Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> A Visit To Napa Valley 2011

A Visit To Napa Valley
Doug & Linda enjoy wine country in the fall of 2011

Our October 2011 trip to Napa Valley with friends, Kurt and Cathy Meyer, proved, once again, a study in contrasts. I like to call Napa Valley "Disneyland for Adults" and it continues to be at times pretentious, also humbling and always entertaining. Real people making real wine keep the valley honest, whether they work for themselves on tiny estates, or for billionaires in pretentious palaces. We were lucky enough to stay in one of the un-pretentious places, in the guesthouse at the Boyd Family Winery, a 25 acre estate where Stan Boyd and his wife, Joan, grow grapes for many of Napa's premiere wineries, as well as making about 1,500 cases of wine for themselves. Their 2 bedroom guesthouse is warm and welcoming, and nestled in the middle of their vineyards, yet only minutes from downtown Napa. With a full, well furnished kitchen, living room, dining room and very comfortable patio overlooking the vineyards offering amazing sunsets, it was a great find....just book early.

Our first winery stop was Jarvis, an impressive, 45,000 square foot facility built in a cave near Atlas Peak. This can be classified as one of the pretentious entries, since spending $150 million dollars to build a facility to make 8,000 cases of wine per year can't possibly make a profits even if they continue to turn out $100 Cabernet for the next 200 years. The reservation only tour ($60 if you don't own a wine store), is actually worth the price of admission. Our tour guide, Alex, was as knowledgable and smooth as they come, which should be expected since his last gig was as a server at Per Se in NYC...I'm guessing William Jarvis made him an offer he couldn't refuse during dinner.  

This is a winery that never uses a French oak barrel more than once, quite an extravagance at $1,200 per barrel, and a bit questionable since not all grapes benefit from 100% new oak. The facilities are more than impressive and feature a natural underground stream and waterfall which helps regulate the humidity in the cave. There is also very impressive ballroom called the Crystal Chamber and Barrel Chai where they hold an annual masquerade ball for their wine club members. The amazing layout of the massive caves is circular and encompasses everything from fermentation to barrel aging. Even the rest rooms are over the top, with impressive sculpted  brass doors and marble floors. The tours are intimate and limited to 10 to 12 guests, and include a generous tasting of their very good, albeit very expensive, wines, and a generous fruit and cheese tray to accompany. Jarvis is all about hospitality, since their goal is to sell their entire production to club members...and their gracious manner made you want to join the club. 

Our second day was sparkling intensive, beginning at Domaine Carneros, the French Tattinger Family's personal colonization of the Napa Valley. Located on highway 12, the route between Napa and Sonoma, it might be the perfect first stop on any trip to the Valley. This beautiful winery is a replica of Tattinger's Champagne estate and features wine tasting with beautiful views on a lovely terrace overlooking Carneros. Our (personal) guide, Bruce, reminded me of some of my staff....retired, loves wine and enjoys sharing his knowledge of it with visitors. The facilities are state-of-the-art, nestled in what could pass for a 17th century French estate. Founded in 1987, winemaker Eileen Crane has been at the helm of Domaine Carneros since the first harvest and continues to oversee and direct winemaking and operational duties. She also pioneered the introduction of their outstanding Pinot Noirs to a family that had never made a still wine.We can't recommend the tasting room and terraces highly enough for the view, the wine and the artisian cheese plates and snacks that they serve to accompany.

Since we had plenty of time,we were able to take in one of the most beautiful views, hands down, from the grounds of the Artesa Winery, nestled atop a high hill a few miles north of Domaine Carneros. On a clear day, you can see can see the Transamerica Pyramid in downtown San Francisco. And the wines are pretty darn good too. Iin fact, their consistent 90 point plus Chardonnay has been one of our best sellers for the last 4 years.

On the way down the hill, we just had to visit Michael Mondavi's new winery, it was worth a stop, but made lunch challenging for the next appointment. That is when one of our best trip investments paid off (and it was not to be the last time), when our Napa Valley Limousine Service driver, Dave, found us the Palisaides Deli and Cafe in Calistoga, where we picked up a bottle of wine and Cuban sandwiches (that inspired our recent Cuban sandwich recipe last month) that made the pre-lunch trip to Schramsberg a pleasure. There are some guilty pleasures that are worth the investment...and since there were 4 of us, having a limo pick us up in the morning and drive us from winery to winery certainly made the trip more enjoyable. We can highly recommend this perk.

Next week, the real caves in Napa