72 Hours in Sonoma and Napa

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A long-standing weekend trip finally arrived last week!  SMS and I had made plans with his parents to go to Sonoma/Napa for Veteran’s Day weekend.  Linda and I had made reservations in the mid-Summer for lodging and a few special tastings.  A few other tastings and our dinner reservations were made just before the weekend.  It was a nice mix of long-term planning and last minute spontaneity.  It was a wonderful trip.

Our Saturday started in Mountain View, when SMS and I dropped off a pair of climbing shoes at our friends’ house.  This was a nice stop for two reasons.  One, Michelle made us a delicious breakfast sandwich (finely chopped kale in eggs for the win!) and two, we saw a tree full of parrots!

I had heard about the parrots in San Francisco but I hadn’t realized that they migrate up and down the peninsula.  Michele was much less enamored with the parrots since she says they are quite loud in the morning.  When we were there, we didn’t hear squawking but we heard the rapid typewriter-like cadence of a dozen or so parrots cracking open their breakfast of choice, hard red berries.  It was pretty cool to us so we stood outside for a bit before heading up to Santa Rosa to pick up Rip and Linda.

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Our ride was uneventful and after picking up Rip and Linda, we headed to Lancaster Estate for our first tasting of the weekend.  Linda had booked a cave tour and tasting, which was very cool. It also had the added benefit of being indoors, which was nice since air quality was a slight concern due to the wind-carried smoke from the Camp Fire fire.  Petya was our guide.  She was very interesting because her background in the wine industry was initially through sales and imports of Bulgarian wines.  We really enjoyed the cave and our tasting in the library just inside the cave entrance, which looked like a hobbit door opening into the hillside.

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We had a little time before our next tasting, so we decided to share a pairing per couple at Hawkes’ tasting room which was conveniently on the way.  Hooray!  The wines were good and I enjoyed them quite a bit, both the merlot and the cabernet sauvignon.  The tasting was complimentary thanks to Rip’s membership.

After Lancaster, we headed over to Comstock Winery, where I had booked a pizza and wine pairing.  Comstock’s grounds are really beautiful and would be a great place for an outdoor picnic on a warmer, less smoky day.  There are several outdoor games and beautiful gardens.  The pizzas were quite good, all wood-fire oven baked and with really nice flavor combos.  The wines were not quite as good compared to our tastings earlier in the day but we somehow managed to drink them.  We’re so resilient.

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Hazy late afternoon due to the Camp Fire smoke

Finally, we stopped in the Medlock Ames tasting room, which is one of the clubs I belong to.  We had a delicious rose and several reds, mostly cabs.  I really like their wines a lot and the tasting room was quite nice.  We also got the tip to check out Ehlers from Patrick the Pourer, which ended up being a great tip we used on Monday.

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A golden roaster!

So, after an amazing Dry Creek appellate focused day, we headed to our hotel in St. Helena, Napa.  We stayed at the Vineyard Country Inn, which was slightly more affordable than other Napa hotels (this is not saying much).  The suites all had a sitting area, comfortable bed, small kitchenette, bathroom, and fireplace.  We did not light a fire since SMS pointed out there was enough smoke in the air already.  Linda made a reservation at Market restaurant, which was really good.  SMS and I split a chopped salad and Korean short ribs.  Both meals were pretty heavy (even the salad since it was held together by eggs, bacon, and mayo) but we were happy with splitting the two.  We ordered table s’mores for dessert, which was a lot of fun to make.  We discovered a new way to categorize people: marshmallow on fire types vs slow golden roaster types.

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After rolling home and sleeping very well, we were ready for our Napa Sunday!  More wine, MO-RE WINE!!  I had made a 10:30 reservation for a cave tour at Schramsberg, which Linda was really looking forward too.  I know 10:30 is early but one, it’s champagne and two, that’s all that was left even though I had booked months earlier!  It was definitely a busy holiday weekend for Napa, despite not being the peak Summer season.

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The cave tour was amazing.  Our tour guide Noelle was fantastic.  I had been on a cave tour in the past but this was better than I remembered.  I was most impressed by the story of how removing the yeast from the champagne was discovered by Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, the “Widow Clicquot” of Veuve Clicquot fame!  I loved the history behind the champagne, especially since it featured a total badass of a woman!

The hand-picked cave with its draping cave lichen is a marvel.  For our tasting, the atmosphere was further enhanced by candelabras on the table with real candles.  The candles also have the side benefit of demonstrating there’s enough oxygen in the cave so if you’re feeling light-headed, it’s the bubbly, not the air.

After a great tour, we headed to Gott’s Roadside for lunch.  The line was huge and next time, we know to call in an order!  The food was really good and I enjoyed a Cowgirl Creamery grilled cheese with a small side of butternut squash soup, featuring sneak attacks of scathingly hot squash chunks.

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After lunch, we went to a winery recommended by Linda’s cousin, Trinchero winery.  We tried several of the flights, to include a Petit Verdot, several Cabs, one Merlot, and a Chardonney.  We enjoyed the wines but the reds were pretty tannin-y for our tastes.  I thought it was the type of red wine that people who enter chili eating contests would like- people more hearty than myself.  Even the tasting room was very macho, with stuffed game birds arranged on the walls, to include a rooster fight.

Then it was time to get ready for our early-ish dinner at The Charter Oak.  It is a new-ish, buzzy restaurant that Linda had heard about and secured reservations for Sunday night.  It was delicious!  Everything was family-style so we all shared bites and plates, getting a really nice sample of all the flavors.  The meals were mainly made on a prominently featured hearth with customizable trays and pans within it.  It was very impressive.  It’s hard to pick a favorite but I really liked the charred broccoli and burrata salad.  I tried to recreate it at home with mixed success.  I think I need a mega-hearth in my kitchen…and a sous chef or two.

 

Finally, Monday rolled around.  Linda and Rip, no amateurs at this game, had booked their flight for the early evening so…more wine tasting!  After checkout, we headed over to Ehlers at our new early time record of 9:30.  They had just opened and Bernard, my soon-to-be-BFF, said that they were booked for the day and that a tasting wasn’t possible.  When I asked about what a tasting entailed, he said 1-1.5 hours of tasting and discussing wine, or maybe Game of Thrones.  I told him I was only on Season 3 but I only had to say the words “Jamie Lannister’s hand” and Bernard pulled down glasses for a “splash” tasting!  Hooray!  Maybe it was the convivial spirit of discussing TV characters’ plights, but I thought the wine was delicious!  We bought a few bottles and, really, Ehlers turned out to be the serendipitous highlight of the trip!

Afterwards, we went back into St. Helena and walked around.  Then we went to the Culinary Institute of America and browsed around in the gift shop.  Then we piled into the car to head towards Napa, first stopping at the French Laundry Garden in Yountville.  It is my Dad’s least favorite garden in the world (“It’s so pretentious!”).  Most everyone else doesn’t seem to mind it.  Then we went to Oakville Grocery for lunch.  We ordered delicious sandwiches and sat outside on a really pretty, not too smokey (yet) day.

Next, we stopped at Foley Johnson Winery, where Rip gets free tastings thanks to his Lancaster membership.  The wines were fine but, in contrast to my BFF Bernard, the pourer at FJ was, as I wrote down sarcastically, “Mr. Personality,” aka, a jerk!  But it was free wine and we got pretty pictures of grapes still on the vines, which was super late for a Napa Harvest.  As we heard several times during the weekend, the Napa Summer of 2017 had only one heat spike instead of the usual six so the grapes just kept going.

We went into Napa and walked around Oxbow Market.  We weren’t hungry so no purchases there, although I do really like the place.  We walked to a toy store so I could get a small present for our friends’ kid, whom we were going to see later that evening.

We decided we could fit in one more wine tasting (yay!) and we decided to check out the Foley Food and Wine Society (FFWS) tasting room at The Village at Vista Collina resort. We tried a delicious chardonnay (Courtney’s Couvee) followed by several reds, to include a Merus cabernet sauvignon that was amazing.  And expensive.  Boo!  Why do the two go hand in hand?!  It was a really nice experience and a great way to end the weekend.

Then we dropped Rip and Linda off at the airport, which was about an hour northwest of the FWWS tasting room.  Wine country is huge!  Then we went to our friends’ house for a late dinner of lamb and “Indian risotto,” which Jyotsna made with more traditional Indian spices since she decided that traditional risotto is too bland.   Dinner was great and it was so nice to see Akshay and Jyotsna- they’ve moved about an hour north of Mountain View so we’re no longer neighbors.  But they can’t shake us!  We’ve made tentative plans to spend New Year’s Eve together!  I can’t wait!

And if you’re still reading, congratulations!  This was a doozy, boozy weekend recap!

 

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