WANDERING THE NAPA VALLEY IN CALIFORNIA – I often tell folks in Canada that I vastly prefer Sonoma Valley to Napa Valley when it comes to wine tasting and generally tooling around.
But I think I have to them back on pretty even ground.
I spent a lovely day in Sonoma a week or so ago. We then drove over to Napa for a night at the Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa, which doesn’t look like a chain hotel. There are lovely flowers and a really nice-looking, free-form pool in a courtyard surrounded by large trees.
They had an excellent jazz trio playing in the lobby (complete with a sparkling Christmas tree) when we checked in and folks were sipping local wines or beers and nibbling on munchies while they listened.
Our room was pretty sleek for a Marriott, as well; with a nice, old-style desk and dresser and pretty sepia-tone photos of wineries on the wall to go with the big-screen TV and coffee maker. A nice, big bathroom, too.
We had a decent if not crazy wonderful dinner at Fume, a restaurant just across the highway. The Marriott folks ran us up there in a van, which was nice, at no charge. I had a pretty good shrimp fettucine that was crazy spicy, although they had warned me about it. Pretty good. A nice wine list, too, which isn’t surprising in this shoulder of the woods.
I highly recommend breakfast at the Napa General Store if you make the trip. We checked it out and found it to be a fabulous spot with a cool shop attached. It’s part of a complex that’s located in an old mill, giving it a bit of the feel of the Toronto Distillery District. We had great cornmeal pancakes and eggs and chicken-apple sausage on the patio, although it was only about 50 degrees Fahrenheit when we sat down and I was in shorts. But we Canadians are tough, and it soon warmed up to 60-plus in the sun and it was glorious. (Much colder there now, so we had good timing).
The patio has lovely planters and some modern art nearby and is right on the Napa River. The pretty Napa River Inn is right next door and there’s a cool mural on one of the walls near the patio. Next door to the general store is a cute pastry shop called Sweetie Pie’s.
Downtown Napa is far bigger and more polished and pretty than I remembered, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
Yeah, yeah, I hear you say. Enough about hotels and pancakes. We want WINE already!
Okay. We had a lovely tasting of sparkling wine at Mumm Napa, getting three reasonable size glasses for a $15 tasting fee and sipping them in glorious sunshine on the patio. There’s an art gallery attached, and on the weekend they were showing awesome photos from Iceland, Namibia, California and other places, some of them from Ansel Adams.
A beautiful setting, and of course a couple glasses of sparkling wine never hurts. (You can’t call it Champagne unless it’s from the Champagne region of France. But then again, you’re smart readers and you knew that).
From there it was a short drive up to Rutherford Hill Winery, which Kat at Kunde Wines (they have a GREAT Zinfandel at Vintages at the LCBO right now for $22, by the way) had recommended to us because her husband, Sandrew Montgomery, is the main wine guy on the premises.
Sandrew went out of his way to show us around, taking us to the beautiful caves in the Napa hillside and letting us taste wonderful wines, including Sangiovese (the main wine in Tuscany), Syrah, Chardonnay and a terrific port, plus some of the great blends they do. He’s a master at explaining the flavour profile of wines and makes complex production subjects easy to understand.
It’s built in a large, barn-like structure at the end of a winding road high on the eastern side of the valley, exactly halfway between the start of the Napa Valley near San Francisco Bay and the northern terminus of the valley in the terrific town of Calistoga.
I loved the Syrah and Sangiovese, and the Chardonnay was made in a way that avoids that old-time buttery, oak-barrel taste that used to plague California winemakers. Highly recommended, as are the tours.
We asked a worker at Rutherford for a place to get some quick Mexican food, and she pointed us to a fabulous spot called La Luna Market, just off Highway 29 across from bustling, touristy Beaulieu Vineyards.
The tacos were good-sized and incredibly fresh and tasty for just $2.75 and you could buy bottles of hot sauce for just 75 cents! Awesome place; casual and fun. And they sell great tortilla chips and a million Mexican spices and specialty products.
We took Sunday for a visit to Candlestick Park (soon to close) and the San Francisco 49ers game against the St. Louis Rams. The tailgating was spectactular in 70 degree weather with zero wind. And the game was fun. But it took us two hours to go 200 yards in the parking lot and main exit road after the game; appalling.
Cops passed us by several times but none were giving a clue about what to do or where to go to escape the bottleneck, and there was nobody directing traffic. For a team that says it values its fans, it was shoddy and appalling service, I must say.
I’ve been to the Rose Bowl and to Super Bowls and World Series Games and lots of big events but I’ve never seen that kind of stupid traffic. And having no one there to help was just shameful for the 49ers administration.
PARK AND FLY – TWO THUMBS UP
I’ve often used Park ‘n Fly at Toronto Pearson; usually the regular lot and not the valet or super long-term lot. But this time a friend arranged me to use it (at no charge), so I tried the valet. And now I’m spoiled.
It was easy and seamless and a wonderful way to start your trip (and finish it). We pulled up and basically just dropped off the car, leaving the keys inside and registering my license plate and departure and arrival details on a kiosk machine. From there we just hopped on the bus, which got me to Terminal One in less than two minutes I think. I didn’t use a stopwatch, but it was damned quick. The driver was attentive and helpful, too.
On the way back, the ticket machine/kiosk inside the main building wasn’t working, so I had to get in line. It was only a couple minutes and my wife was kind enough to load the luggage while I waited, as they knew our arrival time and had the car out front and ready to go, just steps from the shuttle bus. We were out the door in no time and didn’t have to wait in the parking lot for the shuttle or look for our car in an endless sea of similar-looking automobiles. And it’s the closest lot to the airport.
Brilliant. Yeah, it costs more. But that’s to expected, right? The coupon on their website offers the valet lot for about $70 a week, and that’s a great deal considering the convenience and the cost of cabs to and from the airport from central Toronto.
One added feature: you can get your cleaned and detailed while you’re away. Maybe its a guy thing, but it was awesome to come home from a long road trip and slide into a car that smelled like Windex and lemon. My little Nissan was smooth and clean and vacuumed and shiny and spotless. A guy could get used to that sort of thing.
LINK AND PHOTO