San Francisco Part 2 – Napa Valley

So here we go with part two.  We looked at so many options for how to do Napa.  We were not staying the night there and really didn’t know what to expect or how much we could fit in.  We started the morning by meeting our driver Paul in the lobby of our hotel. He was a very nice guy who actually lives in Napa but he used to be a limo driver in San Francisco.  He drove us around San Francisco and showed us the famous Lombard Street that is so steep that you have to wind down it.

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After that we made our way back across the Golden Gate Bridge towards Napa.  One thing that I wish we would have thought about is the fact that we did not have breakfast before a whole day of drinking wine.  If I ever get a chance to go back I will make a point to stop at the Fremont Diner.  It is in Sonoma on Hwy 121 just before you get into the Los Carneros region that is shared between Napa and Sonoma.  Either way, my neighbors swore by it, it has great reviews, and I will definitely make it a priority next time.  After all, it is on the way.

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So on our drive in, we learned  a lot about wine country and how everything works.  The areas are divided up into AVA’s or American Viticultural Areas.  The areas are labeled this way because they are different landscapes which changes how the grapes will taste.  Sunny vs. Shady, Mountain vs. valley, etc.  Paul told us about a winery that will let you taste the same grapes from each of these regions so that you can better understand the differences and how the climate and landscape will change the way the wine turns out.  It is at the Con Creek Winery.   While a bit pricey at $95 a person, it is 3 1/2 hours and you get:

  • A Napa Valley AVA overview led by a wine educator
  • A guided walk-around barrel tasting
  • Instructions on blending techniques and strategies
  • A bottle of your custom blend
  • A tasting of Conn Creek’s Current Releases

We obviously didn’t have time to do that on our visit but if you are going and actually staying in Napa for a few days, this tour came highly recommended if you are interested in really learning the differences of the regions wines.

avas

So our first stop was to the Domaine Carneros Winery in the Los Carneros region.  Domaine Carneros is owned by Champagne Tattinger.  In the 70’s Claude Tattinger wanted to find suitable American soil to make sparkling wine.  The estate makes fabulous sparkling wines as well as Pinot Noir.  The chateau-like house boasts fabulous views too.

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One happy accident that our tour guide pointed out was that it is best to start light if you are going to be tasting wines all day so if you have a particular interest in sparkling wine, it is best if it is your first stop.  So we started out learning about how the sparkling wine was made and we were guided along the process and the machines used to make the wine.  It was a fascinating tour to be honest and I would highly suggest this tour to anyone, we learned a lot and TASTED a lot.

The famous Blanc de Blanc wine that they are known for.  It really was fantastic.

The famous Blanc de Blanc wine that they are known for. It really was fantastic.

They used to store their wine in these kinds of racks in order to get the remaining yeast to the top of the bottle where they would then freeze the top and pull out the chunk of yeast.

They used to store their wine in these kinds of racks in order to get the remaining yeast to the top of the bottle where they would then freeze the top and pull out the chunk of yeast.

Now they store the bottles in Gyrating crates that move the yeast ever so slowly to the tip top of the bottle.  Much easier than hand turning all of those racks...

Now they store the bottles in Gyrating crates that move the yeast ever so slowly to the tip top of the bottle. Much easier than hand turning all of those racks…

This is where they freeze the tip and pull out the yeast

This is where they freeze the tip and pull out the yeast

This is where they cork and foil the bottles to make them all look so pretty.

This is where they cork and foil the bottles to make them all look so pretty.

This is a big box of corks, they dont originally come in that mushroom shape.  It gets that shape after being stuck in the bottle under all that pressure.

This is a big box of corks, they dont originally come in that mushroom shape. It gets that shape after being stuck in the bottle under all that pressure.

So after our sparkly excursion we needed something to eat so we ventured deeper into the valley and just off of Highway 29 is a sweet little grocer called the Oakville Grocery.  We were able to stop and get sandwiches, salads and snacks and enjoy a picnic at one of their picnic tables tucked in the vineyards.  It really was a great spot and probably not nearly as expensive as a vineyard restaurant. 2013-03-22 13.27.50

After that we had about 45 minutes for a quick tasting before going to our next and final tour, so we stopped at a little winery in the Rutherford region called St. Supery.  It was more modern looking inside and they had a great store.  We absolutely loved their Sauvignon Blanc.  They gave us two different kinds to taste and both were very different but terrific and not terribly priced either.

Then we headed off to the  grand finale, the cave tour at Del Dotto.  The service there was very personal and you really felt like you got to know the winery while you were there.  I would highly recommend that you do not miss it.  They take you into the caves where they store their barrels and let you taste the wine straight from the barrel.  I lost count of exactly how many we tasted, but it was a good amount.  Nonetheless, it was beautiful in there and I have pictures to prove it!

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After all of that, we spent an hour or two sobering up on the car ride home and then went in search of where we should go for dinner.  After a suggestion from a friend on Facebook, we decided to try Tadich Grill, the oldest restaurant in California.  As you know, old stuff is totally up my alley so I was really excited to try it.  I was hoping it would be like Galatoire’s in New Orleans.  You can;t make reservations but we were hoping it would be well worth the wait.  Sadly,  The service wasn’t great.  If could have been a bad night but it just didn’t live up to our expectations.  They have a really cool story though.

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Well that’s it for Day 2 of our San Francisco adventure.  Next I’ll tell you all about Fisherman’s Warf and Little Italy!

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