Saturday, 6 October 2012

Napa Valley (Dry Creek, Healdsburg, Sonoma, St Helena & Napa)

NOTE: this blog is very long so grab yourself a cup of tea and bickie. Detailed due to us using this as our travel journel so just skim parts that have no interest!

After our 16km walk through the majestic Redwoods we are buggered. We plan to head down the North Coast of California for the next couple of days, eventually meeting up with one of Grants best mates, MK, who is doing a vintage at Dry Creek Vineyard (just outside of Healdsburg) - all good timing really and not planned! But then we realise it's Saturday and his only day off will be tomorrow so we give him a call to tell him of our plans and to have a glass of wine waiting for us in 5 hours because we are driving down! The joys of travelling like this is that you can change your schedule when YOU decide.

Big drive down the 101 with a full moon out and the wafts of California herbals (not ours) finally brings us to a bottle-o come wine bar in Healdsburg where the MK awaits our arrival. What a buzz it is meeting a really close mate over in another country. Good times had that evening - woah!

John and Zekes - Racer 5 (Americas best beer according to these hooligans)

We wake to some very sore heads but are soon hustled into the back of a very small Honda and it is off to Napa for the day as MK and his roommate, we will call him Bowser to preserve his name, haven't really had the opportunity to get down there yet (this actually turned out to be their last Sun off and now they will be working 7am - 5pm 7 days a week), but not before stopping in at Dry Creek where they are doing their vintage.

This is where we find them in the morning - classy digs
This is not a camera trick - what you see is in perspective.
In the bowels of Dry Creek
Tasting at Dry Creek. And so it begins.

After over an hour in the "smoking" hot back seat (we happened to arrive in a heat wave - got as high as 35c!!) we were glad to stretch our legs and hop into some tastings in Napa. Not usually a fan of tasting rooms, but because of the slow start to the morning we only had a couple of hours up our sleeves so downtown Napa was our best bet. Pleasantly surprised though - found some great tastings all within a walk from each other.

The gringos arrive in Napa!

First stop was pureCru (no photos sorry - battery ran out!) which had some really smart whites and was the perfect antidote to that sore head! 2nd pitt stop was John Anthony which I have to say was one of my favourite wineries of the whole trip. Not sure if it was the lovely server, the sleek lounge, the soothing wine on my sore head or the really funky music play list - but I really did think that they were really elegant and well put together. If you ever have some spare cash lying around and are here - there botrytis was to die for. Did pick up their SB though which was a winner at $16 a bottle! Should also note here - that these guys don't actually grown their own grapes, rather buy them off growers and get wine making. Not that that changes anything - they were delicious!


Last stop in town was at Ceja. Tasting room a little tired but they did have a Pinot in there that retails at restaurants around the $200 which we got to taste - but all in all it was a little inmemorable - sorry Ceja! The last stop and the cherry on the top of the day was Domaine Canerros - founded by Tattinger. Not quite champagne but they can make a good sparkling! Set in a chateu we grabbed a table in the terrace and prepared ourselves for a tasting. The good thing about taking wine makers around with you in these tasting is that you a) get them for free (they charge between $10 - $30 pp for a tasting - joke I know!) b) you get substantial pourings of the whole menu and c) you get service! And we got that all here. Sparkling after sparkling with a very attentive and funny yank (yes - very funny). Wow, bliss, fabulous etc etc. Must stop location in the Napa region. A joyful trip home listening to country music and even survived a rigorous brush with authority. Will provide more details personally.

The match made in heaven. Terrace of Domaine Canerros. .
And we begin...
To put this in perspective - he is not a small guy...
Departing in class

Then it's a week of getting up at the crack of dawn to drop the boys of at work (ha ha) so we can have their little buzz box for the day instead of dragging Sheila around the vineyards. So here is a snapshot of our week in the Napa region.

Monday: breakfast in Healdsburg (this is my favourite town in the region - great restaurants, tasting rooms, bars, nice central park and a relaxed vibe). Imagery Winery where GW tried his hand at the "industry" slant which yes got us a free tasting but then involved us being dragged out the back by the wine maker looking at tanks and destemmers and god knows what else. Bloody awkward and was glad to get out of there. We left them with the impression that GW was the least educated wine maker in wine making history. At best a tank flusher...

Rolling with the punches at Imagery.

Then it's onto Sonoma. Lovely town as well but it was seriously seriously warm so only managed one wine tasting at Spann Vineyard which is owned by a husband and wife team. Funnily enough she is a world champion power lifter. As you do. Grant had his verses a little more practiced at this stage so 'industry tasting' wasn't as painful but did involve us spinning BS for more than an hour. Good wines though and was lovely looking at their 15k photographs for sale - seriously.

Streets of Sonoma.
The line up.
The gentleman insisted we have a pic with this bottle - um...

Did of course manage to stumble on a glorious antique shoppe. Sales assistants of course didn't look up at all when we walked in (tad snobby around these areas) but it did give me a chance to take these snaps.

Yes - this is a chandelier. Don't ask for the price.
Front window display. A big wedding cake made out of various papers. I think.

We had a recommendation that the guvertztraminer at Gundlach Bundschu was the best in the region and considering the warm day we decided to grab a bottle, some cheese and head out onto the terrace to enjoy the view.


Then it was time to pick the kiddies up and head to Dry Creek Pub which has to be the coolest pub in the States. Big call I know but check out the pics. We did this routine every afternoon when picking up the boys. They live a tough life don't they.

This pic really encapsulates Bowsers personality - minus the go cart!! What a legend.

Back home to the shack (note - I think I did extremely well to not only put up with three at some times feral men for a week, but risking my health entering this place) for some ball, oysters and destemming.

Show off.
Quite the task!

Tuesday: Far out. Hanging over. All we can manage this day is a huge breakfast, the movies and lying around on Dry Creeks lawn waiting for boys.

Seriously. Hungover.

Wednesday: It was time to man/woman up again and get out and enjoy this area. We take the beautiful drive from Healdsburg to St Helena. Very different landscape from what we have seen, but has a real beauty to it.

GW enjoying to go cart.

Stop in St Helena just in time for a long lunch. Ohhh St Helena is fun! Apparently called the Beverly Hills of the Napa. I can see why. Lunch at French Blue was lovely (very civilised after eating burritos and drinking beer with the boys).

Such lovely homes here...
Sipping on a Gruner Veltliner. Much needed in the warm weather.
And the feast begins. Garlic, parmesan, fig, prosciutto flat bread.
Pesto ricotta lasagne.
Mussels and AMAZING chippies!

With a little liquid persuasion I get GW to walk the shops with me. And we do find. I didn't have a chance to take a picture of the best shoe shop I have discovered, due to sheer excitement, but I did manage to snap this funky store.


Then of course it is tasting time. Domaine Chandon for a cleansing bubbles. After Domaine Caneros I have to say this just didn't compare and was all just a little too pink. Next.


Peju on the other hand was rather sophisticated. We spun the "industry" game again to avoid the $30pp tasting fee and enjoyed a private tasting. I stuck with the whites which they aren't really known for, but were lovely neverless, and GW tried the roaring reds. Zinfandel won out with a bottle coming home with us.

Private tasting room. Pls dont ask too many questions...
Impressive tasting list
Amazing cellar door - that is quite the window there.

Final stop for the day was Beringer. You will be glad to know that we didnt do any tasting here (we had quite our fill this day) but couldn't pass without looking through their grounds. Was owned by Nestlé, now owned by Treasury Wine Estates (ex Fosters) - hence impressive capital injectons.

Cellar door or mansion really...

Of course can't end the day without a beer at our local! Dragged the boys home for dinner in Sheila. Hid some veggies in their curry - looks like they could do with some!

Much deserved cleansing ale after all that wine.
This is GW at peace
Here come the workers...
Thursday: I am officially giving up alcohol for 3 weeks. Seriously. A good decision to make as we have decided to have a day off wine etc and get in touch with our spiritual side. Amazing drive over the range towards our destination for the day - Harbin Hot Springs. No pics of this day (probably a good thing) as photography was banned. I can say however that this was a memorable day. 150 residents own and run this resort and what a good job they do. Beautiful little cottages that you can stay in, a weird and wonderful adobe styled temple and a main house with a great cafe, a restaurant, library and seating amongst waterfalls and dark little nooks and crannies. But the big draw card here is obviously the hot springs which run straight from a natural spring into their pools - which are man made, but are surrounded in big beautiful fig trees, wisteria arbours, rainforests and some covered temple like rooms. Very magical and surreal. Now, clothes are optional here and everyone did take that option so that was a different experience. Especially for Captain Safety (who named himself Captain Ballbag for the day). But to be honest, after 30mins you forgot about it and just got on with it and enjoyed. Bliss. After bloody hot pools, to bath like pools to then freezing pools we were feeling pretty lovely. Apparently this process gets all that old blood moving again. Exactly what I need to start my health kick. After a steam and sauna we find a large hammock in the garden and doze for a few hours. Life without wine is ok!

Friday: Prepared for take off tomorrow to SF. There is some mundane things on this trip I promise. Eg. Trying to fit an oversize van in a swanky Healdsburg shopping area with GW doing his nana, doing your clothes washing in a laundromat that smells like smelly humans, filling up the gas tank which costs far too much I am in denial about it and trying to outstay your welcome in a cafe using their wifi. You don't realise how excited we are when we find free wifi!

We scrub up because the boys are taking GW and I out for dinner in Healdsburg. But not before a drink at Dry Creek - duh!

One last drink at Americas favourite pub.

Very funny evening with me being the designated driver with 3 boys in the back of Sheila.

Love you and leave you MK
And that's it folks - our week in the Napa. I bet you not many people do this area camping in an RV in your mates driveway but we had a blast and thank MK and Bowser for their hospitality - CCC.


1 comment:

  1. My liver is hurting reading this!! What a terrific week. Enjoy your couple of weeks detoxing. Jxx