Sunday, 18 May 2008

Buyer's remorse, drinker's pleasure

Phew, it’s nice to be home even with rain lashing down on New York. I’m happy to have left behind the 87F heat of Florida in favour of sleeping in my own bed. I’ve done a lot of sleeping this weekend. Usually I’m very much a morning person and I’m up around 8.30am on weekends, but the past couple of days it’s been close to 11am. I think my recent travels have caught up with me. I didn’t sleep so well when I was in Florida, despite the delightfully comfortable king sized bed in my hotel room. I think it was too quiet for me. Living in New York I’m used to a certain level of background rumbling as I try to sleep and in Florida the silence was deafening. I had to resort to switching on the ambient noise machine in the hotel room. It only has one setting, which is supposed to be waves lapping gently at the shore with the occasional squawk of a seagull overhead, although it sounds a bit too much like a heavy breather for my liking. Housekeeping switch it on after they’ve cleaned the rooms, I can only assume they must think it has a calming effect on guests, but the first time I stayed there and walked into my room I was alarmed there might be a pervert lurking around the corner.

Anyway the waves were an improvement over the deathly Florida silence, but even then it was still a bit too calm for my liking. I think I might write to the manufacturer and suggest a new ambient noise setting for travelling New Yorkers; the gentle hum of heavy traffic, punctuated by the occasional siren or aggravated cab horn, and a garbage truck clattering through at 4am. I'd probably sleep much better ;-)

Anyway here's a brief photo tour of my recent trip to Napa, with Debs and Emma, which was great fun, especially once the conference was done with. All photos courtesy of Debs and Emma.

First stop, Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga, where an aerial tram takes you up to the hilltop winery with beautiful views of the Napa valley.

Anyone who read my posts on my trip to Chile may recall I'm not the biggest fan of heights or gondola rides. I can't help but worry the flimsy looking cables are going to snap, sending me plummeting to my death, but I gritted my teeth, threatened Emma and Debs with violence if they dared to shake the gondola as we were heading up to the winery, took a deep breath and stepped into the cable car. Gulp....

...but ooooh!!! Pretty!!

But I was relieved when I got to terra firma. Here's the view south from the patio at Sterling. Gorgeous!!

For $20 - $15 if you print the coupon from the website - your visit to Sterling includes 'aerial tram ride, self-paced, self guided tour and five wine tasting', mostly of wines exclusively sold at the vineyard. We particularly enjoyed 2007 Pinot Gris. Catweazle's a fan of Sterling wines so I picked us up a bottle of Pinot Gris to enjoy on our weekend in Charleston :-)

Next stop, V. Sattui. This was probably our least favourite winery as the place was mobbed, it was like Marks and Spencer Food Hall on the last shopping day before Christmas. Emma dubbed it the Costco vineyard. It was absolutely chocka with gaggles of young women in strapless dresses and high heels, like Sex And The City Wannabes: The Winery Tour and appeared to be a top pick for coach tours judging by the number of buses in the car park, so if you're after a more sedate wine tasting experience, as we were, then this vineyard is NOT for you. The deli was good though and we sat on a bench in the winery grounds and cobbled together delicious sandwiches with crusty Acme French bread, sliced turkey, Italian salami and mustard. Mmmmmmm!!

Stomachs sufficiently full of absorbent carbohydrates, we headed over to Grgich Hills Estate, a smaller, family owned winery, specialising in wines made from organically and biodynamically grown grapes.
Gotta love that...healthy wine!!! It's practically a fruit portion :-) :-) :-)

If memory serves it was $10 for a tasting of 3 wines, and a complimentary wine glass stamped with the vineyard logo. We were rather partial to the 2006 Fume Blanc and bought a bottle each to bring back to New York. I love this photo Debs took of the vineyard. She was fascinated with the way the vines are planted in straight lines.

Grgich was quite small, so this was quite a brief stop. Next and final stop for the day was Rubicon Estate in Rutherford, the winery owned by movie director, Francis Ford Coppola.

They've got the marketing down pat at this vineyard. When you turn into the property you're directed to 'Please proceed to red carpet' and complimentary valet parking.

The Rubicon Estate is fancy!! ;-)

There's a $25 'guest fee' to visit the estate which includes 5 wines, a historical tour, access to the Chateau, the Centennial Museum and complimentary valet parking. On payment of the $25 entrance fee you are given a 'passport' to 'America's Grand Wine Estate', which is then stamped when you enjoy your tastings. It's a little gimmicky, but it's a cute touch. Here's Emma posing in front of the chateau.

We were lucky enough to be in time to squeeze in our 5 wine tastings - although since our favourite was the delicious $125 Rubicon, a Cabernet Sauvignan blend, we weren't so inclined to buy any bottles - and the free 3.30pm tour of the chateau, formerly the home of the Inglenook Winery, established in 1879 by Captain Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish Sea Captain who made his fortune in the fur trade. His Inglenook wínes became world renowned, winning gold medals in the World's Fair in Paris in 1889. The winery was acquired by Francis Ford Coppola in 1975.
It's amazing how tiring wine tasting can be and after 4 vineyards we were utterly exhausted and decided to pass on visiting Cakebread Wine Cellars in favour of heading back to the hotel to relax before going out for dinner at Cuvee restaurant in Napa town.

The next morning we checked out of the hotel to drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco where we were staying one night before flying back to New York on the Monday morning. On the way we stopped in at Taittanger's Domaine Carneros winery and sampled their delicious sparkling wines.

The Domaine Carneros chateau was completed in 1989 which, although beautiful, caused Debs and I some amusement being European. We're not used to Chateaus which are only 19years old. Actually I mis-spoke there and must take something back. Debs is not European, she's British. She absolutely refuses to acknowledge any association with Europe and should in no way, shape or form to be referred to as European. I, on the other hand, am perfectly content to be associated with our friends across the channel, so while we're both British, she's not European and I am. Got that? Good, because God forbid you should make the mistake of calling her European. Eyeroll!! In turn, our amusement at the age of the chateau caused Emma to roll her eyes at the two of us a fair bit, however regardless of it's age the chateau is beautiful and their sparkling wines are divine. It's well worth a visit.

We chose a tasting of 3 sparkling wines: the vintage brut ($26), le reve blanc de blancs ($80) and the brut rose ($36). The former being widely available, but the latter 2 wines are only sold at the vineyard.

Our hostess, Candice, also brought us complimentary tastings of the vintage brut topped off with an edible hibiscus flower and also their pinot noir and between us we ended up buying a mixed case of rose brut and pinot noir which we're anticipating delivery of any day now. I felt a bit guilty about spending so much on wine after we'd left, but I'm sure I'll enjoy it when it arrives ;-)

Afterwards Domaine Carneros we headed for San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway. Absolutely breath taking and well worth the drive, however I'll admit, with my fear of heights, I won't be hurrying to repeat the experience anytime soon. All those winding little roads with a sheer drop to the Pacific on our right was quite nausea inducing for me and I was relieved when we finally stopped at Point Reyes for lunch.

Next stop, Muir Woods, a US National Monument I've wanted to visit ever since my first trip to San Francisco in the late 90s. It didn't disappoint, espcially once you get off the shorter trail which is cluttered with tourists and day trippers. The pic below is taken from park's service website. Below that is Debs giving you an indication of the girth of some of the giant redwoods.

And finally...San Francisco!!!!!


JUST ME said...

Giant trees are awesome.

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Just Me, thanks for stopping by. I 100% agree, giant trees are undeniably awesome :-)

Kitty said...

whew, Fish, what a trip! And that's just part of it.

The wine tasting sounds like such fun. Good to have you back!

Anonymous said...

Looks like you made the most of your trip, visiting so many great wineries! Muir Woods is really something to behold, isn't it? And I love the vibe of San Francisco... If I ever traded suburbia for city life, SF would be the place for me.

Blur Ting said...

Beautiful pictures and lovely account of the trip. Looks like you gals had a great time!

Certainly brings back lots of memories of my time in Calistoga and San Francisco few years ago. I was in awe at the size of the redwood trees then.

Sister Sassy said...

I bet you are beat! Pretty shots though, looks like you had a good time.

Traveling can be so exhausting.

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Thanks Kitty, wine tasting was great fun, but it feels like such a long time ago now :-)

Hi Spandrel, yes Muir Woods is gorgeous, especially off the more well travelled trail. San Francisco has always been my second favourite US city after NY and originally it was my intention to live there for a while, although funnily enough 3 NY colleagues moved out there and returned after a year saying it wasn't for them. It's making me wonder whether it's the case that if you can only love either NY or SF as a place to live and not both.

Hi Blur Ting, glad you enjoyed the post. I really enjoyed my brief time in wine country and SF :-)

Hi Sassy, you can say that again, travel is exhausting and I am really wishing I wasn't on the train to visit a client in Philadelphia right now, but staying put in New York for a few days. Ah well. After today I'm hopefully done with flitting about for a while :-)

Sid said...

I simply can't get over how great the weather looks.

Amel said...

WOW!!! LOVE the trip! THANKS for taking me there he he...

But I've gotta tell you that I nearly choked out due to laughter when I read "brut". For some reason my brain changed it into "broooootttttt" which in Finnish and Indonesian mean...(SORRY) the sound of your fart when it's SO loud HI HI HI HI HI HI...Ahem!!!

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Sid, the weather was nice during the day, but first thing and last thing it was absolutely freezing. That's Northern California for you :-)

Hi Amel, how enlightened I feel now that I know the word for loud fart in both Finnish and Indonesia ;-) Glad you like the pics!!

Unknown said...

Looks like you had a fab' time, love the piccies, especially Deb's and the tree

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Sarah, yes it was great fun. That pic of Debs makes me laugh everything I see it ;-)

Flowers said...

i loved the noise machine part. i have this image of someone i think looks like you half crouching at the open door and listening for where the lurker could be. ha.

now i want wine....and poland doesn't have it. darn you fish ;)

fishwithoutbicycle said...

Hi Flowers....I'm just letting what you said sink in...Poland does not have wine!!! How do you cope??????

Anonymous said...

Nice pics as always...helps to give us an idea.

Sounds like you had a great time.


Bayliy said...

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