Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Memorial Day in Wine Country

Way back at the end of May, we loaded up the car with the B’s and headed up to wine country. Napa is probably the area of California we have visited the most since moving here, but it never gets old. Every season brings with it a different landscape and different activities. By the end of May the valley is quite green, but still cool. It’s the perfect time to explore the wineries and enjoy some non-drinking outdoor activities.

Friday’s drive into the valley was uneventful. The group had to head into San Francisco to pick me up from SFO. (I spent the week in Virginia for work and flew in to join the group.) Although, we had some traffic as we went into the city and then back out the Golden Gate Bridge, we made the best use of our time by stopping into the Golden Gate National Recreation Area just over the bridge. After a few short walks (and some National Parks Pass Stamps) we headed into Sausa

lito for dinner. Street parking was ample and there were many restaurant options, although we settled on Angelinos, a small Italian place that ended up providing one of the best meals of the trip!

Travis, AFB is a great lodging option, although there are plenty of places in the valley if you prefer to spend a little more and stay closer. We had two full days in the valley and the plan for both days was to visit a few wineries, pack our lunch for a picnic and do a non-drinking activity. We divided our days by valley – Saturday was spent in Napa, Sunday in Sonoma leaving Monday to head back to Edwards.

Saturday morning, after grabbing coffee from the hotel we headed over to the Oxbow Public Market farmer’s market in downtown Napa for breakfast. We prepared fo

r our day by stuffing ourselves with cherries, berries, pastries and even savory creeps. We could have picked up lunch supplies at the market but decided to wait a bit and stop at one of the little groceries further up the valley for sandwiches. (You will never want for food options in Napa.)

V Sattui Winery opens nearly an hour earlier then the other vineyards, so it’s always a good place to start your day. It can get crowded, but we found a spot at the bar and enjoyed a tasting of a variety of wines. V. Sattui has a wide variety of wines and several tasting options in addition to small grocery store where you can pick up picnic supplies. Since it was memorial day weekend they were also barbequing in the back of the property – you can call in advance to see what events they have going on. We almost missed a chance to see the large aging barrels, but we ventured down a p

ath and opened a closed door to find a display area complete with huge again barrels. (If your there its worth a peek, just follow signs to the wine club tasting room.)

Just up the road in Oakville is our favorite place to pick up lunch – Oakville Grocery. We all ordered sandwiches to go and headed a bit farther up the road to Elizabeth Spencer.

We always stop here – partly because we are wine club members and partly because we always hav

e a wonderful time. The wines are a great example

of a small production winery. The tasting room is small but they do have some outdoor seating. We spent over an hour with the lovely people from Elizabeth Spencer learning about their reserve wines.

When we left Elizabeth Spencer it has started to rain, putting a damper on our picnic plans. The boys found a nice rock wall to eat lunch on, while the girls enjoyed our lunch dry in the car in the parking lot of the Culinary Institute of America. Some of you may remember that when Jeff and I went on our “mini-moon” to Napa we had dinner reservations at CIA and accidentally slept through them

after a long day of wine tasting. We decided to try again and made reservations for a cooking demonstration. The demonstration includes a glass of wine and a sample of whatever dish they make. I love cooking classes and this one was a great demonstration of cooking techniques from a CIA instructor. If you’re interested in a class or other activity you should call in advance because they do fill up.

We decided after the cooking class to take advantage of Twitter “check-in specials” around Napa for the remainder of the day – places like Mumm Napa and Turnbull Winery offer t

wo for one tastings when you show your twitter check-in. (We will defiantly take more advantage of these deals the next time we are here.) We found a little church in downtown Napa for evening mass and then grabbed dinner at the Chipotle outside of the base and went back to the room to watch a movie. (Wine tasting will make you very tried!)

Sunday, we had a full day planned over in Sonoma valley – we grabbed lunch at Whole Foods in downtown Napa. (If you tell them your headed out on a picnic they will pack everything so it doesn’t get soggy.) It’s about an hour drive from downtown Napa up into Sonoma valley

. We pulled into Bob Burkes Canoe rental for a half-day trip down the Russian River. Bob’s is your only canoe rental option and they are not organized at all. You should call ahead to make a reservation because they do sell out of boats. You must pay in cash and there is no ATM in the parking lot they run out of – so come prepared. You also will need to leave a drivers license with them to ensure that you return the canoe. Despite their disorganization the canoe trip is well worth it. The river was crowded but there is enough of a current that you will move forward even when you don’t paddle and there are plenty of places to beach your canoe and enjoy lunch. We dinned with a Boy Scout troop on the river earning their canoeing badge. Burkes does have changing rooms when you get back from canoeing so you can continue your day without feeling like you were in a canoe all morning.

Korbel is just down the road from Burkes and is a well-deserved stop. They offer free tours of the gardens and the cellar – both, which are interesting. The tours and tasting are free but are capped, so check in at the old railroad building to find out what the tours are looking like for that day. (We have never had trouble getting on a tour here.) The tour comes with a tasting – although you can also just go do a tasting in their tasting room. Most importantly, Korbel offers a 50% discount on all purchases to all active duty military!

We had dinner at a little place called Uva Trattoria Italiana. Parking was a bit of a problem and the food was fine – on a different trip we had Pizza and Salads at a place jus

t down the road and I thought that place was better. There is nothing wrong with this place, but it just wasn’t anything special either.

Monday we decided to grab a big breakfast at Huckleberry’s on our way out of town – it’s a little breakfast dinner with a “tom sawyer” type theme. The breakfast was delicious and put us all in a good mood for the drive home. There is no good way to get back from Napa – it’s a boring drive. Luckily, I had the Bossypants Audiobook on my iPod and we laughed all the way to Fresno where we finally stopped for lunch at In N’ Out Burger and a tour of Baldasar’s Underground Gardens.

The Underground Gardens deserve their own post. They are weird. They are so weird I am not sure if I should recommend the place or not. Basically, this immigrant thought it was too hot to grow citrus so he dug and then lived in miles and miles of tunnels growing citrus – now they give to

urs. The admission price is a bit hefty, but honestly it was worth it to say we have hit the biggest tourist attraction in Fresno. (I've posted photos bellow to illustrate the creepiness.)

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