We started our first full day in Napa Valley with a walking tour of the downtown area. We got a tour with historical facts about Napa, the architecture, and even a beer tasting. Beer was the dominant production in the area until wine took over in the 1870’s. Our tour was very interesting, and we got to see inside a beautiful turn of the century mansion that is now a B&B, Churchill Manor. Edward Churchill built it in 1889, after making his fortune in banking. Churchill also owned a beer brewery called the Golden Ribbon, and the Tokalon Vineyard. The vineyard land was approximately 700 acres, and is now a part of the Robert Mondavi Winery empire. Jon and I both would like to stay there one day – when we can afford it. Until then, our economy lodging.
After the tour, we headed up the wine trail. We had lunch at the Pacific Blues Cafe, and had a great pulled pork sandwich and Cobb salad. We browsed in a wine shop that had a fantastic selection of rare wines and everything you could imagine… from California. It seems California doesn’t believe that other wine areas exist. We saw two lonely bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir.
So, our first stop for wine tasting was Robert Mondavi. Big producer, big attitude is apparently the theme here. We stopped in the tasting room, where we got to listen to a waiter from Canada schmooze the server into a free “industry tasting”. You have got to be kidding me… but it worked. But it seems that most of us can get a free tasting – Jon and I did too, with a coupon. The server basically ignored Jon, but gave me a bit more attention. We tried wines that ranged from $80 – $160, and while they were decent, there wasn’t one that I would have bought at those prices. I’ve had better $30 reds at home. We left there feeling like we had just had a very strange experience. At least we checked Mondavi off our list – but they at least could have told us about the Edward Churchill connection.
Next stop was ZD Wines. This was a spur of the moment choice, but an excellent one. They focused on Chardonnay, which is 80% of their production, and it showed. We both loved their Chardonnay. We also really enjoyed all of their other wines, but the price points are a little steep for us. The folks at ZD are a fun, lively bunch, who are very friendly to chat with. No weirdness here – ZD was more like the wineries in Washington and Oregon. They recommended a stop at Peju, so that’s where we headed next.
Peju does a very regimented tasting. You are put on a list, and then in groups of 10, shuttled into the tasting room. Our server was a bit of a schmoozer – it seems that they are on commission there, and he liked to use the “grandchild needs some shoes” bit. He also thought Peju wine was the best on the planet. Jon and I disagreed. We enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc, their Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel, but the rest we could take or leave.
The group next to us at the tasting recommended we have dinner at Go Fish, a seafood restaurant in St. Helena. It was our splurge dinner for the trip. Jon had the halibut, I had a Chef’s plate of sushi. The halibut was very well prepared, and delicious, but Jon left hungry. We brought a bottle of our ZD Chardonnay to enjoy with dinner. YUM!
In the end, we learned that some places in Napa are of the snobbish variety. I guess we’ll just have to figure out which ones we like and don’t like along the way.
Our tips so far:
Family-owned winery in WA or OR means it is a small boutique winery, where you will usually be served by the winemaker or a family member. The family-owned distinction in Napa means nothing to the consumer – these families are rich and their wineries are just as big!
Every famous person in the world it seems has started a winery in Napa/Sonoma. The Andretti family of racecar fame, the Jacuzzi family of hottub fame, Francis Ford Coppola, are just a few. But… it doesn’t necessarily mean they know good wine. It seems Napa is all about who you know.