Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Lots going on personally and professionally but we are back on the posting wagon! First up is a long but entertaining and informative post from Jason on a trip we took a couple of months back to beautiful wine country! There is a quick summary of where we stayed, ate, and drank at the end of the post for those who need instant gratification.
Firstly, let me say that Napa is won of the most wonderful places I’ve visited. Between the company, the wine, and the food, everything was fantastic. With a little bit of improvisation and a lot of planning, we managed to work in many different elements of Napa in just one full day and two half days.
When we arrived in California, we made a beeline down to Monterrey where my old roomie was “finally” getting hitched. I won’t go into how happy those two make me as a couple, but I will say they are awesome. As if they didn’t know.
The next morning, Jacquie, G and I made our first trip to San Fran (or SF as the locals insist) so we could pick up the only real wine “expert” in our crew – M. We swooped her and headed northbound to our first tasting in Napa, but not without food first! Jacquie did oodles of research and the one place she insisted on time and again was the famous Taylor’s Automatic Refesher in St Helena, but we were crunched for time so we hit up the new one in the Oxbow Public Market instead.
Finding this one was sheer luck because we were (semi) lost and just happened to realize that Oxbow was literally one street over from where we were. G and M ate the famous Ahi Burger, which looked fantastic, while Jacquie had an heirloom tomato and mozzarella sandwich and I devoured a “regular” burger.
When we were finished filling up on good eats, we headed to our first winery: Del Dotto Vineyards. Before I officially start all the talk of Napa, I want to give a shout out to G’s business acquaintance because he gave us TONS of great tips for Napa, many in this write up that he would recognize as his suggestions to us. Thanks again.
Back to Del Dotto – cool place. It’s a little kitschy but they offer some great wines.
You can see from the pics that our tour was conducted in their caves and we tasted directly from the barrels via a wine thief. While we tasted wine, Jacquie treated herself to some fantastic water directly from the tap.
The guide was extremely informative and very inappropriate, thus making him perfect for our group. He balanced his knowledge of wine (i.e.; staves and coopering) with his non-pc comments (midget jokes). He even managed to throw hot wax all over himself! Let me tell you, I know that shouldn’t have been funny but in reality it couldn’t have been funnier. The guy was trying to pull the bung out of the bunghole but grabbed the tea light candle instead (I’m laughing as I type this) and in the process threw wax all over himself. Save for some embarrassment and shock, he was okay and did lighten the mood by likening the wax in his hair to inappropriate sexual exploits.
What a great tour – we sampled about 10 wines, all of which were about $120 a bottle, and I capped the tour off by buying an excellent bottle of port.
After leaving there around 4pm, we checked into our awesome hotel, Yountville Inn. We tried to find another winery to go to but found out that almost all of the wineries in Napa Valley close around 5pm. We were stuck with 4 hours to kill before dinner but no worries, G and I are a resourceful duo. We went to a local store, bought some hydration helpers (aka Vitamin Water), and a few bottles of classy $8 wine. The 4 of us hung out by the pool and drank wine while talking about how Tablexchange needs to take off so G can pay for us to drink wine by pools all the time.
After a few hours of relaxation, we headed toMustard’s for dinner, where G had one of the best tomato soups I’ve ever tasted. We called it a night after dinner; well, we had some more wine then called it a night. Good times.
The next morning we woke up bright and early, determined to get a winery in before our lunch reservations. We all snacked on some delicious Bouchon pastries supplied by the Inn and then headed over to a winery recommended by G’s parents, Silverado. You’ll notice throughout the post that every winery was recommended since the number of wineries in Napa is overwhelming. Silverado was gorgeous, set up in the hills with a spectacular view of the foothills and the surrounding area.
Whereas Del Dotto (and later Swanson and Schramsberg) was a reserved private tasting, this was the classic Sideways style walk-in. For $15 we sampled 4 of their wines while sitting on the terrace, taking in the views and the perfect late morning weather in Napa.
We finished up our 10am drinking and made our way to what I thought was the best meal of the Napa excursion, Ad Hoc. Sadly we couldn’t justify the $300 per person meal at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, so we made due with Ad Hoc. And by make due I mean we had a f***ing great meal for about 80% of the price. I’m not going to go into detail about the food or the menu or the décor – you can see all that from the pics or their website – but I do want to express my enthusiasm behind the idea of Ad Hoc. Whereas family style eating is usually reserved for Italian and Chinese places, this eatery took it up a level. The presentation was gorgeous, the portions were adequate (i.e. you get stuffed, but can still walk afterwards), and the service was splendid. I 100% recommend this as a must-go-to when in Napa.
Plus you can hop over to the original Bouchon Bakery and grab some awesome coffee when you’re done.
Once we left Ad Hoc we went to Swanson Vineyards, the same Swanson of TV dinner fame. Since their facility is bit a small, getting there became an adventure. We drove onto a dirt road, then past the entrance because we missed the sign, down to a residential area, made a u-turn on a one lane road, and then drove into an actual vineyard because I thought it was the entrance. Well it turns out that wasn’t the entrance and I was just driving in a vineyard. When we called and gave them a description of where we were – narrow dirt road with grape vines closely hugging our car – to see if we were going the right way, they were thoroughly confused. Anyway, we finally arrived and were greeted at our cars with a nice glass of rosato (which I purchased for Jacquie to sample once the baby pops out).
This private tasting was much more of what I expected to see at all tastings: we sat around an octagonal table and paired their wines with cheese and crackers and chocolate, while listening to the story of the daughter who designed the room and the bio of the pro making the wine. Let the record show that the room, though gaudy, was absolutely gorgeous.
At this tasting I was actually a little bit drunk because normally we would finish a glass of wine or two over the course of one to two hours, but at Swanson’s we sampled tons of wines and each time our glass was empty it was refilled by our host. That could be what led to me buying the rosato we were greeted with and an ice wine for our newlywed friends, but whatever. Great tactic on their part.
When we left there around 2, we decided to get in as many wineries as possible before they all closed at the ridiculously early hour of 5pm. We dropped in on one of the most famous wineries in Napa just to say we had been there, Robert Mondavi, but that turned out to be a less than stellar idea though we did get some nice pics in.
After accidentally driving in the vineyards just an hour earlier, G thought he’d go a step further in is hoodlum antics at Mondavi. Fueled by the liquid courage gained at Swanson, G persuaded us that traversing into the “Private Tours Only” section of the winery would be a good idea. He was right and wrong. Again, we snapped some nice pics while there, but we also received a one of a kind request to leave the premises.
Who knew they wouldn’t like us on the “tour only” area when we weren’t paying for the tour. I wanted to debate the fact that we were embarking on our own tour so technically we were a tour group, but I was slightly inebriated and the security guard who was telling us to leave didn’t seem amused. So Jacquie and I left while the yet-to-be-noticed G and M wandered further through the vineyards.
They were eventually asked to leave as well though. The whole exchange with security was rather amusing but I can’t really do it justice via text, so just call G and ask him.
Figuring that a place where we were welcomed would be a good change of venue, we called on M’s parents and they suggested Benessere, a winery of which they are a member.
I have to say that was probably my favorite stop – since they don’t do tours, the lady serving wine just walked around with us, encouraged us to eat the grapes, and shared her wine wisdom. There was also a great dog there with which Gabe fell in love.
Not to mention their wine was superb and very reasonably priced. Benessere is one place to visit for sure. Their “artisanal” feel is a welcome change from the larger vineyards.
Our next stop at Peju was a meeting point for us and the newly weds who drove up from Monterey for their own weekend getaway. Peju was a pretty place design-wise and the fact that they were the only winery open until 6pm made them our best friend at the time.
It was a real cluster there because the staff was pouring wines while several dozen people clamored to sneak an extra glass or two, all the while being sold on bottle after bottle. It makes sense on the cluster-style because it was lushes like us trying to squeeze out just one more bargain tasting. But we’re classy lushes, not maniacal ones – our idea was to chill on their terrace and take our sweet time. In fact, we took so much time that the bartender (?) just gave us our own bottle so he could close up. Nice gesture.
Before we headed to our reservation at Julia’s Kitchen at the Copia, we all went back to the Inn to get ready. We also tried to drink the wine leftover from the night before but oddly enough, it turned into something that tasted more like soy sauce than wine.
I don’t have much to say about Julia’s Kitchen actually, though I’d probably go back again. The space was nice and the food was wonderful but the price to value ratio was a bit high.
On Monday we chowed down one last time on the pastries in the lounge and then headed off to our last scheduled tasting at Schramsberg. Once there, we were given a brief history of their vineyard and then taken through the “caves” where the sparkling wine is aged not in barrels like traditional wine, but in the actual bottles they would later be sold in. The tour guide explained Schramsberg’s intricate and old fashioned process called the methode champagnoise, or champagne method.
After the tour we sat down in their tasting room and sampled their fantastic offerings. Unfortunately, they are a small producer so only a handful of restaurants, and no retail stores, in NY offer their wines.
The only beef I have with them is that they wouldn’t allow K & M to join us because they were allegedly fully booked but there were two empty seats at our table. That was frustrating because K & M had to leave and meet us afterwards, but we saw a Delorean in the parking lot that quickly made up for any disappointments.
Side note: Schramsberg helped us later conclude that Jacquie did a wonderful job of booking a variety of private tours. The first at Del Dotto was kitschy and eclectic, the second at Swanson’s was grand and proper, and the third at Schramsberg was a mix of those two facets but with sparkling wine instead of regular wine. Since we didn’t technically book Bennesere I’ll leave that out of the private tour category, but even it was different in its intimacy.
After leaving Schramsberg, we stopped off for some good (cheap) eats at the Oakville Grocery. It’s a nice deli with good sandwiches and picnic tables outside. With all the cash we were spending on dinners this was an awesome reprieve and when I’m in Napa next, I’ll 100% go back there.
Fully satiated on sandwiches, we left to go to Domaine Carneros where K and M are wine club members. It was the most grandiose place we visited while there, which should hardly be a surprise considering K’s affinity for all things elite (like Obama).
We got to sit on the balcony (and hold in our pee because the bathrooms were broken; broken bathrooms at a place that serves alcohol is torture) and enjoy a nice flight of vino. And finally something non-alcohol (and non-H2O) for Jacquie!
Here are some candid shots of our wonderful party that Jacquie took.
Oh yeah, K bought a 6L bottle of champagne for his brother to thank him for being his best man at the wedding. That thing was HUGE and I believe they had to fill the bathtub in the hotel with ice in order to chill it. This is the box that they sold it to Kelly in.
Our last stop was just across the street and by “across the street” I mean it was a few miles down the road because most of Napa’s wineries are huge. Instead of everybody doing a sampling at Artesa we just bought a bottle of white, sat inside and enjoyed each other’s company.
Sadly the good times of Napa had to end, but they ended with a great “flip book” of me, K and G.
After writing this, I get the feeling that all wineries try to be unique and that’s why each one seemed different so maybe it wasn’t our planning prowess, maybe it was the fact that there are no two wineries alike in Napa. I can’t wait to go back and find out.
Hotel: Yountville Inn
Food: Taylor Refresher, Mustards, Ad Hoc, Bouchon Bakery, Julia’s Kitchen, Oakville Grocery
Wineries: Del Dotto, Silverado, Swanson Vineyards, Robert Mondavi, Benessere, Peju, Schramsberg, Domaine Carneros, Artesa