Wine “Research”

Last week, Betsy and I took our new college graduate, Ashley, to the California wine country and we conducted some much needed wine “research”. This was not a relaxing trip, but was packed full of wine tastings, food pairing experiments, cellar tours, garden tours, and even some art appreciation. All the things you would expect from a trip to Napa, right? Someone had to do it, so we took one for the team. (my wallet feels the pain)

We flew out on Mother’s Day at 6:00 am. Uggh. The 3 hour time change was exhausting, but they had a bottle of wine in our room to help shake it off, along with a nap and going to bed on East Coast time. Monday was our non-scheduled day to adjust to the time change, so we went tooling around town and ended up eating lunch at the Culinary Institute of America at Copia. We had an awesome lunch and toured the gallery of Chuck Williams memorabilia (aka. The Williams of Williams-Sonoma). But the exciting thing for me was seeing the completed Hestan Kitchen – I saw the empty shell of a room last July when Hestan took us there. It is very impressive to see the kitchens the students get to use. Then we went back to town to check out the rooftop bar at Archer Hotel. It was a beautiful view of the city, but a bit windy on the roof top. Then we stopped at ZuZu for some tapas, and that is where I came across the inspiration for this month’s Recipe of the Month – Shrimp Ceviche. Be sure to check them out if you go to Napa.

Tuesday we did the Napa Valley Wine Train – Gourmet Express. Great meal on steel wheels, and nice to view the majority of the Napa valley on a 3 hour tour. (strike up the Gilligan’s Island theme) After that we raced up to St. Helena to Tamber Bey Winery, which is really a horse farm, but they also are a “custom crush” facility, which is another way to say it is a subcontract wine making facility. Interesting concept and seeing the horses and mini horses was one of Betsy’s highlight of the trip. Bought some wine.

Wednesday was the day we scheduled a driver via the Priority Wine Pass for our first ever visit to the Sonoma Valley. Lou Zant was awesome. Great personality, very knowledgeable about the wine industry and knew where to take us. We had four tastings scheduled that day, so best to not drive ourselves. (good decision) We started at Square Peg Winery, and it hit a home run. Wines were incredible, met the whole family that runs it and we really appreciated Alanna’s artwork. We signed up for the wine club and bought one of her paintings. See the picture. Then, we went to Dutton Goldfield for a Wine and Sushi pairing. Very interesting. Wines were okay, but the service was not great, so we scooted out of there. Stopped at The Wurst for lunch, which was anything but the worst. After lunch, we toured the gardens and cellars at Ferrari Carano Vineyards – extremely impressive, but didn’t try the wines. Then we stopped by Mutt Lynch Winery for a tasting. That is a dog themed winery, so we felt we had to visit, being the dog lovers that we are. Wines were not great, but picked up some cool bottle caps. Lou then added a stop in downtown Sonoma, just off the square at Bennett Valley Cellars, where again the wine was extremely good. Ordered some wine from them, and then went to get pizza at the local joint, Mary’s. Bottom line is Lou knows where all the great wine is, and my picks were not as good. Lesson learned.

Thursday was another incredible day as it started with the Chef’s Table at Long Meadow Ranch. The 3 of us were the only diner’s there, so we got the royal treatment. If you have Instagram, check out all my photos @ecasanave We got to see the sous chef picking the herbs/veggies/etc in the garden just prior to sitting down to enjoy the 5 course meal with wine pairings. Wow! You need to do this if you go to Napa. And if you get the Priority Wine Pass you get a free tour of the Mayacamas Estate and cellars for free. Do it. Wines were awesome, learned a lot about olive oil, bought some of all of it, and it was a great day.

Friday – we flew home. Research on wine in Napa & Sonoma was complete for this calendar year. More research will continue at home until next trip to the left coast. ???? You’re welcome.

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