vacation recap: napa valley part 1

My goodness how the time goes quickly. Getting back to our summer vacation recaps here. We spent our first and second days in blustery San Francsico. Our third day we headed for warmer temps and greener views in the breathtakingly beautiful Napa Valley. Here's what we saw, how we did it, and what we ate (and drank!).

When we last left off while our dynamic duo (me and Al) were crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. Remember?

Napa Valley is only about a 90 minute drive (less if traffic is lite) from San Francisco. And for every 5 miles you drive, the temperature increases by 5 degrees. Sunshine and the rolling hills of wine country make me happy. 

And we made it! We checked into our hotel, the gorgeous Hotel Yountville and fell in love with our beautiful and spacious room.  We took a stroll around the grounds and then parked it at the pool. We had a few hours to spend before dinner and our plans consisted of nothing but relaxing outside (with bubbly). 

^^ Fireplace!! Fireplaces get me so excited, you have no idea.

^^ I don't normally take photos of hotel bathrooms. But this one was amazing. Not pictured: huge soaking tub with white subway tile in a chevron pattern. If I could 'pin' it I would. 

^^ Our patio. Where we ate breakfast each morning. It overlooked a little creek. Adorable.

But really though; it's weird how much this pool resembled the one at our hotel last summer in Provence. Twinsies!
^^ Provence Pool on the left.  Yountville Pool on the right.
A note on why we chose our hotel, and more broadly, the town of Yountville for our stay in Napa... We had TONS of recommendations from friends and colleagues on how to do Napa Valley. From wineries, to drivers, to hotels, to restaurants, it was like our own mini guide book. We took the advice of several of our friends who said if you're looking to be close (i.e walking distance) to many of the top restaurants, stay in Yountville. I wasn't all that keen on driving after dinner (hullo - wine is being consumed), and the thought of paying for a taxi seemed silly. Yountville was perfect for us - we could walk to tons of great restaurants, and its cute little main street was just darling. And we were pretty central for wine tasting in the valley. I can't say enough great things about Youtnville. And our hotel was just perfect - clean, big rooms, friendly staff - a real oasis!

After an afternoon in the sun, we cleaned up and headed to one of my most anticipated meals of the trip - Ad Hoc.  Ad Hoc started as a temporary place where Chef Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, would cook a casual, four course family style meal. It was said he'd use extra ingredients from The French Laundry kitchen and garden (more on that later). The locals freaked out and loved it so much they made it into a permanent restaurant. We were there on a Sunday which meant a real family style Sunday supper. Sort of what I'd make for us at home, but um way better. Oh, and duh we did the wine pairing.
^^ First course:  Gazpacho and bruschetta. Same ingredients, two ways.

^^ Second course:  Roast Chicken with some amazing Zatar spices over Israeli couscous and roasted carrots.

^^ Third course:  CHEESE! And local honey and nectarines. 

^^ Fourth course:  ICE CREAM SUDNAES with three sauces - chocolate, raspberry, and caramel. Served with a port, which our waiter also said could be considerd a "fourth sauce". Me gusta.

Walked home (literally next door) while the sun set and finished the day with another glass of rosé by the outdoor fireplace at our hotel. 

After our day of rest and relaxation, we were ready for our second day in Napa with some real-deal wine tastings. Going through the tons and tons of winery recommendations from our friends was getting daunting. And to me, a fairly novice wine person (my answer to "what wine do you like?" is " red or white, but not too sweet."), I didn't really care if we went to one place over another. I just wanted an all around experience where we could meet some winemakers and taste some great California wines. Cue Paul, our amazing driver recommended to us by a friend. Paul is a third generation Napa local and knows about wine, the wine making process, and the best part - he has good friends. Paul has friends at some really great wineries - wineries that the average Joe doesn't know about or can't even make an appointment. Small, family-owned wineries where we met some incredible people and really got to know about the estate, their grapes, their wines, and their lives. Paul was our Napa savior I tell you! Here's where we went our first day with Paul... (email me if you want Paul's contact info)

Our first stop was Fontanella Family Winery. Where I found the most amazing zinfandel which is perfect for Thanksgiving.  (New favorite wine term - jammy).  We also got to do a barrel tasting here which was a really neat experience. And just the nicest people!

Our second stop was a big contrast to the small operation at Fontanella.  We headed for bubble tasting at Domaine Carneros, a huge property and production that is most known for its sparkling wines. Fun fact, did you know that champagne is the only sparkling wine that gets its bubbles from fermentation in the bottle? Prosecco gets its bubbles "injected" while in a stainless steel tank. No idea if this is 100% true, but it's what our waitress told us at Domaine Carneros. Great views and a fun bubbly experience, but it was by far the largest "shop" we went to on our two days and we felt it. It was a much less personal experience and more about getting us in and out. Another reason I'm so glad we had Paul the driver and his many friends in the biz.
^^ Domaine Carneros. Modeled after a French Chateau.


^^ My serious wine tasting face. 

And just like that it was time for lunch. We headed down the road to The Carneros Inn (another great hotel, but we decided it was a little too out of the way for us) to their cute market for some sandwiches. A tuna melt on sourdough with jalapenos for moi and a roast beef with au jus for Al. Really good lunch spot. Fast, yummy, and you can eat outside on cute picnic tables.

^^ Our view of The Carneros Inn during lunch.
Our Third stop was just incredible. We drove up Mount Veeder to Yates Family Vineyard which not only has some great wines, but maintains some of the oldest wine making equipment around (from the 1800's I think she said? - This is why I shouldn't wait a month to do these recaps, I forget stuff). Yates is such a small family production that they don't actually have a tasting room! Only friends can stop in and see their equipment and taste their wines. Really special experience.  And again, the nicest people!

^^ Inside the old wine making room that the Germans who founded this property used back in the day.

^^ The old wooden tanks.
^^ Some of the old wine bottles their family collected.

^^ Well look what we have here! A Chateauneuf Du Pape from 1926! The region we visited last year in France!
^^ Some very old wine bottles from the winemaker that showed the handwritten labels with type of grapes and process used for each one. 
^^ This massive log was used to crush the juice out of the grapes. It was on this huge lever/pulley system. Really incredible that it was still there. (They don't use any of this old stuff anymore, btw).

^^ Al posting for scale so you can see the enormity of this thing.

^^ A collection of cork screws. Loving the elephant one. I'm having an elephant moment lately (and I had them on my shorts that day).

^^ Tasting around the kitchen table. What an personal and lovely experience to talk with the winemaker and one of the daughters of the Yates Family.

And as if we hadn't had enough wine yet, Paul had one more stop for us - The O'Brien Estate. This was a perfect last spot to lounge and talk about the day, our trip, and life. And as crazy as life seems to be sometimes, one of the servers (? is that what they're called) turned out to be a girl I babysat from up the street growing up in Lawrence, Kansas! Crazy world. Also they had adorable cats (and I'm so not a cat person, but they were so snuggly). We got to see the barrel room here too and their super cool new label machine which I thought looked like a big lego set. A great last stop, and we loved the wines - joined the wine club here!
^^ We were in Napa about a month before harvest. Made for us to see some very full grapes almost ready for picking.

^^ The rose bushes aren't just for looks, they put them at the end of each row of vines as a read on the health of the vines. If the roses start dying or looking off, then it's not soon after that the vines will too and the winery will (hopefully) have time to make adjustments to the soil/water/etc.

^^ The cats serve a purpose too - scouting out bugs and mice that like to nibble on the grapes.

^^ Also good for just chillin' on the chair with you.
^^ Purpose of this photo is to show that we were eating along with our wine tastings. Nuts and cheese are a must when you're tasting wine all day!

^^ Capping the bungholes. Gah I love that word! P.S. The best winemakers have ponytails and/or dreds.

^^ A little different than my Casio Label Maker.
^^ Dahlias like that always deserve a photo.
A nap later we were at the famous Bouchon for a French fete dinner. Deviled eggs, French onion soup, cod over ratatouille, and steak frites. The best way to end our first day wine tasting in Napa.

What a perfect day. Maybe it was just the wine talking, but we couldn't stop discussing about how lucky we are to be able to do cool stuff like this. Best part about all of it was that we still had one more day! Stay tuned for part two of our Napa adventure.

Be sure to check out the rest of our summer vacation posts: 

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