After the Medlock Ames virtual wine tasting, I was on the lookout for similar events. My father-in-law had mentioned Venge several times when discussing Napa/Sonoma trips so I decided to explore if there were any virtual tasting available. While Medlock Ames had sampled full bottles that I already had as a wine club member, I was looking for wine tastings where little kits are mailed out with 3 oz pours. This would be more in line with a normal wine tasting and I had seen a few wineries advertise it.
So, in mid-May, I searched for Venge virtual wine tastings and found an event on 3 June! Success! Best daughter-in-law ever! There was a pretty basic page asking for my name and address, which I filled out. It was under the domain name Lessonly, which sounded about right. Wine lessons, Lessonly, online learning- it all fit! No other information was required so I figured it was a request/mailing list/something? I wasn’t sure it would work but since no significantly personal information was asked for- no credit card, birthday, etc- I felt ok.
So, out of sight, out of mind until the next week when I got an email from Lessonly saying they were looking forward to the event, but would I mind providing the company I worked for? I ignored that email, thinking it was a bit weird when, the next day, I received a shipping notification from FedEx that I would have a package the next week. Specifically, a 22-lb package from Venge. Uh oh, that’s a lot more than 3 oz wine samplers. And again, I had not provided any form of payment!
So, I wrote to the woman asking for the company name saying that there may be a mistake in that I thought I was signing up for a routine wine tasting and this seemed to be an industry/corporate event. Well, to summarize a few emails, it turns out that the wine tasting was a customer appreciation event by Lessonly for its corporate customers. I think the wine was already paid for and I was told to enjoy the wine, but I wasn’t invited to the actual virtual event (this was said very nicely). It still seems super-weird to me that a tech company wouldn’t be able to keep out unwanted people from subpages on their website but, *shoulder shrug*, I got wine! Retail value $300+, omg.
I liked the Croix wines the best. I brought over the Venge to my in-laws’ house where we enjoyed the three. SMS and I liked the Merlot the best while my father-in-law liked the Cabernet the most. I wasn’t as big a fan of Venge as some other wines. I thought they were super-jammy and almost too rich. But it was still delicious- I just mention my rank order in a way that I would rank a day of wine tastings. Some places I like better than others but they’re all really good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Cloudy start to our estate tour! The dog is Jasper, annihilator of sticks.
Sunday started off with another round of Bouchon pastries (for the win!), coffee and juice. We all went out to pick our favorite(s) and then ate back at the house. We walked around the estate and saw the horse exerciser- a rotating soft gate that apparently makes the horse move along at different paces in the ring. The horse we saw could pass for a unicorn, sans horn, and didn’t seem to mind nor was it breaking a sweat.
Sunny by noon!
Around 11, Mom’s cousin came over and it was really nice to catch up with him. The day started off cloudy but by the time we all left at noon, it was another gorgeous sunny day. I decided to enjoy the beauty of Marin County by going to Mt. Tam and Dad really wanted to see Muir Woods.
Top left is my favorite piece in the Hess, “The Metamorphosis;” Barrel Room and more art.
First, we went to Hess winery to check out the art museum and tasting room. The tasting room is very cool and we went into their barrel room after the guy noticed us looking through the window and told us we could go in. The modern art collection is varied and interesting even if some of the works make me feel like I can do it too (I probably can’t. Probably).
Close up of my birthday flowers 🙂 and Oxbow Market
Afterward, we ate lunch at Oxbow Market. Dad was craving pizza so we shared three pies from Ca ‘Momi. It was excellent and such a good call! Mom and Dad really liked walking around the market as we waited for our pizzas. We sat outside at a table for four and really had a nice time. Mom got her glass of wine comped by the guy taking our order inside, which just shows she still has it!
The road to the Mt Tam Peak is long but nice in that it eliminates that long walking part that some people don’t like about hiking. There’s a 0.7 mile loop trail that gets a person to the summit so we all went on that. There were some grumblings at the top about why the lookout tower wasn’t open (grumble, grumble) but the views were magnificent and I think overall, we were pretty happy we went for the hike. Someone did point out that the views from the parking lot were about the same as the ones from the top though (One gues- Dad!).
Then we headed back down the mountain to Muir Woods. My National Park Pass got us in for free (yay!) and we went on the 1 mile boardwalk loop that took us past three distinct groves and several other Sequoia sempervirens. It’s pretty amazing and I’m glad we went to Muir Woods on the way back rather than add more time by going to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. The trees in Armstrong are larger and the area is slightly less tamed (aka, no boardwalk) but sometimes, it’s nice to avoid too much car time.
Mt Tam and the Golden Gate!
Then, it was time to head home. We drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and took the 280 back. I had plans to make food at home but people were hungry and hungry now so we went to the best taco truck, Super Tacos El Conrro! It’s a converted ambulance with four people inside making the most delicious tacos. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend.
We were all pretty tired when we got home but we splurged on dessert and shared some Dolce wine before going to bed. It was the perfect end to a day!
After sleeping soundly in the guesthouse’s comfortable beds, we woke up to celebrate my birthday! SMS and I were up first so we headed to Bouchon Bakery for pastries. We ordered a delicious assortment including a croissant, almond croissant, chocolate almond croissant and pain au chocolat. In order to disrupt the theme, we also ordered two cinnamon donuts that came with the hole. Both were delicious. The cake texture was incredibly perfect- I’ve never had a donut like it!
We brought the pastries back to the house where we ate and got ready for our day of strenuous wine glass lifting. Our first appointment was at Schramsberg Vineyards for some sparkling wine, which seemed like the only civilized option that early in the morning! But before the tasting comes the tour, which was excellent. Rimpel gave us an overview of the winery’s history, including the role Schramsberg sparkling wine has had in international-US affairs and State Dinners. After that, it was time to tour the cave!
Rows and rows of champagne- what a lovely sight! See the pickax marks on the upper left?
The first 1/6 mile of the cave was hand-cut by Chinese workers who were out of work after building the trans-Continental railroad. The pick-ax marks are still there! It reminded me of the cave system in Yokosuka. The caves were pretty awesome, especially now that they’ve been expanded and hold millions of bottles of sparkling wine!
Rimpel reviewed the champagne making process, which is pretty cool. First, the wine is made similar to any winery. Then there’s a secondary fermentation that happens within the bottle when sugar, yeast and wine are added. The bottle is capped with a beer bottle top and left to age fo r several years. Prior to bottling, the bottles are inverted and twisted in huge holding racks by “riddlers” over the course of a few weeks to get the yeast to settle out right above the cap. At the end, the neck is placed in glycol to freeze the neck, the cap is removed, the ice plug shoots out and a cork/cage are placed. The process was fascinating and Rimpel explained it really well.
Happy frog in the Schramsberg pond!
After all that walking through the caves, it was time for the tasting! We went into a small dining room and had two Blanc de Blanc, one Blanc de Noir and one Rose. They were all fantastic. A nice surprise was the J. Davies cabernet sauvignon in the middle. It was surprisingly delicious. It was full-bodied and really, really smooth. I loved it! Mom signed up for the wine club and I don’t know, I may soon be joining her! (Oh wait, I just did!) After our fantastic tour, we walked through the gardens which were really beautiful. Napa in the Spring on a sunny day is absolutely gorgeous. Then we headed into Yountville where I had bought tickets for the Taste of Yountville event. The event went from 12-5 and featured a lot of different restaurants and local wineries. There was also a tour of the French Laundry gardens, which three of the four of us liked (Dad!). We had a great time walking up and down the street, grabbing our bites to eat such as shrimp and grits, mini-slider and ribs while washing it down with multiple wine tastings. I think it would have been dangerous if we spent all afternoon there!
View from the Far Niente’s main house balcony
Instead of spending all afternoon in Yountville, I kept an appointment I had made at Far Niente for 2 o’clock. SMS and I are Nickel & Nickel members, mostly for the complimentary tastings! Ok, ok, the wine is good too. But the tastings are so expensive that by joining the wine club, it almost comes out even between the shipment costs and the complimentary tasting benefit. Since SMS and I had been to Nickel & Nickel before, we wanted to try Far Niente.
Far Niente Caves. Old vs new label on the right.
Our Uber drive out there was great because I got some awesome insights as to when you do and do not want someone throwing up in your car. I would have thought you’d never want someone to throw up in your car but how wrong I was. Cornell taught me that you get reimbursed $400 by Uber and the place he uses to clean it up only charges $160. So on a slow night, it really helps you come out ahead. I said I’d be tempted to buy fake throw-up. He said he’s thought the same thing but that the last rider gets charged so someone would probably complain.
The tour was also amazing. Reed walked us through the winery and described the process. We also walked through the caves, which were among the first in Napa. The caves were really cool although different in appearance than Schramsberg. In the caves, we went into the wine library which was an awesome sight. I wanted a bigger bag so I could sneak a bottle away. I kid, I kid (mostly).
The car barn and a view of the main building
The tasting was great. The highlight for me was trying Dolce, an incredible dessert wine that I have a bottle of but never tried. It is so sweet and delicious! We also had two chardonnays and two cabernet sauvignons. The wines were paired with excellent cheeses and really, it was completely delightful. The balcony door was open, the breeze blew through and the whole scene was so idyllic.
After Far Niente, we headed back to Yountville via Uber. We caught the last hour of the festival and we had a great time. Then it was back to the house to relax until dinner.
Dinner was at Ad Hoc, a Thomas Keller restaurant. It was nice to have a birthday dinner in such a quintessential Yountville restaurant. The short ribs supplement and cheese course were definitely on point. The salad and dessert were also pretty good. The service and ambiance left a little to be desired but no matter, with great food and great company, it was an awesome end to a great birthday.
We got home around 10 and even though we wanted to build a fire, we were done! We all went to bed, looking forward to more weekend adventures the next day!
Although Napa is fairly close by, J and I decided to make a short getaway out of our trip. On Saturday, we met up at the Runner’s Expo in the Napa Marriott. There we picked up our bibs, our duffel bags and tech shirts. The lines weren’t too long and things were well organized. I also tried several Nuun flavors at their booth. They weren’t terrible (great recommendation) and if I ever needed to get into hydration supplements, I’d probably pick the watermelon flavor.
After the Expo, we booked it over to the Whole Foods to get our other swag bags. The bag was awesome! Lots of drinks, bars and little snacks. Not everyone got one so I’m glad we hustled over to pick one up.
There was a lot of rain but we were becoming happier with the developing forecast that was predicting little rain the next morning. We headed up to Calistoga to check into our hotel and then headed downstairs to the restaurant for an early dinner. A lot of dishes were shared. SMS and I got pizzas and his mushroom pizza seemed to be the table’s favorite dish. It was generous with the mushrooms and the cheese was perfectly paired. It was pretty delicious.
Then it was off to bed. I didn’t sleep all that well because I was more nervous than I thought. But I woke up feeling fairly rested and most of all, excited!
After the race, we headed to Oxbow Market for lunch. I really sold the group on the place saying it was like “a food court in a big shed.” But no one put up a fight and when we got there, A&J really liked it. A suggested that it was more like a food hall in a European Train Station and that is definitely a better description. We went to Kitchen Door, which is a restaurant with its own seating section. I didn’t want to have to deal with hovering and snagging the limited tables in the central area. It was really crowded and I didn’t have the energy! The food there was great. I enjoyed a plate of Singapore noodles. SMS had a delicious beef tartare breakfast plate. My favorite was A’s salmon eggs benedict. Those were pretty phenomenal.
Next, we went to Hess and Alpha & Omega for wine tastings. When in Napa! We met a really nice group in Hess that we talked to for a bit. J and I wore our medals all day and they were definitely conversation starters! Maybe I’ll start wearing it all the time! But, yes, wearing the medals helped us identify fellow runners (most everyone recovers so nicely once the race is done!). We also talked to people who were curious to know what event had shut down the roads earlier in the morning or thought that the idea of a marathon was cool.
For dinner, we went to Evangeline in Calistoga. My favorite dish was actually the pickled vegetables. They were so good! They were crisp and fresh tasting, even though they were lightly pickled. Amazing! I also had the salmon appetizer for dinner. It’s delicious although my description isn’t- salmon with creme fraiche on a hash brown.
I was a little less impressed with the maitre’d initially because he tried to seat us outside on the patio saying, “It’s heated.” Um, no. It’s raining and there are tables inside that I just called about and you said were free. I think it was because we had a toddler with us but guess who is awesome? That kid! He is so cute and well-behaved. And sure enough, he was quieter than some of the other patrons. So, even though I sometimes cringe when I see kids at a less-than-family friendly restaurant, there are definitely some kids who can handle it.