Thursday, March 20, 2014

Napa Valley, California

(photo by Ursa Davis)
Ah, California's legendary wine country had been on our to-do list for far too long, and we were excited to get it checked off. We had paired this trip with our trip to San Francisco, which gave us a week in the city to run run run, and followed it with a week in the more relaxing and tranquil country pace of Napa Valley.
We had rented a place just south of Sonoma, which was a cute little 2 bedroom cottage placed on a working farm. There were lambs, and baby doll sheep, and pygmy goats just outside our door. There was also a spice garden for visitors to use, but unfortunately we could not take advantage of that as that we traveled during the winter. One thing that made the farm setting so interesting was that it was a constant reminder of the fresh, quality ingredients that were being served at all the restaurants that we ate at on the trip, and I'll get more into that later, but suffice to say that the farm was a wonderful backdrop for the trip.

The Sites

Let's face it, I know myself. As a person, I have a strong tendency to gorge my on whatever ideas, or experiences are the order of my day. When I need some new music I will schedule a trip to a 3 day music festival and watch twenty consecutive concerts. When I found the joy of birding, it became an all consuming passion for about a year and a half. That is my nature, so while my love of wine never really goes away, I do, from time to time, feel the need to taste, try, and explore new wines. And so it was time for Ursa and I to head to wine country.
(photo by Ursa Davis)
We have been to southern California's wine country around Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo which was nice with it's quaint atmosphere, and it's farmhouse style wineries. But that was a shadow of the Napa Valley's huge estate style wineries. Without comparing wines, I will say that Napa does the high end, ostentatious estate wineries better than anyone else.
Over the week that we were in Napa Valley we visited so many wineries that it would not do to try and review them all here. I will instead just pick a few of my favorites.
(photo by Ursa Davis)
Most of the wineries featured tunnels dug into the rolling hills,to store their wines in a temperature controlled environment. Jarvis Winery took that idea one step further and built their entire winery underground. They had a lovely facility and absolutely exquisite wines. One of the signature features of the Jarvis tunnels was created as a result of a design flaw in the tunnels themselves, and that is the waterfall. When underground water breached the wall of the facility, there was no reasonable way to fix the problem, so they embraced it and designed a cosmetic waterfall in the tunnels to deal with the stream of water while beautifying their facility. As for their wines: The wine that struck me the most was their 2008 Cabernet Franc, a varietal that I typically don't enjoy because of the strong tannens but that Jarvis was able to craft a Cab Franc that was actually mellow which I found extraordinary. Amazingly the Cab Franc wasn't even my favorite of their wines, it was just so much better than any other of it's kind that I had to mention it. Though the wines were a little out of our price range, this was definitely the best tour and tasting that we went on.
(photo by Ursa Davis)
When it comes to wine, I think that our best stop was at Cliff Lede Vineyards. The signature grape of the Napa Valley is the Cabernet Sauvignon. This variety grows exceptionally well in this environment, consequently every winery in the area produces a Cab, and they are all worth a try. But Cliff Lede's 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is the single best that we found on this trip and perhaps the best that I've ever had. We also picked up a bottle of their FEL 2012 Chardonnay which was very dry for a Chard, which I prefer over the buttery ones that are more common. I would also like to say that our host, Art, was one of our favorite hosts that we met on this trip. We first met up with him at Casa Nuestra Winery and he gave us several great recommendations, then we made a point to visit him where he worked at Cliff Lede for the tasting there. Good people, and great wines, that's what a tasting room is all about.
(photo by Ursa Davis)
We expected to find some great Cabs on our trip, but when we did our final bottle count we were surprised by the number of white wines that we came away with. To be fair, Cabernet Sauvignon is the most expensive varietal, partly because of the process used to make it, so we got priced out from buying too many of those. But also there was the fact that there were just lots of great whites around that caught us by surprise. One example was at Charles Krug Winery with their 2012 Sauvignon Blanc which was an absolutely stellar wine.
We also found a disproportionate number of dessert wines. Based on how often we use them we had only planned to pick up maybe one, but found ourselves hauling three home. One such find was at Orin Swift who had a Port that we simply could not resist and another was at James Cole who had made a Merlot Ice Wine that was very unique. Merlot is a very bold grape and they had used it in their ice wine to deaden some of the overwhelming sweetness, it was delicious.

The Food

What makes California such a fantastic place to visit is the food. When a chef has the absolute freshest, high quality ingredients, it does not take much to produce a great meal. Napa Valley is a foodie Disneyland that I compare, somewhat, to Paris' cafes in that you don't really need to plan your day around where to eat as that virtually everywhere you stop will have outstanding food.
On the advice from a friend we had dinner at Tra Vigne which I am glad that we did. It did, however, become a good news/bad news situation. The good news was that we started with the Mozzarella Cheese "al Minuto" and the bad news was that it was so good that I vaguely remember the rest of the meal. It was such a simple dish of fresh mozzarella, made in house, on a grilled bruschetta, drizzled with a locally made olive oil and some decorative salt.It was the very picture of elegant simplicity, and was so unspeakably delicious that it caused me to forget parts my childhood. Yes, it was THAT god damned good.


Napa Valley turned out to be just what we hoped for and what we needed, a great place to relax, and recharge. A place where wine and food are viewed as a form of rt, and the mesmerizing landscape is dotted with elegant vineyard estates, and country farms alike. It is a lovely place to visit. But I will say this: when compared to southern California's wine country, Napa has the edge in high end, budget busting luxury and better restaurants, and Paso Robles has the edge in laid back atmosphere and being less presumptuous. For my money, while I preferred the pace in the south.

(photo by Ursa Davis)

No comments:

Post a Comment