Monday, October 19, 2015

california, here we come: five wineries in a day

On our first full day in Napa, we had big winery plans. But first, we needed breakfast. The aforementioned famed Thomas Keller has a bakery in Yountville called Bouchon Bakery that also has locations in Vegas and NYC (and that we have visited and loved), so that was the obvious choice. I got a savory scone, knowing I would have many opportunities for sweets later in the day, and it wasn't that good. Note to all: Keller's sweet treats are where you really get a payoff. Live and learn. We took a walk after breakfast and came across the garden for Keller's restaurants. It was huge! It was cool to see where food we had eaten the night before was grown. It's directly across the street from the French Laundry, and on another nighttime walk, it looked like patrons were taken out there for a quick tour. Dinner at the French Laundry would easily cost $700 so I will add it to my yet-to-be-made bucket list as we clearly skipped it on this trip.

The garden looking to my left and right (should have taken a panoramic) and then the French Laundry on the other side of the street.

Our first stop that day was Domaine Chandon, close to our hotel. Chandon sparking wines are easily found in stores throughout the US, but Andrew went there on his last visit and remembered it well. This is a large, commercial winery. It has beautiful views and an interesting art collection, but since we shared a tasting, the service was less than stellar. We got a glass at a time and walked around the tasting room and surrounding grounds taking pictures. It was probably one of my least favorite places to visit since I didn't learn anything and can get so many of their wines at home.

Next, we went to V. Sattui Winery and almost accidentally crashed a wedding. V. Sattui encourages picnicking (which requires a permit in Napa!) and had a large deli-type counter for you to buy food, lots of olive oils and cheeses, and a ton of souvenirs. The tasting area was a huge, U-shaped bar and the guy who helped us was super attentive, even though we shared a tasting (and he was nice enough to give us extras to try). There were a few white options as well as a fortified dessert wine and some reds we liked, so we ended up buying half a case to have shipped home.

Our third stop of the day was Prager Family Winery. This one was off the beaten path a little. Napa Valley is known for its Cabernet and Chardonnay for the most part. Prager specializes in ports, or dessert wines. We pulled up to what looked like someone's house and walked in. We saw lots of wine barrels and a counter. Further along in the space, there was a room like a dining room in a house with a ceiling fan and a bar with a sink and a mini-fridge but the walls and ceiling were covered with dollar bills with different messages on them. I kept thinking of Arrested Development and how the money was in the banana stand. We called out and a guy came out to help us. We shared a tasting (again) and we got to keep the glass. The tasting room's soundtrack went from Pink Floyd to Counting Crows and another couple came in as the man working told us about how Prager was truly a family business and offered us some of the sugared pecans that his mom still makes for them to sell. Ports aren't my favorite but I really liked this unique experience. We bought a bottle to bring home and our total ended in a 9, giving us $1 in change, so I of course had to add a dollar to the huge collection. If you ever go, look for the LM <3 AM dollar in the ceiling of the doorway!

These pics are of a wall, the ceiling, and the opposite wall | The yellow arrow is pointing to our dollar

Three wineries before 1pm had me feeling a little off, so I was happy we had plans to visit Gott's Roadside for a big lunch. There are a few locations in Napa Valley. The one we went to was like a roadside stand, but much bigger. All seating was outside, behind the restaurant. My burger was good, though not really memorable, and I liked that it was fast and convenient. I also loved their ketchup.

We had a cave tour scheduled at Failla Winery later in the afternoon. The attention to detail there really made the trip. There was a sign welcoming us and the other party as soon as we walked into the vintage farmhouse which was covered with all kinds of books and knick-knacks. After a welcome glass of wine, we were led outside for a quick explanation of what all the tanks and equipment were for. We actually saw a team hand sorting grapes that had just been harvested into a large vat of dry ice. There were six people along a short conveyor belt pulling out grapes that were too green as well as any twigs, bugs, or anything else that didn't look good (like Lucy at the chocolate factory, but more capable). We also saw the concrete eggs that they were aging some wines in, which was different than the stainless steel and wooden barrels we had seen everywhere else. Failla's cave was different from the one the day before in that it was manmade and all concrete. There were overhead lights and it was like being in a room, not a cave. Barrels lined the wall to age wine, but there was a lounge-type area with couches and the farmhouse table we were shown to for our tasting. We were with a group of four women on a girls' trip, so we mostly all just chatted with our tour guide in between glasses of wine. I was still feeling bad, so I didn't enjoy this one as much as I should have, but we still found wines we wanted to send home. The tastings were charged per person and you couldn't share, but one fee was waived for every two bottles purchased. We bought two to have shipped home and the women we were with bought so many that our guide waived both of our fees, which made the tasting experience free.

Left to right, top to bottom: A tasting area inside the cave | barrels aging in the cave | the farmhouse shelves | a welcome sign | our tasting inside the cave, complete with personalized order form | another aging area with a random Beatles poster | a farm table outside.

Scenes from production and the concrete aging eggs.

The final tour of the day was at Signorello Estate. This winery was by appointment only and it was on the pricier side, but it had great reviews and was one of my favorites. The estate sits up on a mountain, and has an amazing infinity pool. I don't like the water, but I would love to be in that pool with Napa Valley behind me. There were two employees and the two of us for the first part of the tasting, so the individual attention was fantastic. Our tasting came with an antipasti plate, so we were told which meat or cheese to eat with each wine, which I loved. The person who led our tasting was a sommelier at restaurants in San Francisco, so he had lots to share about winemaking and food and drink in the area in general. We did get to go outside and take a peek at the winemaking equipment, but they weren't currently in production, so there wasn't much to see. We fell in love with a wine that we will likely save for our 10th anniversary there and got a few other bottles to bring home, too. Signorello was one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.

 The infinity pool from afar and the view from closer to it as well as views from other spots on the property. It was beautiful!

After lots of wine and driving around, we were both tired when we headed back to the hotel. As much fun as another Thomas Keller restaurant would have been - Ad Lib, his temporary pop-up - we thought we would be too tired to enjoy it. So, we cancelled our reservation, I took a nap, and then we walked to Bistro Jeanty in Yountville for something simpler. The food was good and it wasn't too expensive compared to other restaurants in the area, but I wouldn't recommend it as a destination. You can't beat the location, though. Lesson learned: five wineries in a day is about all I can handle.


  1. You had a packed schedule every day, so great to make the most a vacation like that!

  2. oh my gosh, how cool is the leaving of the $1 thing. love it! that sucks your burger wasn't amazing, it certainly looks it lol

  3. Um, I'd need an extreme nap after this day, but it looks awesome! I;d love a day like that!

  4. I loved the dollar bills all over the one winery, and from the sounds of your descriptions Signorello would probably have been my favorit too. I liked the more personal experience you got and lets be honest, one can never say no to a cheese/meat tray! Especially when told what to pair each with. I cant even begin to imagine how tired I would be after 5 wineries! I don't blame you for wanting a nap and simple meal.

  5. That sounds like so much fun! I've never been to a winery but I'd love to go to one. They all look so gorgeous & that burger looks heavenly!

  6. I can't wait to do this!! Because we will eventually. The cave tour sounds awesome. A $700 meal? No way. It simply isn't necessary. I wouldn't go there on principle even if I could afford it!! Although, I don't know what it's like to be able to afford something like that so who knows.


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