Sunday, August 23, 2009

WBC09: Day Two--Napa Valley

The next morning, I dragged my tired but happy self onto one of the many buses that would journey up the Calistoga Road to start our day in Napa Valley. It was a mountain ride with many hairpin turns--definitely not for the faint-hearted or hungover, like many of us that morning! We quickly made our way to our first stop, The Greystone-The Culinary Institute of America. The Greystone is a spectacular landmark which once upon a time was owned by the Christian Brothers. It is a place for wine and food education and houses many bits of Napa Valley history. Here we were treated to a nice breakfast buffet and some great keynote speakers such as Barry Schuler, former AOL president. He entertained us with his talk about the future of blogging and social media. Next up was Jim Gordon from "Wines And Vines" Magazine. He spoke on several subjects including the future of blogging and wine writing, how smoke taint is affecting California wines and AVA's outside of California.

After that, the agenda got a little crazy. We were not told in advance where we would be going. Each bus had a specific, secret agenda. I had a friend in Yountville who wanted to meet up with me so a "little birdie" told me to get on bus 4. Then it switched to bus 8. My bus was supposed to go to Domaine Chandon for lunch. I got on my bus only to find out they had switched the agenda and we were headed north to Calistoga to visit Cuvaison, a small winery near the northern end of the Silverado Trail.

So began my long Napa Valley journey that morning. As we drove past Clos Pegase, a spectacular winery with artwork galore, I made a mental note to myself to add them to my next trip agenda. Soon we arrived at the tiny little building known as Cuvaison Winery. As some of us got off the bus and made our way into the winery, we were told to turn around and get back on the bus. Their sister facility, a new tasting room in Carneros, was waiting to serve us our lunch. Carneros was about 40 miles or so in the other direction!!! Oh my! But all was not so bad for me, I relished the fact that now I was going to get a whole tour of the Silverado Trail, from the northern end to the southern end, all in one shot! As I looked to my right, I spotted the infamous Three Palm Vineyard, Duckhorn, ZD Winery, Quintessa (where we would go later), Mumm Napa and on the left, the spectacular Miner Family Vineyards. We took a right turn on to the Yountville Cross Rd. and I tried but failed to send my friend a text: "I'm finally in Yountville--guess what? I can't get off this bus! Going to Carneros..." We never did meet up that day...

We finally reached our destination: the new Cuvaison tasting room and facility, a beautiful, brand new, state of the art facility right in the heart of Carneros. Our group was greeted immediately with a nice glass of Cuvaison Sauvignon Blanc. We had a nice lunch, catered by the Jimtown Store in Healdsburg, upstairs in a conference room. Jay Schuppert, the President and CEO of Cuvaison treated us to a wonderful discussion of their "GREEN" program as we ate and sampled some of their wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. As we left the room to go visit the new tasting room, he told us we could each take a bottle! Very nice! The Mt. Veeder Cab went back to Iowa with me! Ah, the view of Carneros from the tasting room is spectacular! The people at this winery are so nice and friendly and love their jobs! I highly recommend a visit!

We happily piled back onto the bus and on to our next stop, which at first I thought I heard the driver say was "Stags Leap". How exciting! But then as we headed up HWY 29, I knew we couldn't be going there unless we were lost again. Someone mentioned "Staglin". "Wow! No way!" I thought to myself. I have long known about the Staglin family--having learned about them from the documentary film, "Mondovino." I knew all about their contributions to mental health research, their high end, sought after wines and their story of how they fell in love with Napa Valley after visiting several times and how they made their dreams of owning a high-end winery come true. Cool! I was thrilled to be there! As I got off the bus, Shari Staglin was waiting there to greet us and welcome us. I told her I was from Iowa and she said she also had midwestern roots, hailing from South Dakota. Her husband, Garen, who was standing by the winery entrance, shook my hand and welcomed me. We were all seated at a very long table to discuss "Size Matters". Also there were representatives from three other wineries of various sizes: Pete Przybylinski, Sr. VP of Sales and Strategy for Duckhorn Wine Company, Russell Weis, General Manager of Silverado Vineyards and Sue Parry of Parry Cellars. As we, the bloggers, sat with them discussing the size of the wineries and the special needs they have, we wondered whether we would ever get to see or taste any of their coveted wines. There was wine, wine everywhere and not a drop to drink! In talking with bloggers who had attended other panel discussions, we felt a bit cheated afterwards! I understand we were there to discuss the size of the wineries, but others elsewhere were sampling verticals and wines that their guest speakers provided and got the royal treatment. We were sitting there with bottled water. We didn't come to Napa to blog about water. And while I mean no disrespect to our hosts and the parties involved, we feel they may have missed part of the point by not sharing the goods at that particular time! Nonetheless, I was thrilled to be in their company and felt like I came away learning a little more than when I arrived.

As we boarded the bus, we were grumpy from the lack of wine as we headed to a special Napa Grand Tasting at Quintessa. Quintessa is a spectacular winery and producer of several Bordeaux-style wines including Quintessa, a red Bordeaux-blend, Illumination, a Sauvignon Blanc and the latest, Faust Cabernet Sauvignon. The place itself is like a fortress and our tasting took place down in their basement in a cool room that held all their stainless steel tanks. Just imagine table after table of top Napa Valley producers and their top wines. It was crazy!! Among the wineries represented were: Cornerstone Cellars, Peju, Silverado Vineyards, Staglin Family (their winemaker was there with one of their wines), Duckhorn (yes, finally--their Merlot is fantastic!), Nickel And Nickel, Far Niente, Cakebread, Elizabeth Spencer, Kapcsandy, Lail, Clark-Claudon, Ehlers Estate, St. Clement, Spottswoode, Signorello Vineyards, Ladera, Gargiulo Vineyards, Miner Family, Frank Family, Conn Creek, Robert Mondavi, the list goes on forever... Wow! I couldn't even stop to breathe! It was just amazing! Stand-outs for me were: Ladera, Gargiulo Vineyards, St. Clement, Clark-Claudon, Signorello and of course, the Quintessa wines were great! It was definitely the holy grail!

Next up: dinner at a specific winery. Someone got on our bus, which was headed to Conn Creek, and said they needed four people to get off the bus and board a different one. I volunteered, not sure why, but I'm glad I did because what awaited me was unbelievable! We ended up at Gargiulo Vineyards, a very small, private winery on the Oakville Cross Road, just down the road from Silver Oak and next door to the coveted Screaming Eagle property. The place is unbelievably beautiful and so serene! We sat at these lovely, decorated picnic tables enjoying a dinner catered by the Roli Roti truck--amazing rotisserie chicken and tri-tip with chimichurri sauce, roasted potatoes and roasted corn salad! There were four wineries represented there that evening: Gargiulo Vineyards, Broman Cellars, Fontanella and Castello di Amorosa. I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Broman Augustine, a contact I have on Facebook. She was there representing Broman. Also there was the winemaker from Fontanella, Jeff Fontanella. He came over to our table and talked about the wines and his role in the process. I also had the chance to reconnect with my friend Cheryl Alvarez from Miraflores Winery as we sat and had dinner. Just an unbelievable and unforgettable evening!

After a long, harrowing and bumpy bus ride back to Santa Rosa via the Calistoga Road, I skipped the last event of the day! The VinPortugal tasting took a backseat to my fatigue that evening! I heard I missed out on quite the spectacle!! Badly-needed sleep was beckoning me!

Stay tuned for Day Three!!

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