Napa Valley winter trip

Napa valley in winter. Trip to tasting roomShould you consider a Napa Valley winter trip in December or January? Napa Valley during these two months is undoubtedly the quietest time in this spectacular wine country. As one long-time Napa Valley resident once mentioned to me, “Winter is how the Valley used to be during the entire year long ago.” If you really want to get away, this is the time to be in the Napa Valley. It’s beautiful, serene, and most of all relaxing. Here are a few things to do in December and January in the Napa Valley.

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    San Francisco Prep High School churns out Winery Owners and Winemakers

    St. Ignatius graduates who are winery owners or winemakers

    In center Whitehall Lane G.M. Mike McLoughlin Class of 1979

    St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco has produced a very impressive list of alums working in the world of wine. The Alumni Department at S.I. forwarded me this list of graduates affiliated with wineries in the Napa Valley, Sonoma and beyond. I find it fascinating that so many grads from S.I. are owners of wineries and/or winemakers. My guess is if you looked at other high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area you would not find anything close to matching that of the St. Ignatius group. Perhaps in the Napa Valley, where wine folks live and send their kids to high schools such as St. Helena High, you would expect a large connection from its graduates to wineries, but from a San Francisco City school, it is totally unexpected.

    My friend Bob (a fellow alum and retired S.I. teacher and coach) and I paid a visit to Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena, owned by S.I. alum Tom Leonardini. We discussed the guys we each knew from S.I. who owned wineries and that prompted us to get a complete list from the Alumni Department at St. Ignatius High School. The list below shows the name of the winery, the individual, their graduation year, and their affiliation with the winery.

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      Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena – The Sauvignon Blanc is outstanding

      Amid the rain and wind this past Wednesday, we managed to squeeze in a tour and tasting at the Whitehall Lane Winery in St. Helena. Tom Leonardini and Family have owned the Whitehall Lane winery since 1993. Whitehall Lane is one of the Napa Valley’s earliest wineries with a start date of 1979. The winery is one our favorites, and we’d selected the winery for our Boutique Wine Trail back in 2003.

      This was our first visit since the winery did a remodel and an addition a couple of years ago. Although the building structure has changed, the personnel remains very much the same, anchored by winemaker Dean Sylvester now in his eighteenth year at Whitehall. Our tour leader was Mike McLoughlin, the General Manger who joined the winery shortly after the Leonardini Family purchased the winery. Consistency is good in this case; the Whitehall Lane wines have been highly regarded throughout its history, highlighted many times by the Wine Spectator for its reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

      Dean Sylvester the winemaker at Whitehall Lane

      Dean Sylvester is his lab checks the Sauvignon Blanc blend

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        Where to stay in the Napa Valley

        Napa Valley Lodging, best lodging in the Napa Valley

        Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville

        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.

        Lodging tips for the Napa Valley

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          Napa Valley bashing at the Wine Bloggers Conference

          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.

          Oregon wineries needle Napa Valley

          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.”

          What Oregon wineries should be saying to Napa Valley

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            Napa Valley Trip Planner – Plan and Map your trip to the Napa Valley

            With over 400 wineries in the Napa Valley, how does one decide which wineries to visit? Well, we have perhaps the best planning tool available on the Internet to help you select which wineries to visit based on your interests. Here is how it works. Go directly to the Trip Planner on Wine Country Getaways and from the Region Window use the pull down menu to select the Napa Valley. Of course you can select other wine regions if you prefer.

            The Map displays 150 wineries in the Napa Valley. There are some 400 brick and mortar wineries in the Napa Valley and we have whittled that number down to the wineries that we think offer the most to travelers to the Napa Valley. We may have missed a few good wineries, so if you think you have a winery to recommend for our database, please let us know.

            The next step is to decide what Features you are looking for in a winery. Click on one or more of the checkboxes to narrow down your winery choices. Now that you have made your choices, click on the red winery marker to get a little more information about that winery. If you think you might want to visit the winery, click on the Add to My Trip button. Once you have all your wineries selected, type in the starting address. It could be your home address or the hotel or B&B address where you plan to stay. Type in an ending address as well.

            Now you can map your trip by clicking on the Directions button. There is a catch here. The map will give you directions in the order you have selected the wineries. More than likely the map will zigzag all over the place because the wineries are not in geographic order. Go back to your Destinations and use the arrow keys to move the wineries up or down to get the correct geographic order.

            Once you have that done, click on the Directions button again. At this point you can print the directions and/or email the trip map to your friends. What can be handier than this nifty planning tool? Thanks for using our Trip Planner and have a fantastic time in this beautiful and wonderful wine country.

            Trip Planner and map

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              Ballentine Vineyards – Nice Change of Pace in the Napa Valley

              Would you like to try something a little different than the usual wine-tasting fare of the Napa Valley? Try Ballentine Vineyards! It’s a little more on the old-fashioned side, with down-to-earth folks running the winery and keeping a very low profile. The winery is just north of downtown St. Helena and almost directly across the street from the more notable St. Clements Vineyards. It is easy to miss because the winery sits back from the road and is not very visible. We have visited Ballentine a few times, and had the chance last week to revisit and have a tour and tasting with owner Van Ballentine and winemaker Bruce Devlin.

              Van Ballentine and his father began making wine in 1944 across the Valley in Deer Park. Vineyards were purchased over time and presently there are 90 acres of vineyards planted in St. Helena and nearby Calistoga. They eventually sold the first winery building and moved Ballentine to its present location in 1992. Van has worked an unbelievable 60 harvests and I would have to think that is a record for the Napa Valley. Remarkable! Bruce Devlin was hired in 1999 as winemaker, and interestingly his wife Danielle is the head winemaker at St. Clements Vineyards directly across Highway.

              Van Ballentine and Bruce Devlin

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                Wine Adventures in Yountville

                Sometimes you just need a quick getaway to cure the doldrums of the winter months. And that is what we just did with a one-night getaway to Yountville in the Napa Valley. We booked a room at the Napa Valley Lodge for $149 at their special winter rate. The Lodge is very comfortable and within walking distance of the restaurants, tasting rooms, and lots of boutique shops. Although on this day it was grey and damp, it was a delight to drive along the Napa Valley floor and take in the beautiful scenery of the mountains and vineyards.

                We arrived just in time for our 12:30 lunch restaurant at Redd Wood, the newest restaurant in town, owned by Richard Reddington of Redd Michelin fame in Yountville. The restaurant is located in the North Block Hotel, formerly the Hotel Piero. Redd Wood is a pizzeria with causal dining in a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere. The specialties, of course, are pizzas but there are many other menu items. There were four of us for lunch. Two shared a pizza and a salad and thought they were both just okay, nothing spectacular. Janelle and I shared a pear and wintergreens salad and a sandwich with rosemary foccacia, prosciutto cotto, and crucolo cheese. They were both excellent. The Sommelier was very cool, answering my questions about a few wine choices on his wine list, and recommended a Docellto/Barbera from Piedmonte in Italy that was very tasty, medium bodied, and perfect with our meals. The Wine list is good with a wine selection at $38 and above.

                Redd Wood Pizzeria

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                  Napa Valley wine trip down memory lane

                  There are some 400 wineries in the Napa Valley that one can visit. The majority of those wineries were established after 1990. Why not take a trip down memory lane by visiting one or more of the handful of wineries that have been in existence in the Napa Valley for 100 years or more? Most of these wineries have tours and memorabilia that will give you a glimpse of what life in the Napa Valley was like way back when. Here are a few suggestions with a map below should you need it.

                  Nichelini Winery
                  Well off the radar of most travelers is the Nichelini Winery. This winery has had 121 consecutive harvests and is in the 5th generation of ownership. It is said to be the oldest continuous family-run winery in the Valley. The winery began making wine in 1890 and weathered prohibition by making sacramental wines, and perhaps a little more, under the table for various “important” clients. The winery is up on Sage Canyon Road about 10 minutes from the Valley floor. The winery is open Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 5 pm or Monday through Friday by appointment.

                  Nichelini on Sage Canyon Road - Highway 128 East

                  Beaulieu Vineyards
                  Beaulieu Vineyards began in 1900 and was founded by George de Latour. The winery was able to continue to operate during Prohibition, making sacramental wines. In 1938 George de Latour traveled to France and hired winemaker André Techelistcheff. Andre died in 1994, but his legacy lives on and he remains today the most influential winemaker in the Napa Valley. The winery is owned by Diageo Wines. The Tasting room is open daily 10 am to 5 pm.

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                    ZAP Changes Venue for Grand Tasting – We Have Two Tickets to Give Away

                    Get ready for the huge ZAP Grand Tasting on Saturday, January 28, 2012, from 2 pm to 5 pm. This is your chance to taste Zinfandel wines from 400 different wineries and producers. What a bonanza for anyone who likes wine and especially Zinfandel. This is the 21st Annual Grand Tasting and this year the tasting will be at The Concourse in the South of Market area of San Francisco. What happened to Fort Mason and the Herbst Pavilion? In 2012 Fort Mason begins renovations in preparation for the America’s Cup yacht race. The Concourse in the South of Market of San Francisco is classy and modern, and public transportation is much more available. It will be a very exciting location with several nearby restaurants and other attractions.

                    We have a pair of tickets to give away for the main event, the Grand Tasting, and a pair of tickets to give away for the Epicuria Food & Zin Pairings event on Thursday, January 26 from 6 to 9 pm. We will take submissions on the comment section below. This contest will run through December 31. On January 3 we will announce our winners. First place winner has a choice of either two tickets for the Grand Tasting on Saturday, January 28 ($138 value) or two tickets for the Epicuria Food & Zin Pairings event on Thursday, January 26 ($250 value). Second place winner will receive two tickets to whichever event the first-placed winner doesn’t choose.

                    How to enter

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