schwoosh, sniff, sip: our napa wine experience

here it comes... my disection of our dream vacation and honeymoon to san fran and napa.  we just got back yesterday!

i’m gonna break it down in several different posts because, as you will surely see, our concentration was placed in two specific places:  eating and drinking.  (is there anything else?)

ROF and i work well together.  he loves to plan and, coincidently,  so do i.  but neither of us is obnoxious about sticking to the plans we’ve made.  he takes care of the airline and hotel and i take care of the restaurants and things to do (shopping).  on this trip, ROF did an outstanding job of planning out the wineries we went to see —  and that is what I’ve chosen to focus this blog post on today.

the wineries–the drink.

first off, there are a couple of different things you can do at different vineyard’s in the napa valley.

1. there is the pop-in technique

2. the scheduled tasting

3. reserved tour

there are probably other ways to do napa valley but these were the ways we chose.

we had 3 days in napa valley and wanted to make the best of them.  

side note: ROF and i really enjoy good wine.  so this was a special treat for us to learn more about the things we enjoy.  

the first way to make the best use of our time was to get a driver on saturday.  typically, you could never see as many places in one day as we did, but because we didn’t have to drive or navigate we saw lots of places and then headed back to san francisco. at least that is the excuse we’re using.

saturday, august 25th

andretti winery:  owned by famous race car driver, mario andretti who has a taste for fine wine and food.  the building and adjoined house were unbelievable.  this was a good starting place for us and ROF wanted to go because he is a huge fan of mario and his whole family and has met mario before.  he was actually in town and staying at the house but we didn’t see him.  the shop was eclectic with food, cool clothes, books and great photographs of the family.

for the wine tasting, it was ok.  it was not very informative – just a pour and sip.  underwhelming but not bad.  glad we went but don’t need to go back

silver oak vineyard:  this is a favorite “special” occasion wine for us.  we’ve had it several times and the winery was beautiful and very busy.  kind of like you’re checking in at a hotel.  they were extremely knowledgable and nice.  gorgeous grounds and facility and as mentioned, some of our favorite wine.  they only make cabernet.  and it’s good.  real good. 

i’m starting to get used to the drill by now.  small pour, swoosh in the glass observe the color and clarity, take a big sniff and note the notes, undertones, overtones, peppery, smooth finish.  i appreciate the differences in all .

caymus vineyard:  this is my favorite-wine-ever.  i was drinking it when ROF proposed (thanks to paul & kelly!)  we watched a video on this family – the wagners – before we made this appointment and fell in love with the  family story behind this vineyard.

we arrived early and were met by a very welcoming woman who introduced herself and let us know that we were waiting for a bigger party to join us.  this was a scheduled “sit down” tasting (vs the andretti and silver oak pop in.) she gave us two glasses and asked us to sit in a reserved table outside on the beautiful patio.  she brought us a taste of wine and then a nice guy kept coming outside and filling our glasses.  the atmosphere was so friendly – and fun!

when the wedding party group arrived – of about 10 girls – we all went into a private room and sat around a dining room table. believe it or not, as we were chit-chatting (ROF was the only guy at first) we found out that the girl sitting next to us worked for the marketing arm and works in the same building as me.  hello small world.

this wine was presented to us by a passionate and smart guy who worked for the vineyard.  he gave an hour presentation of five different wines including their special select.  to me, this is the best wine in the world.  it’s so complex and every sip is delicious.  i could go on forever.

miner winery:   this was a pop-in tasting and the view was beautiful.  busy shop and the tasting was ok.  great wine and fantastic being there during harvest.  they had a glass wall where you could see the production.

stag’s leap winery:  another one of our favorite wines.  this place was a full on production and quite cool.  it was set up like a restaurant with a hostess stand.  we were a little bit tipsy at this point (the happy, having a ball kind of tipsy) and told everyone we were on our honeymoon and we got some attention.  not that we like attention.  they had barrels set up as tables inside and out.  inside was dark and they poured us some of their great wine.  we got a pretty hard sell to join their wine club but by this time we said “driver – home!”

sunday, august 26th

we were on our own having just checked out of the san fran hotel and we headed up early to napa.

pride vineyard:   got an excellent tip from dave & laura busker, our good friends from NYC about this winery.  WOW, were we happy we went.  ROF did some homework and booked a tour.  this was our first official tour (#2 above, remember).  first of all, the drive up to this vineyard and winery was UNBELIEVABLE.  it was steep and winding and scattered with houses and winerys and huge trees.

once there, it was breathtaking!  

we got paired up with 3 other couples and our tour guide – jake.  we toured the cave which is where good grapes go to turn into wine.   we had samples from stations stationed  throughout the cave.  jake was young, knowledgeable and answered all our questions.  at one point, we drank wine straight from the barrel.  we learned about how much goes into wine – so many variables:

altitude, humidity, what kind of barrel, how old the barrel, when the grapes are picked, where the grapes came from – the mountain, the valley – everything.

the pride family started this vineyard from scratch.  we would highly, highly recommend.  this was a treat!

sterling vineyards:  we pulled into the driveway here and saw the line to get in and kept driving.  drove next door to where there was no one but us!

twomey cellars:  the two words that got us in here were on the sign out front:  in the SILVER OAK family.  quaint tasting room with a friendly man who knew a lot about the wine.  since silver oak only makes only cab, twomey had merlot and pinot that was fantastic.  we schwooshed/smelled/sipped/sampled.  very glad we popped in here and by the time we left, several other people had filed in after us.

schramsberg vineyard:

background:  ROF went here 6 years ago and spoke highly of this tour and of this sparkling wine.  it has an unbelievable story with it’s beginning in 1862!  schramsberg has also played a role in world history. the blanc de blancs was used for President Nixon’s 1972 “Toast to Peace” with China’s premier Zhou Enlai. schramsberg’s sparkling wines have been served at official State functions by every U.S. Presidential administration since. ROF was so excited to show me this place and go on our second tour.

the reality:  our tour guide stunk.  there is no other way to put it.  he was a teacher during the week and gave tours at the winery on sunday.  he talked so much i thought my legs were going to give out underneath me.  he took us into their cave and KEPT US IN THERE FOREVER!!  he poured us 6 or 7 different sparkling wines with his opinion of what went best with each one.  “this one is great with spicy tacos”.  “this one is good with buttery or fatty fish” “this one is good with chips and oreos”.  he repeated himself several times by insisting that champagne is good to drink anytime like after rush hour.  blahblahblahblah!

he drove ROF and i up a wall – or i should say out of the cave!  we finally got out of there by asking if there was a club we could join.  in which he said yes and (got the hint) picked up all of “his” leftover champaign pouring bottles (6 or 7!) and led us to the door.  we paid $90 for this tour and felt it was very unprofessional for such an iconic vineyard and american success story.  we love the product – when you see it  – buy it and drink it.  but we won’t go back there again.

and as it turns out, ROF and i had a better experience the next day – our own story – so it is ok that schramsberg experience stank.

monday, august 27th

oh no…. we’re not done yet.  you may need to go get yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of vino to finish this!

hall vineyard and cellars:  by far, this was our favorite tour of all the places we went.  this was special to us because we’ve had hall wine in dallas at some of our favorite restaurants.  also because the owners of this vineyard live in dallas and he a business owner there.  ROF has friends who have worked closely with him.  their story – craig and kathryn – is fantastic.  i urge you to read their story in the link i provided.

we got to the tasting room a little early and i have to say, i wasn’t too keen on sampling wine at 10:30 in the morning – also after having such a jam packed last two days.  i may have been a little grumpy even but i put on my smiley face and went in.  this was a private tour – just ROF and me and our tour guide, john.  as we found out – john and robert grew up only 5 miles apart from each other in new jersey.

john was the most knowledgable and interesting person we’ve met on this trip.  he said “hope you’re ready to really see it!” and he took us clear into the vineyard itself where we picked different grapes and ate them out in the field.  we saw the bottling process up close and he took us to the huge vats of wine and told us about the process of creating great wine.  this is a boutique vineyard – producing 75,000 cases a year.  he spent a good hour with us walking around the facility.  but then we sat down in the shade and he brought us a cheese and fruit platter and gave us a tasting of 5 of their wines.  we enjoyed talking with him, learning about this unbelievable power couple from our hometown and sipping some great wine.  perfect start to the day.  and of course, after the first sample of wine, i was just back in the saddle again!

we got an awesome surprise towards the end of our time there when john brought out a bottle of wine for us from a business partner and friend of ROF’s – john wilson.  what a treat!  we were thrilled to say the least.

our next appointment wasn’t for a few hours, so we had lunch and drove near a place that our friend dave anderson’s family owned off of sage canyon road and next to chappellet vineyard.  it was a beautiful drive.  ROF told me of great memories he had at this house with dave and some friends.

last, but not least, was opus one.

known to most as simply the best wine there is –  this was $80 for two glasses of wine.  typically, i won’t be so class-less about putting price in here but i had to for this.  FOR TWO GLASSES.  that is like the same as a decent scarf or something!   this didn’t surprise me, because i’m familiar with the wine, but they basically poured you a glass of excellent ’03 vintage or ’08 vintage and you walk around.  it’s just something that you have to do once.  there is also no where else in the world you can get “just a glass” of opus!  you have to buy the whole $200+ bottle.  anyway, it was a stunning, stunning place.  

well that is all for part I:  the wine.  i hope you enjoyed this – but probably not as much as we did going!  have you been to napa valley?  what did you think?

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  1. I am so glad you had such a wonderful time. Dave and I absolutely LOVE going there. We have been 4 times, 2 with McNabneys that are the best tour directors in the world. Your experience sounds like it was exactly what you expected or more. I am hoping our adult children can go with us sometime. So fun, fun, fun. Love yu, Judy & Dave

    1. Hi Judy! Thank you so much for commenting and reading! We did have a great time. I can’t believe you’ve been 4 times! Who am i kidding, I’d live there if i could!

  2. first time I went to Napa, I was pregnant, so no tasting for me
    second time I went to Napa was for an American Institute of Wine & Food event where our Dallas chapter was honored and I got to eat dinner at Opus 1 and sat at a table with Robert Mondavi and my all time hero, Julia Child – be still my beating heart! what an incredible memory and you brought it all up again with your posts – thanks!

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