Additional photos are up on Flickr
The day started at 3am, for our 6:30am flight out of Richmond. Thankfully all of the flights were on time (after a brief scare the previous afternoon with our original SFO flight getting cancelled, thankfully TripIt notified us immediately and we were able to get a flight less than an hour later). Our travel mates, Jess and Eric, were on a flight that arrived at 2:30pm so when we landed at noon we grabbed our bags from baggage claim, picked up the rental car and headed to the nearest In-n-Out Burger for lunch. The place was so packed that after 15 minutes of trolling the parking lot for a spot we opted to go through the drive through…two cheeseburgers “Animal Style” with fries and drinks, a fitting beginning to the week. We camped out in the cell phone lot at the airport, ate our lunch and chilled until the Golds arrived. Even sitting in a shade-less airport parking lot is enjoyable when it’s 75 degrees with a lovely breeze coming off the mountains, oh northern California and your great weather.
Once we picked up the Golds we made an immediate departure for St. Helena as we had an appointment at 5pm at Trinchero for a reception and a pizza dinner at 5:30. However, the traffic was not in our favor and we didn’t arrive until 5:30. Despite our late arrival our hosts were very gracious and ushered us past a beautifully appointed kitchen through to a dining room set for five that had floor to ceiling windows that looked out through the vineyards and surrounding valley. Definitely a nice way to start out the trip. We were pleasantly surprised to find the dinner was not pizza, but a multi-course meal paired with five wines.
We started with assorted cheeses and fresh baguette with estate-grown olive oil and a sparkling white. Followed by Sauvignon Blanc paired with a delicious heirloom tomato salad with micro basil and burrata cheese (my love for burrata begins!). The main course was Kobe loin cooked a perfect medium with creme fraiche polenta and yellow carrots with 2010 and 2011 Cabernets. It was very interesting contrasting the two wines, both from the same grape and the same general region but with vastly different flavors and aromas. One was more herbal and green peppery and the other was more of a familiar Cab flavor as it was the same region that Elizabeth Spencer grows their grapes in. The final course was a dark chocolate mousse paired with port. The whole meal was excellent and the lead wine educator for Trinchero joined us for the evening so we had great conversation about the wines and the area.
Once we were finished with dinner we headed to the Vineyard Country Inn, our lodging for the first two nights. The Inn is right on the main road through the valley (29) and is a collection of small bungalow style buildings. Our suite has a separate living room with small fridge and sink, then two double beds with a porch off the back facing the adjoining vineyards and a mountain backdrop. We made quick use of the hot tub and pool when we arrived, then headed back to the room to enjoy some Sauvignon Blanc that we were given at dinner. Afterwards we all called for an early bedtime, being up since 3am EST (with an hour nap on the plane) with lots of traveling made a 9:30pm PST bedtime very welcome.
The morning started off pretty early as we all were still kind of on East coast time, with everyone awake by 6:15am. We sat on the porch, enjoying the views and watching the sunrise and then got ready for breakfast at Sutter House. Since we had gotten up early we walked down the road and spent some time at the nearby Dean & Deluca store (the highest grossing store in the country) before walking to have breakfast at Sutter House. We were treated to fresh squeezed orange juice and Illy coffee to start. The breakfast had a southwest flair with a black bean and corn omelette/casserole, amazingly crunchy bacon, mango habanero sausage, fresh berries, sheep’s milk yogurt, and delicate and crunchy lemon poppyseed scones. We ate our fill (got to have a good base for wine tasting) and then walked back to the hotel to relax for a bit before heading to our first tasting of the trip at Sequoia Grove.
We were met at the Sequoia Grove tasting room by a wall of huge bottles of their wine, each etched with the two trees that are the namesake of the winery. We enjoyed a full tasting of their wines, a rose, Chardonnay (lightly oaked with no ML fermentation), Sauvignon Blanc, Cab Franc (much different than VA, more fruit forward), Merlot, and multiple Cabernet Sauvignon (blends and three single vineyards). We were then taken to the vines where our guide checked the sugars on the grapes with a little telescope like contraption. We went past the mobile bottling facility that was set up today and past the fermentation tanks into their barrel cellar. 1400 barrels and we were able to taste a 2013 single vineyard cab from the barrel, much sweeter and nowhere near as complex (as one would expect) compared to what we tasted earlier.
Afterwards we headed to downtown St. Helena for lunch at Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. The day was getting warm but we opted to sit outside, the table we chose had been shaded but unfortunately didn’t stay that way for long so we were pretty hot by the end of the meal. We ordered a bruschetta appetizer with fig, prosciutto, ricotta and a micro green salad on top. Eric and I each had their highly recommended duck burger (quite tasty, seared well, although perhaps slightly dry and very simply dressed with a nice thin bun and grilled marinated mushrooms). Jess had their adult grilled cheese (option rotates daily, today was a pepper aioli and mozzarella on a walnut bread) with polenta fries and Jeremy had their beef burger.
After lunch we wandered through the various antique stores, wine shops and galleries along Main Street and then headed back to the hotel to cool off for a bit before heading back to Trinchero for their full tasting.
We were met by Sandra at Trinchero and sat in their huge deep sofas with tastes of two Sauvignon Blancs while she recounted the story of how the Trinchero family got into the wine business (a very fun story, White Zinfandel was created thanks to four hot days one summer, and that one fluke brought the winery from barely making it to highly profitable in just a few years). We then tasted a Merlot, two Cabs and a Meritage.
We went to Market for dinner where Jeremy and Jess had jalapeño ginger cocktails and Eric and I had California pilsners. I started with a cucumber avocado soup with mint, creme fraiche and yogurt (a cold soup). The guys had a watercress and potato soup made with cream and cheddar cheese. Both soups were amazing. Jess and Jeremy had fried chicken for their entree, Eric had ribs and I had a very tasty Parmesan Mac and cheese. Everyone was so full from dinner we opted out of dessert and headed back to the hotel. We started up a fire (aka lit a dura flame log) and sat in the living room vegging for a bit before heading to bed.
This morning everyone was able to sleep in a bit more, time adjustment is slowly taking place. We headed to breakfast at Sutter Home again (vegetable frittata, maple sausage and bacon, blueberry galette, sheep’s milk yogurt and strawberries) and then stopped by the grocery store for a cheap cooler (to keep the wine we’ve already purchased cool while we are out until we get to the AirBnB spot this evening), packed up the hotel room and headed to the first tasting of the day at Whitehall Lane.
…And here’s where by the end of each day I was too tired to write up a blog post. So, for posterity if nothing else, here’s the itinerary from the last days of the trip.
- Honig Vineyard & Winery
- Rutherford Grill (lunch)
- Elizabeth Spencer Winery (reserve tasting since we are members of their wine club)
- AirBnB #1 – Wine Country Mountain Hideaway (made dinner at the house)
- Round Pond Estate (tour and mini food pairing, liked it so much we joined their wine club)
- La Luna Market & Taqueria (lunch)
- Brown Estate (by far the most fun, had the opportunity to hang out with the winemaker, viticulturalist and their spouses)
- Press Restaurant (dinner)
- Robert Mondavi (tour and lunch: Summer Vegetable Salad, Local King Salmon with Three Grain Salad, Peach Profiteroles)
- AirBnB #2 – Glen Ellen Countryside Cottage (made dinner at the house)
- Garden Court Cafe (breakfast)
- Franciscan Estate
- Hendry Winery (awesome owner who’s also a college physics professor)
- The Girl & The Fig (dinner)