I never did finish my honeymoon posting from Fall 2012 and now I’m on to vacation 2013. Why? Because I suck. Now that I’ve established this, let me continue 🙂
We loved San Francisco and Napa & Healdsburg so much in 2012 that we decided to return in November, 2013. This time, it was in the off-season and not in September during crush. I’m actually going to blog about wine country now, although we enjoyed San Francisco first.
We left San Francisco on a beautiful sunny morning and made our way to Napa. We didn’t make our brunch reservation at Brix until we were on the road in case there was a traffic backup leaving the city. Luckily for us, there wasn’t. Since we had some time before our 12:15 reservation, we decided to walk through Yountville. It was the last day of the Napa Film Festival so there were quite a few folks milling about. The image above was taken at Somerston Wine Company. I just love fall: the colors, the leaves, the smell. We didn’t buy or taste anything from Somerston, but it was beautiful nonetheless. This image below was captured at a lovely gift shop called The Countryside.
Since we killed all the time we needed to, it was time to drive to brunch.Brix is located at 7377 St. Helena Highway and is absolutely beautiful.
We enjoyed a lovely table outside…it was so sunny and warm.
As gorgeous as the grounds were the food choices. I love dining in Northern California…farm to table (Brix has a garden behind the restaurant) grass-fed, organics.
What does Brix serve for brunch?
Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!!!!! Not pictured here are the sticky buns. As in THE sticky buns, from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. As in, The Handsome Captain™ ate six of them along with all the other parts of brunch. We were encouraged by our awesomest wait staff (FABULOUS) that we should walk the gardens after eating. It was a miracle we didn’t lay in the middle of the gardens and die. Our view from the gardens.
We could still manage to smile although we were overserved (by our own selves). I believe the term for it is “gluttony”.
Knowing we were driving from SF and planned on brunch, we only made a reservation for one tasting: Duckhorn Vineyards. We enjoy their wine often.
This would turn out to be our largest tour group at 8. As I always say, I’m either doing private or semi-private and no busses.
Our parting shot. Should you read all the way through, you’ll see more of these. In the same way I cannot resist a sunrise in The Florida Keys, I also cannot resist fall colors. What can I say, I love Northern California–especially in the fall.
We checked in to Arbor Guest House, where we stayed last year. We were still so full from brunch that we never did have dinner that night. We did, however, walk to Uva Trattoria. It was very busy for off-season November. My assumption is that many of these folks were affiliated with the Napa Film Festival. The jazz duo of James and Ted were entertaining the crowd and everything being served smelled amazing. We just couldn’t do it, despite that we enjoyed the local vibe and the wonderful wait staff. It’ll be a “must eat” next time.
The next morning, after our usual delicious hearty breakfast at the guest house, we were on our way to Joseph Phelps. It is “sort of” the only place we made a repeat visit from last year. I say “sort of” because we went to T-Vine again (we’re in their wine club), but T-Vine is in their new Calistoga location. I’ll talk more about that later.
Joseph Phelps is a very special winery for us. It was the highlight of our 2012 honeymoon, care of Sean & Helen of Grand Vin and K.K. from Joseph Phelps. This year’s visit would be something a little different.
So in we walk and…. everything was set up and ready for our private tasting and Insignia Blending!! Yay! 🙂 The white tasting was for fun but the reds were for business. The six reds we’d try to blend our own Insignia were: St. Helena 2010 Petit Verdot; Oak Knoll 2010 Cab Sauv; Stags Leap 2010 Cab Sauv; Rutherford 2010 Cab Sauv; St. Helena 2010 Cab Sauv; Oak Knoll 2010 Merlot. All were amazing.
There is no particular purpose for this image except that I like it. But nevermind that, what about the results? Well, The Handsome Captain™ decided that it’s better to taste and purchase wine than to try and make his own. The winner of our little competition was me, but truthfully? Mine was better, but I’m certainly not in the running to be a winemaker. Besides, Prissy’s not taking off her Manolos anytime soon to stomp grapes. We had some tee hees and ha has over the experience and even on that gloomy day, we still wanted nothing more than to be outdoors sipping.
So we weren’t the only ones to beat feet. Turkey lurkeys running everywhere! Since it was so close to Thanksgiving and N. Californians like “farm to table”, I’m thinking they were on their way to Mexico….at least I’d like to think so.
We needed just a little something in our stomachs prior to our next tasting, so we went walking in St. Helena.
We ended up having a snack at The Model Bakery. Greg had a mini pizza, which he enjoyed.
With more nourishment behind us, it was time for our next stop: Anomaly Winery. This was one of the wineries Greg found when he started researching The Napa Wine Project. He found this site after our 2012 trip. We were definitely vetted before we were approved for a private appointment. They wanted to make sure that we realized that Anomaly was a small boutique winery, focusing on Cabernet. Because they make just one wine each vintage, they taste through 3 to 4 wines from their library….all Cabernet, of course. Their wines range from $85-$125 and the tasting fee is $40/person (refunded on each 3 bottle purchase). We were not daunted by this at all, in fact, it was right up our alley.
Our 2:30pm appointment was with General Manager Seth, whose parents own Anomaly Winery. Their current release is slightly over 1,100 cases. Seth told us about how his parents Steve & Linda Goldfarb decided to buy the property but couldn’t find anybody to buy the grapes. They did what Greg and I would’ve done–ordered a “How To” book off Amazon. They cut the grapes off the vine incorrectly and slowly, much to the goodhearted laughter of their neighbors and friends. The community came together to help and advise them on their venture, yadda yadda….and they produce amazing wine (and olive oil!) Greg and I have discovered on this trip that we LOVE a good “how I got into winemaking” story. And that we love the attention/intimacy of a small boutique winery.
The inspiration for this statue, as well as Anomaly’s logo, was the Goldfarb’s husky-shepherd who passed away in the fall of 1999. This is definitely a dog-lovin’ family; co-owner Linda is heavily involved in animal rescue. I love this family so much, I’d have bought the wine if it tasted like Cupcake. Not really, but it sounded good 🙂 From reading the site and talking to Seth, it’s a family who doesn’t take themselves too seriously–but their olive oil and wine are seriously fantastic. Of course we purchased both.
On the way back to the guest house, we made a brief stop at Oxbow Public Market. Unfortunately, it was a point in time where we had enough to drink and didn’t want to ruin our appetite for dinner. Also, because we were staying at Arbor Guest House in the off-season for 3 nights, we received a free couples’ massage in our room. Sweet!!!!
Next up, our res was 7:45pm at Celadon, 500 Main Street, Napa.
It was one of those on-and-off drizzly kind of evenings, so the rolling windows were closed on the patio.
(This image is from the Celadon Facebook page). I’ve become quite sensitive about snapping images of rooms and people when it’s dark and I need a flash. I don’t want to be some tourist pain-in-the-ass….I see enough of them at home. 🙁 Greg and I enjoyed the whole vibe of Celadon. Sure, I wish it wasn’t drizzly, but still–a great physical space that was warm and inviting. Additionally, the wait staff was delightful.
For starters, Greg ordered the soy-braised crispy pork belly with stir fried kale sprouts and shiitakes. He allowed me a delicious taste, but my app was the butternut squash soup finished with vanilla oil. Yummmm!!!!
I had the pappardelle ragu with horseradish cream. Rich, but delicious. We enjoyed Celadon very much, for both food and ambiance (the “outdoor” space–not the dining room). We would definitely return. Unlike our big ole social life in Key West, when we’re in wine country, there usually are no “post-dinner” activities. After a day of wine tasting and stuffing ourselves with food, we go back to the guest house and rest (i.e., fall asleep with the iPad).
On to the next morning and an overcast day. Who cares? It’s wine country and we have more sun than we know what to do with at home 🙂
So in we walked, expecting a semi-private tour. Because it was the off-season, we were the only folks at Jarvis—for the entire day. Ted was our tour guide and is also a sommelier with some fabulous credentials…and he was all our’s.
This image and all inside cave photos are compliments of Jarvis. We wouldn’t learn until the tour was nearly over that Jarvis changed their policy on photography inside the cave a couple years ago. Ah well….that only means we have to return. And we will, because we just found out TODAY that we’re now a part of the Jarvis Estate Inner Circle. Unless somebody is dining at a restaurant where Jarvis is served, visiting the winery, or is part of their Inner Circle wine club, they won’t have access to the wine.
The cave is absolutely magnificent. Breathtakingly so.
The halls of this cave are a perfect circle and each step, each room, are more amazing than the one prior–that is, if wine and the making of it excites you. It does us. Just as exciting is the tasting.
Our last stop? The tasting room.
My baby, prior to our cheese courses. Local cheeses to nosh on while we tasted the following–Wine #1: Finch Hollow Chardonnay 2011; Wine #2: Will Jarvis’ Science Project 2009; Wine #3: Merlot 2010; Wine #4: Cabernet Sauvignon Estate 2007; Wine #5: Lake William 2007; Wine #6: Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2004; Wine #7 (Bonus): Tempranillo. There wasn’t a dog in the bunch….I even liked the Chardonnay, which doesn’t always happen. The Finch Hollow Chard is barrel aged for 9 months in 100% New French Burgundy Oak. It was delicious. The beauty of off-season was that a tour that would normally last 75-90 minutes lasted over 2 hours. Hearing about Ted’s career, past and present, and his wine knowledge was fascinating. It turns our our friends Clayton & Val Chelley from Vino’s on Duval know him. They say he sings opera….I so wish we knew that. Again, next time.
At this point, refueling #2 had to occur. We had heard so much about it and it was in the area, soooooo….
lunch at The CIA at Greystone (Culinary Institute of America).
When you enjoy food and prep, sitting at the bar of a restaurant with an open-air kitchen is like being in the front row of a Stones concert!
That particular day was the shift change for CIA students. Those who were waiting tables were now in the kitchen and vice versa. Each mentor has responsibility for 3 students. I was totally engaged, sitting at the bar and watching the give and take between mentor and student. We spoke with one such mentor, who is the manager of that department. He told us that many of the graduates never become a chef once they graduate–some manage, some even teach.
But for now….they’re still cooking!
I ordered the crispy-creamy risotto with wild mushrooms and dinosaur kale. It was one of the most delicious risottos I’ve ever tasted and the addition of the arancini was aesthetically pleasing. I loved the two textures together.
Yes, I realize it was soooooo early in the day to be this extravagant, but…
we were also drinking Jarvis at 10am, so why not go for the soufflé? Coconut soufflé, to be exact….with a Myer’s rum banana. Apparently, the first one didn’t come out so well, those fussy soufflés anyway. We didn’t mind waiting for another, we weren’t exactly starving and still had plenty of time before our next winery. It wasn’t the cheapest lunch we’ve ever had without wine, but….soooooo worth it!
This was our view upon leaving the restaurant.
On to our next winery, Crocker & Starr. This was another boutique winery that Greg was intrigued by and an employee’s dog was intrigued by Greg.
Since the tasting room was occupied, our awesome tasting rep Good Ole Whatsizname (c’mon, you knew that was coming) asked us if we’d mind starting out with a glass of 2012 Sauvignon Blanc and touring the vineyard. Ummmm, mind???? Are you kidding me? Keith wanted to go, too.
So T.R. (Tasting Rep) told us the story about Pam Starr, whom we wish we could’ve met. She had a dentist appt 🙁 She left her position of winemaker at Spottswoode Estate Vineyard to team up with Charlie Crocker and create their own label. I’m just into her whole story, being a woman and all. Not to mention that her wine flipping rocks the house! At this point, we hadn’t yet tried the wine but the grapes that didn’t make the cut were delish!
Us enjoying ourselves. Truth be told, I absolutely hate this picture of me….but it’s the only one taken of us in the vineyard, so I’m using it. We were already having a wonderful time and our tasting hadn’t “officially” started yet!
However, as much fun as the vineyard was, T.R. led us into this adorably rustic candle-lit tasting room.
So one of the greatest joys of off-season is that tastings that would normally last for an hour or or 90 minutes last 3 hours. And nobody minds because it’s so damned much fun. And nobody minds because we felt as if we knew TR forever. We talked about our life in The Keys, his old career, and the god-awful moment he realized he poured that special $300 bottle for a bunch of drunks. Lots aux laughs, which were the result of lots aux wine.
So we tasted the 2010 Malbec Casali. It’s actually 53% Malbec, 47% Cab Sauv: 100% delicious! I tend to enjoy Malbecs more than Greg so we didn’t purchase it. Then when we tasted the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Stone Place, we just about died and went straight to heaven. Smoky, fruity, fabulous. What a finish! In case we weren’t certain, T.R. invited us to keep pouring; we didn’t want to appear rude. And we weren’t–we purchased 4 bottles of the 2010 Stone Place.
We bid T.R. a fond adieu and took with us some good vineyard memories. Let me rephrase–they were not “good” memories. They were super phenomenal memories which still bring tears to my eyes. Fine, I’m a perio-menopausal 50-year-old Italian woman who cries when I’m sad, when I’m awesomely happy, and when my heart is touched. Let’s face it, no sun and semi-drizzly weather are not what tourists dreams are made of. My dream was made by the simple “character” of the experience. Yes, that dreaded “e” word. We walked this somewhat small, non-fancy vineyard with glasses of wine in our hands. With Keith Richards. Hearing Pam Starr’s story, as told by T.R. I was so “at home” walking the vineyards. Between that and the rustic tasting room, so cabin-esque….it was such a simple pleasure, yet every time I think about it, I’m so thankful for the experience. My heart is happy.
So back on we went to the guest house and enjoyed happy hour with just the caretaker as we were the only ones staying there. Our dinner reservation that night was at Hurley’s because I heard a glowing review from my now favorite radio show “Dining Around With Joel Riddell” out of San Francisco, plus it got a thumbs up from my co-worker Francesca. It didn’t hurt that we got back to Yountville, a Napa town we have grown to love. Wine, art, sigh. However, there would be no pumpkins shining in the sun like my first image. Nooooo. It was still drizzly. The next few images are from Hurley’s Facebook page.
Hurley’s does have a really cool bar. In retrospect, I wish we made the reservation later than our 8:45 res so we could’ve had a drink at the bar. I say that, but with the amounts of wine we drank, the last thing we wanted at this point was liquor.
We found Hurley’s a perfect place if you’re lucky enough to sit outdoors and perfect if you’re inside. The wood, the beams, the fireplace (unseen in this image)…we had a window table on that rainy night. Still, there’s something so comforting about a rainy night.
One of the “Dining Around” podcasts featured Chef Bob Hurley talking about “Wild Game Week”. It was super fascinating, but alas, it ended before we got to Napa.
I cannot say what possessed me to order risotto two days in a row. Maybe because I rarely eat it in Key West. Maybe because I just love it so. I think it’s because it also contained pumpkin and I just loveeeeeee pumpkin….which I had the day before as well. I should not have ordered the risotto at Hurley’s. Not because it wasn’t good, it was. It’s just that the one at the CIA was phenomenal and having Hurley’s a little over 24 hours afterwards just wasn’t fair. Plus, I should’ve expanded my palate.
In our next move, we decided to expand our palates and our waistlines with dessert.
And then this came out: Persimmon Cake with Pistachio Sabayon and Pomegranate & Candied Pumpkin Seeds. Oh my, just delicious!! And those pomegranate seeds with that juicy, pulpy deliciousness! We both enjoyed this dessert very much–different than a lot of the standard “same old, same old”. A perfect ending to a lovely meal. Since it was late, the art galleries were closed, which was fine. Constant wining and fooding can make a girl tired.
So it was Wednesday, otherwise known as “Moving Day”. We bid Arbor Guest House goodbye.
And then there’s Gemma
Gemma is not only bigger now, but….
So we were on our way to the last Napa wineries on this trip. Remember when I mentioned Napa Wine Project? Greg was so much the fan of Dancing Hares Vineyard that he asked one of our favorite wine bars to start carrying their wine and they did. Also, pushing our luck, we asked Val from Vino’s On Duval to get us an appointment. While the website says they take appointments, Val’s wine rep told her it just wasn’t that easy and maybe we shouldn’t get our hopes up. We surely did get our hopes up….until the day Greg asked if I opened the email from American Express Dream Vacations. When I read that this special vacation involved dining with Bob Cook, the owner and the winemaker and was $3,500/person, I looked at Greg and said “We’re never getting in there”. But we did and Greg was on Cloud 9.
We always get to our appointments at least 15 minutes early, even if we’re not requested to do so. This day, we probably got there about 20 minutes early
Of course we needed a gazillion pictures of the wabbits. They’re so cute!!!
This sculpture actually came before the vineyard. When Bob Cook was trying to think of a name for his winery and everything he plugged into the trademark website had already been taken, his daughter said “Why not Dancing Hares?” And so it goes.
As Bob pulled out a bung to extract some wine not quite aged to perfection, he spilled some on the floor, and slid his foot back & forth over the stain. With a slight smirk, he said with an adorable level of gruff “They HATE it when I do this”. Even not aged to maturity (the wine, not Bob), it was some amazing juice.
On to even better juice….There are only two wines: the winery’s namesake Dancing Hares and their lower tier, Mad Hatter. Both delicious. We sampled the 2010 in both…and resampled. Well, you know how it is.
The moment Greg had been waiting for: enjoying Dancing Hares with winery owner Bob Cook. Bob more than held our attention as he told us the first time he saw the dancing hares (a different sculpture) at Art Basel (Miami). When that sculpture was sold and with a little reverse psychology from the art dealer, a different (larger) dancing hares was purchased. And shipped. From Amsterdam. In 4 pieces, holding up traffic all the way through St. Helena.
Speaking of hares–Dancing Hares carries it’s theme right into the loo.
And another shameless sculpture image
Ugh, fine. We succumbed to the typical tourist shot. Don’t tell anybody?
We still had time to kill prior to our next appointment so it was lunch and sight-seeing in Calistoga.
We had only driven through Calistoga in 2012, yet this was the first thing to catch my eye. I immediately texted the pic to my co-worker Tammy, who lives near Big Pine Key. You’d have to know The Keys to understand, but she got the joke. All kidding aside, I’ll bet this is a fun event filled with community spirit and I wish I could’ve been there.
An adorable little shop, but my favoritest was one where I never captured an image. Our favorite place was Stix + Stones Gallery. The lovely woman with whom we dealt couldn’t have been more professional and our transaction was seamless. I won’t hesitate to return. Our purchase?
See the chest in the center? That’s not it. It’s the candelabra that sits atop it, made from a wine barrel. I get that it’s not the greatest picture to show detail. Trust me, it’s awesome and….Let me try again.
Last stop in Napa….T-Vine Cellars! We joined this wine club when we visited summer 2012….the very first wine club we ever joined. We met Chuck from T-Vine 3 years ago when he came to the Key West Food & Wine Festival. Anyway, we were fast fans of the juice and our relationship with those wines has only grown stronger.
And then there’s the juice. Oh My God!!! Honestly, we’d had just about everything except the Mixed Blacks but wow, what an amazing wine. Along with the Grenache, Zinfandel, Charbono, and Cab. Unfortunately, we missed Chuck that day (prior appt), but that’s okay. It’s neat to live so far away, yet be a member of their wine club. Really neat 🙂 Another neat thing was that I now like Syrah….still not Petite Syrah, though. And I don’t know why. I will always keep trying it though, as I hate there being reds I don’t like. So Syrah, yes….Petite Syrah, no.
It’s so funny how a first trip is so new and the second trip is comfortable….like a good pair of shoes. Although we went to different wineries (except Phelps) than trip #1, we knew the lay of the land. We discovered that we love Northern California in the off-season–fewer tourists, more attention. We also discovered a real love for Yountville. One thing has not changed, however. We’re still big fans of the private and semi-private tastings. While we do not wallpaper our home with c-notes, we happily pay for expensive tastings (though did get comp’d on a couple) if we’re intrigued by the winery or have enjoyed the wine before. We have no time for the bitchers and moaners who lament about when tastings were cheap or free. You need not agree, that’s totally fine, but our preferences work for us. Fine wine, amazing food (esp the cheese!), stunning landscapes, and wonderful art. Salut, Napa and next stop, Healdsburg.