In the late 1930s, the grandparents of third-generation vintner, Chris Madrigal, emigrated from Mexico to the United States to seek a farming way of life in the Napa Valley. The family was one of the Napa Valley’s first Mexican farming families, growing apples, grapes, pears, and walnuts. In the late 1970s, the Madrigals shifted their focus to grape growing, and sold their grapes to other Napa Valley wineries.

Under the helm of Chris’s father, Jess, the Madrigal family originally established itself in the Napa Valley as Madrigal Vineyard Management. The vineyard management division currently manages around 800 acres. In 1995, Chris began growing, producing, and selling his own wine under the name Madrigal Family Winery. The inaugural release was 500 cases of Petite Sirah, the grape variety for which the winery is most known. Today, the winery – which will celebrate its 26th vintage in fall 2020 – makes about 6,000 cases of wine annually, including (in alphabetical order) Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Garnacha, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, as well as Gewurztraminer sourced from Mendocino County. Madrigal Family Winery is home to 40 acres of vineyards, public tasting space, and the winery. Madrigal also has a tasting room in Sausalito.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, like other wineries, Madrigal Family Winery found itself in a quandary as to how to get their wines in front of people without the ability to host public tastings. As a response, the Madrigals developed the idea of a virtual tasting, as other wineries are doing, but in a more approachable, affordable way. Instead of offering full-bottle tasting packages of wines that customers may not have not tasted, Chris, his wife Christina, and the fourth generation of Madrigals – Lauren (advertising), Santiago (marketing and sales) and Pierce (packaging) – who suddenly found themselves working for the winery as their colleges and universities closed – created the aptly named SIP (Shelter-in-Place) sanity tasting.

The kit, which is priced the same as an on-site tasting ($35 per person), contains four, two-ounce wine samples – 2019 Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2019 Estate La Vida Rosa, 2014 Estate Nuestra Sangre, and 2015 Estate Petite Sirah – plus technical information and winery tasting notes, a signed notecard from Chris, a Madrigal-branded pen and corkscrew, and for Bay Area locals, a logo glass. Once purchased, the winery emails link to a Zoom videoconference tasting hosted by Chris, which occurs every Friday at 5:30 p.m. Santiago – who was studying abroad at his university in Spain when he had to hurriedly make his way home prior to the ban on arriving international airline passengers – is the family’s point person for acquiring tasting kits, available for sale on the winery’s website.

Santiago’s fervent marketing on social media piqued my the interest and subsequent participation in the weekly Friday night tasting and follow-up happy hour.

True to its description, the SIP sanity tasting was as close to a face-to-face winery tasting as one can get these days. In fact, it was more intimate because tastings at the winery and in Sausalito are usually hosted by hospitality staff, not Chris Madrigal himself. The 30-minute tasting showcased not only the four wines, but also Chris, whose presence and dialogue with the tasters added a personal touch.

As to the four wines – which were specially “bottled” from small stainless kegs into in Sarstedt, Inc. 60-milliliter polypropylene tubes, with a “shelf life” of about a month – they were delightful to taste in the comfort of one’s home with Chris as the guide. The first two, the pre-release 2019 Estate Sauvignon Blanc and 2019 Estate La Vida Rosa (made from Garnacha that is picked early and pressed specially to make rosé), with their bright fruitiness and lively acidity – are ideal for sunny and warm summer days, whether those days are spent sheltered in place or elsewhere, and will accompany foods such as salads, roasted vegetables, and seafood. The 2014 Estate Nuestra Sangre, a Bordeaux-style blend of Merlot and Petit Verdot, is named as such because it symbolizes both the blend of grape varieties and the pervasive family bond. Its flavors of baking spices and black fruits will enhance grilled and roasted beef dishes, as well as Chris’s suggestion, Beef Wellington. The 2015 Estate Petite Sirah continues its longtime reign as Madrigal’s flagship grape variety, a suggested pairing for lamb and other red meats due to its dark, intense flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and vanilla spice.

The follow-up happy hour was even more heartwarming than the preceding tasting. At least 50 families – often with two or more participants per video connection – filled the equivalent of two computer screens. Chris engaged each participating family by asking how they were doing regarding employment, their families, etc. in light of COVID-19. What was most impressive is that Chris knew enough about these customers to ask such personal questions. The camaraderie felt like a family reunion.

Most impactful was that regardless of circumstances, human connection matters most. Madrigal’s wines are the threads that unite people, whether it be during a pandemic, a celebration, or everyday life. Chris Madrigal and his family personify “Nuestra Sangre,” the bond that holds everyone together, especially in this unprecedented time of challenge.

The Madrigals have their own cookbook that includes the family’s mango salsa and lamb tacos made with Madrigal Sauvignon Blanc and paired with their Petite Sirah. In the spirit of “Nuestra Sangre” and extended family, the Madrigals share these family recipes.

Madrigal Family Winery Lamb Tacos

Serves 6

1 leg of lamb

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. black pepper

1 tsp. cumin

½ tsp. Old Bay seasoning

1 cup olive oil

2 cups Madrigal Sauvignon Blanc

2 Tbsp. agave nectar

3 chile peppers

3 shallots

5 cloves garlic

2 cups orange juice

1 lemon

1 lime

1 orange

When buying your leg of lamb, have your butcher butterfly and trim the fat. It should come in about 4 manageable pieces.

In a large bowl, sprinkle salt, pepper, cumin, and Old Bay on the chunks of lamb.

Add olive oil, Madrigal Sauvignon Blanc, and agave nectar.

Add roughly chopped peppers, chopped shallots, and minced garlic.

Slice the citrus in halves, squeeze the juice onto the lamb, and toss in the squeezed fruit halves. Cover with orange juice.

Marinate in a cool area for a minimum of 12 hours, but 24 hours is optimal.

Heat the grill to 400 degrees and cook until an internal temperature of 130 degrees is attained. Baste with marinade every time you turn the lamb over, about every 5 minutes or so. Do not overcook.

Warm corn tortillas on the barbecue or comal (flat griddle) and slice the lamb. Make tacos and add a generous helping of Madrigal Family Winery Mango Salsa (recipe below). Serve with Madrigal Petite Sirah.

Madrigal Family Winery Mango Salsa

4-5 tomatoes

1 yellow onion

1-2 jalapeño peppers

1-2 serrano peppers

2 cloves of garlic

1 medium-sized bunch of cilantro

1 ripe mango

1 lime

Salt

Pepper

Chop the tomatoes, onion, peppers, mango, and cilantro and put into a bowl, using one or two of each pepper depending on how spicy you would like your salsa. You can usually make it a little spicier because it is offset by the sweetness of the mango.

Mince the garlic and add.

Slice the lime in half and add the juice of both halves.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Allow to settle in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours so that the flavors integrate.

Serve on top of Madrigal Family Winery lamb tacos.

Elizabeth Smith is a freelance writer and copywriter. Reach her at elizabeth@elizabethsmithconsulting.com or visit her website at elizabethsmithconsulting.com.