Napa – October 2013

Back to Napa for trip #3…Our first trip since returning home from our big trip.

This was – as is the usual for our domestic trips – a quick long weekend vacation.  We left on Thursday—at 5:00 a.m.  I was not even aware that flights left New Orleans that early, but they do.  The good thing about heading out that early is that we got nearly a full day in on that day, as opposed to losing a day to travel.

We flew United with a stop in Houston on the way over, and it was pretty uneventful.  One thing of note is that flight was the last one we’ll take that we had to power down our phones/ipads…at least domestically.

And because there is no other better place to mention it, I’ll do so now.  We detoured to Muir Woods before making our way to Napa.  This is a redwood forest with some walking paths and trails.  Having never been to such a place, we enjoyed the stop and considered it well worth the 45-60 additional minutes of driving.


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Our plan for the day we returned home was similar.  United flies one flight a day from MSY to SFO and back.  We did not catch it to San Francisco because it left too late in the day, but it was perfect timing for our flight home.  The flight departed in the early evening – allowing us to get a pretty full day in Napa before heading to the airport.  The flight home was also uneventful, which is a good thing when flying.  Overall, I can’t complain about our United flight experience.  Having the United card (free checked bag, priority boarding) makes things easier too.

We again rented a car from Avis.  Signing up for Avis preferred lets you skip line.  Also, using an AWD code will save some pretty good change.  Google Avis AWD if interested and do some reading.

And one thing I’ll add for driving…If you are heading off the beaten path (smaller wineries, mountain wineries, etc.), they will send you directions and tell you not to rely on GPS/Google Maps.  Listen to what they say and print out the directions.  If you do, you’ll be fine.  If not, you’ll be in big trouble.

Overall we had another great trip to the wine country.  Next time, we’ll definitely spend a day or two in Healdsburg.  The main reason we did not this time is because of the hotel points I used to pay for our room.

I’ll also add that we had a pretty significant change of circumstance between when we planned this trip and when we actually went on it.  It mainly affected Alyce and what she could/could not do….Use your imagination.


This was yet another trip where we were pretty focused on wine.  Outside of meeting my parents for dinner we did not have a single meal reservation – which worked out just fine.

Shafer (Thursday) – Shafer had always been a tasting I had heard very good things about.  We had not been before, but I was determined to make it work this time.  They are closed on the weekend and book up way ahead of time, so that left us Thursday or Friday.  In June, they were already booked for Friday in late October, so that left Thursday.


The fee is $50 per person and is not waived with a purchase, but it is waived for mailing list members who purchased 6 bottles within the past year.  So, you can always just buy 6 bottles and get a free tasting for two – which is what we did.

The wine was very good.  Their Hillside Select is a top notch wine (and is priced as such).  Just after we got home, they announced that their 2010 Hillside Select was awarded 100 points by Robert Parker, for whatever that is worth.  One of their less expensive wines (Relentless) is also highly thought of and was named wine of the year by one of the wine publications.

Outside of the wines, the views here were also very good, and the people were friendly.  Overall, a very nice tasting.


Spottswoode (Friday) – Spottswoode is another place that books up quickly and only does a couple tours/tastings a week.  It is located in St. Helena.


They start off by taking you for a tour of the grounds down to house on the property.  You then return to the winemaking facility and see everything there, followed by a sit down tasting.  We had a good group for this one.  There were some people from Arkansas who picked out my LSU hat and started talking some football.

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And we also had some wine…All of the wines were good.  The 2010 Estate Cab was my favorite, so we bought some bottles.  Turns out, it would also get awarded 100 points by Parker shortly after we got back from the trip.  So we had tried our first two 100 point wines without knowing it…and – shocker – they don’t taste all that different than the other very good wines.

Ovid (Friday) – Next up was Ovid up high on Pritchard Hill.  Ovid is a smaller/boutique winery that yet again makes very good wine and the tasting book up soon.  The wine here is pricey and your tasting will be with only your group.  There is a $75 fee per person that is waived with purchase.  For that price you get to try some great wine and they provide you with a nice cheese plate – in addition to the private tour.


The facility itself is very modern and cool, using all the latest technology.  They make their proprietary red blend every year and an “experimental” wine in addition to that.  We got to try a barrel sample of the 2012 red and 2010 Red.  Both were excellent.  The view of Napa Valley here is also second to none.

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David Arthur (Friday) – We stopped in at David Arthur on our down Pritchard Hill (with a reservation for the tasting).  David Arthur was a favorite from our previous trips…and remains in that category.


As before, we tried plenty of wine, had the tour, saw the caves, had some barrel samples, etc.  This is a recommended stop.  There is a $50 fee, which is waived with a 3 bottle purchase.


Seavey (Saturday) – This was a place I was looking forward to going, and it did not disappoint.  It is located in Conn Valley, which is between Pritchard Hill and Howell Mountain.  One of our favorite wines (Forman) also comes from this area.

We met Dorie Seavey (the daughter of the original owners and one of the siblings currently running the place).  She poured us some of their white wine and gave us a tour of their property/facilities.  [Sidebar: you’ll notice my interest in taking pictures dwindling as the trip goes on.]


If Ovid was on the cutting edge of everything, Seavey was a little more old world in wine making style.  Though let me be clear, that has nothing to do with the quality of their wine, which is excellent and reasonably priced (for the quality).

After the tour (during which we also met a Seavey brother and talked with the winemaker for a little bit), we made our way back to the main tasting area and sat out at a picnic table and enjoyed some great wine and scenery while talking with Dorie.

Seavey does charge a tasting fee, but it is reasonable and waived with purchase.

Anderson Conn Valley Vineyards (Saturday) – This was also located in Conn Valley, not far from Seavey.  We were joined with another couple on the tasting , who also happened to be from New Orleans.

We drove up to their cave, where we sat down and tasted through their lineup, which was good an priced reasonably.  Though I preferred Seavey’s wine (and Forman too).  You also get to try some wine from their barrels.

Continuing the theme, ACV had a tasting fee, bit it is waived with purchase.

Vincent Arroyo (Saturday) – Arroyo was a favorite from past trips.  It was definitely the favorite from our first trip.  We got to try a lot of wine and they did some interesting comparisons; we also had a barrel sample.  And it was all free.

The second trip we caught them in August prior to their Fall release and after most of the Spring release had been sold out, so there was not much to taste.  They were still friendly though, and we enjoyed it.

This trip it was packed.  At one point, I was poured a taste and had no one come see how I was doing for literally 20 minutes.  Maybe I’m spoiled by where we generally choose to go, but this was disappointing for a place I had really liked in the past.

Also, I don’t know if this area was hit really hard in 2011 (as many places were) or my wine taste has just changed, but outside of the Petite Syrah’s I wasn’t that wild about a lot of the wine.  Oh well, maybe I’ll try it again when they are pouring the 2012s or 2013s.

O’Shaughnessy (Sunday) – We had been up on Howell Mountain before and enjoyed it, so we were looking forward to heading up there again.  Howell Mountain is another area that produces some high quality wine for not outrageous prices.

We met with a nice girl maybe a little older than us who had been working there for a while.  Her brother also worked there (or something like that), which was in line with what we had heard somewhere else – that although it is not a family winery (like Seavey) it has a family type atmosphere.


Anyway, we did things a little in reverse here.  First, we tasted the wine, then you went for a tour.  The wine was again very good.  They make a Howell Mountain Cab and a Mt. Veeder Cab.  While both were good, I definitely preferred the Mt. Veeder Cab.  The tour was interesting too.  The owner’s private cellar is located in the winery caves and you get to check it out.  I do not doubt that the inventory value of that cellar is well in seven figures.  There is a fee here, but it is waived with purchase.


Outpost (Sunday) – Outpost was not too far away from O’Shaughnessy.  It was another place I had been wanting to visit.  They had a great tasting area outside with a postcard view, but the wind was howling so we tasted inside after a quick tour around the place.


Sounding repetitive…The wines were very good and not absurdly priced (though they have continuously gotten more expensive over the last several years).  We liked this stop and will probably make it back at some point.  There was a fee, but it was waived with purchase.

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Behrens Family (Sunday) – We made the treck from Howell Mountain up to Spring Mountain, and it really wasn’t that bad.  Behrens was a favorite from our previous trip, and – like David Arthur – it remains a favorite.


Behrens does not grow grapes; they just purchase grapes and make/blend the wine.  Here, you’ll meet with Robin and taste in their old style trailer.  They always pour plenty of very good wines, some of which are very reasonably priced.  Robin will also keep you entertained.  There is a fee here, which is waived with purchase.

Blankiet (Monday) – We made our way over to Blankiet estate (close to Yountville) for our 9:30 tasting.  We met with the owner’s nephew, who had sold his consulting company and moved out to Napa to live the more relaxed life (he was maybe 10 years older than us).  The owners had made their money in textiles (he created the process for acid washing jeans – or something along those lines) and are committed to making to notch wine here.


We had a really nice tour of the facilities and then made our way up to the property estate where you taste in a downstairs room of the owner’s house.  It was a really cool spot.


The wine is very critically acclaimed and usually sells out quickly.  It is priced as such but is not as bad as some of the others we visited (Shafer, Ovid).  The wines were very good, including a rose, which we typically aren’t too fond of.  The second label wine is very good too and is not too expensive.

Again, there is a fee that is waived with purchase.

Vine Hill Ranch/VHR (Sunday) – Last, but definitely not least was Vine Hill Ranch.  We met with Bruce, the owner of the property, and he took us all around the vineyards.  I learned more about farming on that visit than I had on probably all previous visits combined.

Vine Hill Ranch had sold their grapes forever (Bruce was the second generation owner after his father) to some very high quality wines.  Bruce decided to start holding on to some of his grapes and making a wine.  I think his first vintage was around 2006.

Anyway, primarily being a farmer, he took us all around the vineyards teaching us about different things.  Then we went back to his house on the property and tasted his 2011 wine which will be released in the not too distant future.  His wife also joined us for the tasting, and we really had a nice time talking with them.

Overall, it was one of our favorite stops on a trip with plenty great stops.


I’m not going to get too much in to dining.  We went to some of our previous favorites: Fatted Calf, Gott’s, The Oxbow Market.  See my previous reviews for more on those.

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We did try two new places.  The first was Bistro Jeanty where we met up with my parents and The Buras’s who just happened to have a day overlapping on their trip with us.  Everyone really enjoyed their food here, and I don’t think it was too high priced by any means.  Overall, it was a very nice time.

The other new spot we tried was Goose and Gander.  We had gotten some very good feedback from locals on this place over the course of the trip and decided to give it a shot.  The food was very good, and it also has a neat bar in the basement.  The mixed drinks are supposed to be fantastic – though we did not partake.


We again stayed at the Embassy Suites in downtown Napa on points.  As with the previous trip, I was pleasantly surprised by the hotel.  The employees/staff are all very friendly, and the included breakfast is surprisingly good.  The rooms are nothing over the top, but we don’t really care.

Concluding Thoughts

Not too much to say.  Our third trip to the wine country was perhaps the best yet…At least for one of us.  Hopefully the nest time we’ll both be able to enjoy the wine. 😉


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