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Napa Valley tour offers a feast for the eye and palate

May, 2009

The Kuleto Estate Winery, with owner Paul Kuleto’s home in the background. Click image to view larger version. Photos: Todd Pritchett

Our plan was to take a road trip up the California Coast, from LA where we live, along the Pacific Coast Highway. With a few destinations in mind, we took off with no reservations and no direction other than north.

Just a short 80 minutes north of San Francisco, Yountville is at the epicentre of Napa Valley – a food oasis in a valley of wines and vines rolling into the horizon. We focused our tastings in the Rutherford area and discovered that reservations were needed for most tours. We did four tours over two days. We also tried a few of the local restaurants and we found a bakery that was beyond compare.

Writer Amy Newborn and photographer Todd Pritchett. Click image to view larger version.

We started our wine tasting tour at Round Pound Estate. We drove up to the gate and called to make an appointment. A woman answered and managed to fit us in immediately. We entered through two over-sized glass doors into the main foyer area. We paid $25 each and were led upstairs to the tasting room, which had a large bar, soaring cathedral ceilings with light coming in from everywhere and an opening to the barrel room below. The terrace was breathtaking, with rows and rows of grape vines growing below. We chose a corner seat beside the fireplace.

The sommelier was extremely attentive and brought us our first tasting immediately, explaining that Round Pond is a family owned and operated estate winery that produces mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. He also brought out a trio of amuse bouche’s – with duck confit, thin dough and cheese, and a mini potato pancake, to pair with our three wine tastings. Our favourite wine was the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

After an hour and a half of being treated like VIPs, we descended the stairs and asked the hostess for suggestions about where to go next. She was very helpful and made a few calls, managing to get us a reservation at Vine Cliff.

The Kuleto Estate Pond overlooks the infinity pool and Lake Hennessey. Click image to view larger version.

One the way to Vine Cliff, I made reservations for the next day. I called Schramsburg, a California sparkling wine producer, as well as Kuleto Estate, which the woman had recommended.

We arrived at Vine Cliff and walked into a large warehouse, which housed many barrels of wine. For $35, we tried three wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay, and a Merlot. The tasting lasted only 30 minutes and then we were off to find a snack.

We found a fancy food court called Oxbo Public Market – a fancier, smaller version of Atwater Market. We discovered a great charcuterie and perched ourselves at the wine bar. Our bartender was in her mid-20s and studying to be a sommelier. She let us eat our assorted meats and olives from the charcuterie at the bar and poured us a sparkling rosé wine for about $8.50 for a half-litre – more than enough after our two wine tastings!

We needed some fuel for our adventures the next morning so we stopped at Bouchon Bakery. They have fresh-baked pastries and paninis. My favourite treat was the nutterbutter peanut butter cookie – two cookies with peanut butter in between – like an ice cream sandwich, but better!

Cutting across from the coast to Napa Valley, we stopped to photograph some vines near Yorkville, along highway 128. Click image to view larger version.

We drove to the gate of the Kuleto Estate, and then up and up for almost 10 minutes to the top of the hill, through sprawling fields of vines. We paid $35 each and were led into a room with brown leather couches and a large wooden table near the bar, where we took our seats. The sommelier poured two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon and led us through the marvelous 800-acre estate. He informed us that the estate was self sufficient, producing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, spices and even poultry. They also had their own charcuterie.

A brown Lab followed us through the rest of our tour after taking a sip from a fountain overlooking the river and vineyard below. We got back to the wine tasting room and were presented with three cheeses – a blue cheese that looked like it was still alive, aged cheddar and goat. All three were delicious and made to compliment the three wines we were about to taste. The wines were great but the tour of the grounds was even better and we left happily satisfied.

We got to Schramsburg with not a second to spare. The $35 tour had already started and there were about 10 other people composed of retired couples and some rich-looking forty-somethings. We were obviously the youngest ones there. The tour guide led us through the tunnels beneath the main buildings, which housed barrels and bottles of wines. It looked like there were several thousand. The ceilings were full of moss and cobwebs and the bottles shimmered in the dim light. The tour guide explained to us how the sparkling wine was made and led us to a room where we were poured four different ones to taste. They were all exquisite!

Our wine tasting experience far exceeded my expectations. If you want to live “the life” for a few days, the Napa Valley does not disappoint.

Todd Pritchett is a photographer in LA. To view more of his work:



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