Napa Valley Trip Report (long)

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Mar 13th, 2005, 09:38 PM
  #1
ssm
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Napa Valley Trip Report (long)

Just returned from a long weekend in Wine Country. What can I say, the weather was perfect and the wine fabulous.

The trip started on Friday with the cattle car Southwest commuter flight from John Wayne
Airport into Oakland. Plane was delayed 45 mins coming in from San Jose. That combined with the mob of people (most of whom I will swear have never rented car before) upon arrival at the Budget counter in Oakland made us miss our 1:00 food pairing/wine tasting at Duckhorn. Oh well, we decided to check in early and then do lunch.

Our accommodations were at the Harvest Inn where we had reserved a vineyard view room with a spa. This is the first time I have stayed here and I will tell you that I will be back. The grounds are gorgeous. The room was large. The spa was very clean. Used it both nights...talk about
relaxing! I do have some minor complaints, however. Upon entering the room we were hit with a very strong odor of smoke (from the fireplace). How housekeeping could not have smelled this was surprising. But I must say that when I called the front desk and they sent someone over to take care of the problem immediately. By the time we had come back from lunch, the smell was
gone. The other minor complaint is that one of the faucets in the dual bathroom sink was not working. In all fairness, I did not report it since I really did not use that sink much. However, at the rates they get, I would have thought they had a checklist to see that ALL amenities were in top order. The other and significantly lesser of my complaints is the lack of bellman. I have no
problem carrying my bags but I did see a few older couples that I imagine would have a tough time with luggage. Nonetheless, these issues aside, I found the Inn absolutely beautiful (the brickwork around the place is amazing) and the staff very, very cordial and responsive.

Since Duckhorn was blown out that day, we decided to have lunch at an old fave, the Tra Vigne deli and wine bar. Unfortunately, we found out that the deli had been removed! Fortunately, the day was
gorgeous and Tra Vigne had their patio open. The Caesar salad and the grilled calamari over butter beans appetizer paired with a couple glasses of Pinot Griggio had me forgetting all about the deli!

After lunch, we decide to go to Merryvale, which is literally next to Tra Vigne. As always, the staff is helpful and most accommodating. They really go out of their way to introduce you to other people tasting. We ended up meeting a very nice couple from the East Coast. The Merryvale reserve cab was so good, I ended up buying a few bottles for home.

Following this, we head to Coppola. I have been there before but since I have a Godfather obsession, I needed to go back. Some of the wine was very good but here is where I have a problem with some of the wineries. I realize that wineries just cannot give the stuff away so they
charge for the tasting. But USUALLY the tasting fee is waived should you buy some wine. I bought the ‘03 Directors Reserve Zinfandel and 2 bottles of the Sofia sparkling Blanc that my wife fell in love with (apparently this was the same wine serve at Sofia’s wedding). I was given a
very strange look when I was given the amount and asked why the tasting fees were not waived. So I guess, at the end of the day, I finally saw this winery for what it is. A tourist destination first...a winery second.

Having had enough to drink for the time being, we head back to the Inn to unwind before dinner. Dinner was at Pinot Blanc. My wife and I both started with the French Onion soup (which was fabulous) and we split a baby green salad with apples and a raspberry vinaigrette (also very nice).
For the main course, my wife had the grilled salmon, which she enjoyed and I opted for the duck breast. Also, very nice. We split a bottle of decent Pinot Noir (the produce escapes me at the moment). All in all, would call the dining experience at Pinot Blanc pretty good. Not great but not bad either. Food was good but the staff seemed a bit distant. I was a little disappointed that when I made the reservations I had been asked if we were celebrating a special occasion. I told them that it was my wife’s b-day. Only after we were presented the check did the waitress say “Oh by the way, happy birthday ma’am”.

The next day we decided to just play it by ear. After a light and very good continental breakfast served gratis at the Inn, my wife wants to head out for a little antique shopping and browsing. We
remembered the Red Hen store from a previous trip and were happy to see it still there. My wife found a few small pieces. The manager on duty was so accommodating. We agreed to wrap up the goods and personally take them to the UPS store for delivery to our house. He did not charge us
for this service. We only had to pay for the actual shipping.

Getting a little hungry. we stop by the Oakville Grocery store for some picnic items. I got the roast beef with bleu cheese sandwich while my wife wanted the turkey with pesto on focia. We
picked up some water and other small side items ,we head off to find a place to eat. I had heard some good things about Laird Family Estate Winery so we head there.

The Laird Winery was, by far and way, our favorite. The wine is very nice (the Carneros Chardonnay is pretty amazing). But what made this place stand out, besides the gorgeous grounds and great wine was the staff, especially Robert. He just made us feel so welcome. His insights and stories about the area, the winery and other producers was a real treat. We told him
that we had picked up some items for lunch. He invited us to sit on their patio and enjoy the grounds. I ended up buying a bottle of the chardonnay, borrowed a couple of glasses and enjoyed the wine with some pretty amazing sandwiches. That wine (or what was left of it) was even better later that evening while I was sitting in the spa.

These are the highlights of the trip. We did visit other wineries, including Duckhorn (the reserve Merlot is the best out there..but here again, tasting fees are not waived. I bought 3 bottles, a fleece sweater and still paid the tasting fee!) and Andretti (my boyhood idol makes some nice wine and has a very, very friendly staff). Fransican was also very nice as was Cakebread Cellars (needed reservations for that one).

This was definitely one nice trip. I am looking forward to doing it again very soon.

One final note: There seemed to be a much heavier law enforcement presence that I can ever recall. If you are going to partake in the wines, you need to be very careful.


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Mar 14th, 2005, 02:40 AM
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ssm -
GREAT trip report!

I am bummed that Tra Vigne Deli is gone! We are going to Napa Valley next week and that was a must on our stops for lunch.

Oh well, if you ate anywhere else (lunch or dinner) let me know how it was.

How was the weather?
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Mar 14th, 2005, 07:18 AM
  #3
Kal
 
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Cakebread....Duckhorn....Cakebread...
Duckhorn....

You picked a GREAT weekend for it!
Excellent TR. Makes us want to go back NOW!
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Mar 14th, 2005, 08:19 AM
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Nice report! We just spent two day in Sonoma and had beautiful, sunny weather. Glad it was just the deli that was closed at Tra Vigne and not the entire restaurant. I'm a big fan of this place, noise, crowds and all!

We have also enjoyed the Harvest Inn, not a perfect place, when we were there the room next to us was having problems with their fireplace smoking, but gorgeous grounds and the room are very pretty. Cheers! ***kim***
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Mar 14th, 2005, 09:37 AM
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For future reference, this is why many of us now prefer the Sonoma region to Napa. The charging for tastings is not nearly as prevalent & you are much more likely to run into an owner or winemaker which can lead to better adventures. We figured our last trip to Sonoma, @ $3-5 per taste we easily saved over $125. Well, we didn't save it, but we took more wine home w/us. Also, if you belong to any of the wine clubs you will be given first class treatment when actually visiting the winery. Ledson, J & St. Francis all come to mind.
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Mar 14th, 2005, 09:44 AM
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The concierge at the Sonoma Mission Inn had many complimentary tasting passes for us. Chateau St. Jean, B.R. Cohn and VJB were some places in the area we were given passes to. It's always a good idea to ask at the front desk about these passes, also. Cheers! ***kim***
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Mar 14th, 2005, 12:31 PM
  #7
ssm
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Wanderer,

I was told the the deli will be back next month. More the a few people have expressed their disappointment about it being gone.

The weather was pretty close to perfect. Friday hit the mid 80's. Saturday was crisp and cool in the a.m. and perhaps hit the upper 60's/low 70's. Sunday was a few degrees cooler than that. I wore short sleeves the entire time (well, except when going out for dinner).

Saturday night we did not feel like getting dressed up we so opted for something casual. We also did not feel like driving too far (into the town of Napa) because of the police presence. We were told that The Rutherford Grill fit this bill and was highly recommended. Well, we arrived there about 6:30 to be told that the wait was at least 2 hrs! Now we were expecting a wait but nothing like that! I mean, people were literally crammed just waiting for this place. As a result, we ended up at Pacific Cafe (?), a small grill across the street from Hurleys (Hurleys was also packed). It was "just okay". Looks like a place better suited for breakfast or a casual lunch instead of dinner. I had the St. Louis ribs and slaw. I think I hate half of it (they give you a lot of food...and WAY too much BBQ sauce on the ribs. I probably scooped 2 tablesppons off). On the positive note, they have Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap which worked great with the ribs. I decided to save room for some dark chocolate with a glass of cab back in the spa!

Our food highlight was the Tra Vine lunch. In retrospect, I wish we had gone there for dinner Saturday night. If you do not make reservations at any of the "hot" spots to eat, either eat early or be prepared for quite the wait.
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