Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Tips for Visiting Napa

Tips for Visiting Napa
By Jim Bandy

Getting There:

Usually, we fly direct from IND to SFO and endure the process of getting ourselves and luggage from the airport to the rental car and through ever-present traffic until we pass Berkley. It’s definitely a process. This year we took our friend Jill’s advice and flew into Sacramento (SMF). Connections from IND were easy and on time, but the best part was when we landed. SMF is more compact than SFOm which makes ‘the process’ less stressful. And the drive into Napa? I couldn’t believe how fast and easy it was. And the return was exactly the same, with enhanced appreciation since two cases of wine had somehow joined our luggage. Definitely consider SMF for your next trip to wine country.

Typically we stay in downtown Napa. This time we opted to stay in St Helena. Being mid-valley made our daily forays, whether south into Yountville/Oakville, or north into Calistoga, or across the mountain to Healdsburg much, much easier.

We spoke with everyone about the recent fires and the impact on their wines. I think Karl Frisinger, of Frisinger Family Wines, said it best when he said, ‘We are all learning a lot about smoke taint.’ I’m not a chemist, but, at a simple level, what I learned was that smoke is a volatile phenol which is absorbed by the grapes and binds to natural grape sugars to become a glycoside. These glycosides can break down during fermentation, or aging, to release the volatile phenol again, which produces a smoky taste.

This article from the Australian Wine Research Institute helped me understand more of the complexity surrounding this challenge:  Sadly, most everyone we met either had damage or came very close. Where fire burned or smoke was either detected or highly suspected, the people we met with shared that maintaining quality was too important to release tainted or potentially tainted wine. So they made the difficult financial decision to forego a vintage of one or more varietals.

For years we could just pop into most wineries without worrying about a reservation. The same would be true of many restaurants in the valley. Not this time. We had to schedule our tastings and make restaurant reservations significantly in advance. Some of our tasting reservations were made last July and August. Most restaurants we found only offered reservations 4-6 weeks in advance. I made certain to mark my calendar and made reservations as soon as the window opened.

California had strict rules about group size, but the real issue that required so much planning was a labor shortage. Even when just two of us made an unscheduled stop for a tasting, we were told they were booked solid for the amount of staff they had. So please make your tasting plans early! And give yourself plenty of time to arrive for your restaurant reservation. We ran long at one tasting and arrived 17 minutes late. The restaurant automatically canceled our reservation and welcomed us to join the walk-in queue. Definitely plan ahead or be prepared to wait an unknown amount of time or be turned away completely.