Napa Valley - March, 2000
Continuing my trend of posting photos long after they cease to be relevant, I offer these, the first photos from our trip to San Francisco in March. Once again, Jennifer had a business trip, and I decided to tag along for the moral support and companionship. Of course, it didn't hurt that she was staying at the Fairmont (address: "Atop Nob Hill, San Francisco")!
In order to make a real vacation out of it, we left on Friday night. That gave us the whole weekend to play before work on Monday and Tuesday. Well, I didn't have to work -- I went to Alcatraz -- but that's another story. On Saturday, we met up with Marisa Mariscal, who lives in El Cerrito, and Evan Preisser, who is at U.C. Davis studying bugs. Evan is a friend of ours from Boston, actually an old college friend of Jennifer Galbraith.
After meeting at a local Target, we headed into Napa Valley for some wine tasting. Lunch was at the Red Hen Cantina, a Mexican place that met all the requirements: it was there, it was open, and it had both a neon sign and a big red hen that we could pose next to. The intrepid Evan enlisted the help of the Red Hen's hostess to take this commemorative shot.
We were originally going to go to Sonoma county instead of Napa, but when Marisa called the friendly Chamber of Commerce folks, she found they weren't so friendly. The folks in Napa Valley were much nicer and actually sent her a map, so they got our business. The map was useless -- completely out of scale, and it didn't show most of the wineries -- but we didn't know that and we were grateful for it.
We didn't have any specific wineries in mind, at least none that were on the map, so we stopped at the first one that looked interesting, Pine Ridge Winery. It was okay, but none of us were overwhelmed by it. We sampled some whites and I did find a nice Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend that I really liked -- bought one bottle -- but we left feeling somewhat dissatisfied. The grounds were the nicest part. They were remodelling their caves and grounds, so it looked like a construction site, but it had a lot of potential.
After Pine Ridge, we got back in the car to see what was next. Across the street and down the road we noticed a bunch of balloons attached to a fence, and figured it was either somebody's birthday or another winery. So, we drove in and discovered that it was, in fact, Steltzer Vineyards. I was ready to dismiss the place on the basis of its name alone, and we were just heading back out of the driveway when somebody noticed that the wine tasting took place in a cave. Of course, we had to stop and investigate, and boy, am I glad we did. Not only did they have a fantastic Sauvignon Blanc, but they had the nicest people working there! And the cave was kinda cool, too. We were the only people tasting, so they gave us all sorts of attention, including a much better map and suggestions for other wineries to visit. We bought a bottle of the aforementioned Sauvignon Blanc, as well as a wonderful Merlot.
The folks at Steltzner suggested that we visit the Rutherford Hill Winery, since we were looking for a good Gewurztraminer. Rutherford Hill was definitely a destination -- at the top of a hill, with plenty of parking for tour buses and limos -- but again, we were somewhat disappointed. The tasting was very busy, the people weren't particularly nice, and we didn't actually love the Gewurztraminer. On the other hand, they had a fantastic Chardonnay (we bought one bottle), and an absolutely heavenly dessert treat -- a Cabernet Sauvignon Chocolate/Raspberry sauce. We couldn't leave without a couple bottles of that, since one of them would be a great thank-you gift for Jennifer Galbraith, who was home taking good care of Alex and Camille for us.
The next winery we visited was the Regusci Winery, a small winery that had recently re-opened. The location was stunning, and the buildings were fantastic. Next to the main building was an old barn that had been converted into a tasting room, complete with wine kegs and a panoramic view of the vineyard. The wine was great, and we picked up what has to qualify as the most expensive bottle of Merlot we've ever bought. That'll be saved for a special occasion, to be sure!
The weather that day was fantastic -- gray and gloomy, but in a wonderfully atmospheric way. I tend to take more photos in bright sunshine, but I loved the opportunity to see the vineyards and hills of Napa Valley this way.
Since we had the spiffy map that the folks at Steltzner had given us, we realized that there were far more wineries than we had imagined, and that most of them closed at 4:30 or 5:00. I really wanted to get to Frog's Leap, since it was their 1994 Zinfandel that got me hooked on wine, but they wouldn't stay open late just to accommodate a bunch of drunk tourists. Go figure!
So, the last winery we visited was chosen both because of its name and because it was the only one that was still open. It was a bizarre and fitting end to the day. The Van der Heyden Vineyards and Winery was something of a cross between Green Acres and The Twilight Zone. The tasting room was a little shack at the end of a dirt path, inhabited by a little Dutch man hawking his wares. The room was filled with more random stuff than you can imagine, including football memorabilia, bird houses made out of wine corks (which somebody was buying as we entered), and strangely, a glass jar filled with what looked like preserved black widow spiders. We probably should have left right away, but we decided to stick it out and try the wine.
Apparently, it was our lucky day, because we got to try the "famous" Late Harvest Cabernet, which he sells for a mere $150 per bottle. Quite frankly, I didn't like it nearly as much as the $20 Merlot we got at Steltzner. Oh, well. The great thing about wine tasting is that you get to decide what you like and don't like, and you don't have to spend $150 to do so. At least not all at once.
© 2000 Matthew S. Burfeind
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Last revised Monday, June 12, 2000
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