Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Four Days in Heaven (Days 1 and 2)

An old man with a pipe. 

If you were to ask me what my idea of Heaven would be I would say "A place where I can drink red wine at 10am without judgement", thus making Napa, CA heaven on earth.

After sedating myself with Benadryl, I was happy to wake up feeling congested but without a scratchy throat, this meant things were on their way out and that's how I liked it.  The ride out to Napa was relatively smooth, there was a five minute window where some directions were unclear as we exited San Francisco, but otherwise we encountered no traffic or speed bumps.

I am sure that both Napa and Sonoma county's have lots to offer outside the world of wine but we had a very limited agenda and that was to consume as much fermented grape juice as possible over a four and a half day period.  So from here on I will simply cover the wineries by the day and elaborate on other events when necessary.

Day One:

First Stop: Jarvis

Jarvis is a little "out there" on the Napa map, meaning it's not as resting alongside Napa Highway or the Silverado Trail where a you can't spit without hitting a vineyard. That being said it's worth going a bit off course as it was one of our very favorite stops on our trip. What makes Jarvis so very unique is the entire winery is built inside a cave, so a bottle of wine doesn't see the light of day until it's shipped outside the winery.  This choice has two benefits, one it creates for perfect climate control when aging wine and two it makes for an architecturally fascinating tour. Despite the fact that our guide made an odd remark that Jarvis was a "weird one to start" our vacation on, we thought it was a perfect beginning.

We were able to taste six different wines (which is more than most tastings offer, just fyi) one white (Chardonnay) and five reds: a blend, a Cab Franc, a Merlot and two Cabernet Sauvignon's. Honestly we loved all of them, and we have since concluded that this was the best Chardonnay we tasted on our trip.  One aspect of this tasting I particularly enjoyed was we were seated at a table and not left to stand. This made it easier to write down tasting notes and for some reason it felt like we were able to quietly discuss our thoughts and process what we were tasting better than during tastings when we were standing.

Another welcome addition to this tasting was the serving of a creamy goat cheese and a nice french triple creme with crackers. Cheese plus anything is a win in my book.

Second Stop: Darioush

When you drive up to Darioush you almost feel as though Las Vegas has been dropped in the middle of a vineyard because the architecture is reminiscent of Caesar's Palace. We did a walk in tasting of their Signature flight and we opted (wisely) to share.

*Note to anyone who will ever travel to wine country*: It is perfectly normal and acceptable to share a wine tasting.

This tasting consisted of five wines (accompanied by a little plate of pistachios, which we demolished): two whites (Viognier and Chardonnay) and three reds (Merlot and two Cabernet Sauvignon's).  We had a nice time at Darioush and our tasting guide was very friendly. None of the wines blew our socks off, but the overall experience was very pleasant.

Third Stop: Scribe

I had read about Scribe Winery in Food & Wine Magazine a few times so I was very excited to check it out. I made a tasting appointment a good six weeks before our trip, however a few weeks before we were set to depart they called to let me know that they wouldn't be conducting traditional tastings that day because they were having a "members only event", however we were invited to attend despite the fact the fact that we are not members. I thought hey why the heck not? This would give us a one of a kind experience on our trip so I was intrigued to see what it would be like.

When we approached the winery we came upon a lovely hill overlooking rolling grape vines, strewn with blankets for people, who were effortlessly cool, to lounge on and sip Pinot Noir while their long hair flapped in the wind. I wasn't sure I quite belonged in this crowd of sun kissed folks with funky accessories and rugged yet well fitted jeans, but I so wanted to. I don't know how we lucked out to be invited to this event but man was it awesome.

Their staffers were pouring (full sized glasses mind you) a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, and another red made an appearance at some point. In addition to the wine you could get Ball jars full of water, lemonade or tea. Listen to live music. Smell fresh wildflowers and watch a whole pig roast.

They were beautiful. These pigs were raised by the people at Scribe so you know they were treated well and had a good life, and boy did they taste it. The skin was crisp and cracklin' and the meat oh so tender. They also served fire roasted peppers, fingerling potato salad, lightly tossed kale and beans that baked in dutch ovens over the coals that roasted the pigs. Oh and this entire experience was 100% free.


Also I was the first person in line for food.  I am that girl and I will not apologize for it.

Fourth Stop: Artesa

In an effort to be totally honest, after Scribe I was feeling pretty...well...happy. And not just happy because I was on vacation but happy because I was on the road to intoxication.

We opted to do the limited release tasting, and while we didn't share this tasting we should have. Partly because none of the wines were particularly outstanding (or even good) but also because we had consumed more than we should have at this point in the day. Artesa was one of our least favorite wineries one our trip, however our guide apparently liked us because he let us try an extra Merlot, a sparkling wine and he only charged us for one tasting. Regardless the wines still weren't good.

I am totally wasted in this photo
The tasting room does have some lovely views though.

After our trip to Artesa we had planned to make one final winery visit, however as we pulled out onto the road it was quite clear that we were in no state to consume anymore for the day. So much so that we had to pull over to the side of the road and sit....for forty five minutes...while we got our heads on straight.

The lesson of the day was: eat more than a Cliff Bar for breakfast when planning on drinking all day long.

After we sobered up we travelled to the quaint town of Calistoga which is known for it's natural hot mineral waters.  About a month before our trip I purchased a Groupon (!) for a small spa in Calistoga that offered healing mud baths at two for the price of one. Having never done a mud bath I thought this would be a very fun activity for Jürgen and I to do together.

We had a great time, we started off taking a dip in the naturally heated mineral pools followed by the mud bath. It was very very warm, but they brought you cool water to sip, and placed cold towels on your face to keep your body somewhat regulated. The mud forms a sort of capsule around you and keeps you suspended in the bath allowing your muscles to really relax. After the bath you rinse off and soak in another mineral bath for twenty minutes. It was detoxifying (my sinuses were completely clear the entire time) and oh so relaxing.

After our spa experience we had dinner at the Calistoga Inn and Brewery where we got to dine under the stars. My thinking was after a day of wine drinking it would be fun to try a local beer. We both chose a red ale, but sadly as the meal progressed I began to feel more and more ill. I am not sure if it was the intense heat, the exorbitant amount of wine I consumed, or just a cold running it's course but I was feeling very woozy and out of sorts. So much so that I got to the hotel, spent twenty minutes shivering under a hot shower, and put multiple layers on before I went to sleep.

Day Two:

First Stop: Pride Mountain

Located in the Spring Mountain growing region of Napa, Pride Mountain sits at the very top of a long and winding road which is best traversed early in the day when one hasn't consumed any wine.  Now if you were to have asked me before my trip to describe a quintessential Napa setting Pride Mountain would have been it. All you could see for miles were rolling hills of vines, the tasting room was a beautifully constructed stone building and everything just felt effortlessly refined.  The people were unpretentious yet extremely knowledgeable. Humors yet detailed in their explanations. We started the tour off with a crisp Viognier, which we sipped on the front porch.

Followed by a trip into the wine caves where we got to taste a lovely Syrah, then a 2010 Merlot directly from the barrel followed by a 2010 Merlot that had been aging in the bottle. It was so much fun to do a side by side comparison of the two. The 2010 (still in the barrel wine) was very fruit forward, it hit you hard and then died off, but was still delicious and ripe (pun intended) with possibility. The 2008 was more complex, softer in it's fruit notes with more earthiness and heavier mouth feel.

We then got to take a horse drawn wagon (this was an extra special treat and not always typical at Pride) up to the top of the mountain to stand among the vineyards and taste the grapes.

We ended our tour with a side by side taste of their Cabernet Fran and Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were fantastic, but we ended up purchasing a bottle of the Cab Franc.

Basically I cannot say enough good things about Pride Mountain Vineyards. If you travel to Napa, make it a priority to go.

Second Stop: Keenan

Just down the mountain from Pride Mountain, Keenan is an unsuspecting little winery. You will likely be greeted by winery dogs and the tasting room is no frills, no nonsense. We got to taste about six (ish?) types of wines, and we did share this one. The majority of the wines were reds, and to be fair I do not have a tasting list of all that we tried. The wines were good, but nothing that we still remember. Our guide was lovely though and ended up not charging us (whoo hoo!), so while it wasn't in our top five per se, it was a nice place to visit.

Third Stop: Schramsberg

Schramsberg is a house of sparkling wine, and is the oldest sparkling wine producer in Napa.  They make all of their wines in the Méthode Champenoise which is the method in which they use to make Champagne in France. This tour was incredible. It was so informative but so much fun at the same time. The winery is tucked back in the hills and you spend the majority of the tour inside the wine caves.  

We learned what a painstaking process it is to make sparkling wine: from the aging, to the "drumming", to the riddling,  to the corking it's quite an involved process!  In addition to expanding our minds we also got to taste some beautiful bubbly. Set deep in the wine caves, illuminated by candlelight we got to indulge in four sparklers and one red wine (a Cabernet I believe). All delicious.  Their bubbles are concentrated and fine, they dance along your pallet and linger for awhile. Schramsberg is the real deal my friends, and I truly believe they could hold their own amongst any great French Champagnes. This whole tour and tasting was such an incredible experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Fourth Stop: Vincent Arroryo

Vincent Arroryo is along the lines of Keenean as a no muss no fuss type of winery (and they have dogs!). It's a small tasting room set around a card table with wine boxes stacked all around you. But don't let their low key approach fool you, they take their wine making seriously. All of their grapes are estate grown and they are known for their Petite Syrah, although we ended up purchasing a bottle of port, which I know will pair beautifully with a silky blue cheese. 

Unlike the day before, after our fourth stop we were happy, but completely in our right minds, which was beneficial considering we had a major meal ahead of us. We travelled back to the hotel to chill for a few hours before we dined and what some may consider to be the best restaurant in the country: The French Laundry. 

The meal....well it deserves it's own post altogether, but rest assured dear friends, there is more where that came from. 


  1. I feel like I've been there, too! What a wonderful trip-the memories and photos created will last a lifetime. Cheers!

  2. Wow, Blair! What a trip!