I've had a few weeks to process our trip to Napa, and though I'm still waiting for our wine shipment to arrive, I can't recall a place I've visited in the US that I liked more. It was truly an escape from my mid-west city life filled with discount wines from Costco. Although we did little more than drink, eat and rest, I felt as if we packed a lot into our three days. I know there weren't many moments when I didn't have a glass of wine in my hand, but I honestly think I could move to Napa tomorrow and be happy. The landscape was spectacular and varied. We visited vineyards in the valley and then drove up winding paths until we felt as if we were on top of the world.
I am most certainly not a wine expert, but we learned as we went along. Our first day was shrouded in mist and rain as we arrived from San Francisco. Our first stop was Frog's Leap, where as novices we stumbled past their red barn and a pomegranate tree towards the tasting rooms. When you are from the land of corn, the sight of pomegranate or persimmon, as we later saw, on a tree, tends to blow the mind.
The beautiful tasting building was complete with a roaring fire and a dozing orange tabby cat.
We headed straight to their back deck overlooking the vineyard and gardens to start our first tasting, unsure of what to expect.
We were immediately approached by a friendly woman who set us right at ease as she poured each of their wines into the glasses set before us. We picked at a selection of cheeses and dried fruits and immediately began to enjoy ourselves. Huge, ripe pumpkins studded their gardens and we patted ourselves on the back for choosing to visit in autumn. It felt as if we were sitting on our own back porch, sipping wine and chatting as a tempting croquet set sat next to us.
Reluctantly, we moved on. From there, we drove up a never-ending path past red wood trees and eucaplyptus until we reached Kuleto Estate. As promised, this place is something to behold. The tour, which we completed under umbrellas, was undoubtedly our most drunken affair. Lets just say they pour extremely generously there, and we had a fabulous time. The property is vast and pizza ovens and party areas seem to be around every corner.
After drying off, we continued through their tasting (and a huge plate of artisan cheeses) until we realized we had definitely missed our last appointment of the day. At this point, no one cared. We headed up to a room overlooking the vineyards where our late lunch was laid out.
Enticing smells wafted from the adjoining kitchen. Inside, Executive Chef, Janelle Weaver, was preparing a rabbit stew and putting the finishing touches to her panna cotta for an upcoming tasting event. Like a shy school-girl, I chatted to her for a few moments as I let my job envy get the best of me. Wine does this to me.
We spent the evening back at the Inn on First, soaking in the jacuzzi and heading out to Angele where we enjoyed a laid back French dinner, expertly prepared and paired with a half carafe of the house wine. My sister had the cassoulet, which inspired me to include lamb sausages the next time I make my own version. Several of us were wondering how we would wake up and do it all over again the next day.
The following morning started with the promise of bubbles. Before we left the Inn, Jim made us a hearty breakfast of his rosemary soft polenta topped with mozzarella, poached egg and crumbled Italian sausage. As we finished our coffees, Schramsberg beckoned where we toured the caves and learned the pain-staking steps that are gone through to get those bubbles in each bottle.
"America's first house of sparkling wine" did not disappoint and I particularly enjoyed how Ann, our tour guide, talked us through possible food pairings. Of course, my favorite was the toasty, buttery $100 bottle, which would go perfect with home-made macaroni and cheese.
With the sun shining, we headed to Pride Mountain, tasted the makings of Merlot from barrels and lunched atop a hill with hawks circling overhead.
Our last stop was a private tour of Jericho Canyon who are just finding their feet when it comes to visitors. We didn't mind- we had the place to ourselves. Our final night was spent in Yountville at Thomas Keller's Ad-Hoc. I loved the simplicity of the menu and the fact that there are no choices to be made. Before slipping off to bed, we sat around the Inn's open fire, sipping glasses of velvety Prager port, vowing to add a bottle to our shipment.
On more than one occasion during the trip, I felt like the luckiest girl on earth. Napa had a way of taunting me, somehow showing me what I'm missing out on in a valley dedicated to wine and food. I definitely plan on going back, but maybe, just maybe, I can re-create some of the magic I found there in my very own mid-west kitchen.