Visitors to the Napa Valley often wonder what town in the Valley they should choose as a base while planning a wine vacation. “What town is the most fun?” we are often asked. Fun meaning good places to lodge, many choices for dining, boutique shopping, and of course wineries and tasting rooms to visit. The four major towns from south to north are Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Janelle and I have stayed in each town many times over our years of adventures in the Napa Valley. Each town has something unique and delightful to offer. But if we had to make a choice as to which one was our favorite town, we would have to go with Calistoga.
I don’t think Calistoga has changed much since I was a young boy. My parents would vacation in Clear Lake and we would always stop in Calistoga for a snack on the way to our Lake County camping spot. On our first trip together Janelle and I stayed at Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort, which today looks exactly the same as it did some 40 years ago. A trip down Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga is a trip down Napa Valley’s memory lane.
Calistoga has always been, and we hope will always be, a laid-back town. The pace in Calistoga is less hectic and the shops and eateries a little more down-to-earth. It is definitely a quaint environment. We visit each December for Pauper’s Night at the Calistoga Inn. The natives come in droves and sing and party to Christmas cheer. It is an experience you won’t get in any other town in the Napa Valley. Unfortunately, the Calistoga Inn had a fire a couple of months ago and will not re-open for several months. I’m afraid there will not be a Pauper’s Night at the Inn this December. Continue reading →
What a dilemma it is to find the proper lodging for anyone traveling to the Napa Valley for a first-time vacation. Sure, you can check Trip Advisor and the like for some recommendations but you cannot always rely on those for sound advice. We have been traveling to the Napa Valley for 40 years. I think we have stayed in just about every style of lodging from the town of Napa to the north end of the Valley in Calistoga. We have stayed in budget lodging, fine lodging, B&B’s, and we have even rented vacation homes. Take a look at our list of recommended Napa Valley lodging for each Napa Valley town and you’re sure to find something that fits your needs. If we have something listed, we have either stayed there or taken a quick inspection of the place.
I am always on the lookout for something different in a tasting room experience, and my visit to the Pope Valley Winery last week was just that. It was a fun and interesting visit and a chance to learn about the Pope Valley, the history of the winery, and chat with the Eakel Family who have been running the winery since 1997.
The winery was established in 1897 and much of the winery looks the same as it did the first day it opened. It was originally named the Burgundy Winery founded by Ed Haus. The winery was built into a hillside and you can still see the rock and stones that form the walls of the bottom two floors of the winery. The top floor is at the top of the hillside. Originally, the grapes were carted up there to be processed and then gravity took over to bring the wine down to the first floor. Continue reading →
What an exciting time to be in Napa Valley wine country when the grapes are harvested and brought into the winery to be made into wine. Even more exciting is to be at the iconic Robert Mondavi Winery for the Blessing of the Grapes, a tradition started in 1966 by Robert Mondavi.
We were fortunate to be invited to the 2012 Blessing of the Grapes held on Monday, September 17, in the To Kalon Cellar of the Mondavi winery. To Kolan Cellar is a beautiful facility and one that echoes the memories of the great Robert Mondavi. The introductions were made by Margrit Mondavi, a gracious lady, so caring and gregarious. Winemaker Genevieve Janssens spoke about the outlook for this year’s harvest. After two previous difficult harvests, she is thankful that 2012 promises to be an outstanding vintage.
Invited guests and most of the employees of the winery were on hand as father Ramon Pons blessed the first batch of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. About 50 small bins were blessed, sorted, and sent to the fermenting bin. Afterwards, the entire staff of the Mondavi winery and the invited guests were treated to a delightful Mexican buffet that was paired with Fume Blanc and Merlot wines.
This is our second suggested trip for a quick getaway to the wine country. Last post we suggested a trip to the Carneros wine region; this week we suggest the Silverado Trail on the south end of the Valley. This trip is about an hour away from the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. We like going through the back side of Napa; it saves a little time when headed to the Silverado Trail. Print out these driving directions. Continue reading →
Perhaps you are on a business trip in San Francisco or Oakland. Your schedule gives you an afternoon off and you want to visit the Napa Valley or Carneros wine country. You want something that will make your trip useful and memorable. We have a few quick wine country getaway suggestions that will do just that.
Carneros West – In Sonoma County
First of all, we are going to take you to some very fun and cool wineries, not very touristy or commercial. Head across the Golden Gate Bridge and travel to the Carneros Highway. We are suggesting three small wineries: Schug, Robledo, and Larson Family. At the Schug tasting room we like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, as well as the great little house where the tasting room is located. Robledo is the first Mexican-owned winery in Sonoma County. They make some terrific wines using grapes from their vineyards in Napa and Lake County. Their tasting room is loaded with family memorabilia commemorating the family’s founding of the winery. Larson Family Winery is perhaps best known for its family friendliness. You can bring the kids without having to worry that they will be disturbing others; they are welcome at Larson. You can also play a game of Bocce at Larson while you sip some cool Larson Gewürztraminer wine. From the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge these three wineries are about a 45-minute drive without traffic. Schug and Larson are open daily 10 to 5pm, and Robledo by appointment. Always check the winery’s website for more information and consult our Carneros Wine Country Map for driving details. Want a quick bite to eat? Here is a list of some of the best restaurants in Carneros.
The kids are back in school and it is time for a well-deserved break in the action of household duties. The best possible getaway in September is a two-night stay in the Napa Valley wine country. We have done this several times and it works wonders on the psyche. Here are some sure-fire ideas for getting this trip off on the right foot and making sure that fun times prevail throughout the stay.
A morning cup and pastry at Bouchon Bakery
First of all, someone in the group must take the lead in organizing the entire trip. Give the group a name like “Sixth Annual Rejuvenation Wine Country Getaway.” Once the dates are firmed up, make sure you book your Napa lodging and Napa restaurants as soon as possible. September is harvest season and it’s a very popular time of the year in wine country. Continue reading →
The Napa Valley is recognized as one of the top wine regions in the world. When you are top dog, expect to take some shots from your rivals. Napa Valley wineries had their share of good-natured bashing from Oregon wineries at the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference held in Portland, Oregon, this past weekend.
Willamette Valley winemaker
What we heard along the way
“In Willamette Valley the weather cools rapidly from afternoon winds from the Van Duzer Corridor. Night time temperatures drop dramatically. In the Napa Valley it is hot all the time.”
“The Napa Valley Pinot Noirs from Carneros are too big.”
“Here in the Willamette Valley the winemakers and owners share their knowledge and help one another. In the Napa Valley, it is all corporate.”
“One thing that differentiates the Willamette Valley from the Napa Valley is that each year the growing season in the Willamette is very different. The climate varies significantly year to year. Napa does not have that fluctuation so their wines are always the same.”
“Here in the Willamette Valley you are likely to find a winemaker or family member working the tasting room. That is something you won’t find in the Napa Valley.”
This great little family-run winery is often missed by the wine country tourists as they travel along the Silverado Trail. We hope you don’t pass it by, because there are a lot of reasons to like this wonderful winery. Owner William Harrison purchased his estate in the Rutherford AVA in the late 1970’s and sold his grapes until he decided it was high time to make his own wine. Today the winery is in its 19th vintage year.
Winemaker Jim McMahon
We visited William Harrison a couple of week ago and, as often happens with small family-run wineries, the owner or winemaker will take a stint in the tasting room. On our visit, we had the good fortune to have winemaker Jim McMahon hosting the tasting room for the day. Jim came from Luna Vineyards and became head winemaker at William Harrison in 2009. Continue reading →
What do Peruvian women have in common with Hess Winery, Robert Mondavi, the Spa at Bardesonno, and the chic West End Napa Store? The women’s woven clothing pieces are sold at these locations. It is a win for both, with the Pervian women making a living and the stores featuring a one-of-a kind product. How did this partnership occur?
We recently had a very interesting and informative meeting with Terisa Brooks-Huddleston, the founder of “Our Hands for Hope,” an organization which works directly with abandoned or widowed women from the Andes mountains, who are intent on finding a way to support themselves and their children. These women are motivated, talented and well trained, but previously were only able to sell their handmade outerwear and blankets to visiting tourists.
“Our Hands for Hope” was created out of a partnership with Project New Hope International and Creation Peru. These organizations have helped build medical centers and schools in the area, as these women and their children receive no government assistance. “Our Hands for Hope” purchases the soft alpaca yarn and sends suggested patterns to the women, who are known affectionately as “Peruvian Mothers.” The women knit the products and set their own prices. The products are then sent to Terisa and she locates retail shops which will sell them. Continue reading →