A 4:30 alarm on Thursday morning took me through the motions of shower, dressed, out the door and to the airport to meet my sister-in-law, Allison, and several friends for her pre-wedding getaway to Sonoma Valley, California. I had been to Napa one time before for a wedding, but being six months pregnant at the time kept me from…let’s say…enjoying all that wine country has to offer.
***notice I’m wearing my favorite fall wedges!!!
To celebrate the future Mrs. Clarke, we kicked off our weekend at SIGH Sonoma, a champagne bar in the downtown plaza. It was nestled back away from the street past a vine laden courtyard, trickling fountain and charming statues. Only in Sonoma!
The sound of a cork leaving a bottle of champagne should mimic the SIGH of a contented woman.
I couldn’t agree more.
Friday morning we headed over to…get ready…VGS! for a wine and bite tasting in their new tasting room and gardens. After reading my post in June about the VGS wine tasting I attended in Dallas, Allison mentioned visiting the vineyard on our trip. So what did I do? I called Matthew and made reservations for 11, of course! The VGS tasting room is located on the East side of HWY 29, just two blocks South of Main Street in St. Helena. A beautiful pavilion is set up in the garden as you enter the tasting room, and with the clear blue skies and 76° highs, it is the perfect setting for an inspired Napa afternoon.
The inside of the tasting room is delightful. The muted but happy interior reinforces the winery’s mindset:
Come to a place that reflects the style of our wines…elegant, restrained, and completely well done in all details. A place that reflects our attitude throughout…fun, easy and sometimes irreverent, but never pretentious.
The walls are covered with a tree-lined wallpaper that is at the same time, both simple and luxe. Miniature hot air balloons of different sizes and colors hang wistfully in front of the windows, the Napa sunshine illuminating the already lively hues. Clear bubble wine glasses [in the appropriate shape, of course] stand tall on a tasting card, the bright color theme and scheme carried through to this spot as well. Their attention to detail is wonderful. We were even given colored pencils to make notes about the wines we tasted! Our group sat in a private room at a beautifully set table which happened to be an enameled door topped with glass. The butter yellow finish matched the bottoms of our stem-less water glasses, the Happy O Tumbler by Riedel. We all fell in love on site and asked where we could find them. I’m sure more than a few of us ordered a set as soon as we returned home.
The tasting included four wines paired with four bites from the Michelin Starred restaurant, La Toque. The food was delicious as was the wine, and our time at VGS was over all too soon.
Lunch at Gott’s Roadside hamburger stand was everything I remembered from my last visit to Napa. Who doesn’t need to stop for a hamburger, milkshake and garlic fries in the midst of wine country? A girls gotta eat!
After lunch, we headed north to Chateau Montelana where we learned of the 1976 Judgement of Paris. Hosted by the French, this tasting took place on May 24, 1976, and was designed to shed some light on wines from Napa Valley which, until this time, were considered a joke amongst the world’s leading wine-o’s. Nine French judges of stellar ability and reputation participated in a blind tasting. California Chardonnay was up against French white Burgundy. And the crème de la crème of Bordeaux was up against California Cab. The winners? The 1973 Stags Leap Wine Cellar S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1973 Chateau Montelana Chardonnay. After that day, Napa Valley, California was on the map of wine enthusiasts all over the globe. You can see Hollywood’s version of events in the 2008 film staring Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman and Chris Pine called, Bottle Shock.
The wine lived up to it’s gold standard reputation, although our palettes are not as refined as those at the Judgement of Paris. I overheard one of the bar tenders say he had seen only one bottle purchased of the ’73 Chardonnay. It cost $22,500–which was donated to a charity. So we all pitched in and bought a bottle for Allison and Jared.
We made one last stop at Hall Wines before heading home and then to dinner. The gorgeous facility is only about nine months old, and a mecca for those who love a modern atmosphere, expressive art and masterful architecture. Oh! And great wine.
Saturday morning we ate breakfast at the Sunflower Caffe in downtown Sonoma. My breakfast was so delicious, I can’t wait make it for Brian. A thin slice of sourdough toast was topped with ricotta cheese, a layer of wilted spinach, a layer of sliced avocados and finally a layer of sliced hardboiled eggs. It was topped with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, and was one of my favorite meals I ate on this trip. I wish I had taken a picture of it! Had we been in Texas, I’m sure something similar would have been served slathered in hollandaise (which would have been fantastic as well.) However, I do like the simplicity of the Sunflower Caffe’s version. I think it will serve Brian’s health kick well.
After breakfast, all eleven of us were picked up by a Wine Trolley and headed out to visit four different wineries on the Sonoma countryside. As someone who typically doesn’t enjoy organized tours, I have to say this one really was a blast. The trolley itself, is a retired cable car from San Francisco. It doesn’t move faster than about forty miles an hour, but with open air seating and gorgeous scenery, no one was in a hurry.
My favorite of the four vineyards we visited was Benzinger Family Winery. The facility and wine were wonderful, but I especially loved going out into the vineyard and learning about the family’s commitment to biodynamic farming. The species found in the gardens and vegetation surrounding the vineyard are strategically selected for the types of insects they attract. Any waste from the vegetable gardens and orchards are composted to feed the soil. They look to Mother Nature (or God–however you chose to see it) for help to ensure optimum harvests. I have so much respect for this way of thinking, and our mutual respect for nature will definitely bring me back to this vineyard again.
The Girl and The Fig catered a picnic lunch for us, which we ate vine-side, and like everything else on this trip, was out of this world delicious. Mediterranean orzo and potato salads were side dishes to four different types of sandwiches, but the fig bar dessert was the true star of the meal. I HAVE to hunt down this recipe…and I don’t even like to bake. That should tell you how dynamite they are!
After a few more tastes and joining the Bubble Club at VJB Cellars, we were off the Trolley and on to dinner at the Kitchen at the El Dorado Hotel. Hands down best meal of the weekend. The Beef Carpaccio? Melts in your mouth. The Garlic French Fries? Can we have a second order please? The Seafood Paella? Its large enough for THREE! Although I ordered a glass of champagne to celebrate our last night in Sonoma as well as the future Mrs. Jared Clarke, several in our group had non-alcoholic drinks I had to try–and loved. The ‘No-Jito’ consisted of mint, lime and ginger-ale. The Sonoma Spritzer had cucumber, lemon grass, rosemary, lime and sprite. Craft cocktails of the virgin variety! Whodathunk?!
Exhausted and happy, I climbed into Brian’s car at about 6:00 Sunday evening and kissed all three of my boys. I loved wine country, but its always good to be home again. Until next time, Sonoma.