14 September 2011

Wine Country - Part 1

Our Deck View from the Double-Wide

What could be prettier than tasting America’s finest wines in their native region with friends?  Doing so a week before the harvest (or “the crush” as some call it), when the vines are loaded with the sweet red berries that will become some of the world’s premier wines over the next few months.  I got to do just that this past weekend at a variety of spots in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties in northern California.

Our trip began early Thursday morning.  We arrived at SFO just in time for lunch, and as we headed north toward winedom, we stopped at Fish in Sausolito for a bite.  Fish is an organic seafood (DUH!) restaurant focusing on sustainable fishing practices.  The setting is picnic table casual, but with the patio overlooking the bay, who cares?!

From there, it was north to Caymus Winery for our first formal tasting.  It was more entertaining than educational, and the wines did not compel any in our group of four to make a purchase.  Of course, there was plenty of profit for them in the $30 (each!) tasting fee.  From there, we headed to Healdsburg and Mazzocco Winery, not for the tasting, yet, but because their guest house was our accommodation for the extended long weekend.

“Guest House” is their euphemism for what we in the south would call a double-wide.  No kidding.  Granted, the setting was beautiful, with the winery on one side, and vineyards & a runway on the other.  Thankfully, the runway was the Healdsburg regional landing strip about 200 yards away and only had to handle about four small plane take-offs and landings each day.  The deck affixed to the double-wide was great – long and wide, with a panoramic view of the Mazzocco grape fields and said runway.  They did a nice job with floral plantings around the double-wide, and on one end we had a bocce court and a horseshoe pit.  But it’s still a double-wide.  To their credit, the nightly rate for four of us in the very large double-wide (with kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths) was a fraction of what a pair of hotel rooms in the region would have been.  And the scenery (looking away from the double-wide) was great.  Added bonus:  We had two bottles of Mazzocco’s reserve wines awaiting us when we arrived.

Thursday’s dinner was at The Farmhouse, a small restaurant attached to an ultra-lux inn in Forestville.  The food and service were predictably excellent and predictably expensive.  Then it was back the dark winding road to the double-wide.

Per a recommendation from one of our hosts at Mazzocco, Friday breakfast was at Costeaux Bakery in downtown Healdsburg.  The omelets and coffee were great.  Thankfully, it was pretty early in the morning, so the bakery case stocked with sweet pastries and tartlets was easier to resist.

Stacks of Barrels at Cakebread
Our first stop after breakfast was a tour and tasting at Cakebread Cellars in Rutheford.  This was an hour walk-and-talk through their vineyards and winery, followed by a half-hour tasting of several of their products that are not widely distributed (if at all).  Our guide, Summer, was interesting and entertaining, and she had the product in the tasting room to back up the typically over-descriptive wine-speak.  “Heavy on the nose.”  “Fruit-forward.”  “Hits the middle of the palate.”  Shut up already!  Do I like it or not?  Interesting bit of trivia:  Cakebread is a family name, and the founder used to run a garage in Oakland.

From Cakebread, it was off to Yountville (“YONT-ville”) and lunch at Bouchon.  Bouchon is the little sister of the famed French Laundry, so we decided to call it “The Laundrette”.  They serve French fare at French prices with French service (respectively, excellent, high, and slow by American standards).

Quixote Winery by Hundertwasser
Our afternoon tour-n-taste was at Quixote Winery.  Quixote is a boutique winemaker with very limited distribution.  They are as famous for their Hundertwasser-designed structure as they are for their superb screw-cap wines.  Even the wine barrels are fun here, with colorfully striped steel bands binding the oak planks into place.

Colorful Barrels at Quixote
On our drive back to the double-wide, we stopped at Sunshine Foods in St. Helena and picked up stuff for a simple, quiet dinner at “home”.  Sunshine is proud of their products (expensive!), but the quality of their organic locally-sourced foods is indisputable.  Paired with some excellent Mazzocco reds, our double-wide dinner was delightful.

Tomorrow is Saturday, our planned no-plans day…

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