Good friends, wine tasting
Lovely views, a hat, and an
Over breakfast on the final full day of our trip, while chatting with the other couples at the table, Ian and I described how we had solved our wine problem (i.e., not being able to ship it home) with a new suitcase and some packing materials. This prompted a story from Carol and Brian (I’m actually not sure her name was Carol. I don’t think I ever caught her name, but I’m calling her Carol here for the sake of simplicity), a couple from Manchester. Some years ago, during the first few days of a 3-month around-the-world trip, Carol had come across a tea set she just adored. She hesitated in buying it at first, knowing they had a lot of travel ahead of them. But then it occurred to her that they would be meeting up with their daughter in a short while. They could give her the tea set to take home and retrieve it when they were done with their travels. For some reason, the daughter could not or would not take the tea set home. So, it accompanied them throughout the duration of their trip. Carol motioned to Brian, “Oh, he sure gave me an earache about it each time we moved from place to place, but the set made it home intact.”
Suddenly, carrying our wine home seemed like no big deal.
Our first winery stop that day was Chimney Rock. It was our second visit there, and as we did our tasting, Ian told the tasting room employee about the last time we were there (five years earlier). We had come in toward the end of the day, and a large private party had just left, leaving several open bottles behind. So, our host that day poured us several tastes off-menu, and when Ian offhandedly mentioned his fondness for Cabernet Franc, our host got a gleam in his eye and exclaimed, “Oh! You like Cabernet Franc? I have something you need to try!” He excitedly opened a new bottle.
“Cabernet Franc? Oh, that had to be Tom,” the tasting room employee said chuckling. Apparently Tom had a reputation for being a Cabernet Franc fanatic.
Next up was Mumm. It was a lovely day, so we took advantage of their patio for our tasting. I know not everyone is as big of a bubbly fan as I am, but if you are down with bubbles, Mumm is worth a visit. The tastings there were by far the best value we had in Napa—$28 to $35 for three to four full pours! Also, there was an adorable winery cat named Kitty Girl, who sprawled out on the floor of the foyer, totally unconcerned about all the hubbub around her, seemingly waiting for the nearby patch of sunlight to come to her.
We had a lunch of giant, delicious sandwiches at Guigini’s Deli, in St. Helena and proceeded on to Rutherford Hill for a tasting. Spying a bottle sitting on the back of the bar, I nudged Ian and said, “Hey, that wine literally has your name on it.” We came to learn that this wine, Ian – Tiago, was named in honor of the two winemakers’ sons. It’s always a 50/50 blend of Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon–no favoritism!
We finished up with all we’d planned for the day, and it was still relatively early, so we decided to stop at Domaine Chandon. It seemed fitting to have some bubbles during our last winery visit of our anniversary trip.
Back at the inn that evening, once we’d decided on a restaurant for dinner, Ian handed me the iPad and said, “This place is right next store. We could stop there for a tasting before we eat.” I looked at the website he had called up: Gamling & McDuck–the name alone made me want to go there.
When we arrived at the Gamling & McDuck tasting room, I noticed several things that made me immediately love the place:
I soon found there was much more about the place to love. Adam (the McDuck half of the duo, Gamling was unfortunately not there at the time) was super friendly and delightful, and the wines were great. I was particularly fond of the Feral Rosé–and not just because the label is adorable. They also use this wine to raise money for cat charities!
Another one of their labels features not only a drawing by Adam’s young niece but also a MadLibs!
To join their wine club, all they ask (aside from paying the fee) is that you draw Tippy the Turtle. It doesn’t have to be good, but you do have to try.
I was utterly charmed by the place, and I believe at one point I asked if I could live there. I never did get an answer on that.
Next door, we had a lovely dinner at Grace’s Table. The thought of the goat cheese-stuffed grape leaves appetizer we had still makes me salivate.
Later that night, as we packed up in preparation to head home the next day, Ian decided to reconfigure some of the wine packing he’d previously done. I only poked fun at him a little bit for it, and I honestly did appreciate all his efforts to ensure that our wine made it home unscathed.* As he redistributed bottles among the pieces of our luggage, I looked at him and said, “If it helps at all, please know this: I promise never to make us lug a tea set around the world.”
But you know, even if I did want to carry a tea set around the world, I have no doubt that Ian would pack it up securely for me. That’s love, folks.
* It did–all 14 bottles of it!
The fact that we wouldn’t be buying anymore wine during our trip didn’t mean we couldn’t taste some, so our first stop on day 9 was Peju Winery. The grounds were beautiful, and the wines were tasty. I have no idea why, but as I looked at the price list during our tasting, for some reason, I mistook the two prices listed as being per glass and per bottle. Geez, I thought as I eyed the prices of $28 and $336 for one wine I especially liked. I remembered Napa wines being more expensive than those from Sonoma, but this was ridiculous!
Before long, I realized that prices were per bottle and per case. *facepalm* Of course! That much more reasonable!
Next up was Sterling Vineyards. Outside the front doors is a large chalkboard with Before I Die… across the top of it. Visitors are encouraged to fill in the blanks with things they want to do before they shuffle off this mortal coil.
As we stood in the short line behind the ticket window at the entrance to Sterling, I couldn’t help but feel a little like I was going to an amusement park instead of a winery. That feeling continued once we had purchased our tickets and got on the gondola tram, which took us up to the winery and offered a great view along the way.
Our wine tasting was combined with a self-guided winery tour, with a different stop along the tour for each wine we tasted. The wines were fine–nothing wowed me, but they were all perfectly respectable. The rooftop terrace at the end of the tour was lovely, though!
During our tram ride back down to the parking area, the car ahead of ours got stuck. I’m not sure what had to be done to unstick it, but whatever it was involved something that made noises straight out of a Star Wars movie.
Our next stop was Old Faithful Geyser of California. Before this trip, I hadn’t heard of it, but apparently, it’s one of only three geysers in the world with the old faithful designation (I’ve now seen two!). Because of all the recent rain, the geyser was even more active than usual, and we got to see it erupt a few times while we were there. There’s also a little farm there with sheep, llamas, and goats, including fainting goats. I was slightly disappointed that none of the goats fainted during my visit. Then I felt enormous shame for wanting to see goats faint. Clearly, I’m a monster.
We ate lunch at the Calistoga Inn and continued on to Brian Arden for more wine tasting. It was a slow day in the tasting room, and the two women working there seemed happy to have people to chat with. When we mentioned that we were on our anniversary trip, one of them asked how we’d met, and they were both delighted and encouraged to hear that we’d met the old-fashioned way–in a bar. “There’s hope for us yet!” one exclaimed.
We returned to the city of Napa and did a couple more photo re-creations, browsed some shops, and went to the Oxbow Market for a beer at Fieldwork Brewing. OMG, this beer I had–Vanillaberry. YUM! I kind of wanted to buy yet another suitcase and fill it up with crowlers full of that!
The last time we’d visited California, Ian and I had used UPS to ship our newly purchased wine home. Something Bob from Butterfly Creek Winery had said in one of his many stories had stuck in Ian’s head, though, and he decided it would be prudent to check if UPS still performed this function. Turns out, UPS now only accepts packages containing alcoholic beverages from licensed shippers.
We’d purchased 15 bottles of wine and a bottle of cider, and we hadn’t even been to Napa yet! Faced with the conundrum of how to get our wine home, we considered the options.
We still had a few days before we went home, so we decided to defer the decision, at least until after breakfast. We’d been considering two places for our morning meal and decided to try the closer place with the other one as a plan B if the first one seemed too crowded. Upon seeing a bunch of people waiting at plan A, we continued walking toward plan B. A light rain started to fall, and I became irritated with myself for leaving both my umbrella and my rain jacket back at the inn. We arrived at plan B, Jantz Bakery, only to find that they did not serve breakfast per se. They sold pies, cookies, and other baked goods, but did not serve pancakes, waffles, or other breakfast items. The employee there informed us it was their other locations that served breakfast, a fact that (at least at the time) was not clear from their website.
As we walked back to plan A (the Sugar Pine Cafe), I grumbled about all these first-world problems (the wine conundrum, forgotten rain gear, breakfasting options) combing to make me cranky. However, the wait at the cafe turned out not to be too long, and all the while we were there, I was oddly uplifted by the voice of Morrissey as Louder Than Bombs served the restaurant’s background music. The Smiths had provided much of the soundtrack for my teenage angst, and hearing them reminded me of all the ridiculous wallowing I’d done over trivial problems at that time in my life. My crankiness dissipated. I laughed at the inexplicably priced pancakes ($6.50 for a stack of two, $3.00 for a single pancake*) and enjoyed my breakfast.
Afterwards, we packed up and headed out of Mariposa. As we drove along Highway 140, somewhere between Mariposa and Merced, I noticed an oddity–a stone fireplace sitting in a field that was otherwise populated only by grass and trees. I did a double take, but there was no mistaking that it was a fireplace. How did it get there? What possible reason was there for its placement? Were aliens involved?? I didn’t get a photo of it, but once again, I searched handy-dandy Google Earth and found one. No amount of Googling provided an explanation for the presence of this fireplace, though. It remains a great mystery to me.
In Atwater, we stopped at the Castle Air Museum. Again, for some reason, I neglected to bring my umbrella or rain jacket with me, so we were, of course, caught in a downpour. Thankfully, the deluge was short-lived.
Seeing the planes was cool, but this piece of patriarchal bullshit rather ground my gears.
Having made the decision to bring our wine on the flight home with us, we stopped at Target to buy a suitcase, bubble wrap, packing tape, and plastic bags to accomplish the task. I wanted to get the suitcase with adorable little foxes on it (it would be so easy to spot on the baggage carousel!), but Ian wasn’t too keen on that. Being a child-size suitcase, it was probably too small for our intended purpose, so I guess we made the right call.
In Livermore, we stopped at Retzlaff Winery for a tasting, knowing that we couldn’t buy anymore wine during the trip unless we wanted to purchase still more luggage!
Not far outside of Napa, we passed a farm that had several signs proclaiming, “We’re using recycled water!” Perhaps I’m being pedantic when I ask this, but isn’t most water recycled?** Sure, it’s possible to make water, but doing so on a large scale is generally considered too costly and potentially dangerous. Boasting about recycled water struck me as a weird flex.
We arrived in Napa, checked in at the Napa Inn, where we’d stayed during our last trip to the area (same room and everything–but with an updated, non-growling bathtub!). We had a lovely dinner that evening at the Napa Valley Bistro. I hadn’t recalled eating there before, but once we walked in, Ian was certain we had (he was right if my past blog post is to be believed). After dinner, we returned to the inn, where we opened a bottle of wine (giving us one less to tote home) and sipped while Ian began to experiment with different ways of packing the wine to minimize the risk of breakage, or, as he referred to the process, The Anal Retentive Chef Packs a Suitcase.
* I have to assume that extra fifty cents is for the labor involved in stacking the pancakes. I did wonder what would happen if I ordered two single pancakes, though.
** I actually do understand (roughly anyhow) the intended meaning of the signs, but I rather enjoy poking fun at them.
On Monday morning, we set out to tackle the Mist Trail, one of Yosemite’s most popular hikes. I had my new hiking poles, and although I felt a little awkward with them at first, by the time we were alongside Vernal Falls, climbing the steep stairs cut into the cliffside, I had decided they were among the best things ever invented. Some of the steps were quite high; whereas my legs are rather short and were slightly sore to boot. Plus, the steps were wet and slippery, so the poles were a godsend. My new rain jacket came in handy as well. Even on a sunny day, hiking the Mist Trail means getting wet–not just damp. I’m talking about a take-a-shower-with-your-clothes-on kind of wet. Despite its challenges, the hike was amazing!
Taking a tip we’d gotten from Bob at Butterfly Creek Winery the previous day, instead of going back down the Mist Trail the same way we came up (which I think would have freaked me out as I’m not fond of descending steep stairs), we instead hiked over to Clark Point and descended via the John Muir Trail, which allowed us to get some different scenery on the way down.
Once we had descended, we caught the shuttle to the Majestic Yosemite Hotel for lunch at the Majestic Bar. When we were about three-quarters of the way through the giant pretzel we’d ordered as an appetizer, the manager came by to see how we were doing. He remarked that he was impressed at the job we’d done on the pretzel, noting that most people don’t finish it. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was a big pretzel, but we’d just hiked all morning and into the afternoon, so finishing it between the two of us didn’t seem like a particularly impressive feat. We decided to take it as a compliment, though. We conquered the Mist Trail and the giant pretzel! We were killing it!
Since the previous day had been so foggy, we decided to drive back up to Tunnel View to get a look in better weather. We also stopped at a couple of turnouts and get some different views of El Capitan and Ribbon Falls.
When we were about to drive back to Mariposa, we discovered that the car stereo suddenly would not cooperate with our phones. We tried Ian’s phone and my phone. We tried Bluetooth and wired connections. We tried turning the stereo off and back on again. We were just about to consider ourselves stumped when I said, “How about turning the car off and then starting it again?” That did the trick! I fixed it (and I’m not even the IT person in our pairing)! No matter the problem, there’s a good chance that turning something off and then back on will fix it! I just need to figure out how to do that with my lower back.
On Sunday morning, we drove to Tunnel View for some pictures. Although we lamented the rain, sleet, and fog at the time, some of the shots actually turned out to be pretty cool.
We had wanted to visit Glacier Point, but Glacier Point Road was closed. Plan B was to go to Mariposa Grove. Upon leaving Tunnel View, we drove through the Wawona Tunnel, which is 1.3-mile-long channel through solid granite. As we approached the other end of the tunnel, we could see that snow was falling. I wish I’d thought to get a picture, but it probably wouldn’t have done the experience justice anyhow.
As we continued on Wawona Road, the snowfall increased, and the car windows started to fog up such that we had to pull over multiple times to wait for them to clear. All in all, we were fortunate that we’d left when we did and that we weren’t delayed too long because there came a point where park rangers had begun stopping cars that were going in the other direction (which was to higher elevation while we had started to descend), requiring them to put on tire chains or turn around. Not having tire chains, we would have been SOL, so our timing was good. We made it to the Mariposa Grove Welcome Center and took the shuttle the rest of the way to the grove.
Part of me wasn’t thrilled at being snowed upon so late in the spring (May 19), but I have to admit that the snow made Mariposa Grove seem magical. I’m sure it would have been lovely under just about any conditions, but the snow definitely added an extra something. It helped that I was wearing appropriate footwear (waterproof hiking boots), unlike this fellow I saw!
We hiked the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail in this springtime winter wonderland, and although we did not build a snow-person, we did see one!
We got the shuttle back to the parking lot and, in our rental car, made a lunch of some provisions we’d picked up that morning. We discovered that we’d accidentally bought vegan cheese, but all in all, it wasn’t half bad.
Our next destination was Butterfly Creek Winery, which is not a place one is likely to stumble upon by accident but is well worth a visit. We were greeted at the car by the winery dog (whose name escapes me), and not far behind him was a somewhat scruffy looking cat, who we’d later learn was named Riley and was 21 years old (roughly 100 in human years), which more than explains the scruffiness. Upon entering the tasting room, the owner (Bob) eyed Ian’s ever-present Cubs hat and exclaimed, “More people from Illinois!” (he pronounced it Illinoiz)–apparently we were the ninth set of the week. Bob was a hoot. During our tasting, he not only regaled us with several humorous tales, but he also provided some Yosemite tips we ended up using the next day (more to come on that). I think that if we’d been able to stick around, he would have happily talked to us all day. If you ever happen to find yourself at Butterfly Creek Winery, ask Bob to tell you the story about merlot and ginger ale.