So today I only feel like death reheated instead of death itself, and I want to get all of my notes down so I don't forget all of the DELICIOUS DELICIOUS BOOZE of which I tasted.
San Francisco, Where You Can't Get Rice-a-Roni
Is it weird that I find drizzles so terribly romantic? Where I live, when it rains, it freaking pours. As in car wash deluge, you can't see anything, then it's over and done with in a half hour. We're the land of the flash floods. Those wee drizzles and sprinkles and gentle down pours where you can play around with the speed of your windshield wipers and not fear Sudden Death From Lack of Vision - adorable! I bought a sassy umbrella (will it surprise you to know i don't own an umbrella?) that looped over my wrist as I walked about San Fran on Day One.
We stayed in the old and lovely Palace Hotel in the center of San Francisco. A few years back, dovil and I stayed at The St. Francis, and I have to say that I found that hotel to be a smidge better. Larger rooms for sure. (And thicker walls. More on that in a bit.) The Mr. and I checked in mid day, bought umbrellas, and wandered all over the city for the rest of the day. We went down to the Fisherman's Warf via Chinatown (the smells, oh the smells!! SO DELICIOUS. Why did we get lunch before hitting Chinatown!?) and worked our way around to Fog City Diner for some truffled fries with asiago cheese sprinkled on top and some local wines and beers. Their beer was good, their Cabernet? Not so much. Very sweet, and I'm not a fan of vanilla/ lingering sugars in wine.
Sitting next to us was the actor who played the President's husband in the last seasons of 24 - his wife and two children accompanied him. They were a sweet family, left, and took pictures of the building. My husband and I were texting each other back and forth trying to figure out who it was, we didn't want to bother him, lol.
We finished the loop around to our hotel close to bedtime, the Mr. was feeling poorly (he had what I have now, the poor thing, but he powered through it in a day, the bum) so we turned in to get our body clocks on California time. I woke up a little after midnight thinking my husband was moaning in his sleep. He had been complaining of a headache and stuffiness, after all. Then I heard a lady moan. Then it was pretty damn rhythmic. And it got way louder. And I looked over at the Mr. who waggled his eyebrows at me, then started coughing, and laughed. Fortunately Mr. Oh God You're Wonderful next door wasn't a guy focused on length of time, if you feel me, and the show ended quite abruptly. (That's what she said.)
With all the trips we've taken, and the Mr. is in hotels all week, every week, that's the first time in a hotel that we've been woken up by that. Lol. Good for them, enjoying themselves. :) We headed down to the Palace's restaurant for breakfast, and can I just say that the omlette with Dungeness crab stuffed inside was a religious experience? First, that was the most perfectly cooked egg I've ever had. Second, the generous proportion of crab was almost too much. Almost. The type of breakfast where you can comfortably skip lunch, which we did.
Driving Through The Valley to Geyserville
We checked out of SF and got our cute little eco beep beep car and headed north into Wine Country. We were staying specifically in the Alexander Valley, which is where some of my favorite wines are from. (The Mr. isn't a big wine drinker, so I would like to acknowledge how sweet it was for him to plan the whole vacation around what I like to do. AWW. <3) The drive is beautiful and reminded us both of our honeymoon in Germany's Black Forest - the rolling hills, the farm land, the misty mountains that make you think trolls will come spilling down the hillside. Awesome. A few castles scattered around and it would complete the look. I loved how the bare vines, gnarled and thick twisted wood, looked dotting the landscape. I was glad we were there before bloom/bud, to be honest. You get a good idea of how the land is being tended.
We stayed in Geyserville at the Geyserville Inn. I was a little dismayed to see that it was right off the highway, but it's not like where we live - you put the places you don't care about off the highway, the gems are hard to find. This place was adorable - vineyards stretched back behind it up into the hills, it had a beautiful garden and places for wedding photos, which I imagine is quite common. Our room had a fireplace and a patio off the back that looked up at the vineyards. We sat out there at dusk each night and the bushes and trees surrounding our little spot were covered with hummingbirds. I've never seen so many at one time, it was fantastic. It's not the most elegant of places, but it was just right for what we wanted - easy access to places we wanted to go, helpful staff, comfortable beds. Really comfortable beds. What more do you need, right?
Silver Oak, My Favorite Of All Wines
First vineyard we visited was for the wine that made me love wine. I told this story a long time ago, about how the Mr. was leaving the company he'd been working for, one of the partners took us to Fearings for dinner and poured us wine. I didn't drink wine, I didn't like wine, but I'm not an asshole, so I was going to power through the awful stuff and not embarrass my husband. And I tasted it. And I couldn't get enough, holy crap, this is wine? This is delicious! The wine? Silver Oak, 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh, of course I like it, it's ridiculously expensive. *head desk* So it became our special occasion wine. We drove up to their Alexander Valley vineyard (they have another in Napa) and realized that they weren't giving tours because.... there are no leaves/grapes on the vines yet. D'oh!
Darla, our lovely hostess at Silver Oak, said to hell with that, and took us all over the property and showed us everything she could think of that we would be interested in. She also gave us a generous tasting (pro tip: go towards the end of their tasting times to the Good Vineyards because they want to drain the open bottles. Hem hem.) of the 2004 (which I love) and the 2006, both from Alexander Valley and Napa. There is a very distinct difference. The Napa wines are made in new barrels, so the wines finish very dry, you can feel it over the whole of your tongue. There's also a lot more earthiness to it (my translation: soil taste) - I prefer the Alexander. It's very smooth. We ended up staying after they normally closed, chatting away with her and another employee that runs the joint, talking about everything under the sun. We bought coats and a smart little purple vest for me, she gave me a free hat, and we ordered a case of the 2004 and got another bottle to take with us. We like Silver Oak. :)
I Hope Your Foist Child Is a Masculine Child
Darla recommended an "experience dinner" for us that night at Francis Ford Coppola's vineyard, which was just down the road a mile from where we were staying. First off, his property is gorgeous. If you want to have beautiful pictures taken, that's where you go. It's truly like a remodeled Corleone Estate from The Godfather, but set in wine country. Full disclosure, I'm not a fan of his wines. Not at all. I've tried just about all of them, and they leave much to be desired, imo. He likes them sweet and very fruity (hurr) and I don't. His restaurant, Rustic, has a special dinner they run on Tuesday nights, though. All of the waitstaff wears actual costumes from The Godfather and it's "family style." If you've been to a chiaroscurro, it's the same thing. They walk around with huge plates of food, offer you some, you take, you don't, whatever. They mark down what you've taken, tally it up, and there's your bill. I do think a flat rate would be simpler (that's what they do in a chiaroscurro) but ultimately the price was very reasonable. The food... well, some of it was fabulous. The butternut squash ravioli with browned butter and sage was lick the plate good. The shrimp scampi that everyone raved about needed some salt. Like, it had no salt. How can you have scampi without a pungent garlic and salt flavor?
The desserts were fantastic - tiramasu (of course) was maybe the best I'd ever had. The thinnest chocolate curls ever instead of so much cocoa that you cough if you mistakenly breathe in as you bring the fork to your mouth. They also had these nougat and pistachio candies that were unbelievable. We got some to bring back to the kids. What really made the place fun was the area surrounding the restaurant: all sorts of movie memorabilia. Including the five Oscars for The Godfather. RIGHT THERE. You can't touch them, but man, it was cool to see. The dog tags from Brando in Apocalypse Now, loads of stuff. Fun. It's kitschy, but I'm glad we went. And not just because the Mr. did something incredibly romantic on the sweeping veranda outside as the rain began to fall. :)
Armstrong Forest, aka Endor
The next day was our full day of wine tastings, and we'd been told not to push for more than 4 a day. Dude, I can hold my booze, 4 is almost too much. Or maybe it's just because people were generous with our pours? IDK. We wound back through the hills and started the morning off in the Armstrong Forest, which is where George Lucas filmed the Endor scenes for Return of the Jedi. How could I not go there?? It was so beautiful, we did a few of the less strenuous hikes to Parson Jones, the 1300 year old redwood, the Bishop's Circle, and so on. All of the pictures, of course, are on my husband's phone, so sorry about that, durr. Spring hadn't quite sprung there, so there weren't many blossoms to ooh and ahh over. The trees were enough for me, though.
First Spotting of Jerks: Gary Farrell Wines
From there we hit our first winery, Gary Farrell wines. I had noticed them on the drive for having a gorgeous property, and wanted to check it out. I'm not a Chardonnay or Pinot fan, but the Mr. is, so this was a good one for him. Except for how the tour guide/pour man was an asshole. He asked us where we were from, and as soon as he heard we were from Texas, he turned into the nastiest one-upper and constantly said things like, "You don't have this in Texas, do you?" or "you can't do this there, right? Because it's Texas?" Then he asked my husband about this, he's done it longer, better, whatever. He asked my husband about that, he's known about it before anyone else did, etc. We mentioned how much we loved Silver Oak, and Darla in particular, and how we bought over a case from them (the S.O. wines are about 3 times the price of this guy's) and then told him "no thanks" to buying any of his. Eff you in the bee hole, bub. OH! And they don't even GROW their own grapes. They buy them. And they don't regulate the farms where they buy them. So. Boo to you, jerk, and your inferior drink. I hate that feeling of being lambasted without warning, and being too much of a mannered person to just stop them in their tracks and tell them to go DIAF.
Redemption at Hop Kiln Winery
We were a little grumpy and pulled into a place that Darla from Silver Oak had recommended to us (how great is that? She mapped out places based on how I like to drink! I loved her.) called Hop Kiln Winery. It's evidently an historic location, they also have a brewery (which pleased the husband) and had one of the nicest ladies behind the bar. We ended up meeting one of the new winemakers, a kid about 24 that was trying to reinvigorate the wine business for the 20 something set. He was so fun to talk to, very energetic and smart, and we ended up buying several of their library wines (and opening a package of salami there at the counter, eating crackers, swapping tales. We're fun folks, the Mr. and I, lol.) We bought some Grenache, a few pinots, and a red blend that I may or may not have downed in one. They were very reasonably priced, too, and the property encourages picnics and lazing about. Great place, really great people that work there.
Barndiva: Great Eatery & Fabulous Cocktails
Next stop was lunch in Healdsburg at an adorable narrow restaurant with a great modern meets old farm vibe, Barndiva. All local, seasonal foods and I recommend the ginger pear cocktail. But just one. Hooboy. I had the Dungeness Crab Club (omg, delicious) and the Mr. had the Duck Confit special, and he declared it the best he's ever had. I tasted the beans/sauce and about swooned. (He wouldn't share any of the duck with me, ha.)
Stonestreet: Plan A Day Trip
Next! No rest for the weary! Or the thirsty! We drove back behind the Geyserville Inn to the absolutely stunning property of Stonestreet Wines. When we arrived, it was getting close to their closing time of 4, so it was just us and this adorable (and stunningly handsome) gay couple and their dogs. We all chatted, they live in the area and like to come to this particular place because of the delicious wines and outstanding views. Really, even if you don't do the wine tasting, go to look. They own the mountains (hills) behind the property to the tune of 1500 acres. We learned that we can come back in the summer months and plan a picnic to the exact location of the wines we prefer (cabernet 2005 here, chardonnay 2007 over there, etc). They take you out in eco jeeps (hee) and pack a picnic. You sit in the vineyard, learn all about the growing philosophies (omg, plant nerding YES PLEASE) and then crack open a bottle and eat a lunch. OK. THAT SOUNDS PERFECT. So we know what to do next time.
The ladies that were running the outfit were delightful, very upscale mountain girl, if you know what I mean. (North Face outfits, expensive hair dos, Range Rovers) We chatted past closing time (sensing a trend?) and bought several bottles of the 2006 Christopher's Cabernet. It's interesting how you can really taste the difference in a few hundred feet, I enjoyed that the most of our trip. This wine is the highest location on the property and it was very deep fruit-tasting, not overly oaky (I learned they used French oak, which lessons that acerbic oak flavor of American oak) and had a good linger. It was like an excellent decanted Bordeaux. YUM.
White Oak: Eh
Last stop was a place just past them (I figured, I like the way the soil and air makes the grapes taste, let's stick to this area) which stayed open until 5. It was another beautiful property, White Oak. The guy pouring looked like Hal Holsbrook, but about to fall asleep. Not a lot of snap to this dude. You could tell he was ready to go, but hey, they were closing in a half hour, so. We didn't linger (he didn't really give us the impression that we could) but did buy a bottle of Syrah, which was pretty tasty. (And reasonable.)
Great Food, Stutter With Service at Catelli's
From there we went back to the inn to nap, then had dinner at Catelli's a little walk up from our inn. While waiting for a table, we chatted with the owner's wife, and the owner is from the same area that my husband is from in the 'burbs of Houston. Small world! She hoped we would enjoy ourself, we sat down, and our waiter came over. He was a bundle of energy, asked us where we were from, we said Texas, and he immediately started ragging on Texas. O_O He said something to the effect of, "I hear that you people eat meat and beans out of the ground in some places?" and laughed derisively. Now, I'm a lady, and it's not like we were dressed in shit-covered cowboy boots and snap-front shirts, or something, so it took me by surprise at first. I said, "Are you thinking of pit barbeque? Because it's not like it's a hole in the floor filled with food. The fire is in a large pit. I don't..." and I looked to my husband for support. My husband, on the other hand, had had enough. He smiled and said, "You might want to ask [owner's name] about eating out of the dirt, seeing as he's from the same place I am. He's your boss, right?" And we smiled and asked for his recommendation for an appetizer.
(We're not assholes, after all.) He turned it around pretty quickly, and we left him a generous tip, because that's how we roll. And he did make awesome suggestions for us. I had a crostini with a local goat cheese and fig preserves for an appetizer (on a bed of arugala, sprinkled with balsamic) that was good, but needed more fig. Then for my dinner was a grilled portobello with sun dried tomato pesto and the same local goat cheese on a ciabatta bun that was outstanding. The Mr. got a special meal that wasn't on the menu that the waiter likes to make for himself. (laughs) Yeah, he turned it around.
Stuffed and sated, we fell asleep, had a great brunch at the restaurant connected to our inn, made the beautiful drive back into San Fran, and slept on the plane ride home. I see why people go in every weekend for tastings - there are so many properties, you can barely scratch the surface in week, much less 2 full days like we had. It's so beautiful, and if you can find someone behind the counter that really pays attention to what you like, you can fine tune your trip and really enjoy yourself.
Man, now I'm starving. :) Also, THIS IS HILARIOUS.