One of the (many) reasons I wanted to move to the San Francisco Bay Area was its proximity to the wine countries of Napa and Sonoma – and many others that will soon start to make an appearance on this blog. One of my very first trips after I moved here was to Calistoga, the northernmost town of Napa. I had never been to this neat little town known for its hot springs. It seemed like a throwback to the “old” Napa, from before Downtown Napa exploded and became trendy. I had actually noticed the last time I had been in southern Napa that people were starting to dress up more for the more scene-y restaurants. And I hadn’t even packed one pair of heels! As I wrote in Huffington Post, during my years living in Las Vegas, I always enjoyed my getaways to wine country, which I turned into my little escape, where I could be outside and learn about farming before heading back to to the bright lights of the Strip. It’s strange how a lot of people think Napa and such are so “fancy” – but it really is all about the land! In fact, I just wrote about Sonoma’s Benziger and the pictured Phifer Pavitt, in Calistoga, in a piece for Los Angeles Confidential about how eco-friendly wine country has become. Continue Reading »»
One of my favorite parts about leaving Las Vegas for northern California has been the changing of the seasons. When I got here in November, the leaves had changed colors, so the trees were covered in the deep reds and yellows of autumn. Then winter set in, albeit a mild one. Still, the starkness was noticeable, even in sunny Silicon Valley. Now it’s almost springtime, and the flowers are absolutely gorgeous. My dog walks around my neighborhood in the small town of Los Altos are still super-exciting, overcome with flowers of all colors. But even though the pinks, bright yellows and purples are absolutely gorgeous, my favorite California treat are these trees that are covered in white blooms. Continue Reading »»
Tiffany and I packed a lot into this last trip to California wine country, from Robert Mondavi and Trinchero, to Benziger and a food tour through my favorite restaurants in Napa. So by the time we arrived at Biale, one of the most fun wineries in Napa, we were a little loopy. Tiff and I had by now joined a larger group of mostly Las Vegans, which created an entirely different vibe. We went from studious wine connoisseurs-in-training to acting completely silly with our hometown gang. Biale was the perfect place for us — it is serious about its wine and family history, but they definitely get a kick out of themselves, which makes me swoon. Family lore includes a teenage Biale family member using the code word “Black Chicken” to sell his jugs of wine on Napa party telephone lines so he wouldn’t get in trouble. So old-fashioned “Watch out for Black Chicken” signs adorn the place, and even some of the wine labels.
We were in the right place.
After spending a lot of time in Napa, like in any other tourist destination, sometimes the most special experiences happen when you get off the proverbial “beaten path.” I could spend weeks in wine country and never become tired of the planned tours and tastings (such as Trinchero, and Robert Mondavi) — you learn so much and become enthralled by the local personalities. Still, on my most recent trip, I was dragged against my will (haha) to a private lunch at the home of Garrett Ahnfeldt, one of the most gorgeous private Napa vineyards. Upon arrival, local ingredients were being pounded into the most delicious of dishes. As everything was being prepared, we were served wine (when isn’t there wine being served in that neck of the woods?) and took in the views.
With delicious wine comes sumptuous food, and Northern California wine country certainly doesn’t disappoint. The best part of the food offerings: the wide array of choices. My favorite eateries range from casual pull-up-a-chair joints to a five-star hot spot by a world-famous chef. At the risk of boring my more loyal readers who have heard this before, Oxbow Market is my absolute favorite hangout in the area. I can’t think of a single trip to the wineries in Napa that didn’t kick off with a stop at Oxbow’s Hog Island Oysters. Who can blame me? Gorgeous oysters and a heavy pour of local Domaine Carneros champage — it’s perfect!
Yes, Benziger certainly has the acres and acres of rolling green hills that wineries in Sonoma are known for, but they were also groundbreakers when it came to “green” wine-making tactics. The winery is famous for becoming the first in the area to be named Demeter-certified Biodynamic, the highest level of organic farming. To get there, the family-owned affair rotates crops, balances vines with olive trees, creates eco-systems that control insects instead of killing them with pesticides, and recycles a whopping two million gallons of water a year through ponds. No wonder Tiffany and I had an extra pep in our step! After an amazing kick-off at Robert Mondavi, we loved the gorgeous ride out to Benziger — and then when we got there, we were rewarded with sun and lengthy tour outdoors in all of that pesticide-free fresh air.