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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Two Days in California Wine Country

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Rather than my usual Odds & End post today, I want to briefly talk about our recent trip to Napa Valley. We were in California to run the RAGNAR relay and then stayed for a few days afterward to reward ourselves with copious amounts of wine. Had we arrived in the area with no real plan in mind, I think we would have been terribly overwhelmed. The sheer amount of wineries around there is astounding! Thankfully my dad put together an awesome two-day itinerary for all of us, based on knowledge from his previous trip there and some research he did. I figured I'd briefly run you guys through where we spent our two days, in case you plan to be in the area anytime soon (which I highly recommend! I couldn't get over how beautiful and relaxing our time there was!).

Silverado Vineyards: This was our first stop, on the morning of Day 1 (a Sunday). Didn't you know it's completely acceptable to start drinking wine at 10:30 am in Napa Valley? It is! Upon arriving we were greeted with glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and led on a nearly hour and a half long tour of the property. Though long, in part because our group asked so many questions, it was incredibly informative. We learned everything from the history of the owners (Walt Disney's daughter and her husband!) to the way the machinery works to the insane precision that goes into putting labels on each wine bottle. After the conclusion of the tour, we sampled a number of their wines on their gorgeous deck overlooking the valley. It was a great way to kick off our tasting--a good introduction to the wine-making process, particularly for the larger vineyards. (Cost: $25)

Shypoke: Our next stop of the day (after an incredible lunch at Mustard's Grill that I'll talk about another time!) was to Shypoke. This was actually a somewhat random discovery--one of our RAGNAR teammate's dad had visited this vineyard over ten years ago, fallen in love, and become a loyal customer ever since. My dad got in touch with Peter, the owner, and arranged for a tasting. We showed up, having no idea what to expect, only to discover that we were essentially invited to their backyard (Peter's parents actually live on the property) to sit and sample all of their wines. It was much more laid back than our experience that morning...we still learned a lot and asked a lot of questions, but it was like we were sitting around with old friends. More gorgeous scenery (a common theme I soon realized!) and incredibly good wine! Shypoke is family owned and for passion, not profit. Peter has a full-time job as a winemaker for another winery yet maintains his family-owned vines for the love of the product. We went home with a bottle of his 2009 Napa Valley Charbono, an incredibly rare (only 65 acres grown worldwide!) and difficult to maintain grape! (Cost: Free!)

Three Clicks: Like Shypoke, Three Clicks is owned and operated by two individuals who have full time jobs with other vineyards. The husband and wife duo met while studying viticulture and after ten years in the business began their own winemaking company. They don't actually have an onsite location, but are friends with Peter (of Shypoke) and were invited to our tasting to share their wines...something we were all quite thankful for! One unique feature: all of their wines are screw caps, something that is so frequently looked down upon by traditional wine drinkers and yet these two are adamant about their decision and why they made it (read a little more about their decision here). I'm not normally big on dessert wine, I like to keep my dessert and my wine separate!, but theirs was fantastic and we found ourselves headed home with two bottles! (Cost: Free!)
Quivera: We started our second day of wine tasting at Quivera, which was very close to the house we were renting in Healdsburg. It was a spur of the moment addition (we had plans to go elsewhere but decided to stick near the house) and our group of 11 took our chances and showed up in the tasting room. Given that it was a Monday, the place wasn't crowded and they didn't have an issue accommodating us (big groups are typically frowned upon in the area!). This was probably my least favorite of the places we visited. The wine was pretty good and the grounds were of course beautiful, but I found the gentleman helping us to be a bit condescending. He didn't bother the others quite as much, so maybe I was just picky and spoiled after such fun people the day before! (Cost: $10)
Scribe Winery: My parents fell in love with this place last November when they were in Napa and it was finally time for all of us to see why! Completely unassuming from the road, unlike many wineries in the area, this place is best described as 'hipster'. The place has an interesting history. What started as a vineyard, then a bootlegging outpost and brothel during prohibition and more recently a turkey farm is now returning to its roots. The mission of the winery is to be scribes of the land, essentially seeking to preserve the history of the area and let the land do the speaking. The decor & grounds are eclectic and rustic and while I could see how some might consider Scribe pretentious, we fell in love with everyone we encountered there. My dad arranged for us to have a private tasting and picnic out on their lawn. We tried four different wines while enjoying a few incredible snacks specially prepared for us--everything from fresh tomato and garlic crostini (the produce from their own garden) to Japanese-spiced popcorn to panfried chickpeas. It was a fantastic place to end our two days and Ryan and I walked away as the newest members of their wine club...so it's safe to say we really liked the wine! (Cost: $75 for the specially arranged picnic and tasting)
When we weren't out and about wine tasting, our group could be found drinking wine on the patio of the house we rented. We actually opted out of a few winery visits in favor of doing this instead. I can't recommend HomeAway enough when you're looking for a house or condo to rent while on vacation. Our place was perfect for a group of our size--if you plan to be in Napa Valley (Healdsburg is where our house was), email me and I can let you know the details!
In short, I now understand the appeal of wine country. On top of that, I have a new appreciation for the winemaking process and a particular interest in knowing the story behind the wine I'm drinking (although I'll still probably choose wines based on how much I like their label!). I can't wait to go back!

Note-none of these places asked me to blog about them or even knew I was a blogger. Just wanted to share my experiences! Don't hesitate to email me at natalie@thesweetslife.com if you have any questions!