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!

 

Sonoma Birthday Monday

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Small study/dining room at Singlethread.

I woke up and it was my birthday!  Yay, the capstone day of our long weekend!  We were still in the dreamy Singlethread hotel and looking forward to our Japanese breakfast.  Part of what drew me to Singlethread was the incredible amenities and special touches throughout the stay.  Breakfast had been highly praised.  SMS and I wanted a throwback to our ryokan days in Japan so we ordered the Japanese set.

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Exquisite fruit cup!

There was so much food!  Little dishes abounded, including rolled up egg (tomago), several sashimi, rice, fruit, pickled veggies, and yuba.  Yuba is Japanese for “tofu skin,” which sounds way worse I think!

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Pliny the Elder and me, reflected in SMS’ lovestruck eyes 🙂

After breakfast, we hung out on the rooftop and sealed our Northern California-ness by splitting a bottle of Pliny the Elder.  It’s a double/imperial IPA beer made in limited batches with stern admonitions to drink it fresh!  We had heard of people lining up for it so we decided to sample it since it was so easily available to us.  It was quite hoppy with a slight juniper taste.  I would drink it again if I ever saw it again on a beer menu, but I wouldn’t stand in line for hours for it.

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Single thread rooftop on a spectacular day!

After checkout at 11 a.m. (we stayed as long as we could!), we drove to Calistoga to pass some time before our appointment at Medlock-Ames.  Spoiler alert: Medlock-Ames is my new favorite winery!

It was a gorgeous day and a fun day for a drive.  We passed the largest fire damage that we saw on our trip just North of Calistoga.  The fire had burned both sides of the roads, although it looked like the vineyard on one side had been spared.  We grabbed a panini in Calistoga before heading over to the vineyard.

Audra gave us a fantastic tour and I can’t wait to go back.  While the wines are delicious and the tasting pours quite generous, I mainly want to go back so I can pick some vegetables in their organic garden later this Summer!

After wine tasting, we drove to Napa and had dinner in Oxbow Market.  We wanted to stop by the CIA but it was closed.  We headed home, where I had a near panic-moment when I thought I had left my purse at the restaurant.  Fortunately, it was hidden in the car.  Phew!

And that was my birthday weekend!  It was an incredible trip and very special.  No particular reason why this birthday was such a blow-out, but it was so much fun!

Singlethread Inn and Restaurant, Healdsburg, CA

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Understated elegance

I decided I wanted to go to Healdsburg for my birthday after a too-short day trip there a couple of months ago.  When planning our Healdsburg vacation, SMS sent me a text saying, “Hey, if you haven’t made plans, check out Singlethread.”  Well, I did.  I wondered who had hacked into my husband’s phone since the luxury level of the place is sky-high with a price tag to match but after reading about the Japanese influenced American hospitality, I was hooked.  I booked a single night room-dinner reservation for 1 April, Birthday Eve!

The entire experience was amazing.  I’ve linked to an article that goes into exhaustive detail about the restaurant and inn.  We were lucky enough to be upgraded to the suite since no one had booked it for that night.  Yay, so lucky!  The room was absolutely gorgeous and filled with incredible amenities.  The spirit behind the inn is from Japanese: omotenashi, the “spirit of selfless hospitality, anticipating needs without having to be asked” per Kyle Connaughton.  I got this quote from the article as we weren’t quite at the level of hangin’ with Kyle for the evening.

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Serenity now

Some of my favorite highlights of the room include the gorgeous, minimalist design; the subdue color palate, heavy on the gray; the in-room wine and Pliny the Elder beer, which allowed us to have a true NorCal drinking experience; the homemade ice cream; the homemade candy bar; the super-deep bath with a huge scoop of bath salts; the Aesop toiletries; and the Toto toilet!

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Rooftop mobile garden box

After lounging about the room and trying to maintain the delicate balance of snacking without ruining our appetites for dinner, we headed to the roof around 5:30.  They weren’t staffed to have all the diners start their experience up there but we were allowed since we were hotel guests.  Again, the weather was gorgeous and SMS and I wandered around the rooftop, mobile gardens.

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In the greenhouse- Don’t throw stones!

At 6, we headed down to dinner.  We had a welcome drink from Brent via the “culinary window” that allows arriving guests to see into the kitchen.  Then we were seated in this nice corner table with a wrap-around wall bench which means we both got to sit on the bench rather than one bench, one chair.

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Early Spring in Sonoma. Yes, please!

The food was, surprise, amazing!  The meal starts with an incredibly elaborate appetizer course, which I think would be called Sakizuke/Zensai in Japanese.  A beautiful multi-leveled stone platter is covered in moss and seasonal flowers.  Set upon and within the moss are several small appetizer dishes (1-3 bites) on assorted ceramic dishes.  On the menu, this is identified by the unifying theme of “Early Spring in Sonoma.”  The dishes included a cauliflower panna cota, a shot-size chawanmushi (savory egg custard), a light miso soup, rice, baby barracuda, pickled veggies, greens in miso dressing, steamed and marinated kohlrabi, a perfect scallop, unagi (eel) on greens.  It was an over-abundance of perfectly crafted, delicious distillations of culinary delights!  Keep in mind, this is just the first course and I’m fairly certain I missed a dish or two!

[In fact, the next day, our breakfast waitress mentioned that during a recent fund-raiser with several visiting Japanese chefs, the chefs commented that the first course seemed the most “American” because of the quantity of dishes.  Whether that’s a compliment or complaint, I found the first course to be fantastic!]

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I kid you not when I say that every dish was amazing.  The diner doesn’t actually get the menu until the very end so the composition and number of courses were a surprise.  I didn’t take many pictures after the first course because I just wanted to savor the sensory experience unadultured, rather than through my phone.

The yellowtail was delicious with brûlée miso.  Umami was definitely a feature of most dishes.  The Dungeness crab dish was similar to a deconstructed crab bisque, which is still a completely inadequate explanation.  It was an explosion of savory, rich crab…hmmm, I feel like my descriptions are just getting worse and worse.  I’ll work on it.  Trust me when I say it was awesome, rather than conjuring up an outtake from SpongeBob.

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The king salmon was an exquisite cut of salmon with a fattiness similar to the best cut of toro.  Of course, it tasted like salmon but it was so rich!  The poached fois gras was so delicious, I didn’t even feel badly about eating it.  Ok, maybe a little bit.

I don’t remember the black cod quite as well, but keep in mind that we are several courses in combined with an excellent wine pairing.  But don’t worry, my memory isn’t completely faded because the lamb dish made quite an impression. The saddle cut had perfect marbled lamb.  I am running out of superlatives and this dish definitely deserved one!

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Pecan Ice Cream

The Sonoma grains was good, but we were running out of steam.  We ate most, but not all of it as it was rather hearty and dessert was coming!  The sherbet was a nice palate cleanser and the pecan ice cream was perfect.  The ice cream was my favorite although we did enjoy the one bite dessert finishers to finish the meal.

On the menu photo above, you’ll notice that the wine pairings are listed.  SMS had ordered the non-alcoholic pairing so he had that on his menu.  We each drank most of our individual pairing but usually shared a sip or two with each other. SMS’ pairing had some fairly experimental drinks meant to complement the dishes such as a dashi-based and whey-based drink for two of the courses.  It was very cool but both SMS and I thought the pairing would be exclusively mocktail-focused.

The whole experience was exquisite.  I felt so happy and lucky to be with SMS in such a perfect environment with an exceptional menu.  It was definitely extravagant but so incredibly memorable.  Thanks for the find, SMS!!!

Sonoma Sunday

Sunday was my birthday…April Fool’s!  Ok, ok it wasn’t but the whole weekend felt like such a treat!  On Sunday, we woke up and went to Shed for Americano and pastries.  We shared two of the breakfast toasts.  The more impressive one, to me, was the ricotta, marmalade and pistachio duqqa.  It was on a crusty piece of toast- quite delicious.  The other toast was a very grainy, thinner piece of bread with egg salad.

So, our lodging and dinner for Sunday night was a super-extravagant splurge at Singlethread.  As a result, we wanted to check-in exactly at 3 so that we could maximize our time there.  So, we decided to stay local and skip any wine tasting that day.  Instead, we headed to Foothill Regional Park for a hike.  There was a small day-fee parking lot but there is a ton of free street parking.

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We did an approximately 3 mile loop consisting of the Westside, Oakwood, Alta Vista and Three Lakes Trail.  The views were really pretty and it was another gorgeous day.  One of the pourers at Preston said he wasn’t impressed with the views since it essentially just overlooks the town of Windor but I thought it was really pretty!

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Our sunhats are not helping our noses!

On the way down from Alta Vista, I took my third slip of the day.  Despite the fact that we usually like to hike, I had only packed flat-bottom, no-traction sneakers.  Unfortunately, my iPhone was in my hand and I ever-so-gently smashed the face of it into a rock.  Le boo.  It still works but it there are several impressive stellate cracks on the face.

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After our hike, we stopped for lunch at Estrella’s market/taqueria because I saw an outside grilling station.  We both ordered the pollo asada and it was an excellent choice!

SMS and I went back into town and tasted wine at the Meuller tasting room to pass some time before check-in.  The owner’s name is actually Robert Mueller but woman working there did not pick up my lame political reference jokes or maybe she’s bored of hearing it.

I’m putting my Singlethread thoughts in another post because the place deserves it!  We checked in as early as we could (3!).  Our dinner reservations were at 6.  The dinner was about 2 and 1/2 hours.  It was completely fantastic.  I wish I could go back every week!

After dinner, we headed straight to bed.  I probably could have used a little walk to help digest after such a meal but sleeping in the comfy bed was the second-best idea!

Sonoma Saturday

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SMS and I on the rooftop of Singlethread

What an amazing birthday weekend!  SMS and I had an epic few days in Sonoma.  We had so much fun together and I’m definitely sad it’s over.  But rather than drown in my pinot-tinged tears, let me tell you about our trip!

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Wisteria at Preston

We started on Saturday morning with an ambitiously scheduled 11 a.m. tour at Preston Farm and Winery.  Yes, well, that didn’t happen.  We stopped in Oakland for breakfast and even though we passed on the wait at the delicious looking Sequoia Diner, our drive there was a bit more of a detour than I realized.  We went to the World Ground Coffeeshop, which was pretty cool.

I called Preston Farm and they told us not to worry, that they’d even refund the tour charge once we got there!  Lucky us!  Preston is in the Dry Creek appellation of Sonoma. I picked it after researching several Sonoma wineries.  I liked the fact that there was a produce farm in addition to the winery.  In addition, they grow Mourvèdre grapes, which I really like in red blends.  They’re actually releasing a 100% Mourvèdre in a week so I might buy it off their website!

It’s not terribly difficult to get to although the last half mile is on a packed dirt road.  The gardens are beautiful and it is an idyllic place to sit.  There is a bocce ball court which, if I were to make a Mean Girls t-shirt for Preston, it would say, “On weekdays, we play bocce” since there were several (!) signs saying bocce was not to be played on weekends.

SMS and I each had a tasting.  We tried two whites and four reds.  We thought they were fine, but not mind-blowing.  We bought the white blend “Madam Preston” since it was our favorite of the flight and the tasting fee was waived with a bottle purchase.   Free wine!

The wine pourers were all really nice.  We got several biking recs and a few other tasting room suggestions.  One of the women enthusiastically endorsed our planned Monday tour at Medlock-Ames so we were excited about that!

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View at Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve

After Preston, we went to Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve.  We parked on a residential street near the trailhead and went on a two mile walk/hike.  There were really pretty views of the valley and it was a nice way to spend some time on a gorgeous day!

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Rockpile, the tasting room next to Rockpile, the construction site

After our hike, we went into Healdsburg.  We stayed at America’s Best Value Inn, which was fine.  It was clean and inexpensive, which was our goal for that night’s stay!  We walked into town, which I thought would be easy.  It was not.  There’s a construction zone for a roundabout that the locals, if you bring it up, will immediately start to vent about how long it’s taking and how ridiculous the whole thing is.  What was funny though is that there is a tasting room right on the developing roundabout called Rockville, which is very appropriate.  I think the name precedes the construction site though.

We went to the Idlewild tasting room, which was recommended to us at Preston.  The winery focuses on Piedmont, Italy wines.  The flight, which we shared, featured 5 single varietals, 2 white/3 red.  We also tried the Rosé, made from 47% Nebbiolo, 28% Barbera, and 25% Dolcetto.  Most rosés are made from Pinot Noir grapes so this was an interesting variation.  I got a full glass, which was definitely a great choice.  We talked with the pourer Scott for awhile!  He was very interesting and quite knowledgeable about the wine/restaurant scene. He is a somewhat recent transplant, having arrived from NYC about three years ago.

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Flowers at Shed

While the wines were good (especially paired with an incredible cheese plate- Piedmont Sola and a buffalo Camembert), we decided not to buy any bottles.  I think we were too lazy to carry them!  We headed over to Shed, where we had a reservation.  I had wanted to eat there since our last visit so I was really happy to go.

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Cheese, Salumi, Pickles- Shed

At Shed, we split three plates, which was a lot of food (as pointed out by SMS before we ordered).  I ordered the cheese/salumi plate and the ricotta-nettles dumplings.  Both were very good.  SMS ordered the savory toast, which was excellent.  The toast was pretty heavy since there was a lot of butter soaking the bread, topped by pesto and other toppings.  I never thought I would say there was too much better on toast but this one was slightly toeing the line.

After a great dinner, we headed back to the hotel.  It was time for bed in anticipation of Sonoma Sunday!