We covered serious ground on this trip—more than one story’s worth of food, libations, and natural disasters. Leaving for later posts our epic anniversary dinner and our 24-hour stint in San Francisco, these are the highlights of what we tasted and learned.
The morning of our first full day began early. Awoken by the time difference, I exercised earlier than ever in my life, charging my mind with false hope for an early morning personal fitness renaissance (editor’s note: it hasn’t happened since). More affected by plush beds and darkness than the clock, Doug slept in. Our hotel houses a vineyard on its grounds, which we explored on a late-morning hike. We followed with an afternoon at the spa, located in a wine cave under the mountain. The day was pure serenity.
We ventured to Oxbow Public Market for happy hour and a stroll before dinner. I imagine that at one point in time, Chelsea Market was as charming as Oxbow. Its open design merges local produce with products and low-key dining options, easy enough to saunter from one to the next, which was exactly what we did. After a cheese plate and super-affordable wine and beer at Oxbow Wine & Cheese Merchant, we popped over to Hog Island Oyster Bar for happy hour prices on a dozen just-shucked oysters.
Then, the wine. With much guidance, we planned a full day of tasting, bound to test our limits of appreciation and consumption. Now, as I mentioned above, driving is driving, and we knew we'd be in no position to do it. More affordable than a chauffeured towncar, companies like My Napa Guide provide a driver for your own rental car, and they are fully insured. They also provide the additional service of scheduling your winery visits for you, which despite my militant-style itinerizing, was quite helpful. At the insistence of wine country veterans, we scheduled our day to begin early at our northernmost winery in St. Helena. We would sip our way south towards the hotel.
Clarity tends to progressively deteriorate when you begin drinking at 10 a.m. I have had my share of Bud Lights for breakfast, but wine tasting is so deliberate; you pay, you listen, you taste, you tell yourself you don't need to finish the glass, but then, you finish it anyway. One minute, you're learning about fermentation. The next, you're in the back of the rental car, shoveling a baguette in your mouth and wondering how you'll go on.
Thankfully, our next stop offered food. V. Sattui Winery runs its stand-up tastings casually, which we welcomed after a long tour. A niece of this family-owned winery poured as we chatted about city life, good food, and my need for another snack. We absolutely loved their 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, upon learning that they do not distribute to restaurants or stores, we shipped a few bottles home. Their market provided our picnic lunch, an inordinate selection of carbs and cheeses.
But we pulled it together for our last stop, Frog’s Leap, which was just plain awesome. Seated tastings occur on The Vineyard House’s relaxing back porch, where we sipped on four wines with endless views. I enjoyed the Heritage Blend, which brings together six different grapes to form a diverse red easily consumed at any time of day—even after three previous tastings.
Thank goodness for our homeslice Jose, who drove us safely back to our hotel, where I spooned with a baguette for a late-afternoon power nap. And double thank goodness for our hotel, which ran a tricked-out party bus every 45 minutes to Downtown Napa so drunkards like us could still find a square meal.
We were almost tapped out on tastings by Friday morning. This ended up being a blessing, as scores of limos rolled into town with tiara-wielding bachelorettes, tank-top-wielding bachelors, and the later combination of the two: complete wedding parties. Our once-zen hotel fluttered with special events, and judging by our short time at Cline Cellars, so did the wineries. But their commotion made a trip to Sonoma our sanctuary, as we strolled the historic Plaza, perusing clothing stores, antique shops, and lunch menus. Offering accessories made by artisans around the world, the wonderful Global Heart Fair Trade stole my heart with eclectic bangles and scarves. They were my only non-caloric purchases of the vacation.
I think you’ve read enough for now. Proceeding any further would dilute our legendary experience at The Restaurant at Meadowood and our Bourdainian one-day adventure through San Francisco. But I’ll leave you with a poignant lesson from our tour guide at Schramsberg, who imparted this timeless wisdom upon our eager ears:
“The bigger the bubbles, the bigger the troubles.”