Tag: Napa

Cast

Cast: our favorite happy place in Dry Creek Valley

On our third day in Napa (a Saturday, and our friend Jamie’s birthday), we decided to venture over to Sonoma. It was Katy and I’s day to plan, and we really wanted to expose the group to a side of wine country they had likely never seen (i.e. the less snooty, more affordable side!).

Something different this trip: we had a limo taking us around all day. It was the first time Katy and I had done this and it was definitely a much safer alternative that allowed us to focus more on our time with friends (instead of navigating, losing cell service, etc etc). This did present some challenges, though, in terms of staying on schedule. Admittedly, the group was a bit more relaxed and leisurely than we predicted, so missing out on one tasting wasn’t the end of the world.

We originally aimed to do Cast, a possible flex option before lunch, Imagery, Eric Ross, and Saintsbury. We only ended up getting to Cast, Eric Ross, and Saintsbury. It was still a blast!

The reviews from day three:

  • Cast
    • Wine Score: 9/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 9/10
    • Notes: Very consistent with our prior trips (this was at least our 3rd visit to the vineyard).
  • Eric Ross
    • Wine Score: 8/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 8/10
    • Notes: While it was very enjoyable (similar to our prior visits), we were a bit turned off this time because we were not greeted as favorably because we were a large group. Considering this is the type of place that doesn’t really accommodate large groups, we shouldn’t have been too upset about it, but the fact that we did reserve in advance left us a bit sad. Once the owner came over though and put two-and-two together – they did seem to be much warmer with us.
  • Saintsbury
    • Wine Score: 9/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 10/10
    • Notes: We actually rated Saintsbury higher this time. Not because it was less enjoyable the first time around (we scored it overall 8/10). But more so because the experience as a group was so enjoyable. Everything from our new best friend Jacob (who poured us delicious wine), to the fact that we signed up for the wine club (because, admittedly, this is still the best Pinot Noir we’ve ever had and only realized that much later after our first visit), everything just seemed right. And, to top it off, the owner and head vintner/winemaker was there. They even autographed the magnums I purchased. How cool!!

All in all, we had an amazing trip and were very fortunate to get to spend it with so many of our friends. Can’t wait to go back next March!

Til Next Time,

Michael

Del Dotto Caves

On our second day in Napa (a Friday), we decided to primarily stay on the Napa side of the valley, although Katy and I lobbied hard to get everyone to Sonoma (more on that during Saturday’s post, though, as we were given the chance to plan that whole day’s itinerary!).

We were actually rather pleased with Napa for once, and the wineries, tasting rooms, and prices didn’t feel quite as exorbitant as other places we’d been on that side (with the exception of one – more to come on that in a moment!). We started the day at Del Dotto, and then migrated to Paraduxx, which was actually all we were able to do that day. Why, you may ask? Well, we actually scored a hard-to-get reservation at the French Laundry, and six of us decided that would be an ideal way to have a once-in-a-lifetime meal at one of the country’s most famous establishments. I’ll have to dedicate a separate post just to the meal, though, as there are so many details that it would get distracting (and I’d start to get hungry as I type).

The reviews from day two:

  • Del Dotto
    • Wine Score: 9/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 9/10
    • In full disclosure, I would usually avoid recommending somewhere like this due to the tasting fee ($75). However, it was simply the best barrel tasting experience I have ever experienced, and the uniqueness with which they customize your group’s tour is unparalleled. Barrel tastings are where you get the chance to taste wine directly from the small batch barrels in which it is aging (sometimes even before they would claim a wine otherwise “ready” to be drank – so that you can see how the wines age with time and how that impacts their aromas, flavors, and tannins). One drawback, though, was the price of the wine itself. While it is some of the best Cabernet I think I’ve ever had – the going rate for most bottles was $100-200 (with some selected bottles like a really cool one they have – THE BEAST – ringing in closer to $300). That’s steep. Plus, even though our group of 8 purchased several thousand dollars worth of wine (mostly all attributed to one of our DINK friends – dual income no kids), they still didn’t refund the tasting fees. This had previously been almost customary, so it’s a bit of a shame that they try to bleed you so much from a financial perspective. Everything else about this stop was incredible!
    • BONUS: They serve you some delicious pizza, homemade sausage and cheese, as well as chocolate at the end of the tour (most likely to help you avoid early intoxication if you’ve got other tastings on the horizon!)

Del Dotto Food

  • Paraduxx
    • Wine Score: 7/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 7/10
    • This was a cool spot, and had some great wine. It’s a part of the extended Duckhorn family, so you know you’re getting a good, quality product. Our tasting table outside, on a very nice day, was a great way to relax the afternoon away, all while enjoying the elixir of the gods.

Stay tuned for the review of the day we planned (Saturday). It’ll have a lot of familiar names that I’ve written about before. Spoiler alert: they did not disappoint at all!

Til Next Time,

Michael

Caymus Entry

The grounds at Caymus

At least that’s what I’ll call it, since I think I’ve now been on serious trips to wine country (i.e. more than one day) around five times. And this will be my commentary for day one.

For our first time ever, we decided to fly into Sacramento (SMF) instead of San Francisco (SFO) or Oakland (OAK). I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that this airport was an enjoyable (and much less crowded) respite from the bigger city airports. While we had to wait just a bit for a shuttle to the rental car facility (mind you, this was a huge weekend out there so it was abnormally busy), we found everything else about the experience to be quite pleasant. And, given that it is roughly equidistant from our target destination, it was totally worth it!

On the first day, we landed just after noon, and decided we could still meet up with a few of our friends who were either there early or driving up from the Bay Area that morning. So – with limited time, we opted for somewhere that we knew we would enjoy, and wouldn’t mind spending some time at in case it was our only vineyard of the day. As such, we picked Caymus, a label that we were all somewhat familiar with in advance due to their national distribution and availability.

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As far as a “rating”, I’d say:

  • Caymus
    • Wine Score: 7/10
    • Property/Tasting Room Score: 6/10

Once I get a chance, I’ll be sure to update with pictures as well as additional posts/commentary for Friday/Saturday stops!


Til Next Time,

Michael

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The awesome setup at Sainsbury

Day 4 allowed us to catch a couple on the way out of town. Definitely glad we made the trip to stumble upon Saintsbury – it was DYNAMITE.

Day 4… Two Wineries on the way out of town:

  • Artessa (Southwestern Napa):
    • Pros: Interesting property with great views of Sonoma/Napa
    • Cons: “Modern” property actually feels dated, fairly un-personal tasting experience
    • Overall Score: 3/10 –  not worth the trip
  • Saintsbury (Southwestern Napa – between Downtown Napa and Downtown Sonoma):
    • Pros: Welcoming and warm staff members, smaller facility with tour included, beautiful grounds, best Pinots that we tasted over the whole trip
    • Cons: Off the beaten path, tasting requires an hour minimum (reservations recommended)
    • Fun Fact: they have a great selection of “large format” wines that I “accidentally” indulged in
    • Overall Score: 8/10 –  worth the trip
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One of my last “artsy” pics of the trip

Til Next Time,

Michael

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I figured I would start off my review of vineyards from the trip in sequential order, starting with the first afternoon we spent in wine country – over on the Napa/Silverado Trail side of the valley. I’ll try to give as much relevant information as possible while not being too grossly overwhelming. I feel like any time people start trying to nitpick the wine itself, something is lost. I’m just trying to share information I would want to know prior to going (in other words – “is Vineyard XYZ worth the trip”… which is much more than just “is the wine delicious/economical/etc” as far as I’m concerned).

Day 1… Four Wineries in Napa/Silverado Trail:

  • Frog’s Leap (Mid-Napa):
    • Pros: Beautiful grounds, comfortable atmosphere, snacks provided with tastings, and extra stuff to see and do around the property (e.g. The Barn, garden area, etc)
    • Cons: Requires appointment, only selected wines are not distributed (i.e. you can get majority of their wines across the country in retail environments)
    • Fun Fact: their corks say “Ribbit” (a nod to the other frog design and brand aesthetics)
    • Overall Score: 7/10 –  worth the trip
  • Round Pond (Mid-Napa):
    • Pros: Great rooftop patio, scenic views of the whole Napa Valley
    • Cons: Requires appointment, very limited tasting capacity (i.e. They often will not even allow all of their tables to be filled if they are at all short on servers/employees)
    • Overall Score: 6/10 –  worth the trip, but not a “must”
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The “Ribbit” corks at Frog’s Leap

  • Robert Sinksey (Silverado Trail):
    • Pros: Recently completed patio construction and other related property updates, good lesser-known varietals and blends of wine
    • Cons: Not a ton of “wow” factor, tastings are fairly expensive, a bit dark/void of light on the inside if that is where you do your tasting
    • Overall Score: 5/10 – I’d go back but not unless I was already over in that part of the Silverado Trail
  • Regusci (Silverado Trail):
    • Pros: Dog-friendly property, laid back atmosphere, very helpful and friendly staff
    • Cons: Not loaded with memorable wines, a bit of a hike out of the way unless you are deliberate about wanting to get over to the South end of the Silverado Trail
    • Overall Score: 5/10 – same story as Sinskey

Til Next Time,

Michael

Having been to wine country a number of times now, I always find myself coming back with modified opinions on the age-old debate of “which is better” – Napa or Sonoma. I initially fell in love with Napa, but then cheated on it with Sonoma – and am admittedly probably still more attracted to the new kid on the block. But they both really are magical and I would never turn down a trip to either. Below, I’ve listed an updated set of thoughts and reactions for each.

Napa:

  • More expensive tastings ($15-30 apiece)
  • Less picturesque, aside from the Silverado Trail, where the topography starts to yield better views of the valley
  • Generally yuppier clientele
  • More hidden gems than I recall (e.g. Saintsbury)
  • Bigger and more famous vineyards
  • Much more corporate and quick to push product on tasters
  • Upscale, recently-reconstructed downtown area
  • Less residential areas (more of a Bed-and-Breakfast scene)
  • Best Pinots around, with other varietals the compliment the portfolio (but don’t hold a flame to the Pinots)

Sonoma:

  • Less expensive tastings (mostly $20 and under)
  • More picturesque, with rolling hills, and a generally “greener” landscape
  • More laid back clientele
  • More hidden gems than I recall (e.g. Cast)
  • Smaller and more quaint vineyards
  • Less corporate, more independent, and you feel less pressured to purchase product
  • Older, more quaint downtown area
  • More residential areas (more ideal for an Airbnb)
  • Less impressed with their Pinots, and more impressed with varietals I didn’t previously associate with the area (e.g. Zins, Cabs, Syrahs, blends, etc)

All in all, I think Napa probably still has a higher ceiling, with more of the top-end names (both wineries and restaurants, like French Laundry). It definitely has more money invested in it, and it shows – as evidenced by comparing the town squares. But I still prefer Sonoma because of the quaint and less arrogant feel.

Much more to come as I review some of the stops along the way!

Til Next Time,

Michael


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