We had an awesome time in San Fran but it was time to head on – we’re off to the wine country. To cut out a chunk of the driving we took the ferry over to Vallejo and picked up the car from there and hit the road to head up to the Old World Inn, our home in the Napa Valley for the next few days.
The highlights in these parts are the food and drink and Napa has the highest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants in the world. We weren’t going to be eating at these but there are some pretty awesome cheaper options too. Thanks to Katie’s research we had a lot of choices.
First up was Gott’s Roadside, who’s motto is “Tray Gourmet”. We had some amazing burgers, BBQ chicken sandwiches and washed it down with some local brews.
That evening we ventured into town to check out the scene and stumbled across the Naked Wines – a crowd sourcing project that’s been in Napa for about five years, but started up in the UK. These guys find wine makers with little or no marketing and sell their wines on their behalf so they can focus on wine making. The tastings were really laid back, we chatted to the staff and poured our own tastings. For $10 you can try as many as you want and as we bought a bottle of Ken & Derek Crowdpleazin (get it – zin for Zinfandel) for $30 they waived our tasting fees.
The next day we took a tour of the Sonoma valley through Platypus tours ($99pp plus tasting fees). Sonoma is much bigger than Napa, about ten times the size, so an organised tour made sense. We were picked up by Alison, a really knowledgeable Irish lady who’d lived in Sonoma for 27 years and were joined by another couple so there were only four of us in total.
First up was Buena Vista winery (10pp for five wines, no waivers on purchases) where we were looked after by a very sweet chap, Vasile, from Moldova. He poured our wines and told us the history of how the founder was a count from Hungary moved to Wisconsin in 1840 and after failing to grow wines there moved to San Fran. He later got involved in politics,moved to Sonoma and became the towns Sheriff (hence the badge on the bottles). In 1860 he popped back to Europe to bring out his family and brought 350 varietals back with him.
They had two Pinot Noirs named after his sons, Bela and Geza, which were our favourites. Neither of us like Pinot Noir from Europe but apparently in Cali the higher temperatures make it darker and fuller bodied. After the tastings we toured the caves where they age the wine and checked out the Champagne Room. A really fancy private room you can hire for parties or enjoy if you buy a bottle of bubbles.
Second was the Nicholson Ranch ($15pp for six wines, with the tasting fee waived if you buy three bottles). This was a beautiful vineyard with a one-eared llama that protects the grounds and keeps the coyotes away. They have many weddings here and the views on a clear day are fantastic. They don’t irrigate here which starves the grapes of water meaning to survive their roots have to travel deeper into the soil. This picks up different minerals and makes for some really interesting wines.
We were looked after a lovely lady called Debbie and she poured us tastes as we toured the grounds. My favourite was the Estate Pinto Noir, and Katie’s was the Merlot. We learnt to call it an Estate wine you need to do every stage of the winemaking process (growing, juicing, fermenting, bottling etc.) onsite,which isn’t very common these days.
Third was Schug ($10pp for five wines, tasting fees waived with purchase) where we were looked after by a not very attentive chap called Harrison. Alison bought us here as the wines are available in the UK, despite their low production, and their Cabernet Sauvignon can be bought at M&S. They were decent, but not our favs.
Lastly but not least we arrived at Robledo ($5/$10 for the Estate/Reserve selections of seven/eight wines, fees waived with purchase). We were looked after by a really nice guy called Kyle who told us their history and poured us everything from whites, to reds to ports.
Robledo was the first hispanic owned tasting room to open in Cali and when President Calderon of Mexico came to visit he liked the wines so much that he invited the owners to the White House with him to meet President Obama and the served their wines at the dinner. The Cabernet Sauvignons were the stars here and we bought a bottle of the El Rey which was the red served at the White House and our favourite.
After a full day it was home and early to bed for a good night’s sleep in preparation for Napa