Thursday, July 2, 2009

Napa Valey to Mammoth Lakes

From Melissa: Wine country was amazing. We found a little art-deco motel right off of Highway 29 in St Helena, Napa,right in the middle of the wineries. The motel has lovely landscaped gardens with picnic tables, so a few nights we skipped restaurants and brought some goodies from Oakville Grocery or Dean + Deluca (and of course some wine) and had a little picnic in the cooling evening under the stars…we only went out three times, and loved The Rutherford Grill in Rutherford, Market Restaurant in St Helena and The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma. When we got to Napa, we were overwhelmed by the over 350 wineries, with no idea where to start. So I did the best thing: I contacted a friend. My friend Jill has been to Napa and Sonoma over 10 times and sent us a ‘road map’ of what to do. She’s very much into cooking, baking, wine and has great taste. I wanted to share her suggestions with you. Please see the end of this posting for “Tips from Jill”…..great info if you want to visit Wine Country!

Our personal favorites were Deerfield Estates in Sonoma, and in Napa we loved August Briggs, Cakebread Cellars, Joseph Phelps, Praeger Wines and Ports, Alpha Omega and Dutch Henry. We found that if you go to the smaller wineries, particularly towards the end of the day, you get a really personalized, fun experience.

Cakebread Cellars was a particular favorite. Above is a photo of their 'private function' room.

The tasting room at Cakebread was actually the barrel room. We had Jim, who is a wine educator and works with the winery. He spent over an hour with us, explaining everything from the bottling process to the soil and trellis systems for the different types of grapes. Definitely ask for Jim if you visit Cakebread.

Below is a shot of Chris outside of Rubicon Winery, owned by Francis Ford Coppola. The winery is in a beautiful 1880s estate, once owned by Inglenook. Beautiful grounds, but we advise to skip the pricey $25 tour and tasting and go to the wine bar inside. Look for Megan, who is the coffee barista there--she'll walk you through a great private tasting right there and entertain you with her off-the-wall sense of humor.

We loved the Joseph Phelps winery. Beautiful views, great atmosphere, no crowds (you need to get an appointment here for the tasting)..sample their 2005 Insignia Cab--you'll be glad you did!

Unbelievably, we ran into some business associates of mine from my Amex days at Joseph Phelps-Doug and Kate, in from New York. The world is really, really small!

Grgich Hills was another winery that we would recommend. If you are lucky like we were, you'll get a chance to chat with Mike Grgich, the 80+ year old owner, and have a fun, entertaining time.

Having fun and drinking great wine with Mike Grgich.

Heading from Napa over to Sonoma during the 100-degree heat wave. Hot, hot, hot on the bike.

The girl and the fig restaurant in Sonoma. Try their signature salad.

One of the best gourment markets I have ever seen....the Oakville Grocery in Napa.

Jesse at August Briggs Winery in Napa gave us a barrel tasting using a glass contraption called a 'Wine thief". One of the best Cabernet Sauvignons we have every had. Most of their wines are sold direct, as they are very small---we highly recommend this one!

Another great time---Vincent Arroyo from Vincent Arroyo winery giving us a private barrel tasting. As we said, show up towards the end of the day, visit the smaller wineries, and you are guaranteed a good time. What was interesting about this one is that Vincent sells most of his wines as 'futures' buy ahead of time while the wine matures, and they ship to you at the appointed date in the future.

From wine country we headed east to Mammoth. We had a one-night stop in Lake Tahoe, which was great but too short. We stayed in South Lake Tahoe as we wanted to have a head start on the next day. North Lake Tahoe is much better, but if you find youself in the south end of the lake, we recommend the Best Western Station House Inn there. Great rate, full breakfast, access to the private beach and the place was full of bikers. There was a woman riding a BMW 650 which is the perfect size bike for a woman. She let me test it out, and this could work in the future.

Chris shifting gears in his flip flops---the evidence....

Heading from Tahoe to Mammoth Mountain in California's eastern Sierra. We hit some wind and rain, but it was a scenic ride.

With all of this luggge....can you guess which one's the mule?

Try calling Yosemite on July 1 to get reservations for the 4th weekend. Once the guy on the phone stopped laughing, he suggested that we just stay where we are for now (Sierra Lodge at Mammoth) and go to Yosemite on the 5th. Hence we are here in Mammoth Mountain, heading to a place called Mono Lake tomorrow, which is near Yosemite, and on the 5th we will stay in the Park. Mammoth is not a bad place to be, though. You can buy a pass to have unlimited shuttle rides up the mountain with a mountain bike….they have built a “Mountain Bike Park” which is trails coming down the mountain coded the same as ski trails (green, blue, etc.) I spent the day on the green trails which can still get kind of tricky, with tree roots, soft sand, sharp turns and other hazards. After my second time I got a little too confident and went off the bike at a pretty good speed. Still getting the gravel out of my elbow!

Gregory at the Bike Shop told us about a natural hot spring a few miles away. The directions were---just take 395 and make a left at the green church. After the second cattle gate, make a right and just follow the road. You also need to ignore the 'do not enter' and 'no vehicles permitted' signs to get to the most amazing place. Right in the middle of nowhere is this place, enjoyed best at about 6pm, with the light coloring the mountains in the most beautiful way. We filled our panniers with smoked salmon and crackers, some Alpha Omega chardonnay we brought from Napa, got into this warm spring and had a surreal, wonderful experience.

There is actually a wooden walkway that goes to the hot spring...

Chatting our new friends at the hot spring.

For the Wine-lovers, here are our Tips from Jill:
Viansa lunch
707-935-4700. 800-995-4740
25200 Arnold Dr, Sonoma (on Hwy 121)

Gloria Ferrar
23555 Caneros Hwy, Sonoma (on Hwy 121)

Iron Horse (never come to Sonoma without going to Iron Horse-great sparkling wine-nice view)
9786 Ross Station Rd, Sebastopol, Sonoma
10:00-11:00 (no reservation needed-free tasting for member-no other special arrangements available) Free Tasting

Martinelli (one of Jill’s favorites-Helen Turley is their wine maker)
707-525-0570, 800-346-1627
3360 River Road, Windsor, Sonoma
11:15-11:45 (quick stop not far from Iron Horse-no reservation needed) No tasting fee

Ledson Winery (great stop for lunch and wine)
(707) 537-3810
7335 Sonoma Hwy (Hwy 12), Kenwood, CA 95409
Great market and sunny rooms available for lunch. Building looks like a castle.

Jordan –2pm appointment (lovely!!! must have an appointment)
707-431-5250, 800-654-1213
1474 Alexander Valley Rd., Healdsburg, Sonoma library tasting $25

Stryker Winery (OK)
Toll Free (800)433-1944 Local (707)433-1944
5110 Highway 128, Geyserville, CA. 95441

Merryvale Vineyards, 1000 Main Street, St. Helena, CA 94574, 707 963 7777 tasting room open 10-6:30 Fees are $10, $15 or $20 10:00
Pick up picnic lunch from Dean and Deluca for later. Find a place to have our picnic lunch

Honig Vineyard and Winery, 11am appointment (Honig means honey in German-nice private tasting)
850 Rutherford Rd., Rutherford CA, 94573
(800) 929-2217 (707) 963-5618

Paraduxx Winery, 1pm appointment (beautiful labels. do this one or Duckhorn)
7257 Silverado Trail, Napa Valley, CA 94558, 866-367-9943, 707-945-0890

Trefethen 2pm appointment
Open Daily: 10:00 am - 4:30 pm 866-895-7696
Tastings $10 or $20

Elyse winery 3pm appointment
2100 Hoffman Lane Napa , CA 94558
phone (707) 944-2900

Duckhorn Vineyards
12:00-1:30 estate wine tasting with snacks (lunch?)
Winemaker: Mark Beringer
707-963-7108, 866-367-9945
1000 Lodi Lane, St. Helena, Napa
Tasting and tours: 10-4 daily

Thursday Napa
Robert Sinskey Vineyards (my new favorite)
Winemaker: Jeff Virnig
707-944-9092, 800-869-2030
6320 Silverado Trail, Napa
Tasting: 10-4:30 daily, no appointment needed.

Frog's leap 11:30 (free tasting) (make an appointment-funny, fun tour-worth it)
707-963-4704, 800-959-4704 very cute website
8815 Conn Creek Rd, Rutherford, Napa

.Provenance, 1695 St Helena highway, Rutherford, CA 94573 707-968-3633 tasting room open 10:30-5:30 no appointment needed. Choose from $10, 15 or $20 tastings.

Stag's leap 2:30pm appointment ($35) (out of the way-hard to find-but interesting and long lecture)
1-800-640-LEAP (5327)
6150 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558
Robert Sinskey Vineyards
707-944-9092, 800-869-2030
6320 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558 Tasting room open 10-4:30
tasting is $20 and they refund $15 with the purchase of 2 full sized bottles

Friday Sonoma (not to be missed-reserve one of the food and wine tastings upstairs in advance-worth it)
Seghesio 11:30 ($25)
14730 Grove St., Healdsburg, Sonoma

Hanna (not to be missed)
707-431-4310, 800-854-3987
9280 Hwy 128, Healdsburg, Sonoma (no reservation needed free tasting with coupons from the website)
707-433-7266, 800-54-GRAPE (down the street from Hanna)
10075 Hwy 128, Healdsburg, Sonoma
(no reservation needed free tasting open until 5pm)

Some require an appointment, some don't. Some offer free tasting, but most great ones do charge and are worth it.

Here are some others I have visited in previous trips:

Chappellet Winery (windy drive)
2:00-2:45Winemaker: Phillip Corallo-Titus
1581 Sage Canyon Rd., St. Helena, Napa

Darioush Winery (unusual architecture-great pinot noir)
Winemaker: Steve Devitt
4240 Silverado Trail, Napa
Tasting: 10:30-5 daily
Tasting fee: $20, no appointment needed

Cakebread Cellars
Winemaker: Julianne Laks
707-963-5221, 800-588-0298
8300 St. Helena Hwy, Rutherford, Napa (on hwy. 29)
Tasting: by prior appointment only

Prager Winery and Port Works
1281 Lewelling Lane, St. Helena, Napa
Winemaker: James Prager
707-963-7678, 800-969-7678
1281 Lewelling Lane, St. Helena, Napa (on Hwy. 29)
Tasting: 10:30-4:30 daily

Elyse winery (not far from Darioush)
phone (707) 944-2900 to make an appointment

Cooking school we stayed over one year (nice B&B):
450 West Spain Street
Sonoma, California 95476
Telephone: (707) 933-0452 or 707-933-0450

For a GREAT value, check out Glenn Ellen Secret Cottages
13670 Arnold Drive Glen Ellen, Sonoma, Ca 95442
Restaurant: (707) 996-6409 Secret Cottages: (707) 996-1174
the town is not great, but the cottages are wonderful and there are 2 good restaurants steps away. At the Girl and the Fig, you can bring your own wine to dinner and there is no corkage fee!

Next time I go, we are staying in Yountville. It is like the Disneyland of Napa.