Sunday, February 5, 2012

Day Trip to Napa Valley

Written by Karen
A gentle-sloped vineyard in Napa Valley
It’s a relatively short driving distance from the Bay Area, but it is a different world when you arrive in Napa Valley.  So, we took a day trip to Napa Valley with some friends of ours yesterday. It was an opportunity to catch up, hang out, sample some great wines, eat good food, and enjoy the unseasonably warm weather.  

The signs and smells of spring were everywhere. The neatly trimmed vines were in perfect parallel formation. The wisps of fresh green spring sprouts and the waves of mustard yellow undulated along the roadway.  We enjoyed the long vistas and scenic, natural sight lines as we drove closer to our destination. I watched the hawks soar with the air currents high above us. The majestic oak trees stood stately and proud with their dark branches clearly pronounced against the brilliant blue sky. The faint promise of a sunny and warm day enticed us to have a picnic lunch outside.  Already we were worlds away from the Bay Area.

The two-lane highways meandering throughout the valley beckoned us to explore and find that new and outstanding winery.  The wine.  Really.  Napa Valley is all about experiencing and exploring the wine and the food in a beautiful setting.  

Nature doodling in the sky over V. Sattui Winery
To further enhance that experience, wineries vie for our attention with their rough-hewed wooden beams and stone facades.  Each winery creates their own sense of place, identity and experience in a self-contained village, complete with places to wander, relax, shop, eat, and taste wine.  After you’ve wandered through the stone and wooden buildings of the village, each winery coordinates its marketing efforts to entice you to purchase wine and wine-related objects and sign you up as a member of their wine club.  In keeping with the village metaphor, there’s a concerted effort to sign you up to become a citizen of that particular village.  Fortunately, there is no limit to how many villages you can become citizens of and owe allegiance to!

Napa Valley views from Rombauer Winery
In response to this nod towards commercialization, and perhaps tongue in cheek, one winery employee told us as he boxed up our purchased wines, “Enjoy the rest of your day in this adult Disneyland.”
Hmmm.  Disneyland?  Is this reference similar to the much-scoffed idea of experiencing a slice of Italian life at the Bellagio in Las Vegas? I don’t think so. Napa Valley is a real place - not a fantasy.  
For as many big-time wineries that focus on the commercial aspects of a wine-enhanced lifestyle,  there are plenty of small wineries started by dreamers passionate about creating exceptional wines.  Artists. These are the small family wineries that you can find off the well-travelled road that makes exploring the Napa Valley region so exciting.  You never know what you are going to discover.  
And, in that artistic venue of creating great wines, there is also room for restaurants to showcase those wines with their own expressions of Napa Valley-style cuisine. More artistry.  And again, it’s up to us to search these places out and give them a try. This is a powerful combination for those who enjoy good food and good wine. 

First signs of spring at Rombauer Winery
On this trip, we tasted a Zinfandel flight at one of our favorite wineries, Rombauer, and tried wines from V. Sattui Winery.  We took home bottles from both wineries to savor at another time.  Each bottle that we purchased is forever associated with the good times that we shared with good friends throughout this day.  Great weather. Great food. Great wine. Great conversation. Great friends. What a great combination for a day well spent. 

So, if you've been to Napa Valley, you know what I'm talking about. What wineries and restaurants have you discovered off the beaten track?  

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