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.
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.
My most recent trip to wine country turned out to be life-changing… but more on that later. (That’s a pretty evil way to begin, I know.) Our first stop: Robert Mondavi, one of the wineries in Napa I had long wanted to go to. I have always admired the guts and smarts it takes to be a pioneer, and that’s what Mondavi was. He brought world-wide recognition to Napa, then a fledgling little slice of wine country, before he died in Yountville in 2008 at the age of 94. (He had been forced to sell his beloved winery to Constellation Brands four years prior, after a public offering led to financial strain and then the takeover.) Mondavi is most well known for creating the Fume Blanc style of Sauvignon Blanc and his partnership with Baron Philippe de Rothschild, which led to the famous Opus One. But he also brought higher-density plantings (to make the vines work harder, producing heartier grapes) and French oak barrels to Napa, among many other technical improvements. He is considered by many to be the single-most influential winemaker in Napa’s history.
Don’t I look right at home in a vineyard? (Yeah, right — I look so awkward. Plus, I was freezing!) Oh, it was so gorgeous though. I could have stayed out there all afternoon. Alas, delicious wines awaited inside… And did I mention the castle? Built by a wealthy medieval architecture nut named Dario Sattui, Castello di Amarosa opened in 2007, 121,000 square feet of sprawling antique brick and cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sangiovese and primitivo vineyards. The tour of this unique property was fascinating, and the wines impressive. Whatever your opinions on this “different” project, I highly recommend going. I had never heard of anything like it! It was definitely one of the most interesting wineries in Napa, that’s for sure.
As I enter into a really busy Las Vegas weekend, I needed to escape for just a little bit. My tour through some of the beautiful wineries in Napa is about to come to an end, but I wanted throw up just a little taste before I do my final post. Napa really is my favorite escape, because its rolling green hills and lush nature make everything seem to slow down, and worries and stress from city life disappear. I bet people who live there sleep better at night than I do, just like I slept so well in the dense jungles of Costa Rica. This photo was taken at Castello di Amarosa, which you’ll see more of soon. It was a gray cloudy day, and my little camera didn’t capture the gorgeous grounds how I would have liked. But I would give anything to rejuvenate there for an hour before my weekend! And I love how the beautiful castle peaks out from the top right corner.
One of my very favorite wineries on my recent wine-tasting trip to Sonoma and Napa was Round Pond Estate, because it offered such a relaxing, homey atmosphere. To be fair, the weather also warmed up for us that day, and we got to sit around on the estate’s gorgeous patio, soaking up the sun and trying delicious wine. It was meant to be! The owners were friendly and hospitable, bringing out trays of delicious eats to compliment our wines. Every detail was perfect, as if we had wandered into a well-curated dinner party. We were all so happy there that I must declare this one of my favorite wineries in Napa Valley.