The kids are in Disneyland with my Mom for the weekend, and since Friday was our 16th anniversary, hubby and I decided to take a day trip to Napa. We had only ever been up that way once together, but it was for a soccer tournament, so that doesn't count.
It was cool and cloudy this weekend in the Bay Area; a perfect start to the fall. I love this time of year. I like seeing the changes in the foliage (even though we don't REALLY get fall color out here much) and in the clothes people wear. It is a cozy time of year without being uncomfortable in any way. It is also crush time in the Napa Valley. Many of the grapes are being harvested and then crushed. It is hustle and bustle in an otherwise quiet, sleepy region. The merlot grapes were still on the vines (pictured here) which provided for many wonderful photo ops.
We started by visiting Dan's former boss Steve, who owns La Belle Epoque B&B in Napa. We got a nice tour, including the kitchen. They had just finished serving breakfast and you could smell how wonderful it must have been. Apparently they serve white chocolate raspberry scones, homemade of course, along with cheese frittata, smoked bacon and other sumptuous delights by candlelight each morning. Steve also set us up with the maps and info we would need for a beautiful day of wine tasting and touring of the valley.
Disclaimer: Neither Dan nor I are seasoned wine folks. I am mostly a Chard. gal and have never been tasting (other than at work sponsored events) and this was pretty much Dan's first real exposure to wines ever. So please take these reviews as such:
The first winery we visited was Ballentine Vineyards. It is a small place, nothing fancy, but the wine was wonderful. Our tasting began with the 2005 Chenin Blanc which was very light and easy. Then we tried the 2001 Zinfandel, the 2004 Zinfandel Block 11, the 2001 Merlot and the 2001 Integrity. There was a guy there with us who clearly knew what he was doing. He actually spit out the wine after he had tasted it...I get why you do that, but what a waste! He was actually interested in knowing exactly where the vineyards were located for each of the varieties. He was very nice, but clearly an expert. He was also alone. I'm pictured here next to the merlot vines at Ballentine.
After some shopping in St. Helena, we were off to the place where my favorite wine is made. Rombauer Chardonnay, although it is not typical of the kind of Chard. I like, is (so far) my favorite. This winery is tucked up on a hill off of the Silverado Trail and was the most beautiful place we saw that day. We started with a tasting that included, of course, the Chardonnay, the 2002 Cab, and the 2003 Zinfandel. The real surprise, and Dan's favorite of the day, was the desert wine called Joy, Late Harvest Chardonnay. It was the kind of wine that you would only need to have a few sips to enjoy, otherwise it would be too much, too sweet. It was beautiful. If it weren't $55 a bottle (and I hadn't already spent $38 on a bottle of Chard., we would have walked away with one. The name recognizes the "Joy of Cooking" cookbook which was originally written by Irma Rombauer which was evident by all of the cookbooks for sale in the tasting room.
My thoughful hubby had packed a picnic lunch in case we found a great spot for some between tasting refreshments. Rombauer grounds were perfect for this. We ate on a picnic table nestled within the trees and gardens. Pepper Salame, smoked gouda and jarlesburg cheese, grapes, strawberries, spicey hummus, pita chips, and peanut butter and chocolate bites on the menu.
I have to say this picnic was such a breath of fresh air. Anyone who has spent the last 15 years of their lives raising children and then has a day like this, a meal like this, in a setting like this, with a man like this, would be in heaven. We laughed, ate, and soaked in the time together.
Off we went to our last stop of the day, the Steltzner Vineyard. Here we had the nicest actual tasting experience. The person who was pouring was friendly and knowledgeable and actually took the time to teach us HOW to taste. Again, this was a pretty small place (pictured here). We were the only ones in there for quite a while, which was great for beginners. We started with a 2003 Sauvignon Blanc that was fabulous! Eventually other folks came in for testing and 3 other people said "I'm not usually a Sauvignon Blanc fan, but this is incredible!" We agreed, and bought a bottle. We tasted the rest of the flight and also enjoyed the 2004 Cabernet Franc. It was the only red wine we had tried that day that jumped out at us newbies as really delicious and so we bought that as well.
A day trip to remember (and to be repeated!).