Napa Valley – Land of Enchantment

Beep…beep…beep…RISE AND SHINE my sleepy little grape lip-stained friends (and don’t tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t). It’s 7:00AM Saturday morning and we have 1 1/2 hours to get our party group all ready to be picked up in style by charter wine tasting tour service, Green Hills. We’ll be getting picked up promptly at 8:30AM by our friendly driver, Aloise in a comfy van well stocked with Mumm sparkling wine–and beer/water for anyone not wanting the sparkly bubbles (hmmm—no on here fitting that description)
Side Bar…
When I found out that our group leader (birthday boy), Keith wanted to spend a day in Napa Valley on this trip, I was giddy with excitement as I’ve been to the Napa area probably about 7 or so times and LOVE getting to visit the lesser known wineries that produce smaller size case counts of wine. I LOVE taking friends who have never been there. I LOVE getting up into the mountains to see some of the incredible hillside vineyard vistas. I NEVER get tired of it. I definitely have some favorites and was
T-H-R-I-L-L-E-D that I was given the task of putting together our itinerary! I worked with Green Hill’s Amber (Aloise’s wife!) to put together our fun itinerary. Since we had a group of newbies to Napa, I wanted to show them some off-the-beaten path wineries that I knew of with breath taking scenery, were located far up in the mountains, and had ridiculous tasting wines!!  I wasn’t necessarily going for quantity of places hit on this tasting. Dave (aka–hubby) and I  can usually do about 5 to 6 tastings in a day because we are so familiar with the area (and granted we can run a pretty killer round of speed tasting). But this time, I wanted to make sure that our whole group got to have the most wonderful and memorable tasting experiences so that they would most definitely want to come back again!
These are the kinds of places you must call well in advance and set up tasting appointments. They don’t typically take drop-ins.
Back to our scheduled programming…
Our friendly driver, Aloise picks us up and we are off in style.
Off and ready to go!!
Yumm….Mumm….
He gives us a bit of San Francisco lore as we make the exit out of the city via the span of the “new” Bay Bridge. It was recently just fully opened. The old one is still located next to it–not in use anymore, and is starting to be demolished. You can see the demo being started below. A noteworthy bit of history pops up this morning from Aloise in regards to the old bridge being heavily damaged during the earthquake of 1989 which registered a 6.9.—interesting—
The missing link towards the right hand side of the old Bay Bridge
Route 29 here we come! Getting closer!
We continue on and as we are now well away from San Francisco, Aloise stops us roadside next to of all things Californian, the Bonsai truck to get our sparkling wine groove on. Aloise wants to make sure we are happy and arriving in style into Napa.
Thanks Aloise:-)

Sparkly and Bubbly!!
The Bonsi Truck
Get your Bonsai here!!!
Finally we are headed through the Napa Valley on Rt. 29 (the main drag) to first make a pit stop at the legendary Oakville Grocer and get some fine dining picnicking foods. It’s going to be a long day of tasting and we need to be prepared with major food supplies!
A foodie’s dream come true!!

 

Dave with our gourmet groceries!
We are loaded up and now it’s about another 25 minutes to our first stop….
Let the wine tastings begin!!
We arrive at Cade, on Howell Mountain.
This is a relatively new winery (2005) that really touts itself not only on fabulous wine, but also being very eco-friendly from every last aspect of producing wine to all of the materials used in their facilities–cork flooring, recycled denim curtains, re-using the pomace of the grapes back into the soil, etc. The estate has a sleek and modern feel to it. Mark was our super friendly,  laid back tasting guide and he led us through a beautiful series of wines
Checkmarks on the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc, and the 2011 “lower case” cade Cabernet Sauvignon.
These will all be going home with me!
I took a bit of time to enjoy the view and get some photo ops while making my final decisions about what wines we would be purchasing to come home!
Sharing my wealth of expertise–I’m sure…

 

Making the tough decisions on purchases
CADE large format bottle.
Plumpjack and Odette are sister wineries to CADE.

 

An absolutely incredible location. An infinity pool overlooking the hillside.

 

Even better with brother, Alex

 

Beautiful wildflowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds
Tough to leave but we’ve got a busy day
On to our next stop…..Kuleto

 

This winery also sits high atop rugged mountains. It’s already a long enough ride off the major winding road up to the Kuleto gates as is, but just when you think you’ve arrived, you have to radio in at the entry gate, they give you the punch code to enter their property, and it’s another 15 minutes up their truly narrow and even MORE tiny winding road.
Open the gates please!

 

They insist the road is 2 lanes wide but most drivers (and passengers looking down the mountainside from their windows) would strongly disagree with that. We are the unfortunate van coming up the road that meets with a car coming down the mountain. This takes some maneuvering to see which vehicle is in a better spot to try and back up and find a place with enough room to get around each other.
We finally make our way to the winery and are thrilled to jump out of the van and stand on solid horizontal ground! Where’s the wine!
Fill us up–hallelujah we made it in one piece!!
Our guide, Brandon, quickly introduces himself to us, we grab a glass of Rosato and we begin a tour of the beautiful property. This property is so private that the owner had no choice but to self build his own multi-million dollar road all the way to the top of this mountain before he could actually build anything even winery related up here. Got a few extra bucks to spare?
The feel of the buildings and estate is a very rustic old world feel.
Brandon leading us on our tour

 

Roses and grapes

 

What a gorgeous view
We get to try some Cabernet grapes (the fun is trying them both as juicy plump off the vine grapes and as little dried up raisins also right off the vine). We get to taste Moscato grapes too. I’m in grape heaven!
We pass the animals that are housed up here and I’m just saying–it’s not like they’re just a zoo for visitors to enjoy. Ummmm–they are part of the food chain. Shhhh–not too loud. They don’t really know this yet. Goats, sheep, hens, turkeys, rabbits–you name it–they’re here.
Hi little sheep…you’re cute but a bit smelly

 

Hi dinner….I mean Mr. Turkey
There’s also vegetable and fruit gardens with tomatoes, apples, corn, figs, squash, melons.
We head to the edge of the mountain and take in a gorgeous view of Pritchart Mountain where you can see some very prestigious wineries –Chapellet, Colgin, Bryant, Continuum.
Photos please!
Scenic overlook

 

Our tasting crew at the overlook to Pritchard Hill and Lake Hennessey

 

Lake Hennessey

Now we head back to sit under the grape cluster covered pergola and start our tasting.

 

Tasting list

 

Rustic pergola covered in grape vines

 

My view while sitting back and doing some serious tasting. This is HARD work!
Kuleto’s wines are some of my favorites. I absolutely LOVE their Zinfandel and am a bit bummed that it is not available today, but I’m not gonna let it get me down because things are going to end on a pretty good note here….
We happen to be with a group of 3 other people. A young couple who are also here celebrating the young lady’s birthday–so coincidental? And a woman with them, whom we now know as Mrs. Beecher who works for Constellation Brands (which is a beverage group owning many well known spirits and wines so she has a pretty good taste for wines). As we are continuing through our tasting, Mrs. Beecher decides to choose something not on the tasting menu (2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon) to celebrate her friend’s birthday and is so kind enough to share with all of us! The funny thing is that we all fall in love with this bottle and between our entire group–I think about 8 bottles are purchased. When we go inside to do final orders and payments, another gentleman working there says to  me–that’s why we took that one off the list–it pretty much just sells itself through word of mouth- it’s that good! I can’t wait to enjoy this purchase at home!

 

Talk about hauling a rustic thing like this up the mountain to Kuleto! I’m referring to the fire truck not me!!
It’s time to take the crazy drive out of here and get to our 3rd tasting. It’s going to be a long haul from here to Spring Mountain so I call ahead to let them know we’re going to arrive a bit late. Most of these wineries understand it’s not so easy getting from one place to another and as the day goes on, you definitely do start to fall behind on your intended schedule. Always make sure to give them a call and let them know you’re a bit behind especially if you’re with a large group–they really try to be very accommodating. And if for some reason, it’s just not going to work, there are so many other great ones to check out that don’t require reservations. I was actually quoted twice on this trip that there are about 450 wineries in Napa to check out–imagine trying to visit them all!
….And–finally we arrive at Pride and are greeted by Andy who says he enjoyed some wine tasting with his prior tour and I believe him:-)

 

 

He immediately hooks us up with a Viognier and we begin our tour.The first thing he explains to us (and I always love this story) is that Pride is located in both Sonoma and Napa counties. It produces grapes in both counties and then sometimes their winemaker feels the need to blend these grapes to create a certain type of wine….so what does all of this really mean? It comes down to being taxed accordingly for grapes being produced and used from each county in the proper way. The Pride accountants are very busy people!
The dividing line on the property. Dave is in Napa and I’m in Sonoma.
It’s like the Hatfields and the McCoys–not.
The grape crushing device on the right hand side is an on-wheels mobile set up so that it can move freely from one side of the dividing line to the other for easier management of what county is being crushed.
Now we are going to enter The Bat Cave–no not really–but we are going into the man made caves that are used to store and age the barrel wine before it goes to the blending stage.
Nice and cool in the Bat Cave

 

A little candlelight ambiance…

 

Nothing more needs to be said..

 

Our first tasting in the caves
We also get to do a bit of barrel tasting on 2013 grapes. We compare the same Cabernet Sauvignon grape varietal– the ONLY difference being the area that the grape has grown. One has been grown in this Napa area and the other has been grown more so with a coastal climate. The terroir has a major influence on a grape’s taste and the first one we taste is smooth but with a very tannic bite on the back end. Our second barrel tasting is all around smooth and fruit forward. Andy asks us to pour about 15% of the first barrel taste into our 2nd one and do a quick study on blending. Pretty interesting how they a winemaker’s expertise can create such an incredible finished product by just knowing how much of each to blend together. This is the fun stuff! I could just sit in the cave all day and blend wine.
Barrel Tasting #1: A much more tannic finish on this Cab grape.This is a new thing…using a “keg” spigot to dispense the barrel tasting.
The last time I did a barrel tasting it was pretty old school with a turkey baster device trying to syphon off some juice

 

Barrel Tasting #2: A much more smooth fruit forward taste on this Cab grape.
Go Andy Go!!
After spending so much time in the deep dark caverns we slowly venture back up and out into the soft light of their beautiful tasting room which you can have private events at
Private Room for Events

 

Dave–can I have my next birthday party here?? Pleeeassseee!!
And then we open the massive doors out into sunlight and the ongoing view for miles of lush green vineyards.
Photo op!
It’s gonna be spectacular!

 

Come on–let’s do it

 

Holy sh*t!!!

 

…and it keeps going…

 

…and going…

 

Who would NOT be happy here?? Not us.
We slowly make our way back to the main area to take some vino home with us and I get a cute little Pride teddy bear as a souvenir with my yummy wines.
Shipping Alert!!
We have our wine purchases and I have made sure we all have our shipping boxes to get our wines back home safely. You can purchase them at most wineries for about $5 to $7 each. If you don’t intend to ship back all of your wines directly from the wineries which can get extremely costly, I highly recommend these boxes with either styrofoam or egg crate dividers to either ship back on your own or baggage check home–either one is great. They can hold a case (12 bottles) and it gives you the ability to mix and match from different wineries.

 

Make sure you get some packing tape and a sharpie marker to securely tape up your boxes (a lot of tape) and label with a name/phone number. The last thing you want after you drop a mint is for your container to open and there goes your investment. These shipping boxes travel incredibly well. And if you want to ship out from Napa to just get it done with–go to The Buffalo shipping center in downtown Napa.
Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming–
Our final stop of the day heading out of Napa is Trinitas Cellars. This is connected to the Meritage Resort and Spa and they have late hours which makes it a good option.
Yep…open til 7PM

 

Time for our last tasting!

 

Many of the smaller boutique wineries/tasting rooms close up between 3:30 and 5:00. Trinitas is open til 7PM. Another good late one is Peju on Rt. 29. They’re usually open till 6PM and have beautiful outdoor grounds to buy a bottle and chill out.
I’m not gonna lie–I had to pick something that was open late since we were running down to the wire on time having spent so much time driving and tasting at our 3 other fancy wine tasting tours and I wouldn’t normally have picked Trinitas Cellars because it doesn’t have the kind of ambiance I was looking for, or stellar wine–but that being said, with a tasting guide named Velvet, we are hoping for good stuff! There were actually lots of things to taste on this list so Dave and I did the “divide and conquer” plan where we each did 5 different tastings each. We chose things that would contrast and compare with each other’s tastings so we could taste 10 wines total and make better informed decisions about what we liked best for purchasing. You can usually find something quite likeable no matter where you are in Napa and at $35 a pop for their Syrah, that was probably the least expensive thing we purchased all day. The ladies in our group also purchased some to die for chocolates that paired well with the wines.
Set up those wine glasses

 

Tasting Menu
Dave likes Trinitas Cellars–he just likes wine in general
After our last stop, it was time to say good night to Napa and we made the trek back to San Francisco.
We bought a bottle of the Trinitas 2012 “Psalms” Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc to share on our ride home ($28–see what I mean about the deal!) and Aloise treated us to some surprises of the evening which just made the experience even better….
We stopped at one of the most famous San Francisco Bridge lookout points (on the Marin County side) for some amazing photo ops of early night time.
Late sunset

 

The happiest:-)
And then as if that weren’t enough, Aloise stopped off at the Twin Peaks lookout for an overall view of the twinkling city at night with some very apropos music in the background? You could consider it a bit cheesy, but we were all reveling at the end of our evening listening to “San Francisco –Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair”, Tony Bennet’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco, Journey’s “Lights”, and Starship’s “We Built This City”—it was turning into karaoke night!

 

Twinke, Twinkle..

 

Admiring that overlook

 

It was the end of our day in Napa and as sad as I was that we were only spending the one day there because typically Dave and I will make it a long 3 day weekend and stay in a quaint B&B, you all know that that night at around 3:30AM, the Napa area was hit with a 6.0 magnitude earthquake.
I consider it a very interesting day of karma and coincidences and think us all very lucky to have only made a day trip. So many of you checked in on us the next morning to make sure we were OK and we are all thankful to have family and friends like all of you who care about us so much. I can’t say it enough–much love to all!