Our Trip to Napa: Part 1

Our Trip to Napa: Part 1

Owners Andy & Karin recently enjoyed a trip to Napa Valley so we’re very excited to share a series of blogs written by Karin highlighting the amazing experience they had on their trip. Here is Part 1: a little background about Karin’s love of all things wine and a revisit of the first four wineries they went to.

Anyone that knows me well is very aware of my obsession with wine. I LOVE WINE, not only drinking it but learning about it. I get especially excited when I turn a non wine drinker into a wine lover, and this happens a lot with my employees. When we hire new servers, we have a set day in their training where we sit down and taste all of our house wines, talk about the different varietals, discuss the differences between whites and reds, the variations in the body of wines, and just try to give them the basics. I always enjoy seeing which, if any, they enjoy right from the start. It’s usually a sweeter wine like a white zinfandel or moscato that they like best, but some surprise me and really enjoy a red blend or cabernet more than the others. You could truly study wine for a lifetime and still have more to learn, but our goal is to give our servers the tools to help our guests find what type of wine they may enjoy most, and to help them pair their wine with dinner. Most often our servers are not wine drinkers when we hire them, but usually, after me forcing them to try wine over and over again (tough boss), they usually end up being regular wine drinkers. Like most people we all enjoy the sweeter wines at first, but as we try others, like drier whites or reds, our palette changes, allowing us to accept and enjoy those drier, bolder flavors.

When Andy and I started dating in culinary school way back in 1998, we drank wine together and I vividly remember carrying boxes of white zinfandel to parties at his house and, of course, I thought I was cool! Everyone is broke when they’re in college, so boxed white zinfandel was a great choice for those without a lot of extra cash-cheap, sweet, convenient in the handy box, and delicious! I also remember us celebrating special dates or occasions with Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante Sparkling Wine. It was fruity & sweet and we felt grown up and extra fancy, and I truly believe to this day that sparkling wine makes every occasion seem festive and fun! I also vividly remember him cooking me dinner one night at his parents house, and it being one of THE best dinners I remember from that era! He bought 2 steaks, which he seared in a pan on the stove, but the most interesting and funny part is that he made a glaze for them from Lambrusco red wine. You don’t hear much about Lambrusco these days, but its an Italian grape varietal that is usually slightly sparkling and the sweet version of Lambrusco was super popular in the 70’s and 80’s. If I remember it correctly, he was looking for something to make a sauce out of around the house, and sure enough we found a random bottle of Lambrusco probably left from a party or a gift his parents had received. Voila-perfect steak glaze and still to this day one of the best steaks I’ve ever had! 🙂

Our love for wine has grown since we married in 2000. We appreciate all wines and enjoy most, but our current favorites are cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, bold red blends, malbec, and just recently fell in love with petite sirah. We always knew that when we opened the restaurant we wanted to offer our guests a nice wine selection, and worked hard with our local distributors to taste and find fun selections. Andy and I (and our staff) have the difficult job of having to sample wine to find those that we enjoy and want to add to our menu. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it! 🙂 We also try to offer a large selection by the glass to allow our guests to have many affordable options, and we try to hard to make our wine menu easy to navigate for our guests to find the style & type of wine they love.

I mentioned that I’m slightly obsessed with learning about wine, and it’s the truth. I find the whole process fascinating, and wish that I could go live in Napa for a harvest season and volunteer to work in the vineyards during harvest season. The wine industry seems so fancy and intimidating, and parts of it are both of those things, but more importantly it’s really just basic farming, back breaking hard work, and science. We’ve had the opportunity to travel to Napa, California twice in the past few years and it is amazing! We just returned from our 2nd trip a few weeks ago, and we had the pleasure of visiting Napa and Sonoma. I was discussing it with someone after our trip and they made the joke that I had gone back to my Mothership by visiting that region and I laughed because it’s 100% true!! When I saw that exit sign that said Napa/Sonoma, I felt like I was headed home! We all know there’s no place like home and I do love my hometown, but there is just something magical about the Napa/Sonoma region of California.

You drive into Napa Valley and see beautiful grape vines all around you and then when you look out to your far left and right you see beautiful mountains. It is stunning! Our most recent trip was a whirlwind trip! We only had 4.5 days in Napa/Sonoma and we crammed 16 winery visits into that time!! We had favorites that we wanted to visit because of wines we love, we had terrific recommendations from awesome wine distributors, and we stayed at this amazing B&B called The Inn on First in downtown Napa. The owners, Jamie & Jim planned a day for us and chose 4 of their favorite wineries to visit based on the types of wines we love. If you ever travel to Napa, staying at this B&B is a must! The hospitality and service were AMAZING and the delicious breakfasts that Chef Jim prepared each day were stunning! We felt truly spoiled staying there and their attention to detail amazed us daily, so be sure to check them out. 

We always travel to wine country with our most favorite wine drinking buddies-Andy’s brother Dan and our sis-in-law Cheryl who live in Jacksonville, FL because they love wine just as much as we do and they are just tons of fun to hang out with! Together we visited amazing wineries, met the coolest hosts, wine makers, & winery owners. Each and every experience at a tasting room or winery is completely different because they all have their own unique design and style. Some give thorough tours filled with science facts, barrel tastings, complete vineyard and facility tours and some make it more simple by taking you into a gorgeous tasting room where you taste amazing wine flights, but don’t get to see the ins and outs of the actual working winery. Some pull wine straight from the barrel and allow you to taste what they haven’t even bottled yet, and some set you up with an amazing plate of cheese and snacks that they’ve specifically paired with all of their wines to truly show them off. Every experience is unique but they are always amazing, and we are already counting down the days till we can make another trip out!

Now this is very important to remember…when you visit a winery or tasting room you’ll have the opportunity to taste wines that many times won’t be available to buy anywhere else-some wines they make they don’t distribute, so it truly is only there that you can find these wines. This makes it feel really important to buy wine while you’re there if you really like what you’re tasting. It can be very dangerous to the pocketbook, because you are already relaxed from drinking good wine and then you realize you won’t be able to find this anywhere back at home and you panic and purchase! The kicker is they almost always offer you the opportunity to join their wine club which signs you up to automatically receive allocations of their wines 2-4 times a year which they ship right to your home. They make it soooo easy, by just automatically shipping you these delicious treats, but I must admit that when you get back home, and start receiving all these wine shipments you get excited and then panic little bit at the credit card bill that is coming! Now imagine if you visit 16 wineries and you don’t sign up for all the wine clubs but enough to get boxes AND boxes of wine when you return home! Napa and Sonoma are dangerous! 🙂

Here are some pictures and information about some of the amazing wineries that we visited and along the way you’ll see shots of cool people that we had the pleasure of meeting and learning from.

1. Peju Province Winery
We flew out of Norfolk at 5:30am and made it to Sacramento at 10:45am. We rushed to get our rental car and meet up with Dan and Cheryl in Napa who had arrived 2 days before us. We decided to make our first winery visit a cool out of the way winery that someone at Peju had recommended to Dan and Cheryl the day before. On our way there, we stopped in at Peju to do a quick tasting and were astounded by the beauty of the beautiful curb appeal outside, the cool skinny trees that curved, and inside the stunning stained glass windows. We had a great first stop and tasted some beautiful wines before we headed out to our first official stop.

2. The Terraces Winery
We left Peju and rushed straight to The Terraces Winery. We pulled up to a very unassuming house, not overly large and struggled find a clear entrance. It was weird but strangely cool in that hidden gem kind of way. We walked into a small room that felt like a garage where we saw a table filled with cool tools that looked like you’d see in a science lab-Beakers, tubes, small glass bottles etc. We soon learned it was a wine blending station, and then we were directed upstairs to our tasting room. What we found was different that expected-it basically looked like someone’s home with on open concept kitchen and a huge wrap around bar and a cozy living room with great couches. We walked in and saw a young hip guy (Dominic) with tons of little tiny bottles of wine all spread out that we soon learned he was using to play around with some blends. He was blending wines, and was getting them all set up for the OWNER and WINE MAKER to actually come by and taste with him to decide on how they plan to blend and bottle their current wines that are in the barrels. We started tasting with him and then moved over to the couch and sat and tasted with Monica (Director of Operations for The Terraces) who was amazing! We literally felt like we were at home, hanging out with friends, drinking wine and just relaxing. These two were so cool and relaxed and after we tasted wine, Monica took us out on an all terrain ATV and showed us around the whole property. She even took us over to check out their special building where they store their own balsamic vinegars that the winemaker is aging and we got to sample! AMAZING!! (Notice the picture with the brown circle on my hand). When we returned back to the main house, our visit was made even more memorable because the actual owner and winemaker Tim Crull showed up to start tasting the samples of blended wines his assistant wine maker had set up. He was awesome, down to earth and very welcoming and we had a great time chatting with him and learning more about his winery. They make delicious wines there and my top favorites were Tempranillo & Petite Sirah!

3. Brown Estate Winery
This was the first tasting I booked after we made plans to head to Napa, because I knew that I Had.To.Go! I have been a big fan of their Zinfandel for about 2 years now after we found it by accident in a wine shop in Williamsburg, VA. We both love big, bold reds with a lush texture and a smooth finish and the Brown Zin is all that and more! All of their wines are spectacular, but we think the fact that they are the first and only African-American owned winery in Napa is pretty cool! We had the opportunity to visit their downtown Napa tasting room and it was a VERY cool experience. The hospitality from Wine Educator Sean Baum was exceptional and we truly felt like we were in the coolest bar anywhere enjoying delicious wines and yummy paired snacks. We will make this a must stop every time we visit Napa, and you should too!

4. Porter Family Vineyards
This was our first stop on day two in Napa, and we’d had such an amazing time the day before at Peju, Brown, and The Terraces that we didn’t think anything could top it! Well-we were wrong of course and Florencia our host was so warm and welcoming! We had an amazing experience touring their huge facility which is in a cave under the mountain, and gazing out at their beautiful property surround by mountains. The winery had a very elegant yet relaxed vibe and we thoroughly enjoyed chatting with Florencia while enjoying Porter wines and a nice cheese pairing. Visiting Porter Family Vineyards was what most would think of as a very “Napa” like winery visit, but it was so much better than that! We felt so welcome and the hospitality that Florencia provided for us was top notch! We hope to go back and visit one day soon!
I’ve got so much more to share with you, but you’ll have to wait until next time to hear more!

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