Sunday, September 18, 2011

Learning about Nor Cal Part 2- Napa Valley

We have always been captivated by the beauty of Napa as seen on television, movies, and in books; so it made sense that we would spend some time here on our trip- not to mention our LOVE for vino!

Friday afternoon, August 9th- we left Monterey and took the two hour drive inland to Napa.  It was interesting how the moist, cool air turned into dry hot air by the time we pulled into our hotel at The Westin Verasa Hotel in Napa.  This hotel is pretty AMAZING-  as we walked into the lobby, we found ourselves instantly transformed from seaside beauty (Monterey) to wine country sheik (Napa) as samples of wine were freely being passed out (I took full advantage).  The entire back wall of the lobby gives way to a giant veranda with a large heated pool/jacuzzi.  In the bar, lavish appetizers laid across a thick butcher block counter top to accompany the many wine offerings.  After we picked our jaws off of the ground, we made our way up to our room- and the jaw dropped again as the door opened way to a very comfortable suit with a full kitchen, sitting/living room area and a balcony to boot!  I got to wash baby A's bottles in a dishwasher to sanitize and started a load of wash as we went off to dinner- this place was like home!

Saturday, August 10th- after one of my favorite breakfasts (lox and cream cheese on a bagel with capers, tomatoes and purple onions), we meet our limo driver for the day out front- you always need a DD when in Napa!  First stop was Beringer's Vineyard- known for their beautiful grounds.  Take a LOOK!

There was a calypso band playing out front and Baby A and I sung and danced the early afternoon away!

After a couple of hours of dancing, singing and tasting, we were ready for lunch at The CIA a.k.a The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  The moment I walked in I was captivated by the smell of roasted chicken.  I never order chicken when going out to eat because it is too boring, but here I couldn't resist!    
In the center of the CIA restaurant you can watch the soon to be chefs receive training from top talent- even the hostess and servers are in training!
After a satisfying lunch, we hopped back into the limo and headed to another vineyard called Castello di Amorosa- an interesting experience.  Take a LOOK!
No, this is not a castle from long ago, however, it is an authentic castle built by the winemaker!
This winery often throws Renaissance parties here where guests dress up from the time period. 
You cannot buy this wine at any package store.  The wine from this vineyard is only served at select restaurants in the area, so we made sure to buy a few bottles to be shipped back home. 

The most interesting experience here was that during a tasting, the solemner asked us to try a very sweet dessert wine- yuck!  After he noted that we were not a fan so much, he asked us to wait and disappeared for a couple of minutes, only to come back with a bar of dark chocolate- I was intrigued!  He broke the bar up into many pieces and had us put a piece into our mouths and melt over our tongues.  This chocolate tasting was surprising because as the piece began to melt, large crystals of salt rock were uncovered.  Next, he told us to taste the sweet wine again...WOW- this time the wine tasted completely different.  Instead of overpoweringly sweet, the wine tasted crisp and refreshing with a subtle sweetness that did not get in the way of enjoying the wine.  Needless to say, we left this winery with a bar of this magic chocolate and some wine!

Sunday, August 11th- One can NEVER sample too much wine, so we decided to go visit another vineyard- one that my DH's parents discovered when they last visited.  Artesa Winery took my breath away.  Take a LOOK!
We enlarged these photos and are using them around the house like in the guest bathroom!

This winery is very contemporary and features many beautiful water structures (like the ones above).  Artesa is built into a mountain (see below), preserving the views around it and also making it unique- they use 50% less  air conditioning than other wineries.  
Below is a picture of where they store barrels (barrels can be reused up to three times)- the sound of Monks chanting fills this room, as it is said that the vibrations of the music agitate the wine, thus enhancing its flavor.   
Another beautiful water feature inside of the winery, used as a reserved tasting room.
The next couple of photos are taken outside of Artesa and are for your viewing pleasure!

What I learned about Napa:
*  Until you actually pull into a particular winery, the land is pretty barren.
*  August through October can be very warm- it was 85 degrees, dry and sunny the two days we spent here.
*  The largest bottle of wine I saw was called a Nebuchadnezzar (named after the king of Babylon) and it needs three grown men to lift and pour from it.

*  The tops of wine barrels make beautiful lazy susan turntables.  
*  Napa has many hidden gems like Artesa and can be found by doing a little research- like digging around in Wine Spectator magazine.  These wineries are often less crowded and offer unique experiences.  
*  Hiring a limo driver for the day can make traveling to many wineries in one day fun and SAFE!
*  I could spend a full week here and would LOVE to go again!

Next up, the final installation... San Francisco!  

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