SAVE for the Stars and Stripes you occasionally see in plaza squares, the endless miles of rolling vineyards and the rustic feel of the air will fool you into believing you are in the Bordeaux wine region of France – when, in fact, you are thousands of miles away across the pond and thousand more across land in California.
Located north of San Pablo Bay in the northern portion of the Golden State is Napa County – known today for its regional wine industry. Napa Valley where the vineyards are mostly grown is the nucleus of this industry. The region rose to prominence in 1976 when its local wineries Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelana won the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. It has never looked back ever since.
It is thus a no-brainer that whenever I am in San Francisco, a trip to Napa Valley is always a given. On the way to the Napa Region, we always cross the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County. Driving through the infrastructure named one of the best of the 20th century always makes me giddy with excitement. My romance with the valley usually begins as we enter this iconic bridge.
Situated at the top of a hill, Sterling Vineyards commands a panoramic view of the valley. From this standpoint, one can only be drawn into the nostalgia that wraps around you with such endearing sentiment. I can go on and on with the sheer sentimentality this pocket of land always reminds me of. But not today.
We came to be one with Bacchus and drown ourselves with the nectar of the gods to our heart’s content. Off into the belly of the beast we go. We sampled the Sauvignon Blac, Golden Straw Chardonnay, 2002 Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon – all quite lovely with complex and tasty renderings. But my favorite of them all was the 2004 Malvasia Blanca. I know there are subtle differences between different kinds of wine, whether it be red or white, and there are a lot to taste and learn to differentiate. But with this one – I just can’t explain. I don’t know if it was the ambience of the tasting room and the cacophony of voices that surrounds you—this one kind of pulled my strings altogether. So, there you go. We’re off to inebriation heaven.
And if that wasn’t intoxicating enough, off we go to the Sattui Winery and Deli. With 200 domestic and imported cheeses, meats and pates to pair your wines with, one can achieve nirvana as many times one is reincarnated. With acres of expansive picnic area and lawns surrounding towering old oaks and fabulous views, to say this place is heaven-like is pretty much shortchanging it.
Driving past the charming and quirky little town of Saint Helena, we were on our way to pay homage to the “Old Faithful Geyser of California.” Spewing scalding curtains of water anywhere from 60 to 100 feet into the air every 45 minutes, this was a sight to behold. How much more if it were the original Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park? Surely, we’ll be blown away a hundredfold.
After answering the call of nature – Old Faithful’s hourly discourse that is –it was off to the Culinary Institute of America. Housed in a stone building, its imposing nature is tempered only by the 18,000 blooming tulips and daffodils at the gardens at Villa Fiore where visitors are welcomed with so much color and drama. How befitting that the culinary traditions of Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece were featured at the Institute when we visited. So much delectable cuisine to choose from. But I settled with angel’s hair pasta in Valle Verde Sauce. I have no words to describe it. Let’s leave it at that.
Our culinary adventure got complicated when we went traditional by meeting Larry Peter of Spring Hill Farm, a local cheese maker who served us samples of his award-winning family-made cheese made from 100 per cent jersey milk. It was a bacchanalian feast as we gorged on Caesare, Fettucine Prawns Portofino, Veal Parmigiana and other mouth-watering pasta dishes. And because this is Napa Valley, each dish has an equally outstanding wine to pair it with.
On our way back to San Francisco, we were all quiet in the car. Even the flickering lights of the Golden Gate Bridge cannot get us out of our Napa reverie. Maybe the sunrise over San Francisco Bay will snap us out of it. Hopefully so. Because if not, I don’t mind spending a lifetime with Bacchus in Napa Valley. Bottoms up!