Napa, CA: Welcome to Wine Country

After recovering from our 3 week sleep deficit in Portland, we embarked on out ten hour drive to wine country – Napa, California.  Ever since our visit in Napa, I feel like my senses are heightened.  My sense of smell is stronger.  I keep getting whiffs of random things and can pick out exactly what I’m smelling, or at least get transported back to where and when the scent is from in my memory.  I’m glad to say I actually learned more about wine from this trip too.  I’m better at tasting and identifying notes than I used to be, from tasting a buttery Chardonnay to smelling green pepper notes in a Cabernet (excuse the pretentiousness, I actually hate myself a little right now for even writing that).  And, I feel that from concentrating so intently on smells and tastes over just those two days, I’ve been more present day to day.

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We should treat life’s moments more like a nice glass wine.  Sit with it, experience it, feel it.  Take your time, encapsulate yourself in a moment, just as you focus all your energy on tasting what makes that glass of fermented grape juice unique. 

We stayed in a small town, Calistoga, a little bit north of Napa, for a more intimate experience.  We stayed at the Calistoga Inn, right on the main street – well, really the only street in town.  There are some residential areas surrounding the main strip, but all the businesses in the town seem to run on this one small street. 

The inn itself was pretty great. It has it’s own brewery and restaurant attached below. We booked through Groupon and received a $20 food voucher for their restaurant, breakfast vouchers for a restaurant down the road, and we got a free beer flight for every night we stayed.  The only downside was having shared bathrooms with the rest of the inn guests, instead of having ensuite bathrooms.  That was fine though, it was still one of the nicest bathrooms we’ve encountered. 

We arrived in Calistoga right when most of the tasting rooms were closing for the day, so we just hung out at the inn, drank, and played cards.  A man sitting next to us was telling us which wineries he’d gone to.  One he mentioned was a castle.  He said it was really cool, but  he thought the price was a little much for the entrance fee and the tasting.  He recalled spending $35 and didn’t think it was worth it.  Mid discussion, a girl who works at the castle (its real name is Castello di Amorosa, “Castle of Love”) took a seat at the bar.  She said it was not that expensive and definitely worth a visit.  She vouched for the wine (I guess she has to if she works there) and said even without the wine, the castle is beautiful and deserves a visit itself. 

Barrels on barrels on barrels
Barrels on barrels on barrels

 

The next morning, we started our tour de wine country at Sterling.  Our main reason for choosing this one for a visit? They have a gondola that takes you from the visitor center up to the winery.  I’ve been on a ski lift, but never a gondola.  I want to say it’s the only winery in the world that has an air tram, but I could be making that up. – I drink a lot, my memory isn’t great. 

Not a bad way to see the valley
Not a bad way to see the valley

The views from the gondola, and subsequently the winery, were beautiful.  We were in the surrounded by vineyards encompassed by mountains.  In the distance we could see the famed castle and decided right then we would go after Sterling. 

The view from Sterling
The view from Sterling

The tour of Sterling was one of the more expensive tasting we did but one of the more unique compared to wineries that just had a simple tasting room.  We paid  $10 extra for the “silver experience”, which included a private tasting of some of their limited release wines, only available at the winery,  in addition to the gondola ride, 5 current release wine tastings, and a self guided tour through the winery that comes with the standard admission fee.  We also got to keep our wine glasses (and wound up with two sets because the guy at the wine shop didn’t see that we already had glasses wrapped up for us).  One of the limited release wines we tasted was a chardonnay.  We’re both not usually big fans of chardonnay but this one with both tasted and were like, “woah, this is what people mean when they say Chardonnay is buttery.”

We left with our wine glasses, three bottles of wine, and the beginning of a wine buzz.  Back on the gondola for us, and onto the castle!

Welcome to the castle
Welcome to the castle.  Yea, it was worth it.

 

So, the castle is totally worth it.  It was $25 for general admission which allows you to roam the castle and gets you a tasting of 5 wines.  I’ve never been inside of a castle so I would have paid just to do that, but wine is nice too.  The people working in the tasting room seemed to be from all over the world.  Our guy was from Argentina.  What a cool way to travel, just working for different wineries all over the world.  New future career plan.  My parents used to joke when I was little that I was going to be a wine connoisseur.  I’ve loved wine since I was a kid; I had my own mini wine glass for family dinners.  How many 8 year olds like wine?

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After Castello di Amorosa, we went to Twomey.  We got hooked up nicely here.  We again got free glasses, and once they knew I intended to buy a decently priced bottle, they gave us extra tastings and comped out tasting fees. 

Tip: go to Napa during the week, or off season, when the tasting rooms are pretty slow.  We’ve gotten a lot of extras by just hanging out and chatting to the staff…or maybe it’s because we bought wine everywhere we went. 

After Twomey, we dropped the car off at the inn and walked to the rest of the wineries.  Safety first kids.

The next two wineries we went to are sister wineries.  The first, T-Vine, focuses on reds from unique varietals like Charbono and Mataro grapes (yea, I didn’t know what those were either).  The second, Tank Garage, is geared to experimental blends.  One wine we had at Tank was a blend of Pinot Grigio and Vermentino (another grape that I’ve never heard of) that they left the skin of the white grapes on for a bit, giving the wine a slight orange hue.  We bought two bottles of this one.  The label was a tribute to David Bowie so I had to get it.  We also bough a bottle of champagne because you never know when you’ll have something to celebrate.  We wound up having something to celebrate a few weeks later.  Sarah got a notification from TimeHop of a post she got on her Facebook wall from our friend Brittany.  That was the first night we ever hung out.  Our 4 year friendship anniversary called for champagne.

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At tank we ran into the girl who worked at the castle.  She’s from Germany and told me a bit about the program she did to get into the industry.  It’s saved in a note on my phone for future reference.  I’ve been collecting ideas for alternate professions. 

Our last winery, August Briggs, was one that we had a free tasting for though our inn.  By then we were quite drunk and a little pushy.  We had a tasting of the rosé (because Sarah insisted he give us a taste), but it wasn’t actually in the computer system for us to buy it.  Sarah eventually coerced the poor man into putting the wine into the computer system so we could bring some home. 

We locked our growing wine collection in the car and headed to get Mexican food.  After locking up I asked Sarah if she wanted her keys.  “No! I want nachos!” she shouted back at me, as she ran across the street to the restaurant.  We were definitely pretty drunk at this point.  It’s like the Dr. Brule’s Rules episode where he goes to wine country. “You’re supposed to spit it out. But, no way José am I spitting this stuff out! It tastes like fruit!”

If you have not seen Dr. Brules rules, this episode is a must: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfL_PwWdNGU
If you have not seen Dr. Brules rules, this episode is a must:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfL_PwWdNGU

The next morning we had to figure out how to get our stuff back into the car with all the wine we bought.  We were sorting through the wine and have quite a bit of trouble figuring out what the hell we bought.  Which bottles did we get for the trip, which bottles were to bring home, who bought what? We eventually did sort it out with a bit of help from our credit card statements.

Inside the wine cave
Inside the wine cave.

Our last winery we hit on the way down to San Francisco.  This one was the most expensive tour and tasting but the best by far.  Jarvis Estate Winery is a wine cave.  The cave even had a waterfall from when they hit a natural spring, digging out the cave. 

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All the grapes are grown on the surrounding property (hence “estate”) and brought into the cave to be made into wine.  This was bar far the best wine we got to taste.  We got to try a Merlot from 2007 that I could never afford myself.  We were the youngest on the tour and it was funny to see the guy next to us swirling his wine intensely and saying the tasting notes aloud, while we’re just sitting there like, “Yep, this one’s good. Sweet berry wine!”  All jokes aside, I still learned a lot about wine on this tour and was actually able to identify some of those tasting notes myself. 

Fancy guided wine tasting at Jarvis Estate.
Fancy guided wine tasting at Jarvis Estate.

I loved one of the wines so much that I dropped an amount that I will not disclose on just one bottle.  Does that make me and adult or financially irresponsible?  I’m going to categorize it as an adult purchase so I feel better about it (lies).  The part I didn’t think about is that it’s going to be sitting in a car at varying temperatures for the next month…woops.

Next Stop: San Francisco

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