The Sunday-afternoon light is beginning to fade when we get to Frank Family Vineyards in the old Kornell winery on Larkmead Lane, but our spirits are lifted by a welcoming glass of small-lot blanc de blanc sparkling wine with winemaker Todd Graff (pictured), followed by a tasting of the winery’s Napa Valley line of wines and an exquisite dinner with owner Rich Frank at Calistoga’s Solbar restaurant. And so to bed.
What better way to start a new day than breakfast in bed at Meadowood, the elegant resort and spa in the east valley hills? And what a better breakfast than huevos rancheros with a piquant salsa and crusty flour tortillas with thick, hand-cut bacon on the side?
I wake up during the long drive to Paul Hobbs winery in western Sonoma County and by 10 a.m. I'm ready for my first wine of the day. After a chat and a few wines with Hobbs, very well-regarded for his consulting and winemaking skills, team winemaker Josh Hensch treats us to some 2012 barrel samples fresh from the cellar.
Times are exciting at Reuling Vineyard. Winemaker Matt Taylor (left) and owner Tim Reuling explain how the Sonoma Coast vineyard — whose chardonnay grapes won a 99 Parker rating in the 2008 Aubert bottling — is laid out and pruned, while a flock of Shetland sheep in the background show us how the grass is mown.
Inside, Jackie Reuling prepares a new-launch lunch to match a bottle of their first commercial wine — a 2011 Reuling pinot noir to be released this spring. A first-rate cook, Reuling says she is adapting her spicy cuisine to fit her more-elegant wines. Thank goodness, she says, that they are making a rosé of pinot noir, which will be available this summer.
Kathleen Inman loves her husband so much that she made him a sparkling wine from their Olivet Grange vineyard for their anniversary. And they liked it so well, she decided to keep it in her lineup along with her estate-grown pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot gris, thus joining a growing number of Californians producing small-lot, growers’ sparkling wines.
After a bistro dinner in St. Helena, we drive back to Meadowood through the chilly evening as the temperature dips below freezing. I enjoy a brilliantly made Manhattan at the resort’s bar before I retire to my room, where I light a fire and pull up the covers.
There really are sequoia trees at Sequoia Grove along winery row in the middle of Napa Valley. And there really are delicious wines — velvety cabernets and chardonnays — crafted by Mike Trujillo and Molly Hill (pictured), who takes us through a tasting and tour.
It is time to eat again, and today’s lunch begins with a bone-marrow salad and a seafood array at Goose & Gander in St. Helena. Located in the historic Martini House, the restaurant features dishes by local-bounty hunter chef Kelly McCown. If you haven’t eaten there, you need to on your next visit to wine country.
The day — and the visit — ends on a high note, atop Spring Mountain, where winemaker Christopher Howell takes us on a vineyard tour up the mountainsides of Sulfur Creek where the famous Cain Vineyard & Winery is located. The winery itself is at the end of a narrow, winding road that discourages over-imbibing.
But the view Howell shows is worth the climb. And so are the wines, which we taste in barrel and at the table. The next morning, it’s a flight back east, but tonight we are treated to a symphony of Cain wines — Cain Five, Cain Cuvée, and Cain Concept. And I’m glad I’m not the one driving back down the mountain.