Napa Valley Day-Trip
Saturday morning, we got a leisurely start. We left Berkley at about 10:00 AM and drove north toward Napa. The countryside was pretty but stark - Becky says that in the winter, all the "golden" hills are green. Reaching Napa, we got on the Silverado Trail. We stopped at Soda Canyon Store and mulled over all the options - sandwiches or cheese, crackers, prosciutto, etc? I ended up getting both, while Becky and David got sandwiches. I tried calling Clos Du Val to see if we could reserve a picnic spot, but only reached a recording. We headed down the road a few minutes and found the winery on the right.
The winery was beautiful, from the entrance to the parking lot to the building itself. We went for the $10 tasting. Our pourer was pretty indifferent and Becky wasn't a fan of the wine. The pourer was a bit more engaging once we each decided to buy a bottle, and waived the tasting fees for all three of us. She also told us we could pick pretty much any table for our picnic - the ones out front or the ones in the olive grove, which is where we ended up. It was lovely - olive trees, and lavender, and a big blue hydrangea. Lunch was nice. We decided to forgo any wine, seeing as we still had two tastings to go. Walking around the grounds later, we saw some of their vines. Looking up at the roofline, David spotted dead birds caught in the netting under the eaves, which kinda spoiled an otherwise lovely place.
The GPS directed us back out to 29, which was a little disappointing, as the Silverado Trail was much prettier (also, emptier). We turned down Tubbs Rd, and stopped by a little antique/junk shop, where Becky bought some pretty tapered candle holders. Our next vineyard was Chateau Montelena, famous for producing one of the wining wines at the 1976 Judgement of Paris and thereby putting California on the world wine map. Given such high expectations and the $25 tasting fee, I was holding my breath a bit, but it ended up being the best of the three by far. The grounds were gorgeous (including the chateau), they had a Chinese garden I'd heard nothing about, and our pourer was wonderful. She was a viniculture student at UC Davis, and answered all of David's questions about tannins and chemistry and growing, even getting out a map to show up which grapes were planted where.
We worked our way through their flight and every wine was great. The Riesling which we started with wasn't sweet, but I loved it. It was also their cheapest bottle, so I bought one, and Becky and David did also. I also splurged on their $50 Chardonnay. I'd pretty much decided even before I came that I would buy it if it was even slightly decent, but it was really nice. Our server also told us that wine club members get 50% off each bottle. I would so join if I lived out there. (And had money instead of a small savings account that I empty every year or so on trips like this.) Afterwards, we wandered around the Chinese garden for a while, watching the turtles, ducks, a swan, and a giant frog.
After Montelena, we headed back out to Highway 29. We stopped at a little store for ice cream (David and Becky) and a snow cone (me). Then we headed for Beringer, our last stop of the day. Driving up, you could immediately spot the differences between the smaller wineries and super-commercial, mass-producing Beringer. I hadn't planned on buying anything there, but we had two choices of tours. I picked the house tour over the cellar tour - it was a bit cheaper and shorter. The history of the vineyard was actually pretty neat. The wine, as David said, was alright at first, but had a slightly funky finish - I was glad we saved it for last, when our taste buds were less sharp anyway. We toured the two houses on the grounds - the original farm house, and then the vaguely Victorian mansion (they said it was built to echo the brothers' boyhood home in the Rhine Valley of Germany).
The one brother was into the wine side of things, and the other ran the business. The winery was one of few to stay open during Prohibition, as they made communion wine. They also sent boxes of grapes east, with detailed instructions as to what one shouldn't do, because it might accidentally make wine. The second house also had beautiful stained glass windows - all 38 had survived the big San Francisco earthquake intact. We finished the tour in a room upstairs. Our final glass was a desert wine, similar in style to Canadian ice wines, but made in a lab. I thought it was pretty good. Becky took one taste and made a face. David later told us that the German couple beside us spilled some wine on the carpet while swirling and surreptitiously tried to mop it up, giggling the whole time.
After snacking on lunch leftovers in the car, Becky drove us back down 29 toward Berkley. We stopped at a nice outdoor mall and got cupcakes at their favorite place. We brought them home, and had one each with milk, then I set about packing for LA.