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Napa Trip

Day 7: Our last real day in Napa…all vacations must come to an end and ours was no different. We all agreed that for our last day we would stay local to the Inn and walk to several nearby tasting rooms. In theory this was a great idea, we just were not ready for the hazards along the way. We started out through some vineyards next door to the Inn and headed towards Ehlers Winery, our first stop. No one questioned the tractor that was traversing up and down the through the vineyard with a white cloud behind it. Until we noticed the driver was covered on this very hot day in one of those hazmat style suits complete with a protective mask. Needless to say we quickly found a detour far away from that area and later learned from a posted sign they were spraying a chemical for killing insects. Crossing over to the next vineyard one of our crew suddenly took off in the opposite direction. When we yelled loud enough to get her attention she responded with one word SNAKE! Well off she went towards highway 29 with her husband following, so their trip through the vineyards over. My wife and not knowing if we were brave or stupid continued on and found a dirt road that from what we could see led up to the Ehlers tasting room driveway. We arrived in one piece quite a bit earlier than our sister and brother in law taking the highway route, so we took some pictures as we waited. Ehlers has been an annual stop of ours since our first visit, not only do they make some fantastic wines, but what really impressed is the fact that they donate all profits to International Cardiovascular research through the Leducq Foundation started in 1996 by Jean and Sylviane, owners of the winery. For a complete write up on Ehlers visit our Unique U. S. Wineries page. We did purchase a couple of bottles for the late afternoon patio time. We then headed back through the vineyard, staying on the dirt road we found earlier. The negatives were starting to build, chemical spraying, snakes, carrying cameras, wine, pocket books, and water bottles and oh, did I mention it was now getting quite hot. We arrived at Trinchero hot and sweaty; I can’t imagine what our host thought as we walked into the tasting area. When we told our host we had walked as we were staying at the Wine Country Inn, she immediately gave us the royal treatment saying any friend of the Inn is a friend of ours. As a matter of fact, she said I will see you again this afternoon as I am pouring at the Inn for the afternoon wine and snack hour. Now Trinchero is available in NJ so we tried the varietals that you either can’t find or they are very hard to find. My memory is really failing me this far out from the trip, so I can’t recall exactly what we purchased, but I know we walked away with a bottle or two. It was now off to our next stop a short walk up Highway 29 to Freemark Abbey which is directly in front of Wine Country Inn. Freemark Abbey has been an annual stop for us and since our wine partners joined their club last year, we stopped in to say hello again. As a matter of fact, the trip last year was during Fourth of July week and we attended the Red, White and Blues Festival since our sister and brother in law are club members. What a great time that was! Lots of delicious food, fantastic wine and good blues tunes all in the courtyard at the winery. Freemark was purchased within the last two years by Kendall Jackson and they continue to make some very good wines. Once again we sent home some wines that could not be purchased in New Jersey. Our last stop was back to St Clement as we had agreed to split a case of their Sauvignon Blanc and ship it home. We did wise up and get the car for the short trip. Well, three of us did anyway, my sister inn law decide to be stubborn and walked by herself. There is quite a hill leading up to St Clement and I know she must have been spent after climbing it, but she did beat us there though, so that made her happy. I will tell you I have stored a mental note for next year. No nature walks to wine tastings on hot days. If I want some exercise I will just go swimming.

Day 6: Ah yes…day six another great day it was. As usual we started out with a nice breakfast at the Inn. Our first appointment of the day was a recommendation from a member of Wine Spectator Forums. Larkmead Vineyards is located on Larkmead Lane in Calistoga. The tasting room sits at the end of the driveway housed in what looks like a large modern farmhouse with the winery, tank room, and barrel storage area attached in a barn style building.

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I probably am not doing it justice with my description, but trust me the property is beautiful. The buildings were designed by Backen Gillam Architects who have also designed many other well known wineries in the valley. We entered the tasting room and were greeted by our host Dan, who gave us a quick tour of the winery, barrel storage area, also the backyard area which has a nice patio and outdoor fireplace.

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I imagined a nice evening barbeque with soft music, a nice fire and some fantastic Larkmead wines. On our tour we met the assistant winemaker, who by the way mentioned viewing our little web site. Back at the tasting room we started with the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc described in the tasting notes as Racy, Refined and Delightful. We found it to be very refreshing and crisp, with a straw color. Aroma of citrus, melon, and honey flavors with a crisp clean finish. Next up was the 2005 Larkmead Vineyards “Firebelle” Merlot/Cabernet blend, but first a little history. Larkmead dates back to 1870 when an Army surgeon from North Carolina and his wife purchased 1000 acres of property near St Helena and Calistoga. Charles and Martha Hitchcock had moved to San Francisco in the 1850’s with a daughter named Lillie described as spirited. Lillie as a teenager loved the local fire department and became their mascot. She would later become patroness of all San Francisco’s fireman in honor of her strong support. Married to businessman Howard Coit well known as a womanizer, Lil would later leave her husband and San Francisco for Napa Valley with her new nickname “Firebelle Lil”. Several hundred acres of her parents land was given to her and Lil built an Indian bungalow she named “Larkmead” for the songs of its many Larks. After her death in 1929, she left a third of her fortune to the city of San Francisco. Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill was named in her honor and is a tribute to her and her brave fireman. For more history on early Larkmead check out the diaries of Martha Hitchcock published in ‘A Salon at Larkmead’ by Drew Sparks and Sally Kelleman. The history is a little vague at times, yet in 1892 it appears the Salmina family originally from Switzerland purchased the wooden winery and vineyards and converted the old winery into a much larger facility made of stone from the nearby hills and expanded the vineyards into Larkmead Vineyard. Larkmead survived Prohibition by selling grapes and sacramental wine and later built a strong reputation as one of the smallest of the four big wineries in the early days of Napa Valley alongside of Beaulieu, Inglenook and Beringer. Felix Salmina and his sons produced about 100,000 cases of quality wines a year and won many awards. After his death in 1940 the winery was sold in 1943 to a large Chicago based bottler and distributor, Bragno & Co. then in 1948 the property was sold to the Solari family. The property has remained in the Solari family for the last 60 years. For more in depth history check out the Larkmead web site or do a little research, there is much more to learn about this historic property. Manager of Larkmead operations is Cam Baker who married daughter Kate Solari. They continue to make excellent estate wines as well as growing grapes for some well known wineries from some 120 acres of planted vineyards. Now back to our tasting of the Firebelle, a blend of 48% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot. The wine is aged in 50% new French oak barrels for 18 months. A deep ruby red in color, tasting notes by winemaker Andy Smith state “flavors of cassis and black cherry with an elegant underpinning of stony minerality. The tannins are long and elegant and bring forth a smoky cedar/mocha finish”. We all agreed a bold wine with a nice long finish. Next we tried the 2005 Cabernet, 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. A big full bodied Cab with chewy tannins and a long mouth filing finish. Young and fruit forward it is ready to drink now, yet Andy says should age well over a decade. We finished with the 2004 Salon, 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Cabernet Franc, 10% Petit Verdot, 8% Merlot and 3% Malbec. The wine shows rich fruit flavors and a great nose of berries, violet and mocha. Andy Smith suggests decanting the wine for an hour to “experience the wine’s full range of flavors.” One thing I have to mention here is how friendly the entire staff was. During our tasting with host Dan, Winery Manager Collin MacPhail popped in and was more than willing to spend quite a while talking with us and answering questions. Direct Sales Manager Matt Simpson was in the tasting room for our entire visit and added much to our conversation, even though I think we were interrupting his work. The only disappointment I can come up with was with they do not ship to New Jersey, and with relatively low production some of the wines are sold out or allocated. We did buy two bottles of Cabernet to take for dinner and scored the name of their distributer in the New York area. All I can say is if you have yet to visit Larkmead you’re missing out on an excellent experience, so make an appointment and visit soon!

Leaving Larkmead we only had to drive across the street for our next appointment at Frank Family.
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Frank Family has become one of our favorites so we make an annual stop there, and always send home some good wine. Frank Family Vineyards is owned by Rich Frank a well known Hollywood player and Walt Disney executive. In the late 80’s Frank who had no time for long vacations began visiting Napa on weekends and later purchased a home in Rutherford. In 1992 Frank along with partner Koerner Rombauer owner of Rombauer Vineyards purchased Kornell Champagne Cellars located on the site of historic Larkmead Winery . The partnership would last until 2007 when Frank bought out Rombauer’s share and assumed total control of the business. Our tasting host was Dennis the Tasting Room manager who was dubbed a “wine legend” by the late Robert Mondavi. We specifically asked for Dennis when we made our appointment after doing a tasting with him the prior year. Dennis shares his extensive knowledge of Napa Valley history along with funny stories and jokes and just goes out of his way to make your visit a memorable one . After returning from Napa last year the wine manager at our favorite wine shop looked into stocking Frank Family wines at our request. He located a distributer and we can now purchase Frank Family Cabernet, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. So after tasting a selection of Champagnes we moved on to an all Reserve selection starting with the 2006 Chardonnay which is one of my favorites, 2006 Reserve Pinot Noir, 2006 Reserve Sangiovese , and 2005 Rutherford Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet and Chardonnay were my favorites all though all were excellent. Check out the Frank family web site for in depth tasting notes. If you plan on visiting Napa in the future I strongly recommend a visit to Frank Family, and ask for Dennis.

I have to break up the trip report and mention something we all should be concerned about. Have you been following the news lately about the fires out in California? Most of which are very close to wine producing areas. We all have to be more careful during the dry summer months. Fires can damage and end a possibly great vintage of wine, not to mention the lives put in danger and other properties that are lost. If you are visiting Wine Country or anywhere out west where things are quite dry, please be careful with anything that may start fires. We should all say a prayer that the big one does not hit this year. There is too much at stake not to be careful.

Day 5: Ok, if you have been reading our story you know that day five was set aside for a trip out to the Pacific Coast, actually to Pt Reyes National Park. I had never been to the Pacific Ocean so a goal of mine was to get there and touch the water. I guess you could say it was on my list of things to do before I go to wine heaven. Well, as planned we were up early and had a nice breakfast at the Inn, which I have mentioned is always good. It was then off to the local Sunshine Market for some sandwiches for our planned picnic on the beach. We also bought a bundle of wood for a small beach fire; you can get a one day permit for small camp fires on the beach inside the park and we thought it would be fun with lunch. With our firewood and lunch packed, all was ready and off we went. The trip out from St. Helena took us a little over an hour and a half, and the plan was going well. Driving out I watched as the thermometer on our car started dropping, leaving St Helena the temperature had been in the high 70’s. I also noticed that it was getting a little windy, no worry though, we were almost there and all was well. Well…when we arrived at Pt Reyes National Park the temperature had dropped to 56 degrees and the car was kind of rocking a little at stops. You know what they say about perfect plans. We stopped at the Ranger Station to get maps and immediately knew a fire permit was not needed as the winds were too strong. We also noticed that except for us tourists most everyone had on long pants hooded sweat shirts or jackets, generally warm clothing. We endured a few strange looks as we paraded up in our shorts and tee shirts. After picking up maps and checking out some history at the tourist building, it was back to the car and off to Drakes Beach for my first visit to the Pacific Ocean. The Ranger Station had a sign saying the light house we wanted to see was closed due to weather conditions a hint as to what was coming. Driving out to the beach our driver, my Brother In law commented on the winds hitting the car. What a surprise awaited us at the beach. Trying to get out of the car my door was almost blown off; it actually sprung the door a little. Once outside the wind almost blew you out of the parking lot onto the beach, as we attempted to put on jackets or sweat shirts what a site we must have been. Weather expert I am not, yet my estimate would put the winds at about 40-50 miles an hour sustained, with gusts even higher, there was no break! The last time I had experienced winds of that force was from a hurricane back in New Jersey years before. So…our plan for a nice picnic lunch also ended. With most of our great plan falling apart there was one goal I was adamant about making happen and that was to put my foot or whatever body part I could get in the damn ocean. So off I went holding ever so tightly to my 100lb wife making my way down the beach. Now this beach was nothing like what we have in New Jersey there were high cliffs with loose rock sidings. One of the pamphlets warned us not to get to close to the ledges as rocks fall all the time, you could even hear them dropping. Leaving the open area from the parking lot that brings you out to the beach and getting behind the cliffs. Actually protected us enough from the wind to allow for a little time walking the beach and checking out the surroundings. So about an hour or so was spent before the struggle back up the hill to our car. Oh and yes… we tourists again endured some strange looks I am sure came from our choice of clothing, the locals were all bundled up while the four of us walked around in our shorts and newly added light jackets or thin sweat shirts. Driving out of the park we had a good laugh, as we drove all the way to Sonoma in high winds, at our ignorance for not checking the local weather forecast. We later learned of a high wind advisory that was in place at the time. My main goal, of seeing the Pacific Ocean and touching the water was accomplished and we enjoyed a good laugh at ourselves, so the trip was worth it. On a positive note it was early and plenty of time was available to make some tasting stops in Sonoma on the trip back.

With our initial plan of lunch on the beach at Reyes Point foiled by high winds, we set out to find a winery with a picnic spot. We came upon Martin Ray winery in Santa Rosa, located at their new location on Laguna Road, which is one of the oldest historical winery sites in California, established in 1902.
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Martin Ray did have a nice picnic area that we noted upon arrival, but first headed inside the newly remodeled tasting room for our first tasting of the day. We knew of Martin Ray wines and the Angeline line as well since they are distributed, however we had not tasted many of them. We had our choice of what we wanted to try. We all started with a Sauvignon Blanc and then some of us had Chardonnay or Pinot next, then onto the Cabernet. I was intrigued by the wine in the jug simply called Red so I selected that for my last taste. Red is described as a creative spin on an old tradition, recreated in a modern and flashy new package. Red is a blended jug wine offering aromas of vanilla, plum and cherry with an oak finish. Since the wines are distributed, we did not purchase any wine to ship home, but purchased several bottles of the Angeline Cabernet Sauvignon to drink with dinners on the remainder of our trip or simply hanging around our patio back at the Inn. Our host in the tasting room was a nice young man who told us after our lunch we should stop by one of the neighboring wineries called Harvest Moon. We had told him we were really interested in visiting some wineries where the wines were not widely distributed in hopes of discovering something new. He assured us Harvest Moon made some outstanding wines we would enjoy. We headed outside to a lovely little picnic area at the edge of the vineyard complete with umbrellas on each table to shade the area from the hot California sun. Another great stop and we were off to Harvest Moon, stay tuned.

Our ride to Harvest Moon was a brief one, about a half mile or so. Approaching from the parking lot the winery building is on your right, parked to one side is what I guess to be a restored Model A Ford.
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The tasting room is on your left, a small yet cozy room with a beautiful painted mural on the back wall behind the tasting bar.

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Our host whose name escapes me was a young friendly guy with a strong knowledge of Harvest Moon and their wines, he referred to himself as family. The tasting choices are five current releases or a Reserve selection of six. Each couple decided to each split a current and reserve tasting. I am going to go into a little more detail on this one as Harvest Moon is not a widely marketed wine and we really enjoyed all their wines and our stop there. We all started with a white called Gewurztraminer, 2007 Early Harvest as a current release and a 2007 Estate Dry for the reserve. Gewurz in German means spicy and is a main characteristic of the wine. Traminer means coming from Tramin a small city in south Tyrol of Austria, where the grapes were grown. We found both wines to be delicious, fruity, with citrus aromas and a nice clean finish. The Early Harvest was a little sweeter with a hint of honey, while the Estate Dry was just that yet not at all over dry, both were excellent. We then moved on Harvest Moons staple wine which is Zinfandel and I can tell you they do it well. Our first was the Randy Zin named for the winemaker, grower and guy that must do it all, Randy Pitts. Randy is the son of the proprietors Bob and Ginny Pitts, who have been growing grapes in the Russian River Valley since 1977. Randy assumed the farming responsibilities in 2000. He subsequently made a barrel of homemade Zinfandel and the rest is history. Randy actually came in to the tasting room during our visit and we had a nice conversation with him. The Randy Zin we tried was a 2005 for the reserve tasting and a 2006 for the current release, again both were excellent. The tasting notes on the 2005 state Opulent in color, full flavored, spicy dark berry aromas, fills the mouth full and round while the finish is about juicy, mouthwatering acidity and bright mixed berries. The 2006 reserve notes a perfect balance with caramelized red berry fruit, luscious acidity, and a mouth filling finish that leaves you satisfied. We moved on to three other selections all of which were just great wines, I will not give you tasting notes on all as we will be here forever. I will however list them though and you can go to their web site for current release notes. The next three tastings were the Russian River Valley Zinfandel 2004 vintage for the reserve and 2005 for the current releases. The 2005 Pitts Home Ranch Estate Zinfandel, again 2004 reserve and 2005 current and the last was the 2007 Estate Late Harvest Zin for the current and the 2005 Sonoma Harvest Sonoma County Red Wine, a Bordeaux style table wine of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, 12% Merlot and 8% Estate Zinfandel. I must say that our group of four was impressed with each selection, and another case was sent home to New Jersey. I have to tell you meeting Randy is a highpoint of the day. Randy was nice enough to give us about a half hour of his time, which I am sure is precious. In talking we discussed the Wine Spectator article on high alcohol levels in wine today. A subject that is getting much play in the news lately. Randy spoke about how unhappy he was with Robert Parker and his ratings. I have to tell you he made some great points and I have to agree. Parker tends to give high ratings to the well marketed wineries while passing by those that are low production small market, yet produce some very high quality wines. I feel Randy’s pain. Maybe Wine Spectator will do a prime article some day on the little guys that make some damn good wines yet run just under the radar. Anyway I must tell you Harvest Moon is a must visit if you love Zinfandel. By the way try their Gewurztraminer Ice Style Dessert wine, a great after dinner cordial. Check out Harvest Moons web site at www.harvestmoonwinery.com, and go visit, I promise you will enjoy it, say hello to Randy.

Our last stop in Sonoma was Raymond Burr Vineyards, one we had found on our trip last year. We returned this year to pick up a case of Chardonnay we had them hold for us. Their 2005 Chardonnay is one of my favorites yet we did try the 2006 and loved it as well so we split the case. Raymond Burr can’t ship to New Jersey at this time so we shipped it ourselves. Our host was an older gentleman who has lived on the property for years and actually new Raymond Burr. He told us a few stories and mentioned how Raymond would sit at the desk right there in the tasting room and look out over the vineyard. From what he told us Raymond was involved in just about every function of the winery and vineyard right up until his death. He even designed how the vineyards would be planted to take advantage of the sun and drainage. Check out our Unique U.S. Wineries page for the Raymond Burr story. With our last stop of the day behind us it was back to the Inn. Of course we arrived in time for the afternoon wine tasting.

Day 4: Our first stop of the day was Grgich Hills Estate. I hadn’t really had too much Grgich wine in my lifetime, if any at all, but I was somewhat excited at the prospect of visiting Grgich. Think about it, Mike Grgich is one of the original pioneers of the Valley as we know it today, along side others like Robert Mondavi. Mike was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena in 1973 when he crafted the Chardonnay that won the celebrated “Paris tasting” of 1976. Winning the tasting in 76 allowed Mike to follow his dream of owning his own winery and in 1977 he broke ground on what is now the Grgich Hills Cellar. While Mike has only owned his own winery since 1977, he is celebrating 50 years of making wine in the Valley as he first set foot in St Helena in August of 1958. The history fascinated me and I assumed that they just had to offer good wines. We entered a pleasant tasting room, not overly commercial, with some outdoor landscape construction going one. Once inside we were offered a tasting of several Grgich wines while we learned a bit about Grgich’s Byodinamic Farming. Check out their website for additional details on the farming. We liked the Chardonnay and the Fume Blanc, but it was the Merlot that hit home with me. The Zinfandel was another favorite of the group. As far as the Cabernet, it seemed a bit young as it was just released, but it had outstanding potential for aging as did the Merlot. The Merlot tasting notes promise to gain silkiness and complexity with age. We didn’t spend a long time at Grgich, although we all enjoyed ourselves and the wine immensly, we had to hit the road to our next stop.

After Grgich we headed over to Elizabeth Spencer Wines, which was suggested as a must visit to us by Richard at Bremer Family, among others.
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Their web site says “Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham are partners in wine as they are in life”. Married in 1997, they met while Spencer ran his own wine wholesale business and Elizabeth was a marketing consultant for a Napa winery.
After selling his business they settled in Napa and Spencer began a new trade as a winemaker, initially by blending purchased wines. Today they source fruit from dedicated growers and a dozen vineyard blocks, and hired winemaker Matthew Rorick. Elizabeth Spencer produces four varietals, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted the wines poured by our host, Morgan. A lovely woman that shared a lot of detail with us about the amazing tasting room we were standing in. It was the original post office, became several other businesses and eventually Elizabeth Spencer wines. A small brick building carefully restored with original stonework, tastefully decorated both inside and out. Beyond our being in awe of the building and its history, we quickly became in awe of each and every wine we tasted. Of course, another case is being shipped home. We also purchased a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for dinner that evening. I must say those folks that referred us that said Elizabeth Spencer wines are quality really knew what they were talking about. Every wine we tasted was as good, if not better than the last. Since we had an 11:00 appointment at David Arthur we could not linger beyond our tasting, but vowed to return on our next visit. Be sure you make a stop there too.

Next stop was our appointment way up on top of Pritchard Hill at David Arthur Vineyards. We traveled up the long and winding roads to the top of the mountain, where on Long Ranch Road sits David Arthur Vineyards offering views as outstanding as the wines. We knew this was to be our lunch spot for the day and quickly spotted a picnic table out in the vineyards under a shade tree. The family history began back in the 1950’s when David’s father, Don Long, a butcher in Palo Alto began investing in land on Pritchard Hill. In the late 1970’s, Don suggested planting vineyards on the property and as the saying goes “the rest is history”. David’s grand fathers were named David and Arthur hence the winery name. Of course, there is a lot more to the story and a lot of hard work, time and effort went into releasing the first vintage in the early 1980’s, but we are here to tell you about our experience at David Arthur, We arrived for our 11:00 appointment and found the winery under some renovations. A big landscape job was in progress with stone walls and fountains being built. Apparently from what the locals tell us, had the place not been under construction there probably would have been a barbeque or some other event going on that would have kept us there several hours as David is known for having a good time. We were greeted by David and joined a group of approximately 25-30 others. At that point we figured out that this particular winey does private, appointment only tasting, but they are group tastings and they are hosted only about once a week. We also met David’s lovely daughter Gretchen, who had a fun loving, friendly personality, just like her Dad. We sampled three wines while learning a little about the goings on around the winery. David also encouraged questions…he said to make his job easier, but I got the feeling he doesn’t have any trouble when it comes to public speaking, he is a fun engaging down to earth guy loaded with stories. The first wine we tried was a Sauvignon Blanc, this is the only wine that is not estate grown. Next we sampled a red called Meritaggio. This wine is a Tuscan style blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 5% Sangiovese, 2% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petite Verdot. We all agreed that each wine poured just got better and that was especially true in the case of the last red poured, the Elevation 1147. A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wine from grapes grown on Pritchard Hill at an Elevation of 1147 feet above sea level. The fruit from this single Vineyard is always exceptional, so it was decided it had to be bottled as a single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This outstanding wine is small production, with only 400 cases produced. This was our favorite and our hosts continued to pour refills for anyone who wished to sample more. We all enjoyed David Arthur tremendously and vowed to return. Now, here is the funny part, as much as you will love the wines, you cannot purchase them at the winery. David says he would then have to put his sales hat on and that is not really his style, so he informed us where in the valley we could purchase his wines. We also found them on a few restaurant menus during the course of our stay. I would say our only regret of this stop was a selfish one we would have enjoyed a few less folks so we could have heard more stories from David, who sure has a lot of them. A must visit, but remember to call ahead.

Our last stop of the day Chappelett is also on Pritchard Hill off of Sage Canyon Rd. We again had made an appointment way in advance. Once at the winery we met with our host Candice and were ushered into the winery through a foyer with some very large vases with beautiful white flowers grown in Mrs. Chappellet’s garden which is located on the property.
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We then entered a barrel room where we tasted our first wine a Chardonnay, as Candice gave us some history on the Chappellet Winery. A tour of the winery and vineyards was next, and we headed off with a selection of red wines to sample. We passed through the tank room and barrel storage areas and visited one of their labs where testing of the wines is done. It is funny but you forget when you are enjoying wine how much effort goes into the production. Outside we walked through an area under construction to add solar power panels. Chappellet and many other wineries in the valley are adding solar power to help the environment with energy conservation. We continued up the hill through the vineyards with
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Candice who was an excellent host, very engaging and great at getting everyone involved. She frequently asked questions, quizzing the group to see what level of wine knowledge she had among us. Candice also spoke of the recent frost damage that Chappellet had suffered earlier in the month as they do not have heaters or fans since frost typically does not settle that high up on the mountain. The frost had hit just at the worst time with the beginning of bud break. The vineyard manager thought the damage could be as high as 40 to 50%, but they were hoping for those numbers to decrease as the fruit formed. We had learned from several other wineries that the frost that hit this year was the worst in many years with damage throughout the valley. It was reported that some small wineries may have lost entire crops. Also that almost all vineyard managers had experienced many sleepless nights trying to protect their vineyards from frost. This was a most enjoyable tour as we walked through the vineyards on a bright sunny day drinking the outstanding Chappellet wines and expanding our wine knowledge. What more could we have asked for, a great tour, a nice day, a fabulous host and quality wines! Another great stop and more wine shipped back to NJ. Check out Chappellet’s web site for tasting notes on their current releases. Day four tastings were now behind us, a long yet outstanding day. As we drove back to the inn we all agreed that some really great wines were made by all of the wineries we had visited, and that all had gained some new customers.

Day 3: We started this day with only one appointment on the schedule for 11:00 am at Ladera Winery. However, we did all have our first stop etched in our minds, Silver Oak and we knew we could hit it at 9:00 am as they open early. We visited the Oakville estate in Napa where the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is produced. It is located midway between the Silverado Trail and the town of Oakville which provided the inspiration for the Silver Oak name. As it was last year, the tasting room is still under construction. After several years of periodic flooding and the 2006 fire that burned the historic dairy barn that housed the original winery, a reconstruction project is underway and is anticipated to be completed by the 2008 crush.
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Tastings are currently being offered in a nice trailer set up to the side of the property where the construction is going on. What else can I say? While I can’t describe for you much about the property, you can visit the Silver Oak website to view current construction pictures and I think we all know the wines speak for themselves and so does the Silver Oak slogan…Life is a Cabernet. A nice stop and an opportunity to taste both the Alexander Valley and the Napa Valley Silver Oak for a $10 tasting fee and you also receive a nice Silver Oak logo glass to keep. It is a stop you should make, especially if you are a Cab lover. And don’t forget Silver Oak’s sister winery, Twomey, also in the valley pouring their signature Merlot as well as a Pinot and a Sauvignon Blanc.

As we still had time before our 11 am appointment, we made another stop completely out of our scheme of things. We stopped at V Sattui Winery located in St Helena at 1111 White Lane. Before I go any further, let me let tell you V Sattui makes some out standing wines, they are winery exclusive and the winery itself has an excellent reputation for being a fun stop in the Valley. They offer a deli and picnic grounds, tasting bar and gift shop. However, it is more commercialized and much like a supermarket type atmosphere with lots of cases stacked up around the tasting room with case discount specials, etc. There is nothing wrong with this, but it really wasn’t what we were making this trip about, we were looking for more private tastings where you can take your time and feel as though the questions you are asking are not falling on deaf ears concerned about the folks lining up behind you. We also were not all that pleased with our host, we had plenty of time before our appointment, yet struggled to get her attention when it was time to move on to the next wine in our tasting and she was also easily distracted talking a lot of the time about nothing at all to do with what we were there for. Ordering was also a challenge, but we truly like several of their wines and knew we wanted to ship some home so it was a must stop for us. I highly recommend you stop there, not so much for the tasting experience (unless you like crowds), but definitely for the wines. I am a repeat customer and will continue to be. Also, I have not visited, but I hear the new castle built by Sattui is a must see.

Next stop was our appointment at Ladera with host Angie Smith. If you recall, I had met Dan, who is the son of the winery owners and handles sales and marketing on a forum and set up the appointment long before our trip. Ladera is listed as one of the official ghost wineries of Napa Valley. The winery building that dates back to 1886, with 30” thick stone walls is where we started our tasting, greeted by a cat lounging on a lovely rug near a tasting bar where we were poured our first Ladera wine, a Sauvignon Blanc. The tasting bar was in a loft type area over the 18,000 square feet of caves. The Sauvignon Blanc was a light crisp wine that we tasted while descending down several sets of steel stairs where we ended up near the fermentation tanks. Ladera is one of a few wineries in the valley that is gravity feed, hence the long trip down the stairs.
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I don’t know about the rest of the group, but I was sure glad to be off those stairs. It was a long way down and you can see all the way to the bottom floor through the stairs. Upon reaching the lower floor you walk through caves into a dimly lit area with barrels and a table set up for our red wine tasting.
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We tasted two Cabernets, the Howell Mountain and the Lone Canyon Cabernet that were both awesome. Angie also told us about a Syrah that Ladera makes. While she wasn’t pouring it, she described it as a wine that you should open today and drink tomorrow. Of course, for all of us that peaked our curiosity and we purchased a few bottles. Some of the Syrah came home to NJ with us, but one bottle was for dinner the next evening. We opened 24 hours in advance as instructed and the wine was fantastic. At the end of our tour, our host Angie informed us she was leaving Ladera soon to relocate to another area in California, but that she would miss the winey.
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We then had our picnic lunch on the beautiful grounds of Ladera at a table in the shade looking out off of Howell Mountain. Another perfect stop and also highly recommended, if you are in the area.While on the Mountain we wanted to make a return trip to Bremer Family Winery. We had visited Bremer on last year’s trip at the recommendation of Dennis at Frank Family, who was kind enough to call ahead and make an appointment for us. We enjoyed ourselves and the wines so much last year, it was a must to return this year for some more purchases. Angie called ahead for us upon leaving Ladera and we made our way down to the Deer Creek property on the slopes of Howell Mountain to the historic winery built in 1891.

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The property features an original construction stone winery and cellar built into the side of the mountain. The Bremer Family has only been producing wines for a few years now with their first release in 2003. I can honestly say I like all of the wines they produce. We tasted in a small, cozy, yet classy room as we did last year. As we spoke with a lovely woman whose name I do not recall, the winemaker Bob Bolan stuck his head in to say hello. It is always a pleasure to be able to compliment the maker behind the magic. As we sampled several wines, our host from last year Richard stuck his head in to say hello as well. We all remembered Richard as a wealth of knowledge about many things, not just wine. He offered up a few restaurant suggestions and wished us well on the rest of our trip. As said Bremer has some very nice wines, “Big, bold Bremer” wines is how they describe them on their web site and I strongly agree. There is something about the mountain berries that just give the wines that bold fruit forward push. We tasted a Chardonnay and several of their premium reds all of which were fantastic. Their Cabs are my favorite yet you already know I am a fan of big bold cabs with nice long chewy finish.
What can I say, this was a return trip and another case was coming home. I hope all those policy makers in Washington are happy with our wine crew. I do think we went out of our way help to stimulate the economy while in Napa. Bremer is an appointment only visit, well worth your time and if you make the stop, have Richard give you some of his restaurant reviews.
This would end our visit to Howel Mountain, so it was back towards the Inn where we would make one last stop at St. Clement Winery.

My wife and I had visited St Clement on our honeymoon two years ago and liked their wines. My brother in law and sister in law who were the other members of our crew of four had never been.
Also, we had an interest as their wines of late have been getting some nice write ups and scores from Wine Spectator magazine. So, even though the taste buds were a little worn down, off we went to taste some more. St. Clement Winery was founded in 1878, by Fritz Rosenbaum, a San Francisco stained glass merchant. The first wines were vinted in 1879 from grapes grown on the estate. The property has changed hands numerous times until in 1999, it was sold by Sapporo USA, a Japanese beer brewery based in Japan and became part of the Beringer Estate. The tasting room is housed in the original Victorian style mansion built in 1878, perched high up on a hill overlooking the St. Helena valley floor.
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It is quite a walk up the hill after a day of tasting, and I was ready for their refreshing Sauvignon Blanc. It is worth a mention here that St. Clement was voted best boutique Winery by Napa and Sonoma Valley magazine two years in a row, 2007 and 2008. While tasting we learned they have been through a few winemakers of late. Danielle Cyrot is now the winemaker with a degree in Enology and Viticulture, a long line of French winemaking ancestors. She has studied abroad and spent time at Stags Leap as an enologist and later assistant winemaker.
After my walk up the hill, the first wine as mentioned was the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc. It was very refreshing, with a crisp clean finish, a hint of grapefruit flavor, and floral aromas. I now had my number two favorite in the line of Sauvignon Blancs, of course, we sent a case home.
The Oroppas was also excellent, sorry, I can’t remember the vintage, though I believe it was the 2004, the 2005 sports the new St. Clement label. All I can say is even with weak taste buds, St. Clement’s big reds impressed me, and I do suggest if you have not tried them in the last couple years, go back and have a taste.
Well, that finished our long day and it was back to the Inn for some appetizers, I do believe this was the one day I passed on the wine tasting and drank water.

Day 2: Sunday was to be one of our slow days, we had one appointment and another place we wanted to visit. Not much on the agenda, after all, it was Sunday. All I can say is if you talk it up with your tasting room hosts you are bound to get some nice recommendations and many times they will call ahead for you which is how we came to visit our last stop. Since we want to be as detailed as possible about each stop we will be posting each location one at a time, rather than the whole day at once.
Let’s not get ahead though, back to our first appointment set up prior to our trip, a tasting with Rick Forman Vineyards. Our host, a gal named Margaret was leaving for France for a month long visit (imagine that) yet was nice enough to come up and do a tasting for us on Sunday morning. We arrived at 10:00am and entered the gated driveway which leads down to a lovely stone cellar/tasting room and courtyard. An extensive cave area is close by for barrel storage. Margaret opened two vintages of Forman’s Cabernet Sauvignon for tasting, a 2003 and 2005. She then gave us some history on Forman Vineyards and Rick. Rick just about single handedly runs his entire business from top to bottom and has from the start. I mean every step of wine production, to giving tours and tastings at times. They actually blasted some of the property to break up mountain rock that makes up much of the landscape, so vineyards could be planted. You can see some of this rock with blasting holes intact in the tasting room walls. There is a noticeable European influence in his winery and wines. Forman in my opinion is a man with a strong will, stamina, and passion for producing excellent wines, and that they are! Remember, I am not an expert taster so I can only relate my experience and opinion. Both the 2003 and 2005 are very bold fruit forward cabs with a dark inky color. A very long smooth elegant finish is noticeable on the 2003, almost chewy in the mouth with blackberry being a prominent flavor. The 2005 was similar to me, but the tannins were strong up front with a bit of tartness on the tongue. My favorite! Either one of these wines could be stored for some time, yet both drink very well now. We finished up with a few more stories, some pictures, and a few suggestions from Margaret. Then it was off to our next stop. I remember when setting up this appointment, Margaret was surprised that in four trips out we had never been to Forman Vineyards. Well, I would like to tell you do not make the same mistake, if you are planning a trip to Napa, be sure set up a visit. Forman Vineyards is one you should not miss.

Our next stop was Rutherford Hill, someone, it slips my mind now who suggested this visit and with no appointment necessary off we went. Rutherford Hill is a bit more commercial than our last stop, certainly nothing wrong with that and they do have some good wines. Our host was a gentleman named John who had recently started at the tasting room. A very nice guy who in between describing the wines for us had some fun stories to tell, we loved his recollections of time spent in the US Navy. Rutherford Hill Winery was founded in 1972 and was a pioneer in Merlot production. The winery was purchased in 1996 by the Terlato family of the Terlato Wine Group (TWG), Lake Bluff, Illinois. In the spring and fall of 2000 a 5100 square foot addition was added to the winery for the production of reserve wines, showing a commitment to producing quality wines. Although we did not get the tour, they also have an extensive cave system that can hold upwards to 8000 barrels.
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For those interested, the tasting fee is $15.00 per person. We tried five very good wines, four of which we chose to ship home. Thanks to New Jersey’s stupid laws (we probably have more laws on the books than any other state and most are out of date, restrictive and yes stupid)! Sorry for the politics. Anyway our shipping at Rutherford Hill is restricted to 5 bottles per person, so the wife and I sent home 10. I was too busy talking to take any tasting notes, sorry. I will tell you we sent home the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc, which I do remember being one of my favorite Sauv Blancs of the week. Also shipped were the 2003 Reserve Merlot, 2005 Syrah, and a 2003 Zinfandel Port. Funny story about the port… John our host is a big tall guy, well over six feet and here he comes holding a tiny little bottle (375ml), we all thought it was quite funny. John also thought it funny and played up the quirkiness of the image. We loved the 2004 Cabernet also, another big full bodied Cab, which can be purchased in New Jersey so none was shipped.
While tasting the wines with John we struck up a conversation with another tasting room guy named Ron, a very knowledgeable guy who knows his wines. Hearing we were from New Jersey, Ron struck up a conversation about originally being from NJ, marrying a California girl and never looking back. We did have some NJ talk and of course let Ron know we were jealous of his relocation. Ron was nice enough to set up an appointment for us at Venge Vineyards, as Ron’s wife Lin is the Hospitality Director there. Ron did of course mention that we would find Rutherford Hill wines superior to Venge’s, which would allow us to have a little fun later when we met Ron’s wife. After finishing our tastings and purchases, we enjoyed a nice lunch in Rutherford’s lovely picnic area with a great view of the valley below. Then it was on to Venge for our last tasting of the day, and what would be the last ever held at that location of the Venge tasting room. To visit the Rutherford Hill winery, take Silverado Trail to Rutherford Hill Road and the winery is located at 200 Rutherford Hill Road, 100 yards above Auberge du Soleil. We do recommend you visit.
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Our crew of four arrived at Venge Vineyards, which was located on Crystal Springs Rd in St Helena. Our host Lin was there to greet us and direct us to a tasting table set up with cheese and crackers. Lin reminded me of one of my teachers back in grade school. Like her husband Ron she knows wine and enthusiastically shares her knowledge mixing in some history and stories. Venge was a joint venture by father and son Nils and Kirk Venge, opening in 2003. Nils also owns Saddleback cellars located in Oakville. Kirk a graduate of U.C.Davis worked for Groth Vineyards while in high school, his father was wine maker at the time and garnered the first 100 point score by Robert Parker the first ever by a California wine. Kirk also worked for Mumm in Napa Valley part time while at U.C Davis and full time after graduating. In 1999 at the age of 23 Kirk took on the challenge of starting a second family winery, to produce Venge Family Reserve wines. The Venges purchased a “ghost winery”, the old Rossini Ranch and after the long process of getting the winery up and running, began producing around 2500 cases of wine a year . Kirk is also well known as a wine maker consultant, having about nine well known clients. As we tasted the superb wines we asked Lin about her husband’s claim that Rutherford Hill wines were better than Venge. As expected Lin totally disagreed, so in good fun we kept commenting on that theme during our tasting. Lin handled it well, she was a great sport and we had a lot of fun with her, I bet they had some great discussion at home after work. We tasted six wines, my favorites a Sangiovese, named Scout’s Honor after a favorite family pet, a black Labrador, a Merlot and Syrah both with a big nose, full flavored and long silky finishes. Lastly we tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon which is a rather pricey cab, yet well worth it as it is so good. As I mentioned we were the last tasting ever at this location. The property has been sold and Venge will be moving to property near Calistoga. The tasting room actually was all but empty, with all art work having been removed the day before. We realized as our tasting ended and Lin took us for a tour of the empty caves, just how emotional this day was her. She would be leaving this property for the last time it was pretty moving to watch her with tears flowing, close the cave doors for the last time.
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I think we all were a little emotional realizing what was happening and that we were part of the history for Lin as her last guests. Lin will be staying on with Venge and will work out of offices in Rutherford doing marketing until their new location opens hopefully by fall. Kirk’s new venture will be solely his own and will give him a chance to showcase his wine making talents. After a big group hug with Lin and a few pictures, we wished her well with the new venture and headed back to the inn after a fantastic day. I hope to get back to Venge next year and see Lin pouring , what we all hope will be great wines again. Just a quick point here Lin and husband Ron are just what makes Napa wine tasting such a great experience. Both are knowledgeable enthusiastic people who obviously love wine, the industry, their jobs and taking time to interact with customers. A very refreshing change to the fast paced hectic types.

Day 1: Ok…I am ready to give the full trip report. It may take me some time as I do have a full time job and with all the great wine heading home to us, a job is a must right now. Anyway as I said earlier we arrived in San Francisco ahead of schedule, after the normal bag recovery and getting our rental car, it was off to Sausalito and lunch at the Fish restaurant. We expected the trip to take us about an hour, of course we have no control over traffic and a GPS unit that appeared to be taking the round about approach instead of the fastest route. Needless to say that was the last time we used our Hertz rental GPS unit, as my brother in law had his own. Anyway after clearing traffic caused by an accident, it was over the Golden Gate Bridge and in to Sausalito. Lunch time at Fish is a busy time, we had to wait in line to order our food. You place your order then go outside to a picnic like area over looking a boat dock, and they bring your food to you. Three of us in the group had the crab sandwich, made with dungeness crab, all agreed it was excellent. My wife had a tuna sandwich which she said was very good, yet a little over powered with capers. I also tried their white clam soup, just for the fact that it is one of my favorites. Well, let me tell you their white clam soup gets my star of approval. If you visit the San Francisco area any time soon and love fish, try Fish for lunch, as I said it is located just over the Golden Gate bridge in Sausalito, a lovely little town. After lunch we headed up to Napa, having skipped any wine with lunch we were ready for a tasting. Our first stop was the Black Stallion Winery, a new addition to Napa opening last year. They are on the Silverado Trail located on the grounds of an once historic equestrian center, hence their name. Black Stallion wines are made in limited quantities, and are sold exclusively on their website or at the winery. We tasted a selection of four wines and were not so impressed. Maybe being early in the trip we expected more, so I will give them a try next year again. The tasting room and building is beautiful though, so it is worth a visit.

Our next stop was an old favorite Regusci Winery, also on the Silverado Trail in the Stags Leap District. Regusci is designated a “Ghost Winery” the name given to the few remaining early Napa Valley wineries that were in existence between 1860 and 1900. Most wineries were decimated by the phylloxera infestation of the 1890′s, or the depression and finally prohibition. Most were either abandoned or forced into bankruptcy. Regusci is a beautifully restored and preserved “Ghost Winery” originally known as the T.L. Grigsby-Occidental Winery. In 1932, Gaetano Regusci purchased the historic piece of property and started producing estate wines. Growing grapes and making wine were not enough at the time to make a living. So the family also farmed corn, hay, prunes, and walnuts, and also raised cattle and hogs.
Regusci Winery
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In 1995, a winery was reestablished on the property by Angelo and his son Jim. In 1996, Angelo and Jim crushed their first vintage of Stags Leap District wines. In 1998 Regusci Winery opened with their estate wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. Regusci Winery is open daily by appointment only, for tours and tastings. We love their wines, with my favorite being the Cabernet which is a big bold cab very fruit forward with a long smooth finish. We made our first purchase and it was off to the Wine Country Inn for check in and the daily afternoon tasting. A dinner at the Silverado Brew Pub, a great sports style pub on Highway 29 that we walked to, and one last bottle of wine back on our patio finished our day. Not a bad start to our vacation for a travel day.

05/24/08 Were back! Arrived in New Jersey 20 minutes early, thanks again to Continental Airlines both our flight out and home arriving earlier than scheduled. We are off from work on Monday for the Memorial Day celebration, so we have time to shake off the jet lag. Can’t wait for our steady flow of wine shipments to start arriving. Tomorrow will be a day to rearrange the cellar so I can fit the new arrivals in.

05/24/08 As we all know, all good things come to an end. Yet we leave today with fond memories, a greater knowledge of wine and the industry, and a strong will to return again next year. We start with the famous Wine Country Inn breakfast, then it is off to San Francisco airport for the flight home. There are so many stories and much information I want to share so the next few weeks will be busy. Have a great day!

05/23/08 Can it be? Our last day in Napa is here. Today we plan a rather slow day for our standards, no private tastings or appointments. We going to do our version of a Pub crawl, only we will visit wineries. For those of you who need a definition, winery crawl will be a take off on a Pub crawl which is when a group of people get together and walk to several local pubs, or many if they are up for it. We are keeping our winery crawl to a minimum, with several that are close by our Inn. A nice relaxing day with a little wine, the pool and some sun. Nice way to wind down the week. I have so much to write about next week, my feeling is this was most probably our favorite trip yet. Some really top notch wineries were visited and we met some fantastic people. Just thinking back to yesterday when we visited Larkmead Vineyards for the first time. I can’t say enough about how welcome their staff makes you feel, and how great their wine is. Then one of our favorites, Frank Family, Dennis our host and the Tasting Room manager was a little under the weather, yet his stories and knowledge still flowed along with some great wine.
Larkmead is by appointment only, while Frank Family does not require appointments. Both are a must visit if you are in the valley. We have sent home some super top rated wines, and I have to mention, every wine we sent home is one that can not be purchased in New Jersey. We continue to follow that rule each trip, so throughout the year we can go back and visit a taste of Napa only found here. Hope my cellar will fit the new stock.

05/22/08 How will I return to New Jersey after being almost to Heaven? This is my home away from home…Napa. Started our day at another recomendation, Larkmead Vineyards. Let me tell you if you have never been, make an appointment and go! A Great, friendly, knowlegable staff awaits you and the wines…remember the details come next week. Yet I will tell you they are EXCELLENT wines. Frank Family needs no explanation, and Vincent Arroyo was another A+ stop. Can it get any better?

05/22/08 Hello again form Napa Valley. Well, I never thought my first visit to the Pacific Ocean would be as it was. Driving to Reyes Point we all commented on the strong winds yet being protected by the car, were we in for a surprise. We stopped at Drakes Beach with a plan to have a nice picnic. That plan was quickly changed as we left the car and the wind almost ripped the car doors off. No joke, the wind had to be around 50 miles an hour sustained. With gusts even higher, we had trouble even getting down to the beach. We did get some protection once we moved around the beach break and had the cliffs as a wind break, yet it was to cold for a picnic. We walked the beach for an hour or so and then headed out for Sonoma for some tastings. Why not? We are in wine country! We visited three tasting rooms in Sonoma, Martin Ray, Harvest Moon, and Raymond Burr Vineyards of course, as we had to pick up our case of Chardonnay they were holding. We did change the case to half 2005 and half 2006 vintage after tasting both. One of my favorite Chardonnay wines. Off we go for another great Wine Country Inn breakfast.

05/21/08 Good morning all, for us it is up for some breakfast. If you plan on a visit to Napa in the future may I suggest you check out the Wine Country Inn. This is a charming country inn nestled in the vineyards, you come here and they make you feel like part of the family. The breakfast I mentioned is a great start to the day. With a different egg dish everyday, waffles, cereal, fruit coffee and juice and more. Then there is the afternoon wine tasting with a different winery pouring everyday. We have been coming here every year for the last four and if we can make it, plan on being here again next year. I highly recommend them and you can check out their web page by clicking the link on our links page. After breakfast it is off to the Pacific Ocean and Reyes Point for a little beach time and lunch. A change of pace for a day to rest our taste buds, yet we will be traveling back through Sonoma on the way home. Oh boy!

05/20/08 OK,… I do not have a lot of time here as we are heading out to dinner. So…How many times can I say it gets better? Today was one of my best yet starting out at Grgich Hills Estate, and then off to Elizabeth Spencer, two last minute stops as we were early for our appointments at David Arthur and Chapplellet. Let me tell you the wine at both Grgich, pronounced Grrrrgich and Elizabeth Spencer was fantastic and both well worth a visit. Yet the real fun was yet to come. Yes you know I won’t give you details until we return. Let me tell you my wife and I are single handily trying to fix the economy. I mean the cases of wine that are going home…I will need a week to load them in my cellar. Anyway tomorrow we head out to Reyes National Park and a day at the Pacific Ocean on the beach. By the way back from dinner at the Rutherford Grill, and what can I say, another great meal.

05/20/08 Another day in wine country awaits us. Three of our crew of four were up early for a nice few mile walk, very refreshing. Now it is up for a good breakfast, which by the way if you are going to do a group of tastings. A good breakfast is a must to start the day, do not head out on an empty stomach! Today so far we have private tastings set up with David Arthur and Chappellet Winery. Did I mention that we were able to make an appointment at Larkmead Winery for Thursday…Larkmead came highly recommended by a member of Wine Spectator Forum, so we are giving them a try. Off to breakfast.

05/19/08 Another incredible day in Napa comes to a close. Sliver Oak started our day, and what can I say? If you know wine you know Silver Oak, nothing further needs to be said. Our private tasting at Ladera was way more than we expected. Their winery is just beautiful and the wines are outstanding! We did get a tasting at Bremer Family, having been there last year we already knew some excellent wines awaited us. We finished our tastings at St Clement Winery, which if you follow Wine Spectator, has been getting some good scores on their wines. As a bold Cabernet lover this was my day. Once again we will give you the full details next week after we return. Oh almost forgot…Go Fish was our restaurant of choice and I give it an excellent rating for atmosphere, service and food.

05/19/08 Just about to head up for breakfast, then it is off to Silver Oak for our first tasting of the day. We will stop and pick up lunch at Dean and Deluca a great upscale deli market here in the valley known for their gourmet food. After that we have a private tasting set up at Ladera Winery another first time visit. Ladera is up on Howell Mountain so we will try and set something up with Bremer Family on the way down. Looking forward to another fantastic day!

05/18/08 Fantastic…The only word I can use to describe our day. I will not give you all the details as I want to do that in depth when we return next week. You know our time in Napa will go by quick and I will not waist it pounding on a keyboard.
Let me just give you a quick run down. We visited three wineries today, our first as you know if you have been following, a private tasting at Forman Vineyards with our lovely host Margaret. Forman Vineyards is owned by Rick Forman, a long time Napa Valley owner/winemaker and more. This was a great stop and as I said the details will come when we get back. We then visited Rutherford Hill and once again tasted some top notch wines, one of the hosts made an appointment for us at Venge Vineyards, and his wife is the Director of Hospitality. We tasted some excellent wines, while our host Lin provided some great stories and filled us in on Venge history.
After that it was back to the Wine Country Inn for a daily afternoon tasting and snacks. We finished this wonderful day with dinner at the Martini House, on a scale of 1-10 this dinner scored a 10 in my book. Like I said next week we will provide all the details of our tastings and dinners, so come back and visit.

05/17/08 Hello from Napa Valley…We arrived yesterday at 11:30am, great flight out and we were 20 minutes early. Thank you…Continental Airlines! Had a fantastic lunch at Fish in Sausalito, if you ever get there try the white clam chowder and crab sandwhich. Then it was up to Napa, and a couple stops at Black Stallion and Regusci wineries. Dinner was nice at the Silverado Brew Pub and then we just sat on the patio and finished the day with a little wine. Well they are calling me, we are off for our first tasting at Forman Vineyards….Stay tuned.

05/16/08 All my bags are packed and I am ready to go! Words from a John Denver song as I recall.
Well they are packed, boarding passes are printed, camera and laptop batteries charged, have money and credit cards. Have I forgotten anything? We will find out when we arrive in Napa….Yes, Napa the highly anticipated trip has finally arrived. Tonight just to set the mood we are opening a 2002 Napa Valley Silver Oak. A tradition in a way as for the last two years at Christmas my wife has given me a Napa Valley Silver Oak. Last year on the eve of our trip we opened a 2001 vintage, this year it is the 2002. Now that is a great start to our Napa vacation. We will be up and on the way to the airport by 6:00am tomorrow, I will say a prayer tonight that the flight is on time, so we can make that lunch appointment in Sausalito.

05/15/08 Napa…Napa…Napa, sorry I just had to do it. I am so ready!

05/14/08 Can this week go any slower? Yes, I know tomorrow is Thursday, I just can’t stay focused. So much to do before we go, trying to keep my mind on the job. Anyway you are not reading this to hear me whine. All the plans I can make ahead are complete. The only Winery that did not get back to me is Outpost. We will try them again when we get to Napa.
Other than that we are set and eager to get going. I will be taking my laptop with me so you just may see a posting direct from Napa. Stay tuned!

05/12/07 Can you believe it only four more days and off we go. We leave Saturday morning at around 8:30am.
We should arrive in San Francisco around noon, just in time for a nice lunch. We now have planned to drive out to Sausalito and have lunch at a restaurant called Fish. Rated by Zagat as a “must-stop for ultra-fresh, sustainable” Pacific Northwest–style seafood. A great way to kick off our week of fun. From there we will drive up to Napa and hit a couple tasting rooms before we check in at the Inn. I get the feeling the rest of this week is going to drag by. Come on Saturday!

05/07/08 The excitement is building making it hard to work each day, have to keep focus here. I finally connected with David Arthur Vineyards and have an appointment. Also set up one with Chappelett Vineyards for the same day. That will be a great tasting day! Left messages with Forman Vineyards and Out Post Winery hope to hear from them tomorrow. This trip is looking like one of our best and we will have much to talk about when we return. Stay tuned!
Fantastic… Forman Vineyards just called me back and we are set for a visit. Spoke with a very nice and helpful lady named Margaret who offered to help us with some other winery stops when we arrived. Margaret also suggested a couple of fine dining locations. Margaret was a little surprised that in five years visiting we had never been to Forman Vineyard, and that just goes to show you how much we still have to see and learn.

05/04/08 Two weeks to go! Busy putting the final touches on the plans we can make up front. Called David Arthur this week as they never responded to my Email. Will try to get an appointment with them this week. Set up an appointment with Frank Family, always a fun trip. We will taste with Dennis the Tasting Room manager who adds to the great experience with with a super personality, fantastic stories and jokes. If you visit you just have to ask for Dennis. I also have to call Out Post Winery and Chappelett this week. Made some dinner reservations also, we will be dinning at Martini House on Sunday an excellent restaurant, a little pricey yet that is what vacations are for. You know treat yourself; well that is my excuse anyway.
Also have reservations at Go Fish which I have heard good things about. Cindy Pawlcyn, who also owns Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen located in St Helena, is the owner. With fresh fish everyday, sushi, and my favorite clams. I am sure another fine dining experience waits. Rutherford Grill is also on our list, another great local restaurant with a connection to Houston’s which is in San Francisco. If the weather is nice we may get some patio dining also, and naturally some fantastic wines will be poured.

04/27/08 Down to three weeks, I can’t believe it. I started this ongoing lead up to our trip back in January.
A quarter of the year has passed; this week will usher in the month of May. Wow! Yes we leave on May 17th and just about everything is ready. If you have been following our posts then you remember back in March I reserved that special case of Chardonnay and it is awaiting our pick up at Raymond Burr Winery. We tried this Chardonnay at winery last year and it was one of the best I have ever had. (Check out our write up on the Raymond Burr Vineyards under our Unique U.S. Wineries page) A small production wine, they cannot ship to New Jersey. So we will pick it up and ship it through a third party. Again I will say the ridiculous shipping laws make no sense, they can’t ship it yet we can???? Oh well, at least it will be home waiting when we get back. A few more reservations for tastings to be made and we are all set. Anticipation….

04/20/08 Four more weeks to go, a very busy week kept me from more trip research. So not much to report, except we did start a new page here on our site called Napa Pictures; we have a few pictures already up. Set this up so we can have a pictorial history of the upcoming trip. Now we just have to hope I can use the new digital camera.

04/13/08 Five weeks and counting and I am ready to go today! In fact if I was able to, I would live in Napa. Maybe in the future, as it is one of my goals. What a weekend we had, great spring weather in the mid 70′s on Saturday. Ah, sunshine and warm temps just make life so much easier. We made a trip to our favorite wine outlet yesterday, I won’t even tell you what I spent. While checking out my favorite Cabernet section what did I come upon? Why a 2004 Ladera Cabernet…Yes, the very Ladera we have an appointment to visit while in Napa. Well I just grabbed one up to try so we knew what to expect. A little pricey for the average person at $57.00. We tried it last night and WOW, a fantastic full body bold wine with a long smooth finish. I was very impressed and now even more excited about our visit there. I have yet to hear back from Outpost or David Arthur so I will wait a week or so and call them. By the way, I know it is off the Napa subject yet I have to make this pitch. If you live in New Jersey or come for a visit. You just have to come see Liquor Outlet in Boonton, Morris County. They have one of the best selections of wine around if you ask me. A huge selection with many wines you just can’t get else where, and of course some selections added at our request. They have a web site http://www.liquoroutletwinecellars.com/ and will ship your wine for you. Trust me check them out and ask for the great wine manager Steve Giammarino, tell him we sent you.

04/08/08 Well my forum contacts came through once again, with another recommendation, Outpost. The winery is perched high atop Howell Mountain, about 2100 feet above the valley floor. According to thier site, the winery was established in 1998, by Juli and Terry Pringle, from Southern California. Producing “world-class 100% varietal Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Grenache from our own hand-cultivated, organically farmed 42 acre estate vineyards”.
My quick research says they are a small production winery, best known for thier Zinfandel. I have a good feeling about this one also, and am sure there are some great views to see from the top of Howell Mountain. Stay tuned lots more to come.

04/07/08 Thanks to a few suggestions from a gentleman on a Westcoastwine.net forum, I have researched another potential visit. David Arthur Vineyards, I signed up for their mailing list and asked about open tour dates. They are also up on Howell Mountain so maybe we can hit them after after our Ladera visit. They are a small production winery according to their site Cabernet, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sangiovese, a blend called Meritaggio, and just started making Sauvignon Blanc in 2005 which is the only non estate wine they make. David Long the founder started planting vineyards on the property in the late 70′s at the suggestion of his father who the site says gifted David and his brothers each 350 acres. The winery is named after David Longs two grandfathers. They make a premiere wine called Elevation 1147, made from Cabernet grapes grown exclusively from a vineyard block planted at an elevation of 1147ft. David says the block “consistently produces great fruit”…You know I will be trying that one! Can’t wait to get a response from them.

04/5/08 Hello all…I was on vacation for two days this week, so I visited some wine related forums. One forum, Wineography.com I decided to join. One of the forums, meet The Winemaker had a post from a gentleman named Dan from Ladera Vineyards, which is up on Howell Mountain in Napa. The post was a write up about the winery and an offer to answer any questions. I decided even though the post was from November of last year to respond about our upcoming trip and to see if I could set up a visit. I was rather surprised when Dan responded the same day. I visited the winery web site at http://www.laderavineyards.com/ and it turns out Dan is the son of the winery owners and handles sales and marketing. Ladera has a winery building that dates back to 1886, with 30” thick stone walls. The old stone winery is listed in the official Ghost Wineries of the Napa Valley book. They have two vineyards, the Lone Canyon Vineyard on Mt Veeder and the Howell Mountain property. The winery building has been restored and returned to its former glory. They boast 18,000 square feet of caves. You just have to visit their web site to get a real feel for this historic winery.

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Anyway, we are working out an appointment for a tasting and tour and I can’t wait! You see they produce only Cabernet and that is right up my alley. By the way check out wineography.com and join in the forums maybe we can get some interesting conversations going.

03/30/08 Only seven more weeks and off to Napa. Friday was my Birthday… yes, yes, thank you all. Anyway my wife being that great wine lover that she is used a Napa theme to surprise me with some special wines. Thursday night, Birthday eve, she opened an excellent one from St. Clement Vineyards, which is within walking distance of where we stay on Highway 29 in St. Helena.
The wine was a 2003 Oroppas Cabernet Sauvignon , wine notes state it is 84% Cabernet, 12% Merlot and 4% Cabernet Franc. Exhibiting a dense purple color, big sweet nose of white flowers, blueberries, espresso roast, white chocolate, and spicy oak. Rich supple-texture, medium to full bodied and approachable already, reveals surprising complexity. Alcohol content is 14.9%, and it should drink well for 10-12 years. I can tell you it drinks very well now, and was a great choice to start my Birthday. We will be buying several bottles to store. By the way, we did take off from work for my Birthday if you are wondering.
Let me give you the list of other gems I received. Starting with a lovely 1999 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Estate Cabernet Franc. We drank this one prior to the Birthday dinner. I could not find tasting notes on the 1999 vintage, yet the web site describes Pritchard Hill Cab Franc as a wine crafted only from the choicest vineyard blocks of the vintage. Grapes are individually selected, creating a wine that achieves a level of excellence that merits “Pritchard Hill” distinction. The wine has received many allcolades and reviews. We opened our bottle and decanted it. Trying some from the bottle I felt the wine had peaked and maybe was on the down side. Yet after decanting for 45 minutes to an hour it had opened up very nicely and proved what a great wine it actually is. The finish was long and lingering with a nice oak flavor. After decanting even longer more of the complex flavors came forward. I was very happy with this choice. Chappellet without a doubt makes some great wines.
Of course we have not yet opened the other great bottles I received so I can’t give you the tasting experience, yet I will list them.
2002 J-Davies Diamond Mountain District Cabernet. The Davies Family also owns the famous Schramsberg Vineyards. The 2002 vintage was aged in select French Oak barrels for 19 months, a blend of 97% Cabernet and 3% Malbec. Tasting notes say the wine shows a balance of fruit and tannin, fresh pure red berry aromas that intensify with notes of blackberry, clove, and vanilla spice.
2004 Rodney Strong single vineyard Cabernet from the Alden Vineyards. The vineyard is located at 1200 FT in the remote Mayacamas Mountains on the east side of Alexander Valley. Tasting notes state that fast draining soils coupled with cool spring temperatures produce low yields and naturally small berries with vivid colors and tremendous concentration of flavors. The grapes are always the last to come in. Aged for two years in small oak barrels, this Cab has bold flavors of dark berry and earth, accenting chocolate and spice.
Moving on…yes, I know she went all out. We have a nice white Beringer Knights Valley Alluvium Blanc 2006. This lovely wine is 47% Semillion, 43% Sauvignon Blanc, 8% Chardonnay and 2% Viognier. Winemaker notes describe “bright citrus, nectarine and melon aromas lead into a mouth coating creaminess balanced by bright fruit characteristics with hints of toasty oak, honey and lemon zest”. Last are two selections from Bennett Lane Vineyards, their 2004 Cabernet that received a 92 point rating from Wine Spectator magazine. Tasting notes state the floral crushed berry, currant and black cherry aromas are tight, concentrated and focused. Only 1440 cases were made.
The last bottle, Bennett Lanes 2005 Maximus, named in homage to the Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus, who was known to be a wine lover. Called a red feasting wine, the blend is 64% Cabernet, 25% Merlot and 11% Syrah. Tasting notes say the wine opens with aromas of dark cocoa, plum, ripe black cherry and subtle hints of vanilla. Wine Spectator magazine gave it a 90 point rating.
A great selection that will help ease the wait until we once again head out to Napa!

03/24/08 Spring arrived this past week and Napa vines are beginning to awaken from thier long winter rest.
The 2008 season has begun with leaves showing on some vines and buds breaking on others. Vinyard managers will pay close attention to weather as frost can be a killer. What a great time of year, another vintage is born and begins its long journey from bud to bottle.

03/23/08 I don’t have much to update you on this week. It has been a little busy around here. While our annual Napa trip is always one of the most exciting events of my year, I do have other responsibilities that get in the way. Ha Ha
Thinking ahead to our trip, I purchased a new Canon 8 mega pixel digital camera, specifically for getting some good Napa pictures. Now if I can learn to use it before we leave, I hope to post a lot of good pics of our travels.
One of our wine club shipments arrived this week from Cuvaison Winery. The winery is located in Calistoga on the Silverado Trail. They included a 2006 Mariafeld Pinot Noir, a club exclusive of which only 508 cases were made. The tasting notes say that this wine should age beautifully for 4-7 years. As I added the new wines to our cellar, thoughts being in Napa once again invaded my mind. It is great to daydream, but soon it will be reality. By the way only eight weeks until we leave.

03/13/08 Ok, I have to admit I am getting excited! Tonight I called out to Napa, well Sonoma, to one of our favorite wineries, (we have many) Raymond Burr Vineyards. I reserved a case of their 2005 Chardonnay, in my opinion, the best I have ever tasted. Now I will admit, I am a red drinker. Yet, this Chardonnay stands tall against any I have tasted. My first choice prior to tasting the Raymond Burr was Frank Family. Why did I reserve a case? Well the hard to understand, and politically motivated shipping laws in the US do not allow for shipping from the winery to New Jersey,. So we must go out to Napa, purchase a case and ship it through a third party back to New Jersey. How stupid is that, yet this wine is worth the trouble. If you visit Sonoma you just have to visit Raymond Burr, check out our write up on the winery under our Unique U.S. Wineries page.

03/08/08 I’m back…ok, so we slacked off again, sorry. Anyway well as all plans do ours are changing some what. We have dropped the original idea of making it down to the Monterey, Pebbel Beach area, just too far for a one day trip. Yes, we will still hit the coast, only much further north. The current plan is to visit Reyes National Park.

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As I mentioned and you can see from the map Reyes National Park is much further north allowing us to visit on a one day round trip adventure from where we are staying in St Helena. We will head out through Napa over the mountain into Sonoma and continue out to the coast. Who knows, on the way back we may have time for a tasting or two…Ha,Ha-let’s face it, we will be in wine country! From what I can tell the park will be a beautiful place to visit and we should be able to take advantage of some great picture taking opportunities. Point Reyes has a long history dating back some 5000 years to when the Coast Miwock Indians were the first known human inhabitants. Research shows over 120 known village sites within the park. Experts say Sir Francis Drake was the first European explorer to land here in 1579. In the late 1800′s to early 1900′s lighthouse and lifesaving stations were established in response to the growing number of shipwrecks in the treacherous coastal waters.
We will take in the sights, learn a little history and educate ourselves on a new part of the country. Sounds like we will have a great time! As our plans evolve, we will continue to post them. Stop back soon for some updates.

02/24/08 Hello all and welcome to a new week. Wow, February is almost over and that means we are closer to the Napa trip. This past week I have been busy researching possibilities for our planned trip out to the coast. My idea is to head down the coastal highway to the Monterey area. I have this urge from watching golf on TV, to see Pebble Beach. Afterward we can travel back up north and cut across through Sonoma to Napa. Remember, I said we added an extra day onto Napa week just for this coastal visit. Also, I have been reading a great book called “A Moveable Thirst”. A story written by two guys who visit 141 tasting rooms in one season. Bless them, I should be so lucky, or maybe I will just have to make that experience a goal.
Rick Kushman is a guy who enjoys wine, yet doesn’t know much about it, and is a nationally sydicated television columnist. While his friend Hank Beal is a wine pro, who is an Executive Wine Buyer for a large California supermarket chain, he buys over a million bottles a year. As you can imagine, a kind of odd couple story. A mix of humor and comprehensive detailed information on everything from tasting rooms, tasting tips, service, atmosphere and picnic prospects. If you’re planning a trip to Napa, or are looking for some fun reading, this book is a must.

02/10/08 Sorry we slacked off for a couple weeks, a little busy we were. We are huge fans of the New York Giants, and guess what? They made it through the playoffs and won the Super Bowl! I know alot of our readers may not pay much attention to American Football, but over here Football is the top sport. Our Super Bowl, to give an example is as big as say the world soccer championship. It was such a great experience to follow our team through a season that no one picked, or could have guessed would have them in the Super Bowl, let alone winning the game. Just a point here, they beat the New England Patriots, a team that had gone undefeated through out the season and playoffs. A team that was 18-0 at the start of the Super Bowl. A team that had become pretty arrogant to say the least. That made the experience even more unbelievable!
Anyway our Napa trip plans are progressing, we have not done much as I said, yet, we did add a new plan. We will be taking a day and heading out to the Pacific ocean for a visit. We added an extra day on the trip so as not to interfere with our wine tasting. Ha-Ha, can’t interfere there!
We will be back soon with some updates, so come back and visit.

01/19/08 Our airline reservations are confirmed, what a joy to find our tickets cheaper than last year! Can you imagine $356.00 round trip per person from New Jersey to San Francisco? With the way everything else is going up…even wine, that just makes me happy. Last year we skipped a stop in San Francisco, and drove direct to Napa as we had afternoon plans. This year I think we will check out a nice place for lunch before heading up to wine country. San Francisco is a great city, and always a fun place to visit. If you visit San Francisco let me make a suggestion for a great evening dinning experience. Anna Mandara’s Vietnamese Restaurant, which is down by the wharf on Beach and Polk St near Ghiradelli Square. The words Anna Mandara translate to “beautiful refuge” and let me tell you this place is just that, atmosphere is fantastic along with the food and a great wine list. Reservations are a must. Did I mention that actor Don Johnson is a part owner? Take my word for it your dinner visit will be incredible, and don’t forget to try the Vietnamese coffee with desert. Check out thier web site, on the home page click on “the Love Story” for the story of Anna Mandara.
Anyway, stop back soon for some more Napa trip 2008 updates.

Anna Mandara Web site:
http://www.anamandara.com/

01/13/08 Here we are early in the New Year, and I am excited already! I have officially booked our airline and Inn reservations. Yes…we are going to Napa in May. Making plans for our annual trip always helps get me through the back half of winter. Now we will be researching tasting rooms to visit and things to do, which is always a fun part of the trip itself. So, as you can see my New Year has started out just fine. The report from our friends at the Wine Country Inn is that the bad storms with heavy rains that most of southern California had did not reach up into Napa, so all is well. As I said I am excited and will keep you up to date on our plans as make them. If you have any suggestions on wineries to visit, click on contact us and drop a line with your favorite winery, we will be sure to visit and report on it when we return!

Interested in some good reading? Want to learn some fantastic inside information about the goings on in Napa from the very beginning? Check out “The Story of an American Eden”. A New York Times best seller, authored by James Conaway. Who also wrote “The Far Side of Eden”. This book is just loaded with history and information on Napa and all the key players involved in the evolution of what we know to be the current day Napa. The book starts right after prohibition with only a few wineries.
Fascinating , exciting, and humerous are just a few adjectives I would use to describe the book. Not just facts, it has a storyline and reads like a novel. Pick up a copy, I promise you will not be disappointed.

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