Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> A Visit To Napa Valley Part II

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

Our second sparkling wine stop was at Schramsberg, a winery with perhaps Napa's most storied history. Founded in 1862 by Jacob Schram, a German immigrant, the winery was producing over 12,000 cases of wine in 1874.

In 1963, a very run down winery was purchased by Jack and Jamie Davies, who had a dream of producing traditional Méthode Champenoise Sparkling wines in America. Their 1965 Blanc de Blanc was the first commercial use of Chardonnay in a Sparkling wine in America. And, in 1972, the 1969 Blanc de Blanc was served at the "Toast to Peace" in Beijing between President Richard Nixon and Premier Chou Enlai. Schramsberg wines have been served by every subsequent presidential administration since then, and they have the photos to prove it.

This is the production of old school Méthode Champenoise, more traditional than any of the other French owned Sparkling wine houses in Napa. Aging their wines in single layers in the corridors of their caves, and still manually riddling a high percentage of their bottles, Schramsberg may be keeping the Champagne tradition alive better than their French counterparts. This really is a true California landmark...the Davies practically invented and continue to define California Sparkling wine, and passed the tradition on to their son, Hugh, who runs the operations today. This is a little piece of Champagne nestled in the Napa Valley.

Our guide, Jamie, California born, but a former Indianapolis-based ATA flight attendant, gave us the complete working tour from the aging caves to the bottling line, with plenty of tasting along the way. A highlight of our cave tour was a riddling demonstration by their soon-to-retire riddler, Raul, who showed off his expertise of an almost lost art. (see Raul in action) Cave tours are available on a daily basis, and if you happened to take the over-hyped Del Datto Winery cave tour and thought you saw a cave, think again...this is the real deal.

Next was a quick stop at Darioush....aptly dubbed the "Persian Palace." Proprietor Darioush Kahledi, an Iranian immigrant who built a fortune in the grocery business in Los Angeles, built this 22,000 square foot palace of wine as a tribute to his native Persia. And trust me, no expense was spared. This might be the most opulent winery in Napa...again a facility that won't make money if it sells $100 Cabernet well into the next century.

The design features no less than 6 fountains, a rolling wall of water and a facade built of stone quarried in Persia and cut in Italy before being imported to the US. We can only imagine what that cost. One thing we know about Napa though, is that money can buy great wine and Darioush has done just that. Our slightly pretentious, private tasting served to us sitting in oversized leather chairs proved that most of the wines are indeed excellent, and priced accordingly. I think we have 3 bottles left of the 2007 Cabernet that Wine Spectator scored 94 points and placed on the Top 100 wines list....a bargain at $78.

Our next visit brought us back to reality at the top of Spring Mountain. Located at an elevation of 2,000 feet and planted on steep terraces, the Barnett Vineyards are producing small lots of Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, grown in single vineyards. Hal and Fiona Barnett have been growing and producing here since 1983 and produce only about 6,000 cases of wine from these carefully tended, very steep vineyards. The view is incredible and the wines are great. We tasted at the top of the Rattlesnake Vineyard, on a wooden deck at the highest point on the property. The tasting room and simple winery are about as unpretentious as they come, and Riley the German Shepard, one of the 2 winery dogs, loves to fetch rocks for you...just don't let him drop them on your toes! Visits are by appointment only, so book early and be sure to have a camera.

A word about dining....this trip, once again, proved that you can't buy a bad meal in Northern California, at least we've never managed to do it. We can highly recommend dinner at Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc In Yountville, which we believe must have been at least part of the inspiration for Greg Hardesty's Recess here in's"what's for dinner that night", and it is really good.

Our most memorable lunch was at Bistro Jeanty, also in Yountville. Owned by Philippe Jeanty, who came to California in 1977, this is a little bit of rural France in Napa Valley. It features wonderfully authentic French bistro food...what could be better to pair with marvelous Napa Valley wines. We can only say that the Terrine de Lapin Rabbit pâté, the Boeuf Bourguignon and probably everything else on the menu was incredible. The Rutherford Grill also made a nice lunch stop with more traditional California fare done very well, and served on a nice patio. Fish Story, a new restaurant overlooking the river in downtown Napa, proved to be a good resource for fresh seafood, and even the long, many coursed, tasting menu dinner (with way too much wine) at Domaine Chandon was excellent.

Although, our best dinner still may have been the steaks we grilled on the patio overlooking the vineyards of our guesthouse, accompanied by baked potatoes, salads, and a bottle of Elyse Zinfandel, all while watching the sunset over the mountains.

Part I