is far from what you dream of, does not mean is far from paradise. Napa
When I started down the
St. Helena Highway (Route 29), the main
thoroughfare that strings together the Valley’s towns and vineyards, I felt a
tinge of disappointment. The Autobahn it is not, but neither is it a quaint,
country dirt road. No bicycle baskets filled with bottles and baguettes here.
But beyond the asphalt hum, offshoot roads spider-web up into the adjacent hills or cross perpendicular over the valley, connecting with the somewhat parallel-running Silverado Trail. Along these tendrils you’ll find the juicy fruit.
The simple rule for the bolder traveler is to avoid the mega-mart vineyards in exchange for the family-owned, couple-acre, creatively-named boutique winery. The philosophy is certainly advantageous. You avoid the large tourist busses, tasting pours tend to be more generous and you may just pick up some knowledge from the owners/operators. Plus, you can very easily find yourself in a quiet corner of
with a private picnic lunch and a
delicious view. Some tactic is necessary to divide and conquer your fair share
of the Valley, what with so many ducks, frogs, horns and Italian phrases scribbled
over your guide map. Some good advice? Ask advice. B&B proprietors are a
good start. California
Up into the hills off of Route 29 hides Hendry Ranch Wines. They offer perhaps the best tour around, or at least the most distinctive, but nevertheless they uncork an array of luscious vintages. Like any smaller operation, the Hendry vintners take pride in each grape and they pour passion into every glass. Owner George Hendry began as a scientist, creating the cyclotron, a particle accelerator that is used in medical imaging. He still lives in the white house at the edge of the property. But our tour was given by George's cyclotron partner, Jeff Miller, who described the inner workings of the winery in an exquisitely scientific way. Jeff provided interesting perspective, one that proved wine-making is just as much science as it is art. The oak-aged vintage, with its dominant and smoky whisky finish, is creative but precise. No frills but truly unique, for a truly unique winery.
To explore more of the Valley we utilized a limo tour, Beau Wine Tours. It was effortless and extravagant and by the time we arrived back at our B&B, we had become fast friends with the other family sharing our car.
As my wife and I stumbled from the limo at our Best Western Elm House, I made sure to cross the B&B's small courtyard. The multitude of rose bushes let off a distinct aroma, adding to the afternoon haze (half sun and half grape induced). We stopped in the lobby and snatched a few fresh-baked cookies and I began to understand the paradise of
This collection of villages is complex but simple. It is American highway and American countryside. It is arrogant but altogether quirky. Part of
charm lies in her ability to honor Janus as much as Bacchus. One moment you’re
standing in a gleaming steel distillery with thousands of bottles rattling to
completion and in the next, the sun is melting behind the far-off ridges while
you enjoy a glass of Cabernet at a picnic table along a silent hillside
Let’s be honest, a stigma of haughty finery has always wafted around in-the-know winos. Blend that with the sometimes-elitist nature of the indie traveler, and you’ve distilled a full-bodied arrogant bouquet that goes down smooth but leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
But in a way, that's part of the fun.
offers the finest sommeliers or Two Buck
Chuck on a picnic table. Either way, you laugh and you drink. Then you laugh
some more because you're drinking and you drink more because you're laughing. Napa
Many of these vineyards are famous for one reason or another. Some because of quality, some because of quantity.
leaves it up to you to decide which
reason to indulge. Napa
Mumm Napa is one of the larger, more frequented stops along most tour bus itineraries. This vineyard, known for its sparkling wine selection, houses a spectacular patio that overlooks its grapevines. Around sunset, when the Greyhounds and Peter Pans rolled out, we caught Mumm exhaling. All it took was a bistro table and a flight of sparkling wine and we found it, right there - paradise in
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