Thursday, August 11, 2011

Napa - Day 3

One of the perks of staying at the Embassy Suites is the fresh, hot omelet bar waiting for us each morning to give us the energy to go out and put forth the hard work of tasting wines and talking to people.
While preparing for for the trip and reading about Napa, one the wineries and tours that I was personally most excited for was Schramsberg. Although I had never specifically remembered drinking their sparkling wines, I had a feeling it was going to be incredible.
Before we even made it to the front door, we got to experience the Schrams driveway, a two mile long uphill drive covered by a perfect canopy of incredibly tall pines. It could have been the the early morning light combined with the dewy mist that covered the luscious green foliage or just the fact that I got to drive up it, but it was pretty magical.
We decided to give the guys the camera and we told them they could tell us what to do and this is what happened...
Once the small tour began, the four of us quickly discovered was one of the things we loved about our favorite wineries was the rich history and stories they had. This particular one stated back to 1862 with a German couple - "The Schrams."
It also reinforced how something as simple as who you know, can change everything.  Jacob Schram was good friends with a gentleman named Mr. Stevenson, who happened to be an author. He wrote about his friend's winery in a book called The Silvardo Squatters, which was never a best seller however, it was given away as a free gift with every purchase of the same author's slightly more popular book - Treasure Island. (on every 6th grade basic reading list to jog your memory.) As a result, it put the Schramsberg Winery on the map!
In the 1960's, it was bought by the Davis family and the youngest son is still the head wine-maker and he and his young family live right there on the property. Even bigger, in 1972, The White House called ordering a case of the Blanc de Blanc but wouldn't say for what. Several weeks later, they saw an up close of their bottle on the TV and their sparkling wine used by President Nixon to toast peace in China. (Kinda of like being featured on Oprah's Favorite Things back then.) Their wine has been used by every president since.
This was the first time we had seen true caves and miles of them all hand dug. Mind boggling. Something like THREE MILLION bottles are held in here for at least two years to age.

Sparkling wine should be stored cool, dark and still.
TIP: The longer you allow a champagne to age, the more "toasty almond" you get.
We learned the real use of a Riddling Rack and how Schramsberg is one of the only wineries to hand riddle or turn bottles by hand over months time to the get the sediment eventually out of the bottle.
We then headed into the tasting room and learned that the French say, "when you properly open a champagne bottle, it should sound like a loving whisper."
We learned that "saboring"  is opening an extremely cold bottle by holding the seams of the bottle and using a bread knife or other similar device to pop out the cork. Blake wants to try this!
Our favorite Schramsberg Wines:
-J. Schram ($100!!!) Can only buy at the winery. Blake and I REALLY liked this one and commented how smooth it was.
-2007 Blanc de Noir - 100% Pinot Noir - a little more tropical and a little less acidic. This would be great paired with bell peppers and sausage.
-Cremant Demi-Sect (means 2X as sweet) - definitely sweeter, like "toasty marshmallow." Could pair with chocolate cake or counter-pair with something spicy.
Leaving on such a high, we decided to try out one of the oldest and most commercial wineries just down the street in St. Helena. It was just a bit touristy for my taste when we pulled in to the enormous parking lot with several large sightseeing buses already emptied. It felt a little like Disney world with maps to certain gift shops and buildings posted every where. We know Beringer has some great wines but we just knew a winery of this type just wasn't the memories we were looking for.
So it was off to the famous Dean and DeLuca to select the perfect picnic lunch.
With our lunch in hand, it was time to make the extremely curvy 2000 foot ascent to PRIDE and one of our VERY TIP TOP favorite stops of the trip. I had read about the curvy road but to experience it with the top down, not knowing how much farther up since our GPS was clueless on this small, remote & windy mountain road. There were small vineyards literally on the sides of any growable mountain side, even the steepest parts.
Once we were at the peak, saw the simple sign and turned into the narrow drive, we knew we were going to love it.
Again, it was the smaller, much more intimate feel and being surrounded by fun and knowledgeable people whom were passionate about their wine.
Of our favorite things about this tour (there were many) was that it was a 'progressive tasting,' where we tasted wine all along the way.
Blake loved the caves.
I loved  how at one point of the tour, we had one foot in Sonoma County and one foot in Napa. How neat is that!
Our favorite PRIDE wines:
Pride's flagship wine is the Merlot and Cabernet. Blake really enjoyed the 2009 Sryah - limited edition. I really liked the 2010 Cabernet Franc. We learned it is called the 'King of all grapes!" ($62) It had softer tannins and I found it extremely smooth. They told us you can age a good bottle of wine eight-ten years. Of course, the one I love, they only make 800-900 cases/year.
We then took our picnic lunch to the very tip top of the vineyard and enjoyed a perfect lunch with our best friends and about a dozen enormous rabbits we saw hopping around the vineyard. But not before pretending to be in a parade while riding in the back of a convertible... lol.
We will, with out a doubt, make this a must stop every time we return to Napa.
Sterling was our next stop and again judging by the multitude of buses, it seemed like a tourist trap, especially on a Saturday afternoon in August. Megan P. really wanted to do the very cool gondola that takes you to the winery, but the line looked not to be moving and the four of us were on the same page knowing that a more fun and intimate family owned winery was probably right down the street.

Since we were at the farthest northern point in the Napa Valley - Calistoga, we stopped in at Dr. Wilkinson's Hot Springs Spa. We had read such great things about the mud baths and massages but never wanted to fully commit to taking an entire afternoon for it. So we stopped in to see if they had room for us. Although we didn't have that much luck, I know I want to put it on my list for the next visit.
Looking at the itinerary, we headed to super small and much harder to find vineyard nearby - Vincent Arroyo. It was later in the day and even though we didn't have an appointment, we got quite the comedian - Rick, who announced to the room, "we were just running a little late for our appointment, right?" He was incredible and made sure we had so much fun.
He was the only person to actually take us tromping through the actual vineyards to show us the differences between the different types of grapes. So I guess, we could call this a progressive tour as well. VERAISON is pictured below... when grapes change color... look how much you learn when you go on vacation with us!
We got to smell a French Oak Barrel.... delicious. Can you believe those things are like $1200 bucks and only used 2-3 times?!?!?

We were having so much fun at that point and even though it was almost five and closing time for majority of vineyards, we were determined to keep having fun and keep learning about wines. ;)
 I'm not sure how we stumbled upon but we turned into Frank Family Vineyard in Calistoga (which has been rated best winery in Napa for 2 years in a row by some San Francisco website.)
The tasting room was crazy busy, so we opted to buy a bottle and I taught the wine tasting.
Blake is starting to look like quite the wine connoisseur.
No, those aren't all ours. Megan was the DD this afternoon and took great care of us.
One of my favorite memories of the day, among the many, were the guys in the back on the way home. They were talking and laughing, like teenage girls, telling stories of their infamous high school days.
We loved taking Silvardo Train home everyday. This day, it was the thirty miles home to Napa.

We had a long break before our very sought after reservations at Mortimoto's. 9:30 PM was the earliest we could get when Megan got reservations over a month ago.
Our key learning for next trip to wine country: The ideal time to book dinner reservations each night is around 6 - 6:30 and go straight there. Then you can be curled up in bed resting up for the next day by 9!
Mortimoto's was a fantastic experience and the most visually stunning restaurant  I have ever eaten at. Gorgeous, contemporary but comfortable. Bright yellow leather couches and chairs combined with a mix of metallic silver upholstery on more traditional furniture frames filled the impressive lounge area in the middle of the entire place. The calming bluish gray walls and remarkable dried wine vines framed perfectly were very peaceful. I loved the low back stools at the bar and felt like the Kardashian sisters could be sitting on any of them based of the vibe of the place.

One of my memories of this night was talking with a super nice woman and man who were there with her ten year old daughter. It wasn't until later in the night, when I started replaying several parts of our conversation and seeing how well they were being treated by multiple waiters, that I am 98% confident she was some kind of wine or food critic.

The sushi was served beautifully but tasted no better than what we recently had here in SA at Sushiana. The neatest dish was Blake's yellow tail & rice bowl that they actually cooked at our table. The rock shrimp appetizer was very tasty as well.

It was a marvelous night out in quite a unique setting.

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