Category Archives: Napa

And the World is Little Changed…

The last four weeks have passed in an amazing blur for me.  Two weeks spent in San Antonio at a huge convention and managing a large food-, drink- and music-filled party at the Hilton for clients.  Back home for a week, then off to the Napa Valley region in California for a another week with two other couples joining us for the first weekend.

After the pressures of organizing our party for months, decorating the ballroom and watching its success unfold in the delighted eyes of nearly 450 guests, then spending another two days traipsing all over the convention floor (oh, the swollen ankles!), I was ready for some down time.  More than I, so was my wonderful fiance.

Oh, but we got a LOT more than we had asked for!  (Thank you, dear Heavenly Father!)

We have just spent a week of pure bliss wining and dining our way from Napa to St. Helena to Sebastopol to Sonoma, and another day was spent eating and drinking our way all over the San Francisco Wharf area. Needless to say, I just haven’t been able to bring myself to write another post here.  And doing so was the LAST thing on my mind while gone.

My mind, heart and soul has been far, far away.

There are few places on this earth as beautiful, as bucolic, as cathartic as Napa and Sonoma Counties, a place Sweetheart and I first visited last September in a Diageo Crush Camp.  Because of our waxing poetic since about our experiences and the wonder of it all, we were appointed “tour guides” for our four guests who accompanied us for a portion of our return sojourn this year.  We took the role quite seriously and created an itinerary of outstanding proportions of tasting reservations, sight-seeing, shopping and outstanding dining.  A good time was certainly had by all.

As soon as we arrived in the Carneros Valley from SFO, the vines were ablaze in their Autumn colors for as far as the eyes could see, which only became more beautiful the further we drove.  And the smell everywhere of composting stems was amazingly floral and sweet, and absolutely intoxicating.  For wine heads such as ourselves, we were in Nirvana every moment, whether awake or asleep.

Dinner our first night was at Angele in Napa and was absolutely off-the-charts and delicious.  Angele is a Country French restaurant right on the Napa River and is a favorite hangout of local folk.  I recommend it strongly for anyone heading to Napa!  The French Onion Soup was probably the best I’ve ever had, and my fish was cooked perfectly, as were all of our entrees.  Antipasti at the beginning was outstanding and introduced us all to some show-stopping local artisanal cheeses and salamis and the very best honey I have EVER tasted, a locally-harvested delight from a “Mom and Pop” farm called Eggman Family Honey.  Unfortunately, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t score a jar to save my life.  The Eggmans only sell their honey to a small handful of restaurants throughout California and offer their 8-ounce jars for $3 each at one San Francisco farmers’ market on Saturdays only.  No website, no phone orders.  Dadgummit!

During the next two days, we tasted some of the best wine on this planet from Silverado, Silver Oaks, Cakebread, Domaine Chandon, BV, Beringer, Provenance (a personal favorite), and several more.  The Tokalon Tour at Mondavi was very interesting, and the Historic Tour at Beringer was outstanding…especially for a Fine Arts nut like me.  The Victorian stained glass panels in the Rhine House defy description.  Little surprise came from learning the glassmaker commissioned to build the myriad of panels and panes was one of the leading glassmakers for Louis Comfort Tiffany at the time.  Beyond the Tiffany-esque vibrancy of the glass (sans Favrile, of course), the reverse etching was sincerely stunning.  The Estate Wines were delicious, most especially Beringer’s 2004 Private Reserve Cab and their 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Port was to die for.

Franciscan has a lovely winery, but the wine was predictably atrocious.  Great photo-op at their fountain…

Rutherford Grill was delicious for lunch.  Another strong, strong recommendation.  And everyone should experience the Oakville Grocery.  Best darned deli sandwiches you’ll find anywhere and we thoroughly enjoyed eating on the back picnic table and imbibing freely of our Silverado stash.

One of the greatest highlights was at Go Fish in St. Helena when Tom Rinaldi and his wife, Beverly, joined us all for dinner, a particular delight for our guests.  Tom is the winemaker at Provenance Vineyards now, having spent 22 years putting Duckhorn on the map.  He also developed the reds for Duckhorn’s spinoff of Paraduxx and is especially renown for the exceptional Merlots he has created over the years.  Truly one of the nicest, warmest, funniest, most generous fellows on the planet, so do yourself a HUGE favor and go visit Provenance.  You’ll find A+++ delicious cabs and merlots (even though he considers his reds a “work in progress”), and you will find hands-down THE BEST sauvignon blanc to ever hit your palate.

And DO be careful when passing groups of bicyclists when driving in the area.  Chances are Tom will be among some of them.

PS:  Go Fish is also strongly, strongly recommended.  Best sushi and sashimi I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  Uni straight from the Mendocino coast.  Downright delicious cooked fish, too…!  Best service we enjoyed anywhere along the way.  (I’d adopt Jeremy if I could…)

Another dinner was at Julia’s Kitchen, so named for Julia Child.  I was not in the least impressed and was bloody-well disappointed in what they thought was “Julia Child fare”.  Overpriced for the offerings (we expect to drop $100 to $150 a head anywhere we go, by the way) and well below mediocre in taste at best.  Personally, I wouldn’t recommend Julia’s Kitchen to anyone.  Ever.  Period.  The REAL Julia is undoubtedly haunting them from above.

Once our guests were dropped off for their return flight to Dallas, Sweetheart and I hit our own laundry list of wineries to visit.

We had the exceptional pleasure in meeting and chatting with Mary Rocca at her tasting room in downtown Napa.  Sweetheart and I have long enjoyed Rocca wines in favorite restaurants from Houston to Wichita, so bringing home some of her cabs and syrahs was a non-negotiable intent.  The Coup de Gras was bringing home a bottle she graciously signed for us.  It will go next to and slightly behind our treasured bottle signed by Mr. Rinaldi.  😉

Then came Chappellet.  This is another personal favorite of ours, especially their Mountain Cuvee.  But we were surprised to learn how difficult they are to find.  Chappellet is not only extremely well hidden on Pritchard Hill off Sage Canyon Road, but their intentional lack of signage speaks of their intent to remain off of the tourism-beaten track.  Only two tastings are offered each day to no more than six people, but worth any and every price to obtain an appointment and be further treated to the best, most informative tour you will find anywhere in the valley.  Their cadre of delicious varietals is unmatched.  Delicious, delicious, delicious!  We joined their wine club and have a short ton of additional estate wines headed to our “wine cave” as I write.  I can’t tell you how much we look forward to their club shipments over the months ahead.

DeLoach, where we are already members, provided the zins, pinot noirs and chardonnays we knew they would have and we were happy to replenish some of our past wine shipments.  Their Van Der Kamp Pinot Noir and Porter Bass Chardonnay are delicious beyond description.  Make the trek, folks….  Outstanding stuff.

But our very favorite winery of all provided perhaps the best visit of all throughout our week:  Moon Mountain Vineyards.  Nestled in the hills against Moon Mountain in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon, their vineyards produce the best zinfandels and cabs ever to delight our tongues.  We are also wine club members here and enjoyed immensely every single taste Angela provided of their newer offerings and have a even heightened excitement for the club shipments to come.  Syrah was amazing.  The place itself is breathtaking and it was wonderful to have been able to “come home” to the very first winery that stole our hearts last year.

Back to the quest for local honey…

Not content to accept failure in finding some Eggman Family honey, I broadened my search to any local stuff I could score.  Finding Beekind in Sebastopol was my salvation!  Doug and Katie Vincent have a delightful little shop of every supply and product imaginable for and from the hive, including a honey tasting bar.  I’ve never seen so many different honeys and we tasted our way from honeys made in the Redwood forests on the coast to those made near Sacramento and all points north and south.  What wonderful people, what wonderful products, and what extraordinary assistance they provide to so many others in the area maintaining their own hives.   I now have many jars to enjoy over the months ahead.  And I was thrilled to learn from Katie that no diseases have plagued any wild or homegrown bees in her knowledge base (which is huge), and only the commercial bees have suffered and suffered hugely.  The home beekeeping industry is not only alive and well, but growing exponentially.  Good to hear.

At Katie’s suggestion, we stopped by the Pacific Grocery in Sebastopol and loaded up on some of the most amazing artisanal cheeses produced in the area.  The ladies at their cheese counter were very helpful and were full of inciteful information about the cheeses and their makers.  Another wonderful blessing to find.

So now we are home at last after a whirlwind month.  Precious puppy has been retrieved from Grandmother’s House, wine shipments have arrived unscathed, the laundry is done, but the house left bereft of attention for so long yearns for some tender housekeeping care.

Through what little television I have deigned to watch since returning, I see that the world remains as chaotic, depressing and monster-filled as before.  No surprise there, but do understand that my last idyllic week leaves me with no desire to write the obligatory Michael Devlin plea agreement post or to even for a moment fall into the bottomless pit of illegal immigration woes or presidential politics.

For as long as my memories and living life allows, my mind is going to remain in the tastes, smells and sights of Napa, the uninterrupted precious time spent with my love, and in reliving perhaps the most wonderful vacation of my life.

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Ah, California Wines….

The Owl & IIn mid-September of 2006, we enjoyed an extraordinary week at Diageo’s Crush Camp in
Sonoma and Napa Valleys in California. Diageo is a large consortium owning not only my favorite whiskys (Lagavulin, Oban, Talisker), but Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling Vineyards, Provenance Vineyards, Acacia Vineyards and — our abstolute favorite — Moon Mountain Vineyards. Ours was the only non-commercial “camp” of the year and we were joined with 11 other couples from across the country. For four solid days, we awakened at the crack of dawn and were bussed out to a vineyard for breakfast and a talk with the winemakers. The first night, however, provided a welcoming at Moon Mountain Vineyard in Sonoma, where we road in the beds of pickups straight up the mountain to be greeted by a wine tasting and canapes as the sun set. That’s where we became immediately addicted to their estate-grown Malbec. Well, their cab, too.  And I believe we just purchase one of their last ten cases of the 2003 Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley.  Like Zin?  This stuff will blow your mind!We picked grapes at the Three Palms Vineyard (the workers called us “loco gringos” for spending so much money to pick merlot grapes for half an hour. Don’t blame them, but it was a blast. Sterling winemakers gave us a tour of their fermenting rooms, where we had two-week-old Sauvignon Blanc before it was barrelled to make way for the reds. Next a tour of their caves, then their expansive processing facilities, then lunch that was off the charts. We had the pleasure of sitting with the winemaker and talking more.Provenance Vineyards yielded a personal and expansive tour by Tom Rinaldi himself.   More Sauvignon, as well as his Rutherford he is so proud of. He says to give the vineyard time — everything is still young.   Be that as it may, his Sauvignon Blanc is the best I’ve had there or since.At BV, we listened to their winemaker explain the years of wiring experiments exhibited in their test vineyards and tasted so many of their delicious wines. Then we went into the LaTour home and learned how to blend wines, based upon the Tapestry varietal as a marker. Our blends were to be rendered and labeled for later presentation. Later, we helped Chef Joey Altman of Food Network fame to create our dinner at the LaTour home, and we drank more BV George de LaTour than should be legal. That stuff was GREAT! 

Our last day welcomed us at the Acacia Vineyard, with their champagne and chardonnays and more Joey Altman fare brunch fare, as well as a complete tour of their vineyards and processing facilities by their winemaker. Their chardonnay is truly delicious.  Not nearly as oakey as most seem to be these days (I personally love Ramey), but made the old fashioned French style.  Delicious.  Had the distant kick of watching actress Terri Hatcher from a short distance (she was there on a shoot). Demo of predatory birds followed (they are used to keep the huge local population of grape-munching birds away from the cash crops), and that was truly astounding.  An eight-pound Eagle Owl, an Emperor Peregrin Falcon, and a hawk. 

At last, after much food and more Mimosas and just plain chardonnay than I can remember, we were finally presented with the bottles of wines we had individually blended at the BV house with our certificates of completion for Crush Camp 2006.

A five-star treatment throughout the entire camp. We’ve already signed up ourselves and two other couples to attend the next available Crush Camp…not until 2008!

In this photo above, I proudly hoist an Eagle Owl at Acacia — one of the absolute highlights for me personally in this trip.  Well…other than the wines, of course.