by Lori Eccles
I’m a little heady from my last trip. And it’s not just the wine.
I just returned from an intoxicatingly wonderful four days in the Sonoma and Napa valleys in California. I traveled with two of my girlfriends to get away from all of the rain we’ve had here recently.
After flying into San Francisco, we rented a car and headed north an hour or so to Geyserville, which is named for the hot springs that began to draw people to Sonoma County more than 150 years ago.
Geyser Peak is one of the oldest wineries in California; it’s in the Alexander Valley and produces outstanding wines such as their Sauvignon Blanc. While there, we also tried GP’s new Pinot Grigio, which was very lovely and the Chardonnay, which I really enjoyed as well. We also toured the vineyard and had some of their Cabs, right out of the barrel, as poured by winemaker Mick Schroeter. Mick is from Australia and has been at Geyser Peak since 1993.
The Cab isn’t available yet in Arizona. It’s called Walking Tree. It got the name from an oak tree that kept sliding down the side of the vineyard and then eventually ended up in the tasting room.
Before leaving for Napa Valley, we also went to Coppola Vineyards, owned by director Francis Ford Coppola, and tried some of his specialty Directors Cut wines, such as the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which were quite good. Next time in Sonoma, I’m going to call Joe Donelan for an appointment to see his Donelan Family Wines in Santa Rosa.
Off to Napa. The name, by the way, comes from the area’s native Wappo Indians: “land of plenty.” By the 1840s the area had lots of people, not because of wines, but because of mines.
And lumber mills. People started coming by train to the Calistoga’s famed hot springs a little later. Although the wineries date from the 19th century, only some survived the 13 years of Prohibition by producing sacramental wines and selling grapes to home winemakers.
Today, however, the 35-square-mile area is one of just nine “Great Wine Capitals,” a center for wines, restaurants, spas and eco-tourism. More than 400 wineries produce many of the world’s finest, including those by iconic vintners such as Robert Mondavi Winery and the historic Chateau Montelena.
Throughout the Valley, guests enjoy culinary experiences with special food and wine pairings, farm-to-table dining, and cooking classes at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, says Clay Gregory, president and CEO of the Napa Valley Destination Council.
“Beyond our wine and food, the Napa Valley is also prized for its natural beauty and rural character, with rolling vineyards, mountains, rivers, an almost perfect Mediterranean climate; world-class accommodations, including two of the ‘greenest’ hotels in the country; regionally inspired spa experiences; and welcoming communities that each have their own distinctive personality,” Clay explains.
Our first stop was Swanson Vineyards in Oakville. Their Merlot was wonderful: nice and juicy. It’s the wine they are known for. We also tried the Alexis (Cabernet Sauvignon); we tried the 2004 and 2006, and both were big and earthy, with lots of tannins and a long finish.
For lunch that day, we ate at the intimate Bistro Jeanty in Yountville.
We were next off to the Trinchero Family Estates in St. Helena: They have a beautiful new winery, state-of-the-art kitchen and wonderful views of Napa. Winemaker Mario Monticelli let us try the new 2007 Haystack Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that just scored 93 points from Robert Parker. It’s made of 96 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 4 percent Petit Verdot.
Parker wrote: “This is a dense purple-colored wine with a serious aromatic expression filled with espresso roast, black chocolate, creme de cassis, and rose petals. Full-bodied, with beautiful texture, sweet tannin, and stunning concentration, this is a dense, opulent, blockbuster style of Cabernet Sauvignon that will benefit from 2–3 years of cellaring and last for 20–25 years.” We also tried the 2009 Mary’s Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, which was very crisp and light and would pair with some nice curry.
That night, we checked into our Victorian rooms at the famous Sutter Home Winery. We could feel the history – and the ghosts.
The next day, we toured the wonderful Franciscan winery. That night, we ate dinner at Redd, one of the 10 ƒ restaurants in Napa. This was a foodie experience.
Finished at Redd, we were off to Ponchos for a little late-night fun and hanging out with the locals.
Then home. Oh, well.
Eccles owns Sun Devil Liquors in downtown Mesa.