A rare treat for a visitor to northern California: an opportunity to gatecrash a well-planned trip up to wine country, taking in some pretty fancy and hard-to-get-into wineries and finally live out all my “Sideways” fantasies for real (well, the wine tasting bits anyway).
So, we started at some ungodly never-before-heard-of hour on a Saturday morning in order to arrive in downtown San Francisco where a limo would pick us up and bring us to Napa. No designated driver for us!
It was a glorious morning and after some introductions – there were eight of us travelling and there were six Indian names to somehow memorise, so it took a while – we headed off, traversing the Golden Gate before passing through Sausalito and onwards up to Napa. I felt a bit guilty about crashing in on the trip but nobody seemed to mind, especially when it was revealed I was Irish. As an aside, sometimes it feels like a license to do as you like over here – jaywalk, crash parties, you name it!
Anyway, for future reference, here’s where we stopped:
- We stopped first in V. Sattui and this was, to my mind, perhaps the most enjoyable stop: $10 yielded eight tastings from their menu, none of which – interestingly – are available outside of the winery. I loved their off-dry Johannisberg riesling, did not love their Rosato and very much enjoyed their Zinfandel. Having something of a sweet tooth, I liked their Madeira enough to buy an entire bottle and create yet another massive packing problem for myself.
- Cakebread Cellars was undoubtedly the highlight of the tour. Cakebread are a small volume winery (100,000 cases per year) with such reknown that tastings are strictly by appointment only and whose appointments are not subject to adustment. I’m enternally grateful for the locals who stood aside to let me take their place. I won’t forget it: their Chardonnay was amazing, their Merlot nothing like a Merlot (richer, somehow than their Cabernet) and their Cabernet just stunning. I felt compelled to purchase a Cabernet for a Bordeaux-loving friend back home and a Pinot for a special occasion.
- Our last stop, Mumm Napa, allowed us sample something new: sparkling Pinot. These were a bit mixed than previous wineries but at least one worked very very well.
All in all, a wonderful day. It’s fascinating to see how every winery is setup for visiting, with some (like Sattui) even limiting their sales to just their winery. It seems to be a pretty common weekend activity over here and one that’s slowly being adopted in Europe where, for one example, I’ve heard of Bordeaux tours. However, I guess it’s not as established a pastime back home. California may be a young wine-producing region but they’re producing some amazing wines and, in this climate and with this scenery I simply can’t think of a better way to spend your Saturday.
As an “international”, transport will be interesting: Sattui offered a cardboard and polystyrene wine-carrying contraption that’s guaranteed against breakages of the precious contents within. We’ll see in a week’s time if British Airways allow me check in two big pieces of luggage and, if so, if it survove Heathrow.