Travelogue -- Ken and Carolyn Go To Wine Country -- 2010

Carolyn and I like wine, but we're not connosieurs or wine experts. Our general feeling is that if we like the wine, we don't really care why ... if we don't, same-same. This colors how we buy wine. We don't care about specific labels all that much (although we have some favorite wineries), or age (unless we can actually tell a difference, which in many cases, it is hard to tell ...), and so on. This is just a general caveat ... most of this got posted over on Live Journal, although I'm editing this a bit (would add photos, but can't seem to get them out of the iPhone right now, and we forgot to take a "real" camera ... d'oh!).

One piece of advice that I got from one of the websites - only turn right ... on Hwy 29, turning left is usually a problem, too much traffic. So turn right to a winery. If there is one on the left you want to visit, do so on the way back ... they'll be on your right that way ... it was good advice!

We decided awhile back that since I had two weeks off, and she had decided to take this week off, that we should "do something together". We plotted and schemed, and decided we hadn't been to the Napa Valley in awhile, and it had always been with her sister, so maybe we should do that. She made arrangements with a Bed and Breakfast place (see details below), and then it was just a case of anticipation.

We thought about trying to do an "organized" tour (visit specific wineries), but except for two that we always visit (see below), we picked the others at random while driving up (or down) the freeway.

On (Thursday) July 8 we left Walnut Creek around 10am, and got to Peju Province Winery around 11 or 11:30ish.

Peju is at the north end of Rutherford. Traffic was a bit weird (St. Helena has a couple of stop lights which really slows things down). We have never been disappointed with wines from Peju, and yesterday was no exception. Some of theirs are a bit pricey, but we liked everything we tasted. We were pleasantly surprised by the Sauvignon Blanc (we're not huge white wine drinkers, but this was very nice), and we picked up 4 bottles. We also really liked their blend (red and white wines, I think it was 3 red and 2 white, but I can't recall) called Provence, and picked up a couple of bottles of that. Back around Christmas I had done an online order and picked up some bottles of Carnival, a French Colombard, gifted some of them, and I think we have a couple bottles left. Their Cabernet Franc was decent, but nothing to write home about ... We spent a little time in the gardens after, just because they are very nice and the spouse loves a good flower garden.

We then stopped a bit further up the road, and closer to St. Helena itself, at a larger winery, but it was one whose name I wasn't familiar with: V. Sattui Winery. This place was packed. They have the whole tourist thing down. There's a huge deli, and a very large tasting room. We wandered around the tasting room a bit, and decided to try the wine/food tasting flights. We sat down next to a very nice couple from Wyoming who were traveling south to meet up with their son. They had their dog with them, a very mellow golden retriever mix, who charmed this small Japanese girl ... that was very cute. Anyway, the idea for the tasting is that for $18 (each ... wine tasting is getting expensive! Only two wineries we stopped at were free ...) you try three wines with some food pairing to show the balance and so on. This was kind of cool. We tried two different flights (one each), and then got to share them. The first flight included an amazing Moscato (sweet white wine, meant to be used with appetizers or dessert, I guess) that was paired with melon wrapped with prosciutto. Wow. (We bought one bottle ...) There was also a Chardonnay ("Carsi" -- they have several different regions in the Napa valley that they grow grapes and produce wines, this is the "Carsi" Chardonnay, as opposed to several other Chardonnays that they had) that was paired with a Petit Basque cheese ... again, wow! We bought a couple of bottles of that. I cannot remember what the other wine was in that flight. The second flight was all Cabernet Sauvignon. The one we really liked was the Vittorio's Vineyard Cabernet, which was served with a nice pate with some course mustard. Very good. (We bought two of those ...) Before we left, we bought some of the cheese (the petit basque), and considered buying a sandwich at the deli so we weren't getting drunk, but the place was super crowded. One problem with buying the cheese -- it was warm out, and it got left in the car ... d'oh. I am not sure if it's all better now, but yesterday it was a bit sad by the end of the day. Whoops. Reminder to self: Don't buy cheese at these places without a small ice chest to keep 'em cool.

We felt that maybe we needed to eat something more substantial before going on. So ... we drove a little bit further into downtown St. Helena, found a place to park (parallel parking, not my favorite trick, especially on a VERY busy street -- Highway 29 is the main drag ...). And right there was a nice little restaurant, so we decided "let's do that!". Had a pleasant lunch, and then walked around downtown a bit. Just to stretch, walk off a little of lunch, window shop. Carolyn bought some stationary at one shop, but otherwise we really just looked. It was very pleasant.

Next, we hopped back in the van and kept heading north on Hwy 29. One problem is when a semi is right behind you, and you want to slow down and make a decision about what winery to pull into ... argh. Oh well. We decided to pull into Trinchero Napa Valley, which was actually a bit off the road. This winery is quite new, but it's owned by the Trinchero family, who also own Sutter Home and at least one other major winery. They have 7 or so small plots all over the area (the person doing the tasting pulled out a map and showed us where their plots were ...) and make wines from the grapes from different regions of the valley. Kind of interesting. Most of what they had was not very remarkable, but we really liked their Merlot. Most Merlots are fairly light, this one had a bit of depth to it. We picked up a couple of bottles there ...

We decided (it was around 3) that maybe we should go back the other way and head in the direction of the Bed and Breakfast, so we could check in. On the way we stopped at Flora Springs Winery , mostly because their building is very unusual looking. (What the hey? Never heard of 'em, figured it could be fun ... and the building was interesting ... what better reason?) They were hyping a Pinot Grigio because they were down to the last 6 cases, and wanted to sell those out (case lot only, though). It was okay. We tried something like 6 wines ... not a lot jumped out at us. We did buy a bottle of their Chardonnay. It wasn't buttery (that requires a second fermentation process, which most wineries don't do anymore, pity ....), but very pleasant with no bite to it (lots of Chardonnays are very sharp, which is why we don't generally like them).

Our last stop before the B&B was one of our favorites, a small (VERY small) winery called Milat Vinyards. We found them several years ago coming back from Knochti Harbour for a concert, the sister-in-law (She-Ra, Princess of Power) decided to swerve in there at the last second on the way home ... we have always been glad we did. Every wine there is really nice (similar to Peju, we haven't been disappointed with their wines ...). We bought a couple bottles of their Cabernet Sauvignon, a couple bottles of Port, and a bottle of chocolate sauce that is based on the Port. These folk are always pleasant, very nice ... I highly recommend them to anyone (partly because I would hate to see them fail ... it's a tough market, and the woman we talked to was sounding a bit discouraged ..., but also the wines really are good).

Whew. That is a decent amount of wine. We were pretty tired. So we went to the Bed and Breakfast called The Ink House. This is a very nice Victorian house, named after Theron H. Ink (has nothing to do with tattoos). Went up to the room after checking in, crashed a bit (well, I read, herself slept). The host was having (around 5) a snack and chat session, so we popped down around 5:30. Had some wine/fruit/cheese/crackers, and the chats were fun. The host knows quite a bit about how the wineries do wine tasting, and gave a bunch of tips. He also has his favorite wineries in the region, so of course that was fun. Then he told "The Elvis Story" -- Elvis stayed at The Ink House for a few months filming "Wild in the Country". The story's pretty involved. Turns out, Elvis stayed in the same room we had rented! ("The French Room") ... had some rather randy encounters there, apparently. Snort. Anyway, it was fun ...

We figured out that the restaurant we had been thinking of having dinner at had a LOOOONG waiting list (at least an hour and a half), so we went to the Rutherford Grill (a couple miles south). We got there and were told a 45 minute wait, but a few minutes later they got us because the party they were looking for was nowhere to be seen. Weird. So we had a 5 minute wait instead. Decent food and service.

Got back to the room, and were really tired. We crashed (crawled into bed, but watched some TV once we got the system worked out for awhile) around 8:15 or so ... weird.

The breakfast this morning at The Ink House was very pleasant, and we chatted with a couple from Orange County, who moved to the states from Lebanon (I think, it wasn't easy to tell, their pronunciation was fun to listen to, and they've obviously been in the country for some time -- they used a lot of American slang), who had done some wine tasting yesterday and were doing more today. Pleasant people ... and then we hit the road and came home.

This was a nice little vacation for the two of us. We have recently discovered that sometimes just doing something like this with just us, is very nice. We love our friends and family, but sometimes it is good to get away by ourselves, and this was a good trip. I spent a bit more than I planned on wine, but that's okay ... this will last us awhile.


(These are thumbnails, click on them to see a larger version ...)

Photos from Ken's iPhone

Peju Province Winery

Peju - CJ in front

Part of the Peju Building

Rose (Peju)

CJ at Wisteria Arch
V. Sattui

One of the buildings
at V. Sattui