Lori Carey Photography

Thursday, August 9, 2007

July Road Trip VII - Napa

I guess I really need to wrap this trip up so I can move on to more current things! To be honest, the rest of the trip was disappointing photographically, and I think that's why I've been avoiding it. But, it was fantastic as far as vacation-worthy.

From Bodie we began our trek toward Napa; 395N to the very cool Monitor Pass (CA89). I imagine that in a wet year this road is absolutely gorgeous in the spring with plenty of wide open fields for wildflowers. In the middle of a dry-year summer, we had to be content with breathtaking mountains vistas and the clear blue lake. Monitor Pass is a designated National Scenic Drive, and it reaches an elevation of 8314 feet. There is a very neat stone marker at the high point and aspen trees that I would love to see in their golden glory in the fall. At the bottom we do a quick drive-by through the Lake Tahoe area, then it's on to the scorching inferno of the Sacramento Valley. This is the one spot that really made me regret that we were driving in an open-air jeep. We had the top up to protect us from the sun, but all of the windows were out and left at home. We figured we didn't want to risk someone deciding to slash the windows if they were going to steal our gear; better to just make it easy for them. The a/c was blasting, but it wasn't much relief when the thermometer hit 109.

Bill and I are really into our wine, and we had been talking about getting up to Napa for quite some time, although this really wasn't how I had planned to do it. I thought when we went it would be for a week, staying in a quaint B&B, with appointments for all the right wineries and reservations at French Laundry. Oh well, next time I supposed. We did make a smart decision to spend two nights so we could enjoy some tastings. We did pack SOME respectable clothes in our backpacks, so we found a chain hotel in downtown Napa and had dinner at a local Italian restaurant where we could sit at an outside table and watch the world pass by. After several days on the road it felt so good to have a real meal in comfortable surroundings. After dinner we took a drive through the vineyards territory looking for something to catch my eye for sunset, but I didn't find anything inspiring. We made it an early night.

The next morning we hit the road early looking for early light opportunities. We drove along the Silverado Trail, prowled around the back roads, found a narrow winding road that took us to a high point overlooking all of the vineyards, but nothing was working for me. I think it is because I am so enamored of Santa Barbara county vineyards, and maybe I was hoping to capture that same look and feel, but I didn't find it in Napa. Sometimes my muse needs a rest, so I put the camera away and we decided to see which walk-in tasting rooms were open on this July 4th holiday. Although we could've tried getting walk-up appointments at some of the better wineries, we just left that for our next visit when we could do it properly.

After perusing the list and the map we decided it made most sense to select one district rather than popping all around since the valley is 30 miles long. We agreed on Rutherford since we are both fans of Cabernet with the distinct Rutherford Dust. Our first stop was Provenance Vineyards, which makes a nice daily drinker that we enjoy. There was only one other couple in the tasting room and they were a lot of fun, so we had a great time. The tasting room has a great atmosphere with a horseshoe-shaped bar, a floor made out of barrel tops, and absolutely no pretension. We spent much more time here than we planned because we were just having a great time and the atmosphere was wonderful. I definitely recommend this tasting room for a visit. We both chose to do a flight of the reds, but when the conversation turned to red vs white and Bill mentioned that we both hated Chardonnay but were having fun tasting and learning about Sauvignon Blanc, our hostess gave us each a pour of their 2006 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford. Although the 2006 wasn't as good as the 2005 (87 points vs 93 points from Wine Spectator), it was still enjoyable and we purchased a bottle for our picnic lunch later in the day. With the temperature already in the 90's, a lightly chilled white seemed more appropriate than our favored Cab. Into the cooler it went (which had been freshly stocked with ice from the hotel ice-maker) and off we went in search of the next tasting room. Oh, I did forget to mention that we stopped at the famed Oakville Grocery to stock our picnic basket earlier that morning. What an incredible selection of cheeses!

Next stop was Beaulieu Vineyard, which has always been one of Bill's favorites. He's been spoiled by only drinking the Georges de LaTour reserve in the better vintages, so when we entered the tasting room, greeted with a complimentary glass wine, and were told that the reserve tastings were in another building, off we went. B.V. is not very consistent from year to year - it either scores in the 90's or the mid-to-high 80's. But a high 80's wine is still a wonderful wine, although a bit pricey when the label says Napa Valley. The reserve tasting room was empty when we first showed up, and we had a wonderful conversation with our host. Everything from the B.V. philosophy to why he chose to spend his second career as a tasting room host. I wish I could remember his name (Michael?) because he truly made our day. This is a tasting room that makes you feel spoiled. Once again we did a flight of reds, and halfway through we were joined by another couple. When we finished our tasting our host took us back to the Cabernet cellar where there were bottles from every vintage of B.V. Georges de LaTour Reserve. If you truly love wine this kind of experience is almost as good as sex. No, more like foreplay. Sex would be actually tasting the vertical. Anyway, apparently our host overhead us talking about purchasing a bottle from the year we were married to drink on our 10th anniversary (OMG, that's actually next year). Unfortunately 1998 wasn't one of their better vintages, only scored an 87 with Wine Spectator and the price was $85, but sometimes you just have to go with it. We also had to purchase the nifty new Vinturi Essential Wine Aerator after doing a side-by-side taste test. It's Bill's newest toy and he brings it everywhere. I never realized that my husband would turn into such a wine geek. On our first date he brought me Berringer's White Zinfandel! How far he's come.

B.V. does not have picnic facilities, and the heat was really getting to us, so we went back to the hotel to eat our picnic lunch in cool air conditioning, then I succumbed to a nap. When we headed back out at 4:00, we found that most of the tasting rooms closed at 4:00. We found one that stayed open until 5:00; Alpha Omega, one of Napa's newest wineries. What a difference compared to the two previous wineries we visited! This was not enjoyable at all. I don't know if they do it all the time, but when we visited they would take a group of people (12 or so) into a private room and rapidly pour a small taste of the various wines - no choice of which flight you would prefer, just whatever they were pouring. No personal touch, it felt very mass market. We didn't enjoy the wines, and although there is some beautiful artwork in the building the host wasn't in the mood to have a conversation about it. There was a very pervasive feeling of "we're just doing this because we have to." Bye-bye!

I still had photography on my mind so we drove down another back road. I snapped a few shots of the early evening sun on the vineyards, and although the leading lines were good the skies really weren't, so I'm not overwhelmed with the images. We came across a vineyard where it seems all of the locals park to watch the fireworks and figured that was as good a place as any, so we joined the group. I wasn't in the mood for firework photography this year, so we just kicked back and enjoyed. It was a fantastic view of a great show, and definitely a memory for the scrapbook.

I supposed this wouldn't be a photography blog without photos, so I'll leave you with the one thing that really caught my eye; a sculpture outside the Calistoga Beverage Company:

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