Trading wine at Robert Mondavi winery and strange request at Domain Chandon

This is a rewrite of a fun wine country adventure I had with my wine friend Mike Beltran at the Robert Mondavi Winery in St. Helena and at Domaine Chandon in Yountville. I found this in my archives and I feel it is very worthy of a post on the new WCG Blog.

My friend Mike Beltran and I headed off on an early Friday morning to the wine country. Mike has invited me to tag along with him on a very unusual mission to two wineries. The main purpose is not to buy wine but to trade, barter, and ask for favors at these wineries.

A trade with the Robert Mondavi Winery

The first destination is the Robert Mondavi Winery, where Mike has arranged a 9:30 a.m. meeting with Glenn Workman, V.P. of Productions at Robert Mondavi. Mike is a wine consultant and has been a collector of fine wines for 35 years. Some months back, Mike discovered five bottles of Robert Mondavi 1966 Unfined Cabernet Sauvignon deep in his wine cellar. Mike and Glenn have agreed to discuss a trade for these historic bottles. At that time, it was the 40th anniversary of the Robert Mondavi Winery.

We meet Glenn in the offices of Robert Mondavi. After some chitchat, Mike and Glenn get down to business.  Mike puts a cash value on the Cab. Then he rattles off the names of five cases of Mondavi wines he would like in exchange. I’m thinking to myself, “No way this is going to happen,” but to my surprise Glenn agrees without hesitation. Fifteen minutes later we are packing five cases of Robert Mondavi wine into Mike’s SUV.

Trading wine at robert mondavi

Mike and his wine trade haul

Afterwards, Glenn invites us into the Reserve Tasting Room. This is a beautiful room where visitors to the winery can enjoy the tasting of many special Mondavi wines for a fee. We taste five wines. We begin with a delicious single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and then a Carneros Pinot Noir. We then compare a 1994 and 1996 Reserve Cab. The 1996 is a delicious and exceptional wine, but the 1994 is spectacular. The aroma is so elegant that you almost feel that there is no need to drink the wine. The last of our tasting is the Sauvignon Blanc Botrytis, a wonderful dessert wine.

The Robert Mondavi Winery is a popular tourist attraction. Thousands of people visit the winery each week to taste wines and enjoy the beauty of this winery created by the iconic Robert Mondavi.

Domaine Chandon Dosage

We now head back down Highway 29 to Yountville and to Domaine Chandon for another crazy wine adventure. Mike has a most unusual request for the sparkling winemaker at Chandon. Mike has a bottle of 1990 Philipponnat Blanc de Blanc Champagne that he had acquired from Pacific Wines, a fine wine shop he worked at until it closed its doors in the mid 90’s. The bottle was used to demonstrate fermentation in the bottle, the main step in making Champagne. Mike’s bottle is still capped and contains the residue of dead yeast cells. Mike’s request is to have someone at Domain Chandon disgorge the bottle and add a dosage and a fill to make it a finished Champagne wine. Mike had dropped off the bottle at the winery a couple of weeks before our visit.

We meet sparkling winemaker Tom Tiburzi and he is more than happy to accommodate Mike’s request. Ever since Mike delivered the bottle, Tom has been storing the wine upside down to move the yeast residue to the neck of the bottle. We work our way to the assembly line area of the winery where Tom places the neck of the bottle into a solution used to quickly freeze the residue in the bottles passing through the assembly line. Today, Mike’s bottle is the only bottle in the solution. The solution is not quite cold enough so while we wait for the residue to freeze Tom leads us on a private half-hour tour of Domaine Chandon. This is an exciting adventure for both of us.

Tom Tiburzi Chandon

Dosage goes into Mike’s wine

At the end of the private tour, Tom leads us to the tasting room to taste four sparkling wines. Tom tells us how he has developed the characteristic of each wine. It is very enlightening to hear how he has done this and to feel the passion and enthusiasm that Tom has for making each of these sparkling wines. We head back to Tom’s lab where he disgorges the frozen yeast residue and then adds the proper dosage. Mike’s Champagne is as good as it is going to get. It is a dry Champagne and one that will go with a good meal and better yet with the story of how it came to be. Here is a link to how sparkling wine is made.

We highly recommend a visit to Domaine Chandon. They have one of the better sparkling wine tours, magnificent gardens, and  they are the only Napa winery with a restaurant. The chef, Perry Hoffman, and the winemakers meet regularly to determine the best possible wine and food pairings.

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    The Napa Valley is booming

    If you have been traveling in the Napa Valley this summer you may have noticed that traffic is heavier, restaurants and lodging more crowded, and tasting rooms jammed. The North Bay Business Journal reports that tourism in the Valley is up 68% since the recession low in 2009. Yes, the Napa Valley is booming, and it is only going to get busier as several major projects are in the works up and down the Valley.

    Archer Napa Hotel

    In the town of Napa, construction will start on the Archer Napa Hotel this Fall. It will be built on the 1200 block of First Street, where the closed Merrill Drug store is located. The Archer Napa will be an upscale hotel with 183 rooms, a restaurant, and retail space. Final approval, barring any unforeseen issues, will come at the Napa City Council meeting on August 19. The rendering in the photo shows the stunning landscape of the five-story Archer Napa Hotel. There are a few current businesses on the block that will have to vacate. The most notable business at this location is the Ceja Vineyards tasting room. Ceja has had an amazing run since their opening in 2008. They have stated that they will not open a tasting room in the retail area of the new Archer, but will move to another location soon. Closely associated with this hotel project is the Napa Town Center. It has been somewhat of an eyesore in downtown Napa, but is currently getting a major facelift. Developer Todd Zapolski is orchestrating this and is in partnership with Lodgeworks on the Archer Hotel.

    archer napa

    Archer Napa – architectural rendering provided by Lodgeworks

    Freemark Abbey

    Moving up to St. Helena, just north of the business area is the Freemark Abbey winery owned by Jackson Family Wines. Our grapevine sources tell us that Jackson Family Wines will renovate Freemark Abbey to the tune of 30 million dollars. Plans call for a hotel and restaurant. This apparently is all in the planning stages but, rest assured, Jackson Family Wines will move quickly on this project.

    Cairdean Estate

    Almost directly across the street from Freemark Abbey on Highway 29 is the Cairdean Winery. This was once the location of the St. Helena outlet stores. Currently there is a Cairdean tasting room, and the  Farmer and the Fox restaurant. Soon to open on August 18 is a bakery and sandwich shop. My guess is, given the location, this bakery is going to one busy spot.  Under construction is a winemaking facility with enough caves to produce 50,000 gallons of wine annually. Also under construction is a two-story structure which will serve as an art gallery and merchant space. The interesting thing is that when Edwin and Stacia Williams bought this property, along with it came a surprise: a Commercial Limited permit. This enables the Williams’ to do a lot with this property that new business establishments cannot do under the current county codes. What a bonanza for Edwin and Stacia! The tasting room is open and I, for one, will be there on our next visit to the Napa Valley. My only worry is the possible traffic congestion, with folks attempting to turn left in and out of the entrance. Highway 29 along that stretch moves fast, and it can be precarious no doubt.

    Cairdean Estate is currently  constructing a event center and blah.

    Cairdean Estate is currently constructing a winery and art gallery.

    Silver Rose Resort

    The old Silver Rose Inn across from Solage is being demolished as we write this article. Demolition should wrap up in another week and construction will start immediately. The Silver Rose will be replaced with an 84-room hotel, along with a restaurant, a winery, and a six-acre vineyard. There will also be twenty private homes built on the property. Calistoga residents approved the resort in the last election, and the town and community are behind this project. Kelly Foster, of Bald Mountain Development, expects that the resort and facilities will take approximately two years to build. So with the Solage and the Silver Rose across from it, let’s see what good old competition will bring to the wine country traveler. I think, in the off season, there will be deals to be had for rooms and meals. I love the Travelzoo specials!  Will we find some increased traffic congestion up at the northern end of the Silverado Trail? My guess is yes, but we’ll have to wait for a couple of years to find out.

     

     

     

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      Wine Bottle Art

      Diane Selmi – Wine Bottle Art

      If you’re looking for a special gift for one of your wine lover friends, an original wine bottle art painting by Diane Selmi might just be the perfect choice.

      Diane started painting unique wine bottles 10 years ago when she retired after a long career as a travel agent. She saw a picture of bottles in a magazine and was taken by the explosion of colors and reflection. She had just added a small studio to her house and was starting to paint other subjects, when she put everything aside and began composing wine bottles. She enthusiastically experimented with shapes, placement, light and color.

      wine bottles as art

       

      Each label is chosen very carefully and is a painting in itself. Diane began giving her paintings as gifts, and as they were seen by others, she started to get requests for commissions. The idea of personalizing the labels came to her very early on. Diane has included the names of family members, pets, boats, favorite places, as well as favorite wine bottles in the compositions.

      It’s hard to believe that Diane has had no formal training in painting, but she says she recognizes a future painting when she sees a subject that has the light and color she loves. She has sold many of her paintings and has made notecards to sell or give as gifts.

      wine bottle art

       

      Diane paints with acrylic and has painted on canvasses 24X24 to 48X60. The paintings are unframed and prices range from $500 to $2500. She does not currently have a website but can be reached on Facebook or by emailing: mvdiane@sbcglobal.net.

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        Napa Valley Travel News

        All the Napa Valley travel news that’s fit to make your Napa Valley wine country getaway a good stay.

        St.Helena Shuttle

        st helena shuttle serviceDid you know that the town of St. Helena has a shuttle service? This shuttle service works slightly different than the Calistoga shuttle that we mentioned in a previous article on our blog. During the week, the St. Helena shuttle offers a fixed route, but the service is also available “on demand.”  Travelers must call during business hours to secure their pickup. The shuttle runs until 11 pm on Friday and Saturdays. Weekdays, the shuttle service ends at 6 pm. If you are staying within the city limits of St.Helena, you can call the shuttle and arrange a pickup and drop off. It is $1 per person each way. What a deal. Shuttle Information

        New St. Helena Restaurant

        The Farmer and the Fox is open for dinner. The restaurant is north of St. Helena, maybe a mile or so beyond the Culinary Center. It is tucked away on the left as  you drive towards Calistoga. The area used to be an outlet center. Now it is the Cairdean Estate. We have not eaten at the restaurant, but peeked inside, and the place looks very inviting. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 707-302-5701 or at Farmer & Fox Website. The restaurant is open daily from 5 to 10 pm. The bar features 8 wines on tap, 8 beers on tap, and imaginatively-crafted artisanal cocktails. The executive Chef is Joseph Humphrey,  well known for his days at Auberge du Soleil and The Restaurant at Meadowood

        farmer and fox restaurant

        Farmer and the Fox in St. Helena

        Cooking Series at HALL Wines

        hall cooking and food seriesHall Wines in Rutherford will conduct a cooking series led by culinary expert David Katz. Each series will provide a unique look at pairing newly-released HALL Wines with the best of Napa’s artisan products and fresh, seasonal produce. Here are the sessions at Hall Rutherford. Information David Katz.

        Summer 2014: July 17th, 5-7pm, $115 per person, $100/HALL Members

        “Pizza on the Patio”

        Pizza is an obsession in Napa Valley for good reason. With the flavor, texture and aroma of freshly cooked pizza dough as a starting point, we can find beautiful partners for a broad pallet of wines. Learn how to make perfect pizza dough by hand, and taste simple combinations that sing with HALL Wines. These recipes will showcase local summer produce, artisan cheeses, fresh fish, and meats.

        Fall 2014: Sept. 25th, 5-7pm, $115 per person, $100/HALL Members

        “Harvest Season Hors d’Oeuvre”

        Harvest season brings some of our favorite local foods to the table. We’ll turn this bounty into hors d’oeuvre and antipasti that pair beautifully with selected HALL Wines, and discuss the complement and contrast that give wine and food pairing texture and interest.

        Winter 2014: December 4th, 5-7pm, $115 per person, $100/HALL Members

        “Holiday Entertaining”

        Sit down to four small-plates that showcase holiday-season entertaining ideas with HALL Wines. We’ll taste a vegetarian soup, fish, fowl and meat courses, as we explore the critical roles of body and acidity in wine and food pairing.

        New Restaurant to Open in Napa

        CADET will open in downtown Napa on July 2nd at the location between First street and Franklin Alleys. Colleen Fleming of Kelly Fleming wines in Calistoga and sommelier Aubrey Bailey will collaborate on this restaurant. CADET means “trainee.”  The name reflects the idea to try something new each day that reflects something exceptional from California cuisine and beyond.

        In addition, CADET will be offering educational classes and other special events such as Industry Nights, Winemaker Events, Ladies’Nights and Community Lunches, where public service professionals such as firemen, school teachers and city workers are celebrated for their contributions to the community.

        Bailey states, “Our wine and beer list highlights wines from every region in California, not just the Napa Valley. This is a chance for people–locals and visitors alike–to explore and to discover what else is out there, what the winemakers are drinking, what historic vineyards or grape varieties are being revived, experimental beer making, etc. Basically a reminder of what California has always stood for: diversity.”

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          Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen without Cindy

          We took a very quick overnight trip to the Napa Valley to view a house that a family relative is considering purchasing. On the way, we stopped in St. Helena for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Several weeks ago we read in the S.F. Chronicle that Cindy Pawlcyn had been in a car accident. The newspaper report indicated that Cindy suffered minor injuries. We asked our server how she was doing. She stated that Cindy’s injuries were extensive. She spent several weeks in the hospital and will not return to her kitchen for perhaps as long as 4 months. Our meal was excellent, but we felt something was amiss at the restaurant. Cindy is obviously missed by all. We wish Cindy a speedy recovery.

          piquillo peppers stuffed

          Stuffed piquillo peppers

          A Visit to V. Sattui

          Sign in tasting room

          Sign in tasting room

          I am always amazed at the number of folks who visit this winery and buy wine in huge amounts. I wonder, as probably winery owners in the Valley do, how it is that Dario Sattui is able sell all his wine out of his tasting room. None of the Sattui wine is distributed. The tasting room is a bevy of activity. Our server was efficient and knowledgeable. He knew each Sattui wine like the back of his hand. Impressive, to say the least. By the way, visitors can try one complimentary taste of wine, otherwise it is $15 to taste a lineup of several wines. We had previously tasted the Sattui wines as well as the wines from Castello di Amorosa, Dario’s newer winery located near Calistoga. The overall quality of the wines is very high. Winemaker Brooks Painter is the winemaker for both wineries. The St. Helena tasting room has a cheese and deli shop where visitors can purchase food items and head outside for a picnic lunch. No outside wine is allowed (understandable) and no outside food. I think that is a bit stiff on the food control, but it seems to work because the expansive picnic area is very busy. I need to do more digging into the tremendous success of Dario Sattui and his wines.

          Calistoga Tidbits

          In the late afternoon we walked along Lincoln Avenue, the business area of Calistoga. Since our last visit, there are a couple of new tasting rooms in town and one new restaurant. Do you remember Wappo, a restaurant with an eclectic menu? It closed down several years ago, but recently reopened as 1226 Washington. The menu looks great and, at the W.H. Smith Tasting Room, our server highly recommended it. We will give it a try the next time to Calistoga.

          At the W.H. Smith tasting room, we shared a tasting of 6 wines for $15. The wines were all delicious but expensive. The Sauvignon Blanc was $28. The lineup of Pinot Noir wines was fantastic, but again expensive. Our favorite from the Sonoma Coast was above $50.

          Solbar Restaurant at Solage

          This is the top restaurant in Calistoga. The restaurant is situated in the beautiful and luxurious Solage resort. We had a lovely dinner outside in the warm evening air. The food, wine and atmosphere were excellent. Surprisingly, we found the service lacking. Slow, slow, and slower was our experience. For example, our party ordered a second bottle of wine and it took 10 minutes to arrive. The check including tip came to $390 for four.

          The Solbar restaurant at Solage Resort

          The Solbar restaurant at Solage Resort

          Calistoga Cab Hopper

          I would like to recommend this little taxi company that serves the Calistoga area. They are pricy at $5 a mile, but Calistoga is a small area. As it states in the brochure, taking the Hopper is more fun than spending a night in jail. We called the Hopper from the Solbar, and within ten minutes they were there to take us to our destination. I previously posted an article about the presence of Uber in the Napa Valley. However, they are not as yet servicing the Calistoga area of the Napa Valley.

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            Napa Valley Travel Tibits

            Travel season in the Napa Valley is in full swing. Vineyards are green and trimmed, and wildflowers are still in bloom. The weather is clean and bright, so head to the Napa Valley and take in the Spring season in all its glory. Here are a few travel tidbits for the Napa Valley in the coming weeks.

            Napa Valley Travel

            Third Annual Summer Solstice Concert – Clif Family Winery

            June 21st at Velo Vino, The Grove Valve Orchestra plays up a storm. The band features funk, rock, and soul. Bring your dancing shoes. Wine and food will be provided. The Clif Family winery and its Velo Vino tasting room are located in St. Helena. Tickets are limited for this event. To purchase tickets:
            Note: due to the high demand of tickets, we encourage all who are interested in attending the evening’s event to book tickets now. The concert sells out within days of this announcement.

            clifconcert

            Artist René Romero Schuler at Chimney Rock Winery

            Artist René Romero Schuler will make her Napa Valley debut with an exhibit at the Chimney Rock Winery on the Silverado Trail. The exhibit is entitled “Cameo,” which is in reference to the abstract figures showcased in Romero Schuler’s oil paintings. The exhibit comes to Napa through A Partnership Between Artist and Artisan, a collaboration between Romero Schuler and Terlato Family Vineyards that includes limited hand-painted wine bottles. The exhibit runs Thursday, May 1 to Thursday, Nov. 13 at the Chimney Rock Winery located at 5350 Silverado Trail.

            art-chimneyrock

            Hall Winery celebrates Sauvignon Blanc Day

            On May 16, it’s international Sauvignon Blanc Day. In celebration of this social media event, Hall will be announcing the release of its 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. Guests, upon asking, will receive a complimentary glass of Hall Sauvignon Blanc. If you are in the area, why not stop in at the Hall tasting room and give the newly released wine a try!

            Looking to buy a vacation home in the Napa Valley?

            Just a little bit out of my price range, but there are two quite luxurious houses currently for sale in the Napa Valley. The first is Robin Williams’ Napa retreat. Robin Williams recently listed his 640-acre Napa Valley ranch for $29.9 million. The property is in the Mayacamas Mountains between Napa and Sonoma. For you interested buyers, here is a link to a Forbes article on the house.

            A second Napa Valley home is also for sale by an unknown seller. The property is to be sold on May 22 by Concierge Auctions. Concierge Auctions is a luxury real estate auction firm serving high-net-worth individuals worldwide. The property is known as Villa de Montaña. The property, originally offered for $22.5 million, will be auctioned without reserve on May 22nd in cooperation with Daniel DerVartanian of Sotheby’s International Realty and Steven Gregory of Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley.

            The 20-acre, 32-room Spanish-Mediterranean estate is spread across a spectacular main house, guest cottage, and separate staff quarters. The property offers panoramic views of St. Helena village and Napa Valley. View property

            Auction Napa Valley June 5-7

            This is another Napa Valley activity for those with deep pockets, and for a great cause. Proceeds from the auction go to a variety of charities in the Napa area. Last year the auction raised $16.9 million.

            To attend this year’s Welcome Party, Barrel Auction, and the Friday Vintner Dinner, the cost is $3000 per ticket. Ticket and event information

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              Uber in the Napa Valley: Good for tourists?

              Uber in Napa and Yountville

              Dining at Angele

              Uber in the Napa Valley

              Wine country travelers to the Napa Valley will be happy to learn this news. Uber has invaded the Napa Valley. Taxi cab drivers may not like this, but certainly tourists will find Uber to be an added convenience for hopping around the Napa Valley. If you don’t already know, Uber is a company that sends drivers for hire at your beck and call. All you need is the Uber App on your smartphone to hire a driver.

              Currently, there are three different taxicab companies that service the Napa Valley: Yellow Cab, Black Tie Cab, and Napa Valley Cab. Cabs have, in a sense, a monopoly because there are so many hotels and lodging and so few cabs. Rates can change on the fly. We once took a cab from the Marriott hotel in Napa to Don Giovanni restaurant. On the way back we hired a cab from the same company and the fare was much higher.

              Uber started their service in Napa on April 3rd, so it is just beginning to test the waters in the Napa Valley. Looking at the Uber blog, the new service for now looks like it is just between Napa and Yountville. I spoke with Michael Palmer, the General Manager at the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa. He welcomes Uber. “We have a shortage of cabs currently and sometimes it can be an hour wait for a cab. Right now my Uber App tells me a driver is just ten minutes away.” He also expects that once Uber takes hold in the Napa Valley it will improve taxicab service. “A little competition is good for all.”

              The Taxi companies are based in Napa, so their rates are going to be less for travelers staying in the town of Napa. If you are in Yountville or St. Helena, the cost of a cab increases greatly. The concierge at the Hotel Yountville mentioned that a cab right out the door begins at around $20. On my Uber App, I entered a trip from the Hotel Yountville to Mustard’s Grill, just about three miles up the road. The fees would be $7 to $10 for the uberX, $17 to $20 for UberBLACK, and $27 – $32 for the UberSUV. Uber drivers are not allowed to take tips because the tip is figured into the cost of the trip. Black Tie Taxi tells me that they would charge $20 for the same trip, plus tip. If you have a group of six, the SUV Uber would be the way to go with the party members splitting the fare.

              Another convenience factor in Uber’s favor is that your trip is automatically charged to your credit card. To sign up for Uber, one downloads the App to their smartphone and enters a credit card number and other pertinent data. As I mentioned above, the tip is included in the total cost of the ride. If Uber is successful, and they should be in the very touristy Napa Valley, I would expect Uber’s competition, Lyft and Sidecar, to also make their way to the Napa Valley.

              I do think that hotels and B&B’s should promote safe driving as much as possible. The Napa Valley is all about fine food and wine. Drinking and driving is never a good idea, and hotels should encourage their guests to hire a taxi or an Uber driver. The old adage, “Better safe than sorry,” is never more appropriate than for visitors to the Napa Valley.

              The Uber folks are offering up to $15 off for the first two rides. Valid from 4/3 to 4/30/14. Uber coupon

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                Napa Valley Tidbits – Ovation TV and The Art Of: Wine Country

                Ovation TV – The Art Of: Wine Country

                Ovation TV is available on most cable companies, i.e. Comcast, Uverse and Direct TV. This Sunday evening Ovation will broadcast “The Art of Wine Country” at 7:30 p.m. ET. I checked out a couple of preview videos and it looks like an exciting show. I watched a clip of Napa Valley’s Gordon Huether and his amazing sculptures at the Artesa Winery in Carneros. In another clip, Chef Cindy Pawlcyn talks about the art of her vegetable gardening and its importance to the success of the food she serves at her restaurants.

                Each weekly show, The Art Of: Introduces viewers to “a new artistic medium explored through profiles of boundary-pushing artists. Focusing on the celebrated as well as the undiscovered, this series explores the creative process behind each featured art form and uncovers how and why these artists do what they do.” If you are a lover of wine country and art, tune in to The Art Of: Wine Country.

                To find the specific channel for viewing The Art Of: click on this link to the Ovation Website to find Ovation in the area where you live. Here is a preview of the show.

                Gordon Hunter and Artesa

                Yountville Hill winery stirs controversy

                There is a proposal on the docket to build a winery atop the northwest area on Yountville Hill. It sounds like a massive undertaking. The plan calls for a 100,000-gallon production facility and 36,000 square feet of caves. Also proposed is a 12,800-square-foot admin and visitor center. This site is just north of the main town of Yountville and just above where Mustards restaurant is located. Prescott Ashe and Eric Sklar, the former owner of Alpha Omega, have filed the application. Wine Travelers to the Napa Valley wine country should be concerned. Yes, it looks like another wonderful winery to visit, but remember there are four wineries in this immediate area and who needs more congestion on highway 29? 

                Luxury Travel Package

                For you wine country travelers in search of more indulgence, The Plumpjack Group and the Carneros Inn have teamed together to offer “Plumpjack’s Ultimate Napa Valley Experience.” The itinerary includes:

                • One-night stay in the Harvest Cottage at The Carneros Inn

                • A tour and tasting for two people at PlumpJack Winery, CADE or Odette

                • A six-course tasting menu for two at FARM from highly acclaimed Chef de Cuisine Andrew Budnyj

                Starting rates for the “PlumpJack Ultimate Napa Valley Experience” begin at $1,285 plus gratuities. For booking or more information, please visit www.thecarnerosinn.com or call 707.299.4850.

                Underground Cellars New Idea

                Underground Cellars has beta tested for 6 months a very different concept for online wine sales. It has officially launched this week, and it’s a novel way for wineries to sell wine they might otherwise release to flash online wine sites or the big discount stores. Nothing could be more galling for a customer to purchase a wine at a winery and find it a week later at a deep discount at Costco or the like.

                undergroundcellars

                This is how this site is different from a flash sale site. For the winery: Underground Cellars negotiates with the winery to sell off inventory along with a small number of their current wines, library wines or even magnums. When the Underground Cellars customer buys say six bottles of this wine, that customer receives upgrades. Example, they may have purchased six bottles of the entry level wine but now they get an upgrade to a higher-priced bottle. That could be a $100 bottle of wine they receive at no extra cost. If you go to this page on Underground Cellars you might get a better visual of the this concept: How it works.

                To entice wine shoppers to sign up for an account, the Underground Cellars has a giveaway for one lucky wine shopper. “Grand Sonoma Wine-cation,” where a lucky winner and their 3 guests will be flown out to wine country for an all-inclusive and unforgettable VIP wine country weekend (value of this is $10,000). Note: One should know that the value of the prize will always turn up as income on a 1099. Wow, what a surprise when you find out you will be paying state and fed tax to treat your friends!

                For more information in the giveaway, go here:

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                  Hall Wines leaps forward with winery iPad technology

                  image Hall winery

                  Revel Systems winery iPad technology at Hall Wines

                  The next time you stop in at one of Hall Wines tasting rooms, there will be something new to ponder at the counter: iPad tablets used by customers and staff to simplify the purchase and shipping of Hall wines. Hall instituted the Revel Systems iPad point-of-sale solution two weeks ago and all appears to be working nicely. According to Revel System CEO Chris Ciabara, Hall has taken a giant leap forward, integrating all its technology systems into one easy platform that can be used on Apple’s iPad tablet. Will other wineries in the Napa Valley and other wine regions jump on this technology?

                  The Revel System provides the Hall winery and staff versatility for making quick sales and enabling customers to order wines on the fly. This could be in the tasting room, on a vineyard tour or at a special tasting event. The Hall staff can check inventory and other data from the field. Image yourself tasting a wine as you walk along the vineyards. You like it, you order it on the iPad, and when you get back to the tasting room your wine package is waiting. The software also has a ship-compliant component to decipher all issues at that end.

                  I have seen some limited use of the iPad in a few wineries that I have visited. Andrew Murray, in his Santa Barbara County winery, uses the iPad to take your order and swipe your credit card, but I think that is just about it. Kathleen Inman has something similar in Sonoma County for visitors to read tasting notes and place an order. We shall see how this works out and how many other wineries adopt iPads in the tasting room for all transactions.

                  revel ipad

                  Revel Systems winery iPad Technology

                  BottleRock Napa Valley is a “go” for a second year

                  The BottleRock music concert returns to Napa in May with a new producer and a terrific lineup. Tickets are now on sale. Last year’s event was very popular with some 35,000 people attending. Here is your chance to combine wine tasting, food and music. Take a look at what is happening at BottleRock Napa Valley 2014.

                  Tickets are on sale now for this event being held May 30 through June 1, 2014. Single day passes are $149 per person, and can be purchased at www.bottlerocknapavalley.com or www.ticketfly.com or charge by phone at 877.4.FLY.TIX (435.9849). 3-Day ($279), VIP 3-Day ($599) and Platinum Passes are also available. Check the BottleRock Website for complete details of this extravaganza.

                  image of the cure

                  The Cure performs on Friday, May 30th

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                    Eco-Friendly Wine Route

                    Ten years ago only a handful of wineries in the Napa Valley used any solar power or practiced any sort of eco-friendly farming in their vineyards. Today that has changed dramatically. Many wineries in the Napa Valley can boast that they are eco-friendly in some fashion: certified organic, sustainable, biodynamic, Napa Green or solar powered.

                    For those wine country travelers who would like to visit some of these wineries, we have designed an Eco-Friendly Wine Route. We are listing five wineries that have extensive eco-friendly practices, in addition to making some very delicious wines and providing visitors with enjoyable experiences in the tasting room.

                    The Eco-Friendly Wine Route

                    • Robert Sinskey – Biodynamic
                    • Honig Winery – Sustainable
                    • Round Pond Estate – Sustainable
                    • Frog’s Leap – Organic, sustainable
                    • Casa Nuestra- Organic

                    This wine route is centered around the Silverado Trail that runs along the eastern side of the Valley. Use the map below as your guide for getting to the wineries that you would like to visit on this trail. Always check the winery’s website for tasting-room hours and for booking tours.

                    Robert Sinskey Vineyards

                    We begin our wine country getaway at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. The winery is located just north of Oak Knoll Road at 6320 Silverado Trail. It is on the right as you drive north. Robert Sinskey is a certified biodynamic winery and uses solar power. The terrace is a wonderful spot to sip some wine and take a look at the beautiful valley floor. Tasting is $25 per person including the appetizers from the Vineyard Kitchen. Tours are available by appointment. http://www.robertsinskey.com/visit

                    Honig Winery

                    “Family owned, sustainably farmed, and solar powered” is the slogan at the Honig Winery. This winery officially had its start in 1984 and is one of the first in the Napa Valley to start a program of sustainable farming. It has been a model for other wineries in California. To visit and hear about sustainable farming, you will need to make an appointment. If the weather is nice, you will sit outside and taste some delicious wines. We are particularly fond of both of the Honig Sauvignon Blanc labels, the Napa Valley and the Rutherford. “Sustainable” is a somewhat vague term, but essentially means that whatever farming is done does not deplete the land. Everything in some form finds it way back to the soil. “Sustainable” also means that the vineyards will keep the staff working long term.

                    Honig Tasting

                    Honig Tasting

                    Round Pond Estate

                    Round Pond is one of the new kids on the block with a first vintage date of 2002. The MacDonnell family owns the winery, olive oil plant and the vineyards. 95% of the grapes are sold to other wineries with the remainder allocated for the production of Round Pond Wines. “Sustainable” is the operative word at Round Pond, which has one of the most exciting views for a wine tasting. The patio is where you reserve your spot and enjoy a variety of food and wine pairings. The gardens, of course, are organically farmed.
                    Check the Website for the various tasting options.

                    The Terrace at Round Pond

                    The Terrace at Round Pond

                    Frog’s Leap

                    Frog’s Leap is another of the pioneering eco-friendly wineries of the Napa Valley. The winery has two different tastings for tourists, plus a fantastic hour-and-a-half tour that we suggest you take. It is very informative. The tour is impressive and demonstrates what each and every winery in the Napa Valley should be doing to preserve the environment. The tours are at 10:30 and 2:30, but you must call ahead to book your tour.

                    Frog's Leap

                    Frog’s Leap

                    Casa Nuestra Winery

                    For our last winery, we head up north almost to Calistoga to the Casa Nuestra Winery. This is another family-owned winery. This is a bit of a change of pace from the other wineries. Casa Nuestra is very small and on the funky side. It is a very fun tasting room to visit. The winery has been committed to organic farming for almost two decades. The winery also uses extensive solar power. The wines at Casa Nuestra are atypical of Napa Valley wines. Here you will find labels like Verdelho, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Tinto and Symphony. During the week you can probably just pop in and be able to taste wine. Weekends are busy, so be sure to call ahead to book an appointment.

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