Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Napa Napa Napa, vol. 2

{Click here for Vol. 1... now updated with my notes on Pacific Blues Cafe which apparently I failed to include the first go-round.  Must have been dizzy with lust appreciation for JT's artistic abilities.}

Time to talk vino!  Having all previously visited big name vineyards {Cakebread, Caymus, Duckhorn, Stag's Leap, Mondavi, etc}, we planned the vast majority of our tastings at boutique wineries.  Most of the wine we sampled is only available for sale in the immediate area or directly from the vintner, so it was pretty cool to "taste local" and to hang out with a few of the winemakers themselves.  If you're planning a trip and want to go this route, I'd recommend making your appointments a month or two in advance... Just for reference, February / March is low season and we booked our tastings in mid-January. 

Kathryn Hall {Rutherford Estate - by appointment only} - E and I visited Hall's tasting room in St. Helena {walk-ins welcome!} on our last trip and liked the wine so much that we've been been club members ever since.  During our first visit, we saw photographs of the private Rutherford Estate and wrote a big mental Post-It to book a tasting in the future.  It did not disappoint -- the land, set high in the hills of Rutherford {the drive itself is a sobriety test, be forewarned}, is stunning, and the buildings are impressive.  The Halls are major art collectors, and the tasting could double as a gallery tour.

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 The Halls obviously have money... lots of it... feast your eyes on the wine cave designed and constructed by "THE" Austrian cave builder {our guide's words, not mine} with bricks and materials from a legit Hapsburg castle {Kathryn Hall was the ambassador to Austria during the Clinton administration, a gig she got because Clinton thought she was hot... again, not my words}. The chandelier hovering over the king's table in the cave is... ridiculous.  Photographs {well, my photographs} don't do it justice.  C and I decided that for our 50th birthdays we would throw a dinner party under that big ol' fancy tree {I think it's actually supposed to be some ancient vine root system or something symbolic but my listening skills were compromised at that point in the tour}... E & B told us they hoped our second husbands could afford such an event. 

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A few of Hall wines have widespread distribution {the ones we can buy in Texas usually have just the Hall label... no Kathryn Hall or proprietary labels} and I wouldn't call it a true boutique winery, but there are several labels you won't find elsewhere, and their cabs can't be beat.  Our tour was heavy on "Hall History," which could have been taken down a few notches easily, but it was worth it to see that damn chandelier.  The fact that you have to buy 6 bottles to get your$45 tasting fee waived kinda sucks, though. 

Chase Family Cellars {by appointment only} - Chase is the opposite of Hall Rutherford.  Nothing fancy or ostentatious... they don't even have a sign {keep that email correspondence!}.  We rolled on up, were greeted by Rebecca, and strolled amongst the vines with five bottles of wine {generous pours here... look alive}. There was just enough info about the wine mixed with good ol' family drama tales.  Good Zinfandel.  I also really really like Chase's non-label label art.  Not that this matters a hoot.  After our tasting, we picnicked under the massive olive trees on the property.  Good stuff.


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Turnbull {walk-in} - Um. Yeah. We did not intend to taste at Turnbull. E and I rolled in there on our last trip because we had some time to kill in between scheduled tastings, and the wine was meh... but there was this MUSTARD.  Y'all.  I still have dreams about this mustard.  We still talk about it -- how divine it was, how we should have bought a fucking case of that stuff.  So, we had to pop in this time to right our previous Condiment Wrong.  Yeeeeeeah, well.  They no longer sell mustard {W.T.F.}.  The 23 year old working the counter didn't even know they'd ever sold mustard {Double W.T.F.}.  But someone dug up a dusty jar for us in the back office... and gave it to us for free.  So C & I felt compelled to do a tasting.  Which was still meh.  Later, we noticed the mustard was expired.  So, basically, we were suckers.  Turnbull also marks the beginning of a Drunk People Don't Even Realize The Camera Lens is Smudged period.  Please enjoy the "artistic effects."


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E, K, Expired Mustard, C

Provenance - I think we all agreed that Provenance was our least favorite tasting experience {not counting The Great Mustard Disaster of 2013}.  The wine was pretty good and the lady who poured for us was nice, but the visit was just a big tasting room - nothing special.  We did have an appointment {booked online}, but I'm not sure if one was required.

Frog's Leap {appointment required for 6+ guests and/or if you'd like a tour} - E and I visited Frog's Leap before and were utterly charmed by it.  C & B wanted to check it out, so we just dropped by at the end of our first day.  We were treated to prime real estate on the huge wrap-around porch with great views of the vegetable garden out back.  And we got some puppy lovin' in with Maggie {I think? Molly?}.  Frog's Leap really is the perfect way to end your day... the wine is great, the surroundings are gorgeous, and they pretty much leave you alone to socialize and relax.  They also bring you really, really good cheese and honey they gather on site.  Bonus Points for being LEED certified organic, blah blah blah hipster babble.


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Kelham {appointment only} - Kelham was one of my Top Three Favorites.  It was another completely private tasting, and I can't think of a much better way to welcome 10 a.m. than sipping wine outside on this property.  The sharp fellow in the puffy vest down there is Ron, one of the two sons and winemakers... One doesn't often meet Metrosexual Farmers {I say this as if I know what I'm talking about... I decidedly do not}, but he was a lot of fun.  He was quite into my scarf {amazing taste, obvs} and attempted to teach me a new-fangled way to tie it.  Rumor has it {said our driver - David of Eclectic Tours - hiiiiiighly recommend}, the producers of The Bachelor wanted Ron on the show, but he declined because he feared the publicity might negatively impact the vineyard... so Andrew Firestone graced our televisions instead.  I love good gossip.  Oh, right, the wine is really, really delicious.


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Joseph Phelps {appointment only} - Joseph Phelps has a truly gorgeous terrace.  We did the self-paced, aptly-named Terrace Tasting and enjoyed lounging about in the sun for an hour or so.  We didn't learn anything about the vineyard or winemakers {which is alright - I don't need an dissertation on every winery - but a little something personal is nice}, and we found the wines to be mostly tasty but pretty pricey.  Bottom line: we tasted better, for cheaper elsewhere.  But you sure can't beat the view. 


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Round Pond {appointment only} - Round Pond is another supremely beautiful property.  The elevated deck is paradise.  I wish we hadn't just eaten our faces off at Cindy's right before our appointment, because we were feeling a bit sleepy and sluggish, and our palates {snooty vocab alert!} were all gummed up with Adult Grilled Cheese Residue.  Had we been more alert and less stuffed, we could have enjoyed the wine even more.  Round Pond also sells chocolates and herb infused olive oil... you best be believin' some of those goodies made their way home with me.

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Caldwell {by appointment only; 1 case minimum purchase per couple} - FAVORITE FAVORITE FAVORITE.  After a tasting with the hysterical John Caldwell, you'll be spoiled for life.  The man is a hoot, and he's full of stories... He's been on this property making wine for 40 years.  In the 80s and 90s, he smuggled grape clones from Bordeaux and Dijon to California... in his pant legs, in suitcases, in packages wrapped as birthday gifts. After the fact, he obtained licensing from the French government {the first of its kind} to promulgate these clones in the U.S.  Two hours with him in his caves felt like two minutes, and I'm pretty sure we were all ready to move in.  If you can secure an appointment and swing the case requirement {thanks to C's parentals and their friends - also big fans of Caldwell's - for taking a few bottles off our hands thus allowing us to afford the appointment!}, this is a MUST! 



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Robinson Family {appointment only... it's possible you also have to be a wine club member... C's dad got us the appointment, so we're not entirely sure what the requirement is, apologies!} - This was maybe the smallest winery we visited, and it's about as family-run as they come.  One of the three Robinson sisters showed us around -- she came fresh from a local baseball tournament where all seven of the Robinson grandchildren were playing!  We tasted the Robinson label and the Great Legs label, then toured the private family cellar.  Two thumbs up!


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Quixote {appointment only} - Quixote is a funky little place.  If you're at all into architecture and art, this would be a good stop.  The only Hundertwasser designed structure in the United States, and the last one designed by the artist before he died, the winery reminded me a lot of Gaudi's works in Barcelona... although our guide basically told me {nicely} I that they are waaaaaaay different.   Yeah, okay... OR NOT.  Regardless, Hundertwasser actually sounded like kind of a douche {a douche obsessed with sperm and ovums, truth be told}... but I liked all his colors!  Quixote was a fun little break from the norm.  And the wine was delicious.  Another gold star for their label art. 



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Elyse {appointment only} -  This was a repeat for C & B... The winery itself isn't much to write home about, but the wines speak for themselves.  I don't think there was one in the bunch of seven that I disliked.  Elyse only has a small tasting room, but we took our pours outside into the courtyard -- much more civilized!


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And that's that, folks!  

I have to give another shout-out to David of Eclectic Tours, just in case his linkage got lost in my would-be Bachelor ramblings. C's parents have used him many times, and he is a super duper nice and knowledgeable guy.  Splurging for a driver is a great way to taste stress {and alcohol violation!} free! 

And another thank you to C & B for being such fun traveling companions!  I think most of us can attest to the fact that it's hard to find another couple that you both want to share an evening with... much less four days, a rental car, and a jam-packed itinerary.  I'd put our Couple Compatibility Score in the 99th Percentile... only deducting a point because neither of y'all like Duck Dynasty {say whaaaaa?}. We love y'all!  

Cheers!  

18 comments:

  1. Saving these posts! Hope to make it to Napa next year. Your trip looked FAB! And YOU looked fab! What great outfits!

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  2. Loving all the pics and re-caps! Which tour did you do with Dave? I'm thinking a trip to Napa is in order.....

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    1. We did four wineries + a lunch stop on our tour day!

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  3. Your trip looks amazing!! I would love to go to Napa for my 30th (this year!). I am saving this post and sending to my husband so he can plan accordingly!

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  4. Amaze-balls! Your post so makes me want to go back so bad right now! I love your blog and never post comments, but I had to with this one. Glad to see "Abby" the wine dog at Frog's Leap is still running the joint. She enjoyed digging up vegetables on our tour and playing fetch with them. And Kelham Vineayrds was our all time favorite. Which is why we named our goldendoodle Kelham!! I sent the folks at Kelham a Christmas with Kelham on it a few years back. They sent us a handmade dog collar made from a vintage Hermes scarf. You can't make that stuff up! They are such an amazing family.

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    1. Abby! Yes! I think Elyse's new pup is either Maggie or Molly.

      That is amazing about the Hermes scarf. I now want to get a puppy and name it Kelham just so I can get such a gift!

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  5. I think I need to go to Napa to meet my future husband, Ron. Mmmmm puffy vest man meat! And he loves wine! I already know we're perfect for each other.

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  6. I love these posts. Looks like yall had a fabulous time! Also, two things. All of these photos are amazing quality and...you and Colleen's outfits are adorable in every picture! Very fun. Happy 30th's.

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  7. Such a perfect post! I now have reservations at Elyse, Hall, and Joseph Phelps. We definitely plan to go to Frog's Leap too. Looking into Kelham next. You've got me so excited for our trip.

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  8. Thank you! I can't wait to try some of your suggestions. The only place on your list I've tried is Phelps. They have (or had - the last time I was there was probably 5 years ago) a good tour and a really fun tasting school. Well, everything in Napa is really fun after the first tasting or two...
    I was wondering at how light the crowds seemed to be in your pictures, especially with such glorious weather. I think it is because you went with reservation-only type tastings? I love that last picture at Caldwell. Why is he looking at you like that?!
    Great post. I'm so glad you had such a wonderful time.

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    1. Feb / March is the low season, but the weather was so pretty that there were definitely a lot of people in the valley - the walk-in wineries looked very crowded! We definitely had a more personal experience by booking appointments - we were the only guests on the property at Kelham, Quixote, Robinson, Caldwell, and Chase... At Hall there were two other couples tasting with us... and at Elyse and Round Pond there were maybe three other couples tasting (but not with us). Phelps and Frog's Leap were busier.

      The photo with Caldwell -- Evan was standing behind me and grabbed my butt as a joke and I asked Caldwell if he was copping a feel right as the photo was snapped!

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  9. You forgot to mention that in order to travel with us, you must wear stripes every day!It was a great trip! You and E are great travel companions as well. Maybe someday we shall take a family vacation together! Can't wait to start planning another trip!

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  10. This trip looks amazing! I spent a few days in Sonoma once, but I've never been to Napa. We just did walk-in only tastings because I had no idea what I was doing, but going the appointment route definitely looks much better. And now for a country bumpkin question... in private tastings, are you actually expected to use the spittoon? When I was in Sonoma, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Ew.

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    1. I've seen some folks use the spittoon, but they seem to be the snooty people :) If I don't want to finish my pour (RARE), I just use the spittoon to dump the rest out - which is what I've seen most people do.

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  11. I think we would be friends! I have been to Napa three times and have loved Frog's Leap, Phelps, and the Sunday garden to table brunch at Round Pond (highly recommend...). I am taking notes on Kelham, Caldwell, Elyse and others, can't wait to get back there. A few of my other favorites are Mumm (sparkling, great terrace), Schramsberg (also sparkling, fantastic cave tour and tasting), Newton, Truchard, and... drawing a blank but I'm sure there are more! Thanks for the great info.

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  12. The ship may have sailed on your Napa recap, but I have one more question: can you talk about what you and your friend C were wearing while touring the wineries? You both look great in all of the pictures. My trip is in 2 weeks and I'm afraid I'm going to look like my 65-yr-old mom... or at least, a stay-at-home mom who hasn't worn anything but stretch pants and tshirts for 2 years running.

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    1. You're so sweet! We joked that our only rule for traveling with us is a striped outfit for every event!

      In the first set of photos, the mint striped tunic is from Old Navy and the pink jeans are Boden, pashmina is from Gap.

      In the second set, the navy striped dress is from Banana Republic and the elephant print scarf is Stella & Dot.

      In the third set, the gray striped top is Loft and the jeans are Gap - same Stella and Dot scarf.

      I'll have to ask C to source her outfits.

      Everywhere in Napa is pretty casual - we wore casual dresses or jeans with nice tops for dinner. Definitely wear comfy shoes to the wineries - there are tours that take you into caves and into the vineyards!

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    2. Thank you!
      Flats are obviously a must: I can't walk in heels when sober and I intend not to be. Got it: jeans, cute top, cute scarf, flats. (I don't trust my body in stripes, otherwise I would try that trend)
      I can do that. I placed a Gap order earlier today. And a cute sweater from Nordstrom Rack this afternoon. And flats with a squishy sole. I have spent more on clothes today than in the past 2 years combined. It is damned time and a good excuse (even if they are all a few sizes bigger than I ever wanted to be). Hell, I might even wear makeup!

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happy little comments!