Yikes! We were only out west for a week, but we saw a lot! So I skipped over this part in the Napa post, because it was getting a little long (sorry ’bout that!). But the week before we went, there was an Earthquake in Napa. We stayed at an inn just outside of downtown Napa, so before dinner on Wednesday night, we walked around downtown to look at some of the damage. Some buildings were completely untouched, but others were in rough shape! It was crazy to see that one building could be perfectly fine and the building next door could be completely off it’s foundation!
The owner of the inn talked to us for a bit about the insurance and government assistance for earthquakes. He said that the buildings that got hit the worst were the public and government buildings because they don’t qualify for any assistance for “earthquake proofing,” but private residences and businesses do so they fared much better. I know that there are neighborhoods that were in much worse shape than downtown Napa, and just seeing the small amount of damage there, I can’t imagine living through something like this. We saw some friends in San Francisco and they said they even felt the earthquake. I know we have natural disasters on the East Coast, but we’re able to prepare for hurricanes and Nor’Easters; you can’t really prepare for an earthquake!
Napa and Sonoma go hand in hand when talking about wine country in California. But they are completely different beasts. Napa is definitely a bit touristy – the tasting rooms are all on two major roads and in one day you can easily leave downtown Napa, drive north on Silverado Trail and south on Rt 29 and see Napa, Yountville, Oakville, St Helena and Calistoga. Sonoma is a bit more sprawling. Unlike Napa, there’s no one road you can take to hit the most wineries. You have to plan your day a little bit more. Like I said before, I tried not to make too many appointments, so our first stop in Sonoma was our only appointment of the day: a barrel tasting at Romililly. A few years ago my parents were in California visiting some friends and had a Romililly Pinot Noir at dinner that they have not stopped talking about! In fact, after dinner, their friend Brenda called the winery to try and find some more. She talked to Aaron Inman, who owns Romililly with his brother. He was planning a delivery in her area and offered to bring her a case. Since then, my parents have been having a difficult time getting their hands on more, and I’ve been hearing how amazing this pinot is for years, so I knew we needed to make a special trip to try this wine!
I emailed brothers Aaron and Jesse to set up a tasting while we were in Sonoma. Aaron was so gracious and invited us to their ‘winery’ for a barrel tasting. They don’t have a tasting room or public hours, in fact their winery is a shared space in an industrial park. It’s nothing glamorous, but you would never guess after tasting their handcrafted wines.
They hadn’t planned on being in the middle of harvest when we got there, but Mother Nature had other plans, so we got to see production, while barrel tasting some awesome wines!
Russian River Pinot Noir $35 – Soft and creamy with aromas of baked cherries, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. The palate is rich and smooth with a balanced note of earth. (4/5)
Sonoma County Pinot Noir $30 –Brighter aromas and flavors of cherry, spice and earth. The palate is medium-bodied with smooth notes of baking spices, vanilla and earth. (4/5)
Monte Rosso Sonoma County Zinfandel $45 – Finally a delicate Zinfandel! Medium bodied and fruit forward with notes of blackberry, currant and spice. Peppery spice is balanced with baking spice notes on the long finish. (5/5)
We left with about a case of wine to split with my dad. We mixed up a case of the two pinots, the Zin and their Chardonnay, which I have not tasted yet but can’t wait to crack a bottle!
After leaving Romililly, we headed up the road a bit to Gundlach Bundschu. The grounds are beautiful. They have a cave in the side of the mountain, and they overlook their own reservoir.
Most wineries offer different tasting flights, or a small selection of their menu for a price. Throughout our trip, Jeff and I would split two flights or select wines so that we were able to taste the most wine possible -while still remaining able to drive of course!
2013 Gewurztraminer $23 – Soft bodied and dry with floral aromas. Notes of pink grapefruit, peach, and lychee are balanced by notes of ginger and spice with a bright, balanced acidity. (3.5/5)
2013 Tempranillo Rose $25 – Bright aromas of strawberries, dried tobacco and tea are balanced by notes of wild raspberries and citrus fruits. Crisp and refreshing with a soft, dry finish. (3/5)
2013 Rhinefarm Pinot Noir Rose $21 – Fresh and fruity with aromas of strawberry, raspberry and rose petals. Sweet fruit flavors are balanced by a dry, crisp finish. (3/5)
2012 Pinot Noir $37 – Soft aromas of blueberries and spice are balanced by notes of vanilla and espresso. Hints of earth and spice linger on the finish. (4/5)
2011 Merlot $30 – There are full aromas of earth and spice balanced by notes of blueberries and black cherry. Firm tannins create texture on the long, dry mocha finish. (3/5)
2012 Zinfandel $45 – Big floral aromas of white violets and lavender lead to a palate of baking spice, currants and strawberries. A lighter style Zin with bright fruit and floral notes. (4/5)
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon $40 – Full aromas of blackberry, black currant, dark chocolate and coffee. The palate is smooth with ripe tannins and a bright, balanced acidity. (3/5)
2011 Vintage Reserve $90 – A blend of 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet France and the remainder Petite Verdot and Malbec, this Bordeaux style blend has full aromas and flavors of blackberry, spice and dried lavender. The palate is concentrated with notes of chocolate, currant and spice. (4/5)
The tasting attendant recommended some lunch spots for us in Sonoma Plaza, which is a small town square with shops and restaurants surrounding a small park. We walked around for a bit and grabbed some lunch (Croque Madame in Sonoma Plaza? Not a bad day..) and made a plan for the rest of the afternoon.
Our next stop was Merry Edward’s, I’ve been familiar with their Pinot Noir for a while now – another Pinot my dad loves and recommended. So we stopped by for a quick tasting. It was very in and out – it was the middle of the week, so I don’t think many wineries, especially in Sonoma, were ready for visitors. But we loved their wines!
2012 Sauvignon Blanc $32 – Bright aromas and flavors of pineapple, guava and tropical fruits. The palate is full with a soft, balanced acidity. (4/5)
2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir $39 – Bright cherry and raspberry fruit notes lead to a balanced palate. Notes of cherry and strawberry are balanced by hints of baking spices and a clean acidity. (3/5)
2011 Georganne Pinot Noir $57 – Dark berries and spice are balanced on the soft, elegant palate. Notes of allspice, cinnamon and baked cherry are balanced by hints of earth. (4/5)
2011 Meredith Estate Pinot Noir $57 – Soft and elegant, this Pinot has notes of dark berries, baking spices and a soft earthiness. The palate is smooth and elegant with sweet spice notes with a delicate, dry finish. (4/5)
After leaving Merry Edwards, we were headed towards Healdsburg. A guest at the inn we were staying at recommended a tasting room in downtown Healdsburg and we wanted to make sure we made it there, so we didn’t necessarily plan on stop at Dutton Goldfield, but we drove passed and immediately turned around. Because DG’s wines aren’t readily available to me in New England, I hadn’t really thought to stop in. But I’m so glad we did! They excel in Pinot Noirs (have you noticed a theme here? We LOVE Pinots.) I didn’t take any photos here because I was too distracted by the cutest pit bull puppy that was hanging around the tasting room. He belonged to a staff member at another tasting room who had just stopped in, and he was adorable! We lucked out stopping in when we did, because the tasting manager had a few extra bottles opened and let us try them all.
2013 Green Valley Vineyard Gewürztraminer $30 –Light and smooth with a full palate. With bright floral aromas, there are soft spicy elements on the palate. Notes of tropical fruits and spice linger on the finish (3.5/5)
2012 Rued Vineyard Chardonnay $50 – Light bodied but big in flavor! Soft notes of tropical fruits are balanced by hints of apricot and yeast. The finish is smooth with rich but elegant tropical fruit flavors. (4/5)
2012 Dutton Ranch Pinot Noir $40 – A blend from Dutton’s eighty vineyards, this Pinot offers bright aromas of cherry, blackberry, strawberry, nutmeg and toffee. The palate is smooth but structured with fine tannins and a lingering finish of cranberry, nutmeg and coriander. (3.5/5)
2012 Emerald Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir $58 – Focused and structured, this Pinot offers deep notes of black cherry, baked fruits and sweet spice. The palate is smooth and velvety with a light, spiced finish. (4/5)
2012 Fox Den Pinot Noir $58 – Baked cherry, sweet spices and soft earth are all balanced on the soft palate. Notes of strawberry and raspberry are followed by a smooth earth note. (4/5)
2012 Morellli Lane Vineyard Zinfandel $50 – A new release for Dutton, I was somewhat surprised. Super fruit forward with a classic jammy aroma. The palate is much softer and restrained than the aromas implied. Luscious tannins and bright fruit notes linger on the finish. (3/5)
Stephen & Walker
It’s not on purpose that we saved the best for last. A guest at the inn mentioned that they had stumped upon Stephen & Walker the last time they were in town and fell in love. So we knew we wanted to stop by. Plus, they’re tasting room is in downtown Healdsburg, and we wanted to walk through there at some point anyways. Healdsburg is a busy little town with a winery tasting room on every block. Stephen & Walker’s tasting room is beautiful and they offer a small cheese plate with each tasting. These small production wines (under 800 case each, and most under 300 cases!) are all exceptional. Husband and wife team, Nancy Walker and Tony Stephen bring over 40 years of experience to this endeavor, and it truly shows.
2012 Green Valley Sauvignon Blanc $28 – Bright aromas and flavors of citrus fruits, mango, peach and honeysuckle. The palate is light-bodied and fresh with delicate floral notes. The acidity is extremely delicate and balanced on the finish. (4/5)
2012 Patrona Muscat Canelli $38 – Delicate and elegant aromas of sweet honeysuckle and dried apricot. The palate is smooth with a delicate sweetness that is neither sugary nor cloying. (4/5)
2012 Botrytis Chardonnay $65 – Luscious and full with notes of apricot, honey, caramel and peach. The palate s full with a balanced sweetness and notes of dried fruits, spice and vanilla. I could not get enough of this wine. After we finished our tasting and were discussing what to purchase, she offered to keep our glasses full and I kept coming back to this! We didn’t buy a bottle (I don’t know why), but she said it may be included in our wine club at some point. (4.5/5)
2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir $46 – This 100% Pinot Noir has bright cherry fruits with balanced notes of rich earth and soft tannins. The finish is velvety with soft vanilla and earth notes. (4/5)
2011 Russian River Valley Zinfandel $39 – Soft and fruity, but not jammy. Notes of cherry, rhubarb and cranberry are balanced by notes of vanilla and cream. Sweet baking spices and red berries linger on the long finish. (4/5)
2012 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel $39 – This Zin offers deep aromas and flavors of dark fruits and jammy berries. The palate is full and rich with notes of vanilla and sweet spice. (3.5/4)
2012 Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah $46 – Dense and dark with complex notes of blackberry, cinnamon and allspice. The palate is rich and full with a long, inky finish. (3.5/5)
2011 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon $65 – Big aromas of dark fruit and spice. The palate is bold and fruity with soft, velvety tannins. (3.5)
2010 Portentous Petite Sirah Port $65 – Rich aromas of blackberry, baked cherry and spice are balanced by smooth notes of vanilla, toffee and baking spices. Not quite Tawny style but rich, full and elegant all the same! (3.5/5)
We left Stephen & Walker in love. We bought about a case of wine and signed up for their wine club. The first installment just arrived and it was amazing! A 1.5L engraved bottle of the RRV Pinot and Zin. YUM! Hopefully the Botrytis Chard will be included soon.
After Stephen and Walker, we stopped briefly in to Bear Republic Brewery for a quick beer and a pretzel and then headed back to the Inn for dinner. We had a low key meal in town and got up the next morning to head back down to San Francisco. Instead of hopping on the highway, we headed straight west, to drive the coast home. We missed a turn and ended up on Route 1 North for a little while, which turned out to be a great mistake. We had some amazing fish tacos at the Fishetarian in Bodega Bay for lunch. I’m still trying to figure out what is in their secret sauce!
We took the scenic route home, and I’m so glad we did! It was an absolutely beautiful drive!
As we were driving, we passed what looked like large rocks in the water. We turned around and looked closer and saw it was seals! There were probably a hundred seals sunning themselves on the sandbars, maybe 50 yards from the road!
We made it back to San Fran and shared a bottle of wine in the hotel, had some tapas for dinner and road the cable cars around the city until we were frozen, drunk and sleepy. The next morning we got up bright and early for our trip to Alcatraz and Angel Island. The only tickets available included both islands, and I’m glad it did. Angel Island was beautiful! It was once a military fort, a quarantine station and an immigration facility. There are amazing views of the Golden Gate bridge!
It was a really beautiful spot, I would have liked to spend more time there. You can camp or just go for the day and hike, and I absolutely would if we ever make it back. There also was a tiny little restaurant at the dock that made some amazing Chicken Tortilla soup. We grabbed a bowl and a beer for the boat ride over to Alcatraz – yum!
I kind of wish we did Alcatraz first and Angel Island second, because holy crap what a different experience! I’m really glad we went to Alcatraz, because it is really a fascinating place, but although it was a beautiful day, and the views of SanFran are amazing, it’s a really dark place.
We did the audio tour, which I would highly recommend. You listen to old prisoners and guards as you walk through the cell blocks. It was spooky, but really awesome! Then we got back to San Fran and walked through the Piers for a while and of course stopped to see the Sea Lions at Pier 39.
They were hilarious to watch, they kept climbing over one another to try and snuggle in between each other. And they were LOUD! They did not stop barking! (Is barking what they do?) Anyways, after that we headed into Noe Valley to have dinner with our friends Steve & Ellie and Jay & Jen, and then got up the next morning to head home. Although it’s taken two very long posts that took months to write, our trip was not nearly long enough! I’m already mentally planning our next trip to Napa. Maybe next fall for the CWE exam? We’ll see…