It is getting chilly here in DC, and our September vacation feels forever ago. I am sitting here on the couch sipping a glass of $4.99 Seccola sparking wine from Trader Joe’s, and it really is quite fun to be transported back to the couple days in which we lived like true wine aficionados.
The specific locations are different for everyone, but I would propose that each of us has places we enjoy, but where we would like to go only every-now-and-then, along with places where we would love to go frequently and know we would never tire of the regular visits. Napa really is the latter for me. Yes, it was a “check the box on the bucket list” type of a place, but I also left wanting more and hoping to return again soon/often!
This trip, we visited a lot of the big name places… and therefore spent a lot of money on tastings. Next time, I think we will invest a bit longer in exploring Sonoma and some of the smaller wineries. This was a great initial lineup though!
Domaine Carneros: The perfect stop for the first winery of Napa. We took a tour to learn about “The Art of Sparkling Wines,” trying many of this fizzy type. It was fun to learn about the process of making this type of wine, from hearing the ideal harvest hours (2-6am) to learning how yeast has been removed over the years (displaying the bottle upside down to get the yeast to the opening, though eventually the process became mechanized). Since we arrived in Napa on a Tuesday afternoon, this was our one stop that day and it actually turned out to be a great place to linger. It turns out that not many wineries in the heart of Napa offer wine by the glass. Domaine Carneros did, however, and we thoroughly enjoyed lounging with a glass each after the tour, along with enjoying a lovely fruit and cheese plate. The grounds/castle-building itself are stunning as well, though perhaps a bit over-the-top… but isn’t that what you want to see when you first arrive in Napa?
Cakebread Cellars: This winery boasts an intricate courtyard experience, and I found myself becoming a bit jealous when I learned that Google hosted a company party there! Our guide was a sweet elderly man who obviously knew what he was talking about and had deep respect for the winery. I had never found a Chardonnay I liked until this winery, and I actually came away thoroughly approving of two: The Chardonnay aged 8 months in French oak, and the reserve “creamy style” Chardonnay. The red wines were so smooth, dry, tannin-y, and heavenly. I was sad to hear from a neighboring winery later on that Cakebread may “tea bag” its wines. Not sure whether to believe that or not, but I can’t help but let that rumor color my opinion somewhat.
Frog’s Leap: Chris was especially excited for this one, since he remembers his first visit fondly a few years ago. Frog’s Leap is all about being an approachable and down-to-earth farm experience. The winemaker, John, sounds like a riot. I especially enjoyed hearing the story of their label, created by a starving artist who worked at a 7-11. The label went on to win awards! Chris ended up coming back to buy the Cabernet Sauvignon, and we are still sitting on it waiting for the best moment to pop it open.
Alpha Omega Winery: As our last stop of the day, this winery unfortunately did not get our most undivided attention. I really enjoyed the conversation with our wine-pourer, who was very easy to talk to and made us feel like we knew what we were talking about (hey, maybe we did!). Unfortunately or fortunately, this winery stays open until 6pm, so I think many people save it for their last winery of the day. (We did.) While it is a good move in some ways, I wonder if this means Alpha Omega doesn’t always get the cream of the crop in its visitors.
To be continued…