it if I put it on there, or used that as the only tool to sell the wine.”
It’s better, she said, if the vineyard and the wine stand alone, “and then people find out that I’m involved and it’s my vineyard and kind of backs up the story in a really interesting way as opposed to ‘Oh, Danica’s wine? It can’t be that good.’
“That’s what I would think about a celebrity making wine. ‘How involved are they really? How good could it really be?’
“I’m sure some people find out it’s me and are curious about it but I think the way of the valley is just so much more subtle, so much more humble. It’s not about selling your own wine, it’s about selling Napa Valley.”
Somnium, a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, is the vineyard’s first release and consisted of 210 cases. The name is Latin for dream.
“It literally took me 15 minutes on my computer crossing one language to another with different words,” she says. “The word that I kept searching in different languages was dream. I thought it had a beautiful flow to it … I like that it’s Latin, just a really, really special name.”
The wine earned a score of 91 (out of 100) when rated by the industry site Wine Spectator. According to the review, Somnium is “intense and lively, with a vivid core of blackberry, wild berry and raspberry flavors. This is nicely structured, ending with a long, lingering aftertaste that keeps repeating the berry themes.”
For now, it is the lone offering from the vineyard, but Patrick hopes to have others to choose from in the future. “The experience is important to me,” she says. “I would love to broaden that, eventually have the sauvignon blanc, the cabernet … the rosé. It’s all about the experience.”
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Patrick, 35, is best known as a race car driver. A one-time winner in the IndyCar Series, she is in her fifth full season competing in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Series.
This weekend she will line up sixth in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (3 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR).
Her business endeavors away from the track include author (her first health and fitness book is scheduled to drop in January of ’18), owner of the Warrior clothing line, as well as owner of the Somnium vineyard.
Others in NASCAR have varying degrees of involvement in the wine industry — four-time series champion Jeff Gordon’s name adorns a line of wines while team owner Richard Childress owns Childress Vineyards.
Why build one’s own vineyard when it would have been easier, and less costly, to simply purchase those wines she enjoyed?
“It’s the art of it,” Patrick says. “Which is actually what I like about racing. I don’t necessarily care about driving the car, it’s the art of it. Setting a goal and achieving it, the feel of the car, the rhythm of the lap; nailing it. It’s just like getting it all right.
“I love the art of wine; you don’t get the same bottle of wine from year to year ever. It’s a commodity there’s only so much of. There’s value in that. … You can’t make any more of 2013 or ’14 or any year.”
Patrick purchased the property in 2008-09 and the vineyard was planted in 2011-12. She didn’t buy an existing vineyard. Somnium was built from the ground up.
Aaron Pott, whom Patrick met here in 2006, is Somnium’s highly regarded winemaker and has worked with several wineries in the valley as well as overseas.
Tracy Smith is Somnium’s general manager. And currently its sole employee.
“I talk to Danica once a week; she calls me, she texts me,” Smith says. ” ‘What are you doing, what do you need?’ I’m very fortunate to have an owner that wants to be involved even though she is so busy. … Having that team behind me and there for me is a great support. I’m so incredibly happy to be a part of this.”
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Feedback has been positive, especially in the Napa region. Somnium can be purchased locally at ACME in St. Helena, a shop that deals in small boutique wines “that you can’t just buy anywhere,” Patrick said.
TORC, a well-known Napa eatery, is offering Somnium by the glass “just for NASCAR week,” she said.
Additional information can be found on the company’s website, www.somniumwine.com.
“Everybody has really liked it and I think that’s the coolest thing — the wine has stood for itself,” Patrick said. “And that’s why my name’s not on it. I don’t feel like I need my name on it either. It’s that good.”