Thursday, October 11, 2007

Napa - stream of consciousness

So I pick up Lov at 8:36 outside the hotel after arguing for 10 minutes with Garmin on how to get to the hotel. Why do you keep telling me to turn right onto one-way streets going left???
K – it wasn’t garmins fault. I had set the darn thing to ‘pedestrian mode’ the day before. So we are now 6 minutes behind schedule and its all my fault… grrr.
We hope onto what I believe has to be one of the longest bridges in America. Driving in my teenie Saturn I am terrified of a) being run over by semis b) Flying down a bridge at 75 being passed by old ladies c) farting too firmly and the Saturn being blown off the bridge, falling to my doom in the bay below.

Onto highway 29 and into napa.. Were made great time as we pull into Domaine Chandon.
Much research had been put into the upcoming day:
Forget most of my research. Turns out there is a lot of outdated information on the internet (gasp)..
I will show you the sample plan. The following post will be a list of what you need to know…
Plan –
8am pick up car - check
8:30 Pick up Lovanna – 6 mins late
10:00 arrive at Domaine Chandon – 2 minutes early.. thank god no speeding ticket
Use coupon for buy 1 tasting get 1 free
Go to Sawyer Vineyard for ‘Best Value’ tasting The bottles are expensive, why bother tasting if I’d never buy?
Go to St. Supery for ultra sweet fruity tasting Nevermind – they no longer have crushing on weekdays
Go to Niemann-Copola for tasting, see the Copola Museum (spend hour here)
Go to sterling, use coupon before 12:30 and take tour. (plan for 90 minutes)
If time permits, visit Schramsberg for sparkling wines
Go to nearby deli and pick up picnic supplies
Stop by Shafer for tasting, possibly pick up bottle for coworker who helped plan trip
Hard stop at 4pm and make like the wind for Van Der Heyden, which should close at 5.

Now heres what actually happened:

We arrived at Domaine Chandon. As beautiful as advertised. Clearly a large corporate entity, huge banner outside supporting Breast Cancer. Yay - breasts, boo – cancer.
We arrived just before 10 as they opened, we were 4th ones for a tasting, no wait. While renowned for their champagnes, Lovanna is not a huge fan. I liked, but not enough to warrant buying. The reserve etoile was delicious, but as expected, TWCIO holds true for napa as well. I did have a coupon which gave us 2 for 1 tastings.. Damage - $15.

As we are walking out, a tour bus unloads. Hurray for the early wino gets no wait.. Exit quickly hoping to avoid crowds. Back onto highway 29. I ask Lov whats next, and she looks at me quizzically.. I remember at this point I have not made any of my plans aware to her. I ask her which one is highlighted next, and she says there are two that are crossed out. I don’t explain why. On to Niemann-Copola. As we make our way down 29, I see Sawyer and drive by. Goodbye overpriced winery. Two blocks later, St Supery has a giant sign. As I pass the enterance I see “Grape Crushing Today”. A sharp 90 degree turn and we are in the driveway, Lov wondering if Im already drunk.

We go in, find the grapes being crushed, its kinda boring. Lov reads some information about how they make wine.. We then go to the tasting. $15??? Are you kidding me. I ask if she can just have a single tasting of their sweetest wine rather than the 4 tastings for $15.. They oblige without hesitation.

Unexpected – Lov loves it. Buys 3 half bottles. We exit after $42 worth of damage. As we are leaving the wine guy informs us that Sawyer has some great wines, we really should go back and check. Ok – we shall go back.

2 doors down we are walking into the quaint wooden storefront of Sawyer Cellars. A sign informs us reservations are necessary. We don’t have one. We ask politely if they could see us, as the place has only 1 other couple. The kind employee tells us that it is against regulations, but since they are already doing a tasting, they will squeeze us in. The cabarnet is delicious, but also $146 for a bottle. Im out. The old man next to us drops $600. Damage – 1 tasting at $7.50. Truly a deal if you are in Napa just for the purpose of drunk.

Back onto the road. We drive past a sign for niemann road. When I go another ½ mile and don’t see anything resembling niemann-copola we reverse course. We go down Niemann road until there is a giant sign stating ‘private road – no winery’. Huh? So we go to the small road between the two where a sign for Rubicon Estates are. A sign informs us the ‘Red Carpet is ahead’. Hrmm. I smell fish and I am not on the wharf. We pull up to the valet and I ask if we are in the right place – he politely informs us that the place has been sold, the museum removed, and there is now a single wine tasting available for $25 per person. No thanks. We apologize and drive away. So much for Copola not wanting to rename the winery. (Ive since read that the rubicon place is overrated, excessively expensive, not nearly as nice and was the Copoloa estate).

We get stuck in ‘I wonder if someone drunk drove into a ditch already’ slow traffic going through St Helena. The town is a grocery store long. The time is 12:25 and Garmin tells me we are 3 minutes away. Go Go Go… My $5 coupon is withering away.. There are 2 of us.. That’s $10 – that’s another tasting, or maybe cheap bottle of wine.

Garmin states, “Arriving at destination” only we are in the middle of the road with nothing there. Why do you mock me garmin??? So I drive up to a grocers, turn around, cant find it. Use gramin to call Sterling and they tell us we are 5 minutes south of where we need to be. At that moment I see the building up on its perched hill. Time check – 12:29. 5 minutes my butt – lov is passed out and Im there in 2. “Honey, we have to hurry, coupon expired 2 minutes ago…” We walk up to the ticket booth and shes angry/tired/confused… which is clearly better than angry/tired/objective.

We buy our tickets, use the coupon with no object. Offer extra coupon to rich looking 40 something couple in line behind us. He looks at me with his ‘what would I want a coupon for?’ look. Get in line for the Gondola. Yes – the resort has a Gondola. So does the rich couple. When he realizes he has to pay to ride the gondola, he regrets not accepting the coupon. The wife asks if the coupon is for the Gondola, I say the coupon is for the gondola, which includes the tasting. I extend it out and she takes it, and hands it to the guy. Use the coupon you rich looking too-good-for-my-coupon-man. While I envy his richness, I still cannot resist the overwhelming need to save money – even if its not my own.

The Gondola is a romantic ride up a very scenic overlook of the valley. A glass of wine going up would have been nice, but was not an option. Not sure why. Maybe because then theyd have to bring the wine down the gondola?

Apon arriving, you are directed to the first tasting booth. Not bad. Watch a video, follow the signs through a series of other videos, tour, and tastings. A great setup actually. Highly recommend. Old Indian couple taking pictures of each other in front of wine cellar. Lov’s asian ‘ I support all picture taking by anyone of anything’ gene kicks in and she offers to take pics for them.

Little did I know it, but that random act of kindness was the most important moment of the entire day. No – they were not rich and did not bestow apon us honorary kingship in India.. But the 3 ladies behind us did see. Out on the terrace (best view in Napa) they ask Lov if shed like a pic of the two of us. They take a pic for us and we return the favor. Small chat ensues, what places have you been, what have you liked, etc..

Moments later the entire days plan was scrapped, ruined, and replaced. The leader of the 3 informs us she is a member of the reserve club and can take 4 guests into the reserve room. She only has 2 friends. Are you kidding me?? Of course well go.

Inside the reserve room, Jean-Pierre informs us that the normally $20 additional fee for the reserve room tasting is waived. Awesome. They provide crackers, which Lov was in desperate need of. 4 of us go with the hardcore red series of reserve wines. Jean-Pierre senses Lov’s inhibition to ordering reds, and instructs her that he will select a number of wines that may be more suitable to her pallet.

I don’t remember what the first wine was… nothing special – no offense. He then brought out the 3 famous reds. They can only be purchased in the reserve room, or by wine club members. He pours out 3 – the Rutherford, the 2003 SVR, and another one that was more expensive than the others.

Starting left to right as instructed, I try the Rutherford. Good. Really Good. In great anticipation of the 2003 SVR (flagship of Sterling) I smell, act like I know anything about wine, and then drink. Its good. But wait, is it any better than the Rutherford? Hrm. Is it $25 a bottle better than the Rutherford – clearly not. The third was okay, I liked it, but had way too much body for the 4 ladies at the table with me.

Do I buy anything, little dilemma. Lov and I decide to buy a Rutherford, and another white she liked. Then the greatest news – wine club members and their guests receive 20% when buying in the reserve room. 2 more bottles of the Rutherford, please. Damage - $20 for 2 tastings/gondola rides, about $130 for our 4 bottles of wine. Ouch. Its Napa, cant get it elsewhere.. further rationalizing goes on in my head.

Before the ladies head off, we conclude our advice giving. We inform them of the acclaimed ‘chocolate raspberry’ wine at Van Der Heyden. They tell us we should check out Schramsberg, the tour includes caves, and to try the Italian wines at Castella di Amorosa. Both are minutes away. We are also instruct to go to V Sattui for a picnic and free tastings.

On the road we head to schramsberg. The tour has 2 spaces, but will take 90 minutes. No time, that will be at the top of my list next time I come back. (Fingers crossed that it will happen) On to Castello Di Amorosa. The castle has been completed within the last year, the moat is not full. Odd to be in a castle that was made to look old, but is brand new. Im sure in a few years it will seem far more authentic. The driveway entry is a breathtaking sight. It is how I picture Tuscany looking. The wines were good for the price. I bought a moscato and a Sangiovese. Damage - $10 tasting and $40 worth of wine.

At this point Lov has left the angry/tired/confused mood and has entered angry/tired/hungry/hurry-the-hell-up mood. I hurry up. Food will calm the beast. Or so I hope.

Arriving 10 minutes later at V Sattui, we enter a deli of commotion. She tries a sample of cheese, which she likes. I concede it is very soft and delicious. But $4 for a little slice. She asks the cheese guy what he would suggest. Of course, he suggest an even more expensive little block of cheese. We get Onion Blossom Horseradish pretzel chips from Robert Rothschild Farms. Interesting taste. Too much taste. Kicks you in the face like cheap sushi with too much wasabi.

I also buy a bottle of the V Sattui family red for myself, and lov picks up one for her boss. I buy nothing for my boss. Maybe I would have if I hadn’t been pulling 50+ hour weeks because he hasn’t hired a replacement for Par, the guy who left me with a double load of work. No anger towards him, I would have done the same. (insert anger towards boss)

What time is it? 4:55pm Ack. Fear of Lov sets in. Serious fear. She had only one request and that was to go to Van Der Hayden. Gasp. What if we missed it. I think it closes at 5. Maybe it will stay open late? I am tempted to sing ‘did you ever know you’re my hero’ to the register lady who tells me they are open till 6. Damage – cheese - $6, chips $5, deli sandwich - $9, 2 bottles of wine - $33.
I only pseudo trust her so we fly to Van Der Heyden. On the way we keep an eye out for Shafer. It evidently has gone out of business. Maybe it has been renamed. Either way – we didn’t find it.

5:30 – we arrive at Van Der Heyden. See a limo. Meet the drunk guy who has rented the limo. Its his 50th birthday. Evidently he partied like it was his birthday. He didn’t want the tasting, just 2 bottles. The owner finally acquiesced and was happy to see the drunkards go. Thankfully the bday drunkard had a limo driver. Did I mention when the owner went inside to get him a bottle, he grabbed the tasting bottle and poured himself a glass, which he quickly pounded and replaced the glass which was later handed out to someone else?

I asked if I could try a couple of the grapes before they were crushed, Mr. Van Der Hayden allowed this, but only if we did not try them till after the tasting. Inside to his little shop. The first story is 1-3 minutes of uninspired talk about his white wine. He himself seemed unimpressed. Then the moment out whole day had been building up to.. (anytime something has been built up this much it is doomed to disappointment.. only a question of how much) He goes on for 10-15 minutes of the impossibility of creating a ‘late harvest Cabarnet-Sauvignon’. Only he has been able to. While he appears to be a modest man, you can sense the pride oozing from every gland on his body. A righteous indignation against mass-production wine facilities..

Finally – the tasting. It was good. Imagine a cabarnet with the sweetness of a moscato. Not what it had been billed up to be – a delicious chocolate raspberry taste that not even cheapest person alive (lov’s sister) could resist.

So when the young lady from the south commented to her former boyfriend from Chicago (assumption made, but I got the impression they had mated in the past, and planned to again as soon as left alone) that it tasted like a port. Danger. Danger. Back away from Mr. Van Der Hayden. With a look that was a painful combination of calm and rage. He had clearly heard this before, but the sharp cut that resulted had not dulled by previous comparisons. In what I can only describe as refrained exhortation, he explained to her that the flavor from a Port was determined by the quality of the liquor, not the wine. His flavor had been the result of his endless search of perfection..

2 ½ bottles and 2 tastings later: damage 20 + 100 = 120.

From here we make our way to the napa mall. Lovanna makes up for a admirable lack of spending in Union Square.. The instinctual need for J Crew that lives in every Miami student overcomes her, as she buys a number of items. As we walk out, she walks back in and buys another outfit she somehow missed during our first hour in the store. More shopping at Barneys. We close down the mall.

Following a recommendation of the clerks at Barneys, we pass on the Spanish tapas of ZuZu’s and head for a Mexican restaurant. My food was delicious, hers was not. Arriving home I had my obligatory west coast writhing stomach pains.

That was our napa trip. Other than breakfast at Odouls in SF and 2 more stores shopping, that concludes this already-too-long napa blog entry.

The following post will include advice for those considering going in the near future..

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