Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year in Napa

Until about three weeks ago, we had planned to spend New Year’s weekend painting the kitchen - part of our refresh from last spring that never got done. But then I got the idea that we could use a relaxing break after the hectic holidays. Paint the kitchen or wine tasting in Napa? How hard is that to decide?

The River Terrace Inn, where we stayed last trip, was having a holiday special that included dinner for only a little more than the regular room rate. The deal was done. And here we are.

The vines may be dormant this time of year, but all the valley is decorated for the holidays. Everything looks beautiful, like an enchanted wonderland. Our first stop of the day was one of our favorite wineries, Cakebread Cellars. In warm weather, the tasting meanders through their fabulous gardens, but when it’s freezing (49 degrees is freezing when you’re used to balmy Bay Area weather) like today, it’s all confined to inside the winery. No matter, we always enjoy their wines.

My first experience with Cakebread wine was in 1997. I was attending my company’s sales meeting in Boca Raton, Florida. Our team was celebrating a successful product launch and took a dinner boat cruise for the evening. As we were boarding, the bartender was closing up from the previous party. He informed us he was required to pour out the leftovers before he could serve us. Then he said there was no way he could discard this bottle of wine. “So I’ll pour a glass for you and you, and one for me. And now I've poured it out,” he said. “It will be one of the best chardonnays you’ll ever drink.” And thus began my love of Cakebread Chardonnay.

We grabbed a quick lunch at the iconic drive-in that used to be Taylor’s Refresher, but now has a new name, Gott’s Roadside. The name may have changed, but my California Chicken Sandwich and onion rings were as tasty as ever.

Our  next stop was Grgich Hills Estate Winery. We are familiar with their wines, but have never stopped at the winery for the tour or tasting. Mike Grgich is a legend for his role as the winemaker at Chateau Montelena whose chardonnay won at the Paris Tasting in 1976 and put Napa Valley wines on the world map. Now he is well known for his biodynamic farming techniques. We enjoyed the tour and wines and were glad we had a two-for-one coupon since the tour is $35/person. We purchased this cute box of tiny 50ml bottles they call a tasting kit for $30. It includes tasting notes and food pairing suggestions for each wine. The kit includes their Violetta late harvest white wine that sells for $85 a bottle.

Our last stop before heading to the hotel for a nap was St. Helena Olive Oil Company. They offer a wide selection of olive oils, vinegars, specialty salts and spice mixes, all available for tasting.

We have good reason to celebrate this New Year’s Eve. My last check-up resulted in a “suspicious” outcome, which created a certain level of anxiety.  The doctor said this next check would be telling – either the suspicious area would disappear or manifest as real. So this weekend, I would either be preparing mentally for another surgery or celebrating the disappearance of suspicion. Thankfully, I learned yesterday it is the latter. All clear. Happy New Year!


  1. Oh wow. You definitely know how to do Napa right. Love that Olive Oil company! We got to sample some olive oils on our trip north. Very fun. So thankful you're in the clear! That's a reason to celebrate all by itself.

  2. Hi there! Thanks for popping by my blog :)

    I love that you thought of "tastemonials" it is a wonderful name for a foodie's blog.

    Also, glad to hear that you are in the all clear! What a wonderful way to start the New Year. Happy New Year!

  3. Thank you both for the good wishes.

  4. Judy, I'm so thankful that you got an all clear! I can't relate the the extent you do, but I have vivid memories of waiting for a biopsy result and the utter fear that came along with it. I am happy to hear your good new and that you are able to enjoy the Valley with a lighter heart!

    Your post brought me down memory lane! We haven't been to the valley since my husband left Travis AFB 15 years ago. Grgich Hills has been one of my FIL's favorites for a long time.

    We recently visited an Olive Oil tasting in Temecula and went crazy trying all of the oils and vinegars! What a treat!
    Love your photos, Judy.

  5. An all clear is worthy of a celebration everyday!

    Cakebread Chardonnay! I haven't had it in a while and I always enjoy it. Might need pick some up.