California Wine Country - Day 1

I'd forgotten how painful it is to travel with people who never travel.  Why is it so hard to listen to instruction and follow it?  How many times do you have to be told which rows are boarding and how hard is it to wait your turn?  Seriously people!  One woman went through boarding, got into the jet way and remembered that she had left her duffel bag (as long as I am tall) in the waiting area.  How do you do that?!  She bolted back into the waiting area as the gate agent yelled she could not go back out.  She didn’t listen.  This same person had to access that duffel no less than three times during the flight.  It had to be the longest boarding experience ever.  Even the flight attendants were commenting on how slow things were going.

Even with all that we pushed back at exactly 8:00AM (they started boarding at 7:15!) and were wheels up by not quite 10 past 8.  We were on vacation!

Not quite two hours into the flight Dave and I noticed that the exit row behind us was empty.  Rather than be crammed like lemmings in a regular row (I had the middle seat) we asked one of the flight attendants if we could move to the exit row.  She had to ask the “back” attendant because, you know, we charge for those rows now.  What?  We’re in flight already.  Do they think someone is going to buy it now?  We were allowed to sit in the exit row after two nice flight attendants reminded us that they normally charge for those seats.

After just a little circling due to wind we landed right on time.  We both prefer the Sacramento airport to San Francisco.  Once we landed in SF it was a long, circuitous route to find our luggage, and even after all that walking we had to wait at least as long as you would at Minneapolis-St. Paul and for those of you who travel through that airport you know how long that can be!

Once we had our luggage it was a 25 minute tram ride to the rental car counter.  Why does it take half an hour to rent a car you've already paid for online?

The good news was that it was a straight shot up the 101 from the airport!


By now we were hungry.  We'd split a breakfast in the airport and had a granola bar on the plane (we brought them, no we didn't buy them from Sun Country for $5 each) and by now it was after noon to us.

We decided to head to Hurley's in Yountville.  We love Hurley's and it was just an hour from the airport.  Traffic wasn't too terrible even with the clouds and intermittent rain.  Based on traffic reports on the radio we took the Bay Bridge instead of the Golden Gate.

We were surprised we needed reservations for a 12:30pm lunch but we were able to eat at the bar and Juan took most excellent care of us.  As expected, lunch at Hurley's didn't disappoint.  Dave started with the "Oakwood Grilled Asparagus Salad".  Not sure why it's called that because there was no asparagus in it.  What was in it was delicious, mixed baby greens with prosciutto, asparagus, shaved Manchego cheese and toasted pine nuts and I think there was even a little avocado in there too.  This was perfectly dressed with a lemon-anchovy vinaigrette.  Yes, lemon anchovy and we loved it!   There was sweet from the mango, salty from the nuts and prosciutto and a great tang from the dressing. We were so hungry I forgot to take a before picture of the salad!
 

Dave's entree was Wild Mushroom, Spinach and Chevre Ravioli.  This was an earthy dish after Dave's heart with lots of mushrooms and garlic.  I tasted the ravioli... twice!


I had a grilled cheese sandwich.  Ok, not just a grilled cheese sandwich, a grilled cheese with fresh mozzarella and sun dried tomatoes served with a Mediterranean orzo salad.  Oh my, so good.  And of course we each had a glass of wine.  We're on vacation!




We wanted to walk around Yountville for a while.  We'd been in a taxi, plane and car for the last how many hours.  But it was pouring rain, sometimes raining sideways so we decided to just head to Valley of the Moon then to the hotel.

Well, about 5 minutes into that plan we changed our mind.  Since we were already on the Napa side of the area we decided to stop at Gustavo Thrace.  We had planned on doing a "Bottle Shock" day tomorrow and Gustavo Thrace was on the list but since we were already so close we stopped in.  Boy are we glad we did!

Our hostess Kim was fabulous!  We were there almost two hours chatting about everything and anything, not just wine.  Yes, we tasted the Gustavo Thrace wines and even bought one but the best part was the offer of a private tasting with Gustavo Brambila himself!  Seriously!  We are going to get a call tomorrow with the day and time and we are going to get a private tasting with Gustavo Brambila!  How totally cool is that?



Kim gave us some great ideas for places to go in the area.  We stopped at the Oxbow Public Market, a very cool little market right in Napa.  It's sort of like the International Market Square in Minneapolis.  There are a bunch of shops and restaurants in a big open space.  It was very cool and had we not had such a wonderful lunch at Hurley's we may have had one of the $2 mini cupcakes one shop was offering (I am so not charging enough for my cupcakes!).


Kim also let us know she knows people!  We wanted to do the olive oil tasting at Jacuzzi but you need 6 people minimum.  She encouraged us to ask about it anyway as this time of year they may take fewer and she also mentioned she knew the tasting room manager there and might be able to help us out.

Kim also recommended a few wineries and restaurants in the area including Artesa which was already on our list.  Since we were so close we decided to stop there before heading to the hotel.  What an amazing place!  The pictures just do not do it justice.  We're told on a clear day you can see San Francisco from this winery and I believe it.








Not only is the winery beautiful, the wines are amazing!  We were introduced to Artesa at San Pedro Cafe in Hudson, WI.  They don't even ask us what we want anymore, it's the Artesa.  The variety that is shipped to fly-over country isn't in the tasting room. What is in the tasting room is even better!

Their chardonnay is smooth and clean.  I won't say buttery but it's on the verge of buttery. It's not like a Stag's Leap that coats your mouth and has you looking for bread, but it's smooth and clean, not terribly oaky.  I really liked it!


They had two Pinot Noirs, one for me (not very earthy) and one for Dave (tasted like dirt) and a really nice cabernet.

By the time we finished our tasting at Artesa it was getting dark.  For those of you who haven't been here before, northern California is very different from southern California.  The highways are two lane, not four or six or eight, and there is no light.  There are no big cities and no street lights.  It's DARK.  And it was raining.  And there's traffic.  It was a long hour-plus ride over to Sonoma and our hotel in Santa Rosa.


But we made it!  And we're exhausted.  We ordered room service even!  Just a simple turkey, avocado and bacon sandwich with chips which we split.  The turkey was perfectly smoky and the avocado was perfect.  It was really good!


So what's on for tomorrow?  Well, we're going to make another stop on our Bottle Shock tour and go to Chateau Montelena.  We haven't been there since 2005 and I think the tasting room was so busy (we were here in the summer that year) we didn't even taste the wine.  The plan was then to go down to Gustavo Thrace but we got there today so we may go to Benziger instead.  We've been to Benziger before but they were in the movie so we may go again if the weather is nice.  They have an amazing tour.  There was another winery (I have to find it) in Glen Ellen that was in the movie that I want to try and find.

Our plan is to have lunch at Cafe Citi in Kenwood way over on the Sonoma side of things.  We found Cafe Citi well before Guy Fieri and Diners, Drive Ins and Dives! 

Then we're doing the Mountain Top tasting at Kunde.  Much Bottle Shock was filmed at Kunde including both the boxing ring scenes and the final scene "somewhere outside of Paris".  The boxing ring is on the way up to the Mountain Top tasting, we've never seen the ruins before.  We got a call from the winery today letting us know that if the weather isn't nice we won't do the Mountain Top tasting, we'll do a winery tour instead and that winery tour will include the ruins!  I'm kinda hoping for crappy weather tomorrow afternoon!

Oh and I almost forgot!  The sister of the husband of a very good friend of mine works at a tasting room here.  She has offered a VIP tour on Friday!  We'll have to see if Gustavo Brambilla wants to do the private tasting Friday or Saturday to see if we can fit it in.  We're scheduled at a Family Table at Seghesio on Friday too and we don't want to miss that.

We had an amazing day and I'm pooped!  Dave's already put himself to bed.

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