Archive | 8:04 am

Valley To Valley

24 Aug

So we bid adieu to San Francisco, drove over a bridge and crossed into another world.

The Fog

Those who live in northern California will bear with me as I marvel at the climatological oddities that define the Bay Area. It was hard to take pictures in San Fran; the light was so direct and sharp and intense, with pure, jewel-like colors, and then as soon as we crossed out of the city, the light became even sharper and more distinct and the colors all just melted away into a subtle palate of browns and greens. I wasn’t prepared for that.

What I was prepared for was my first bite of an In N Out burger. As we were bombing up the highway the Boy suddenly goes “Ooh!” and points out the window. There it was, the mythical, magical, perfect burger. But alas, we were going too fast and missed the exit. We pulled off at the next exit hoping to find another, but no, we found something even better.

Western Boat Shop

Western Boat & Tackle; a boat shop with a deli, serving freshly made dungeness crab sandwiches. Two slices of white bread, one slice spread with mayo, one spread with cocktail sauce, a leaf of lettuce and, I swear, about a half pound of plain dungeness crab meat with a squirt of lemon juice for $13. I hate to say it, but that sandwich beats the pants off my beloved lobster roll. And they have a little dock off the back where you can sit and eat. They claim their New England clam chowder’s pretty good too. Absolutely worth a trip from anywhere!

Stone Street Vineyard

Bellies full and happy we continued into wine country. You know you’re almost there when all other agriculture disappears and all you see is vines, vines, vines. Our first stop was at the Boy’s favorite, Stonestreet Vineyards in the Alexander Valley. Their vertical tasting of Cab Sauvingons is a revelation. Sure you can buy some Stonestreet wines anywhere, but they’ve got some legacy cabs that you can only get at the vineyard. Highly recommended.

Sausal Winery Grapes

We made a quick stop at Sausal Winery (good blends, delicious zins) before heading into Calistoga.

Christophers' Inn

Calistoga is a cool town. It lacks much of the pretense that typifies the rest of Napa Valley. It’s quiet, there’s not much to do, and it is one helluva place to be a food lover.

Bothe-Napa State Park

All Seasons Bistro is just about the only place in town that offers a seasonal, produce-driven menu, and it didn’t disappoint. Plus their wine selection is amazing, mostly local, can be purchased by the bottle, big glass or little glass, or you can just buy something out of their wine shop. So cool.

The Road From Sonoma to Napa

Vallarta Market, a grocery with a tacqueria, is just across the street from our hotel. We sat and watched the people flow in and out and determined they were locals. That’s a good sign. The tacos were amazing. Beautifully cooked meat (the head in particular) with clean, spicy, flavorful salsas. We also got a platter of delicious, creamy green chili with sublime beans.

Buster's Southern Barbecue

Buster’s Southern Barbecue, just down the road from the hotel, is the kind of place Alton Brown would visit on Feasting On Asphalt. It’s that good. Whenever we were in our room I would catch a faint whiff of smoking meat. It was intoxicating. Thank god the food lived up to the promise. A sign in the order window claims “Yes, the hot sauce is hot,” which was true, but it also packed crazy flavor. The ribs were ridiculous, the pork loin perfect. It put me in mind of Dinosaur in Syracuse. That’s high praise.

Bothe-Napa State Park, Coyote Peak Trail

But it wasn’t all eating, we hiked too. Thank god for the NY Times. They printed this article back in June without which we wouldn’t have even known of the existence of Bothe-Napa State Park and all the other great hiking trails in the Napa Valley. The redwoods are huge, the views are beautiful, you can hike or ride horses or even camp. It’s a great way to get away from all the zany, tailgating, horn-honking, road raging nutjobs that haunt Napa’s roads.

Bothe-Napa State Park, Redwoods Trail

And why are all these nutjobs in Napa? For the wine of course (or possibly for Thomas Keller, after lunching at Bouchon I can see their point). If you don’t want to bother with running around from winery to winery (not that I have any clue why you would ever not want to), just pop into the Wine Garage and join their super cool wine club.

But if you’re like us (and most everyone else in Napa) and want to chill with the winemakers and are looking for guidance, here’s our list of the places to stop.

  • Grgich Hills Winery: Owned by a Croat, and not just any Croat, but the Croat that helped California beat the French in the tasting heard round the world. Not an essential stop as many of their wines are to be found nearly everywhere, but given our penchant for Croatia, we thought we’d pop in. Beautiful zins.
  • Chimney Rock Vineyard

  • Nichelini Winery: Open since 1890 this is the oldest family-owned vineyard in Napa, and the coolest too. Tucked way up in the mountains they even managed to operate through Prohibition. No mean feat that! Oh, and the wines are awesome. An absolute must.
  • Darioush Vineyards

  • Chimney Rock: They have a rosé ! There’s not many in Napa, and theirs is a Cab Franc rosé no less! My favorite grape in all the world. The tasting room has a definite Madison Square Garden vibe going on, don’t let this dissuade you, the wines rock.
  • Darioush Vineyards

  • Dutch Henry: Great wine, gobsmackingly good (and expensive) olive oil and super cute terriers. What more could you ask for?
  • Darioush Vineyards

  • Summers: Summers has a rosé too, and a weird wine called Charbono that’s very, very good. They’ll also let you play bocce and there’s a taco truck at the end of the road so you can fuel up and keep tasting.
  • Sonoma

  • Darioush: Do not buy wine here, but absolutely go here for the spectacle. It’s a cross between an Irani Disneyland and a W Hotel.
  • Grapes

  • Buena Vista Winery: California’s oldest winery and the site of the wedding we were attending. Beautiful. Really nice Pinot Gris. Take Trinity Road over the hill from Napa into Sonoma for a real treat. That’s one scary ass road!
  • Buena Vista Vineyards

And that was it. No, that’s not true. We managed to hit the St. Helena Farmer’s Market where I bought two jams from The Wild Pear; Caramelized Onion and Jalapeno & Garlic. They are so damn good. And the colors! Oh how I wish I had taken a picture of the stand, they were so beautiful.

*sigh*

I guess I’ll just have to go back to Napa again. What a shame!

P.S. I’m sorry that the pictures of the wineries don’t match up to their descriptions, but I didn’t snap photos at some of the places. So from the top down (starting with the one of the white building) the pictures are: Chimney Rock Winery, Darioush, Darioush, Darioush (See? that’s why you should go there! Crazy!), Sonoma town square, random grapes and Buena Vista Vineyards. I didn’t want anyone to go to Nichelini and go, “But Ann said there’d be a giant white building, I’m so confused!” I’d never be able to sleep with that on my conscience.