I typed this up a couple years ago after we got back from Napa. It’s long, but I had some friends that would be travelling there soon. Plus, I like having the reports (same as now with the wrap ups). We have since been back to Napa, so it is fun to go back and read the report.
We should be back to current stuff tomorrow. Here is Napa 2010 with some pictures from Alyce’s facebook account:
Napa – May 2010
I enjoyed this trip more than I was expecting too. Going into it I was excited about all of the eating out plans and thought touring/tasting the wineries would just be a filler during the day to get to the meals…I was wrong.
Dinners at the fancy restaurants lived up to the hype. We got to eat lots of stuff we had never had before, and it was all very good. Several of the meals were 3 hours long – the meals were your dinner AND entertainment for the night (and you have to view it that way for how much it costs). We also had some good burgers and sandwiches during the days.
As I’ve already said, the wine tours and tastings were a pleasant surprise. Most of the workers pouring the wine/giving the tours were very friendly, and not stuffy at all – which I was a little concerned about.
Going into the trip I said I would not be buying wine to take back home…I was wrong again. We came back with 14 bottles. This was mostly for two reasons – one reason being you have a good time while you are there (and can get a little tipsy) and get caught up in the moment and want to buy some wine for souvenirs. Another reason is that a lot of the wineries waive their tasting fee ($10-$15 on average) if you buy wine…So you can spend $15 to taste wine or $30 to taste wine and get a $30 bottle of wine…Win, win, win. We brought it home by buying a shipping box and checking it on the plane. That cost us $25 and the wine arrived home with us with no problems.
Napa is a good destination for a long weekend trip. You can really do a lot in 3-4 days. Also, it is pretty easy to get there/back – we picked up our rental car at the airport and dropped it off with little trouble (I highly recommend renting a car). The drive to Napa was about an hour with no traffic.
On the whole, I’d say it is highly likely that we go back to the wine country at some point – probably sooner than later. And on to the specifics…
We dined at Cyrus, The Restaurant at Meadowood, Redd, and The French Laundry in that order. All of the meals were very good. Cyrus Meadowood, and French Laundry were tasting menus; at Redd, we each ordered an appetizer, an entrée and split a dessert.
Redd – This was pretty similar to dining in a nice restaurant in NOLA, and I’d put it on par with many of the fine dining restaurants in New Orleans. Pricewise, it was comparable to a nice NOLA restaurant as well. The food was good, and the portions were pretty good as well. I would definitely recommend this restaurant for a more standard dining experience.
Cyrus – We had a great meal here, and it was the cheapest of the 3 tasting menus. All of the courses were very good, except for the dessert which wasn’t bad – it was just kind of blah after so many really good courses. This was the only restaurant that actually brought out a cheese cart for the cheese course and let you pick (I had no idea what I was doing and just took whatever the waiter recommended). Cyrus also wins the award for best bread. Of the three tasting menus, the food at Cyrus was the least “out there”/adventurous – which could be a good or bad thing depending on what you are looking for. My favorite course of the night was a big piece of lobster, but they were all very good.
Meadowood – This was easily the most adventurous of the tasting menus, as well as the most artsy with the food. Also, the restaurant was located at a resort and the grounds were pretty cool. At dinner, we sat by a big window overlooking one of the holes on the golf course and the hills/trees…I had my favorite course of the entire trip here – a extremely flavorful piece of wagyu skirt steak cooked perfectly. However, we also had the only course that both of us just did not like here: the dessert, which had olives and some kind of gel that just was not good. Overall, it was another unbelievable meal.
The French Laundry – This was our favorite dinner of the trip – and not just because of the name, the food was very good. What probably separated it from the other two was that the desserts were great here (not so at the other places). The best courses were “oysters and pearls” which was some type of oyster/caviar mixture and the other was a veal filet…Though again, it was all very good. Also, The French Laundry is located on very nice grounds.
The down side to the French Laundry was that it was very expensive, in addition to the fact that it was a royal pain in the ass just to get a reservation (which was not so at the other three places). So, was it worth it? I think so. It was a once in a lifetime dinner at what has been called the best restaurant in the country and even the world. Having said that, I don’t know that I’ll be rushing back. I very well may eat there again someday, but it probably won’t be any time soon…And a tip should you ever find yourself dining there. If the coffee and doughnuts dessert is not on the menu (which it usually is not), say you heard from someone who ate there before that it is a can’t miss thing because you’ll get an extra, very delicious dessert for free.
Palisades Deli – Located in Calistoga. They had good, hot sandwiches and a nice patio to eat on. We both had a sandwich, side and drink; and the bill was $20 (a bargain in the wine country).
Gott’s (formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher) – We had burgers here. They were very good and a welcome change from all of the fancy food. If you eat here, call ahead and place your order because it gets crowded.
Fume Bistro – We were going to eat brunch here but decided to skip it so we wouldn’t be close to full for our 5:30 meal at the French Laundry. If we go back, we’ll be sure to eat there.
Wineries (In order visited)
Some general info. You can do tours or tastings at wineries. For tours, they take you around their vineyards and show you the winemaking process and whatever other unique stuff the winery has, and usually there is a wine tasting at the conclusion of the tour. Most tours seemed to last 1.5-2 hours (and the time they tell you to allow for a tour on each wineries website wasn’t too accurate). Tastings are usually quicker and you just taste wine, no tour – though many places would let you explore their grounds on your own…A note on tastings – most of them consist of a list of 4-6 wines, but if you are friendly many places would pour a couple other wines for you or give you more tastes from the wines on the list.
Many vineyards are required by law to make visitors have appointments for tastings, but most are pretty flexible on this requirement. Several would take appointments as you walked in the door. On the other hand, tours are pretty strict on the appointment requirement and require that you show up on time.
Quivira (Tour) – We enjoyed our tour at Quivira. It was kind of a hippy place in that they were organic/natural/any other green word you can think of. But we had a good tour. They also had an extensive food garden and numerous farm animals in addition to their wine production.
Mounts Family Winery (Tasting) – This was a small production winery recommended to us by my cousin. The guy who gave us the tasting was the winemaker (and a Mounts family member) which was cool. The tasting was pretty quick (20-30 minutes) and was done in a dug out barrel cellar. And the wine was tasty.
One place we did not go to in Sonoma that I would have liked to was Ridge for a tasting.
Napa Valley Wineries:
Summers (tasting) – This was a tasting in a room with a bar. It was pretty quick and the wine was good and reasonably priced. This is one of the few wineries left in the world (I believe) that still makes Charbono wine – if that interests you.
Vincent Arroyo (Tasting) – This was our favorite tasting (and probably overall experience of the trip). The staff was very friendly and laid back – the owner/winemaker (Vincent Arroyo) walked out and started pouring wine while we were there. Also, there wasn’t a set list of 4-6 wines to taste…They had about 15 open bottles on a table and you could pretty much try whatever you wanted as much as you wanted. The guy that did our tasting probably poured us 10-12 samples and did some interesting comparison tastes. And before we were done, he took us to their barrel room and got us a sample out of one of their barrels, which was pretty neat. I highly recommend this winery, and it is worth the drive to Calistoga…And. as an added bonus, the tasting is free regardless of whether or not you buy wine (which we did).
Robert Mondavi (Tour) – This was probably the most informative tour we did; Alyce enjoyed it a lot. Mondavi also has some of the nicest grounds out of all the wineries we visited. It is one of the biggest wineries in Napa, so it gets kind of crowded during the day. If you go here or any of the other very big wineries (which I recommend going to one), I would get there first thing in the morning. That is what we did, and it was like our tour group had the entire place to ourself.
Peju (Tasting) – This was another good tasting experience. We had a slight wait after we got there, which wasn’t a big deal as they may have had the nicest property we saw. Once it is your turn, you go into a tasting room with about 8 people…We had some cheesy older people that thought they were super cool in our group, but (surprisingly) they did not ruin the experience. They poured us about 9-10 different wines, including some of their nicer/more expensive wines, and we liked most of them.
Round Pond (Olive Oil Tour) – I knew pretty much nothing about olive oil and how it was made going into this, but the tour was very informative and interesting. At the conclusion of the tour, we did an olive oil tasting – which was almost like a meal. One down side was that we had sucky group of people with us (at one point a woman asked us where we were from and after we said NOLA, she said that we must love Brad Pitt because he is rebuilding the city), but it was still a good experience on the whole and a welcome change of pace from drinking wine all day.
Pine Ridge (Tour) – This was a pretty informative and cool tour. This was the first place we went that had a cave system for their wine, which was pretty neat to see (I think you should tour at least one place with caves). Also, we had a full glass (or maybe more) straight from a barrel. The tour concluded with a tasting in their cave with cheese and crackers. But after that we went back inside and the tour guide poured us several more tastings of their wine.
Regusci (Tasting) – This was a spur of the moment tasting since we decided to skip lunch, our tour guide at pine ridge recommended it. The wine was good here and the grounds were nice. Alyce liked it a lot because they had a corgi hanging around the winery. It was a good, quick stop.
Jarvis (Tour) – This place was built entirely within a cave system, and no expense was spared. The caves here were really something to see…Pine Ridge’s caves were much more functional, whereas the caves here were more of an over the top luxury item. The tour concluded with a tasting in a room within the caves. It consisted of 6 generous sized pours of their expensive wine and some cheese pairings. This was the most expensive tour we did ($40 a head), but I think it was probably worth it because of the caves and because you got to taste a lot of good wine.
One place I would have liked to go but didn’t because I couldn’t fit it into the schedule was Schramsberg. They are a sparkling wine maker and make it in the classic method, which is supposed to be cool to see. Also they have a caves to tour if you don’t see them anywhere else.
In Sonoma (Healdsberg), we stayed at the Best Western Dry Creek Inn. It was clean and in a good location. In Napa, we stayed at the Best Western Elm House Inn. Both hotels included internet and a good, free breakfast. And perhaps most importantly, I thought both hotels were outstanding values. I’d recommend either one…Another thing I’d say in general is that if you are doing a long weekend, you are probably best off staying at a cheaper place and spending your money won wineries/meals. We literally slept and showered in our rooms and were out doing stuff the rest of the night/day.
Timing of the trip
Late Spring/Early Summer and the Fall seem to be the most popular times to make the trip. Late Spring is less crowded than the Fall (from what we heard) and hotels are cheaper. Also, the weather is very nice then (whereas it can get pretty hot in the summer and cold in the winter). Fall is when the grapes are harvested and the wine is being made, which is supposed to be cool.
I was happy with when we went, but next time I’d like to go in the Fall to see the grapes and wine being made.