Saturday in Napa

Yes, I know we’ve been home a week already, but I needed to think about how to best convey the utter perfection of our second day in Napa, and these things take time to percolate. Plus, the hustle & bustle of real life intervened, so there’s been a mountain of laundry, baseball games, homework, and errands aplenty since our return from the Golden State. Then there were some humorous interruptions, like Payton’s poker face (or utter lack thereof) and a couple of doctor appointments forcing themselves to the head of the blogging queue. Couple all of that with the arrival of our dear friends from Boston for their semi-annual visit, and you get a better idea of why this little blog has been neglected. Never fear, it is back to business now.

I’m not quite ready to let go of the Napa trip. So much of what I blog about is yucky stuff–cancer, infection, surgeries, drug therapy, and assorted pain & suffering–so when I have a lovely topic, like a trip to Napa, I’m gonna milk it for all its worth. Then maybe milk it some more.

If I still write about the trip and continue to post pictures, it lives on in the forefront of my memory and isn’t yet consigned to the dusty, slideshow status of trips gone by, and it doesn’t quite get crowded out by the workaday stuff that has to get done around here to keep this household running. Our long weekend in Napa to celebrate one of my BFF’s entries into the “Over 40 Club” was the stuff that legends are made of (at least in my mind). It was a celebration of Yvonne’s 40 years on this Earth, and for me, a smaller celebration of life finally, at long last, returning to some semblance of normal after a long, unpleasant, bumpy ride.

Which brings us to Saturday, Day Two in Napa. Friday, Day One in Napa, had been what I thought was the perfect day in Wine Country, but Saturday was even better.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details, let me share two of my favorite photos from the preceding days. This one  is from Thursday afternoon at the Franciscan in San Francisco, before we left the Bay City for Wine Country. It’s a fave because The Birthday Girl had arrived to start the party-filled weekend, because we’re surrounded by great wine & yummy food, and because it was a harbinger of all the fun times to come. We were still waiting on the rest of our crew to arrive, but we went ahead and got the party started.

This was at Silver Oak on Friday, where we met the infamous Walter, who will live forever in our memories of Napa. In fact, if I recall correctly, the infamous Walter took this very photo. Just after this photo, we moved on from Silver Oak to Quintessa, and the day just kept getting better and better.

But back to Saturday. The day began with mimosas and a bloody mary to toast The Birthday Girl at breakfast. I mentioned before that this was the best-ever bloody mary, and I stand by that claim. Wish I had one right now. But I’m drying out, so that would be inappropriate.

After breakfast Saturday morning, we grabbed to-go cups and hustled outside to meet our ride and the rest of our merry party. While these aren’t exactly Texas-sized to-go cups (or “roaders” as we like to call a drink on the go), they certainly were tasty and really, who needs a Big Gulp when you’re off to taste a hundred wines in one of the best places on Earth? As delicious and festive as those bloody marys were, I’m glad I wasn’t confronted with the dilemma of having a refill to say no to; that would have been tricky.

We were off to Quixote, my favorite of all the wineries we visited. Suffice to say that if our trip had ended after the visit to Quixote, I would have been satisfied. The fact that it didn’t was icing on the cake. Or an extra olive in the bloody mary. I will write about Quixote soon; need to sort through the photos and do it justice. For now, know that it was phenomenal in every way.

None of us really wanted to leave Quixote, and once we were ready to shove off, we were delayed a bit while our driver borrowed a toolbox from Quixote to remove the limo seats to retrieve a fallen iPad. Once that was done and we packed into the car, we headed to Mumm, on the suggestion of Robert, our tour guide at Quixote. He did not lead us astray. Like all of the wineries we visited, Mumm is gorgeous. Stunning views and beautiful flowers everywhere. And the champagne–did I mention that? My favorite drink, being produced in plentitude. Ahhhh. Happy girl.

We hadn’t scheduled an appointment, and Mumm was bustling and busy on that beautiful Saturday, so we each ordered a glass off the tasting menu and strolled the grounds.I’m not sure where I was in this shot, but hopefully I had a glass in my  hand. I might have been in the restroom, checking out the great quotes on the walls, like this one from Bette Davis:

And this one from economist John Maynard Keynes:

Or I might have been mesmerized by this display in the gift shop:

Also in the gift shop was a small shrine to Carlos Santana, who we had seen the previous day at Silver Oak. He’s a regular around there, and Mumm had a signed guitar, a couple pieces of Santana-inspired artwork, and his own vintage of bubbly.

The patio at Mumm was beautiful, overlooking the vista of the vineyard. The weather was perfect, with blue skies, abundant sunshine, and cool breezes. 

There’s also a small art gallery at Mumm, with rotating exhibits. The day we were there it featured black & white photos of “then & now” shots of all sorts of people. Siblings as kids then as grown-ups. Mamas holding babies, then grandmas holding their generation’s next generation. Cool.

After Mumm, we headed back to V Sattui for picnic provisions and ate a quick lunch before our appointment at Stag’s Leap.

The wines at Stag’s Leap were not my favorite. In fact, of the 7 tastings they poured, I didn’t finish any of them. It was still a lot of fun, and being in the tasting room while the rest of the visitors milled around the common area was nice. We had a place to sit while we dissected the wine, and a chance to catch our breath before moving on. 

With our visits to Quixote, Mumm, and Stag’s Leap, we were done with tastings for the day and headed back to our hotels to get ready for dinner at Bottega. Just in case the day hadn’t been perfect enough, we still had a fantastic dinner to look forward to. Rest assured that dinner lived up to its expectations. Being at the chef’s table toasting The Birthday Girl with wines chosen from our tour will forever be one of my all-time favorite things.

The day was indeed perfect. Every bit of it was just plain perfect. Each winery we visited offered something different, and while Quixote was my favorite, by a lot, I enjoyed the others, too. And as if the wine wasn’t good enough, there was the uninterrupted time with great friends, gorgeous scenery and beautiful weather, and for me, freedom from cancer and its messy aftermath. Now that’s a great day.


My 5K, my way

WordPress hosts my little blog site, and while I don’t understand all the ins & outs of what WP does, I do know that they do it well. Visiting other blogs on other hosts proves it: WP kicks ass.

I often read the updates that come to me from WP, whether it’s to showcase a new theme (the physical look of a blog), or to update users on a new feature, like the new iPad feature that provides those who read blogs via iPad a cool experience. From the gurus at WP: “Our iPad-optimized view is app-like in its functionality, but pure HTML5 goodness on the backend: it supports touch interactions, swiping, rotation, and many other features of the iPad.”

I don’t know exactly what HTML5 is but like the way they refer to its pure goodness.

The Automattic side of WP recently announced a cool idea: let’s have a virtual 5K. This group of 80 hipsters with job titles like “code ninja,” “systems wrangler” and “happiness engineer” are scattered in 62 cities around the globe, but they share a love of fitness, so they knew that getting all the co-workers together on the same day in the same city was crazy talk. Instead, they settled on the idea of having everyone do their own 5K in their own way but on the same day. And then, because they are totally kick-ass, they opened this idea up to WP bloggers, and gave us a week in which to complete this mission.

I’m well-versed in 5Ks from my running days, but with breast cancer and post-mastectomy infection as my sidekicks, my racing days are over. I may be down but not out, and I am definitely on the mend after a long, complicated and downright icky span of nearly a year. I’m officially deeming myself over that mess, however, and ready to tackle the Automattic 5K. Lucky for me, there’s an loophole in this 5K that says it can be “in your own way,” meaning it doesn’t have to be an organized point-to-point or up-and-back race. In fact, the invitation went out to “walk, run, or skip” just do 3.1 miles worth, and it counts. Those Automatticians are so nice.

photo: lonelyplanet.com

Walking through the lush and beautiful Wine Country in Napa Valley counts, right? I didn’t use a pedometer, but I’m pretty sure we walked at least 3 miles over 2 days of wine touring. We walked through lots of wineries, traversing the valley from its  southern end, near Downtown Napa, to Yountsville in the middle, and northward into Rutherford.

No matter where we were, the scenery was spectacular. I never got tired of looking out over the rows of tidy grapevines and seeing the rolling green hills and the majestic mountains rising up toward the azure of the sky. 

Our first stop on my 5K was Chandon in Yountville, where they’ve been making sparkling wines long enough to be household name. Chandon’s wine makers have experimented a lot but settled on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes in the tradition of French champagne. Works for me.

After an hour-long limo ride from San Francisco to Napa, our group of 10 was ready to stretch our collective legs and get our drink on. Chandon was a great place to start.

As we disembarked at the threshold of all things Chandon, the first thing I noticed was this sweet little tableau, at the base of the winery’s entrance. The fountain was bubbling and the calla lilies were blooming. The only way the setting could have been more perfect would be if I had a glass of bubbly in hand. While we were in a rush to get inside and get that bubbly, we did pause at the entrance

to get a group shot of the ladies before we hit the ground running (or strolling, because this is a have-it-your-way 5K). Chandon was the first of at least 4 wineries we were planning to hit that day, so we had our work cut out for us. We needed to get busy.

 

The magnum was sublime. Our group of 10 found a table on the patio and and settled in for our first official taste of Napa. No one had any complaints.

Next stop was V Sattui in St Helena, north of Chandon, for picnic supplies. It was so perfect, we went back the next day, too. Grabbing a variety of picnic items from edamame salad to fancy-pants potato chips suited everyone in our group of hungry travelers. We served up our picnic family-style, passing and sampling our bounty of yummy morsels. 

Doesn’t the sign alone make you want to spend a lazy afternoon there, eating delicious foods and drinking wine in the sunshine?

Yeah, we did too, but we had miles to go before we slept, to quote Robert Frost.

 

Luckily we weren’t stopping by woods on a snowy evening, but instead zipping along southward to Silver Oak in Oakville. Yet another breathtaking view out the vineyard’s doorway made us stop and take it all in. Then we hurried inside in pursuit of some of Silver Oak’s finest.

We found it. We had a lovely chat with Walter, our tastings meister, who got a nice, big dose of our personal brand of Texas revelry. He was great sport, and we enjoyed him and the Silver Oak atmosphere as much as their wines. We could have stayed all day, but alas, we had an appointment with Quintessa, so we moved onward.

Quintessa, in Rutherford, was amazing. It’s a short distance from Oakville to Rutherford, and coming from the wide open spaces of Texas, it struck me how all these little towns seem practically on top of each other, and they certainly blend into each other. You can’t really tell where one ends and the next begins. Rutherford, in fact, is only 6 square miles — for the whole town. Between Oakville and St Helena, this tiny little area bangs out some killer Cabernets. It’s said that in order to make a great Cab, you “must have Rutherford dust.” They are most definitely doing it right at Quintessa

Our first cave tour did not disappoint.

After a tour of the machinery and vats, our delightful guide Lori led us into the cave. The mood in the cave was serene and somber, not in a sad way but more contemplative. Very zen. Until we figured out the cave had terrific echoing acoustics and all started cawing out various animal sounds. Classy.

This fountain stands in the middle of the cave, bubbling away as its water tumbles over jet-black river rocks that appear smooth as glass. It’s a beautiful and peaceful structure in and of itself, but it’s also functional, as it provides humidity in the cave, which is integral in crafting wine. The rooms flanking the fountain are full of barrels of aging wine, which put off a distinctive aroma that I can’t quite capture. I can still smell it in my olfactory memory, but can’t describe it. You’ll just have to go there.

We were intrigued by the reddish stain around the middle of each barrel. We wondered if the wine had leaked and stained the barrels, but then noticed that the stain was contained to just the middle. Lori cleared up the mystery by telling us that Quintessa colors them on purpose, to enhance the aesthetic beauty of their barrels. I had to strike a pose next to these beauties.

We came out of the cave and through these doors into the tasting room, thinking nothing could top the coolness of the cave tour. Then we saw the table that had been laid for us. 

A gorgeous wooden table in a secluded room lit by candles awaited us. Each of us had a place setting, complete with a personalized card surrounded by 3 lovely wines lovingly arranged in order. 

No, I wasn’t too drunk to take a decent photo, but the candlelight and the iPhone camera didn’t think too much of each other, so yes, it’s quite blurry. Next trip to Napa, I will take better photos, I promise.

But I won’t share my Quintessa artisanal cheese plate. Yum. Three cheeses from the region married with the wines so well we thought we’d died and gone to heaven. I’m a fan of cheese, especially with my wine, and these three were outstanding. We could have stayed in that peaceful tasting room for the rest of the day, but we only had it reserved until 5 pm, so we regretfully shuffled out of there, basking in the deliciousness of all things Quintessa.

Our first afternoon of tasting the bounty of Napa Valley’s wines drew to a close, and we headed from Rutherford south to Yountsville, to our hotel, immensely satisfied with the splendor of our first day. I was so happy I didn’t even realize until later that my feet kinda hurt, from my 5K, my way.