Yes!Chef! and I celebrated 34 years of wedded bliss a few days ago. To mark the occasion, we decided to take a short vacation in Napa and Sonoma. Yes!Chef! has been notably missing from the cooking scene as he got himself involved in a day job that required a lot of travel and left little time for cooking.
However, we continued having wine and food adventures, it’s just that he didn’t cook the food. He still cooks for special occasions and holidays, but his creative cooking was sidelined.
But, in the last few months, he has slowly been getting back into the swing of cooking and creating tasty dishes. To help stir up his creative juices during this 4 day mini-vacation, our goal was to taste good wine, eat good food and have some great experiences.
And, I’m happy to say that we accomplished our goal.
Most of the wineries in Napa and many in Sonoma charge for their tastings. And now, many of the wineries are requiring that you make reservations in order to taste. Very few drop-ins at tasting bars. Wine tasting has become a wonderful experience…as long as you pay for it. Yes!Chef! and I decided that we don’t really enjoy the butt-to-butt-standing-at-a-bar wine experience. So, we opted to make reservations at a few wineries we really wanted to see, taste and experience. And, we paid for it.
Far Niente Winery was high on our list of wineries to visit, but we were early for our 10:00 appointment, so we stopped at a favorite grocery of mine, Oakville Grocery.
My first experience with Oakville Grocery was about 8 years ago when I attended a photo workshop in Napa. Ever since then, I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for this place. This store has been around since 1881, so it is a slice of history and an iconic landmark in Napa Valley. They recently remodeled the store and added a lovely picnic area.
The interior of the store is part deli, part coffee shop, part grocery store and part picnic supply.
This is really a Must-Stop place if you go to Napa. Stop and pick up some picnic supplies to take with you as you visit various wineries. Bring your picnic basket to put your supplies in. Don’t forget to leave room for the wine. We didn’t pick up any supplies this time, but we are sure to go back next visit.
Next it was time to head off to Far Niente Winery. We turned off the main highway, down a beautiful country road to the Far Niente turn off. The street to Far Niente was a beautiful tree-lined narrow street. As we turned the corner we came to the main gate, which was closed. We stopped, not knowing what to do until a very nice woman drove up and asked if she could help us. We told her we had an appointment and so she told us to follow her. The gates opened and we entered. I felt like we had entered the land of Oz.
The property was filled with lush landscaping, tall trees and flowers everywhere. We parked in the parking lot and the same woman magically appeared escorting us to the stairway leading up to the tasting building.
We arrived on time for our appointment and were warmly greeted by the woman at the front desk. She asked us to wait for a minute while she contacted our host for the tasting. I don’t think we even waited a minute before a very nice gentleman greeted us by name and led us up the spiral staircase to the tasting tower.
We got up to the tower and there was a 360 degree view of vineyards and the Far Niente Estate. There was also a table nicely set for tastings for three.
We were the only ones in the room for this tasting, aside from our host, Vincent Spanier, who was congenial, extremely knowledgeable and fun to talk with. He made this wine and cheese tasting experience truly exceptional.
We had purchased a Far Niente Chardonnay prior to this visit and fell in love with the classic Chardonnay nose, flavor and fine mouth feel. However, we were quite pleasantly surprised by the other wines we tasted…Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and a lovely little aperitif. The cheese pairings were perfection. We had Abbay de Belloc (Sheep’s Milk cheese from France) with the Chardonnay, Dry Jack Special Reserve (cow’s milk cheese from Sonoma) with the Pinot Noir, San Joaquin Gold (Cow’s milk cheese from Modesto, CA) and a Bleu d’Auvergne (Co’s milk blue cheese from France) with the 2011 Dolce.
My view of the tower tasting room and spiral staircase
After our tasting experience, we were invited to wander around the estate at our leisure, which we did.
The stone house was the original building on the estate, built in the 1800’s. It was lovingly restored by new owners in the 1970’s.
After our purchase, we wandered around the estate for about 1/2 hour. It was indeed eye-candy for anyone who loves lush, well tended gardens, beautiful picnic areas and a pond with a fountain.
And if this was not enough, there was a fabulous vintage car collection.
We finally left the estate and headed to our next destination, R&D Kitchen in Yountville, CA, for lunch.
If you find yourself headed to Napa, I would highly recommend making reservations for a wine and cheese pairing at Far Niente, especially if you are a fan of Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and/or Cabernet Sauvignon. It is well worth the price and it took about 1 1/2 hours, including the wandering around time, which you will definitely want to do.
See Part 2, Day 1 for more Napa Adventures.