Photo Essay: Napa Valley

This wasn’t really one of those take-heaps-and-heaps-of-photos-trips (and no, it’s not because I was all glassy-eyed drunky in Napa … cause I wasn’t … for realsies).

But, in case you want more Napa pics, here are favorites from our day of wine tasting, starting with The Golden Gate Bridge:

Crossing through the thick fog on the Golden Gate Bridge ... en route to sunny skies and warmer temps

The lush Domaine Chandon:

The famed champagne's grounds

 

The start of the tasting

 

Visitors enjoying the gorgeous afternoon weather.

 

If you didn’t see the last post, after Domaine Chandon, we stopped in to Peju for a quickie tasting:

Peju's entrance.

 

From inside to out ... the grounds of Peju

The airy lobby of Peju.

The colorful stained glass of Peju's tasting room.

Learning about Peju wines.

And then, we’re off to Caymus for our tasting at the rustic building:

Learning about Caymus.

Oh-so good.

Caymus' vineyard.

Post-wine yummy at Gotts Roadside Diner:

They had everything, even grilled cheese.

After checking in to Chardonnay Lodge, the three of us continued our wine-lovingness at Oxbow Market.

Gott's #2. Nearby Oxbow Market.

Oxbow Market ... right around the corner.

The whimsical cows of Oxbow Market

Oysters ...

There was wine to go with all that cheese.

 

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Sleeping in Napa Valley

The first time I visited Napa, over President’s Day Weekend in 2008, I became enamored.

The lush, green rolling hills. The yellow blossoms of mustard carpeting the ground not occupied by vineyards. The gorgeous and grandeous wineries. The trailer wineries. The Napa area immediately captured me and held my interest well beyond the days I spent drinking wine.

In the years since I first visited, Napa was never too far from my mind. I had met Kiran Patel, the owner of Chardonnay Lodge, on my first trip to the town.

My best friend from childhood, Becca, and I had decided to stay at her property and were quickly taken with how adorable it was. And Kiran, well, she was just wonderful. When Becca and I checked in, she enthusiastically greeted us and took us on a tour of the rooms. They were in the process of being renovated, and Kiran was not only the owner of the lodge, but also the interior decorator.

“Each room has a theme,” she explained, ushering us in and out of a few of them. “And all of the paintings on the walls are original …”

“They are beautiful,” we had both commented.

She smiled. “I painted them.”

Wow.

Over the years, Kiran and I stayed in touch. I helped her with some PR, and she always offered a room for my next visit to Napa.

Of course, when Abby, Kristin and I were planning our Napa leg of the adventure, Chardonnay Lodge and Kiran came up in my mind first.

I messaged Kiran the night we bought our tickets, and she graciously offered us a room.

After an afternoon of leisurely sipping champagne and wine around Napa, the three of us pulled into Chardonnay Lodge.

From the outside, the place is unassuming … easy to miss, except for the ¬†statue of a girl in the front lawn thick with roses, and the little vineyard on the side of the road. It looks like a motel, but, the interior of the rooms … so beautiful. So lovingly created with little touches of comfort and home (I totally dig the complimentary bottles of water and granola bars placed in baskets in each of the rooms.)

Kiran was out of town, but her husband checked us in. We were in the last room on one side, the Paris Room. Outside our door was a cute little iron bistro table and chairs set-up, next to the vineyard thick with bushels of green grapes.

So. Cute.

Inside, we were greeted with a king bed, two flat screen televisions, a huge jacuzzi tub and, the perfect touch, a hand-painted mural of the Eiffel Tower on the wall.

It was charming, unique, even more luxurious than I had remembered.

The three of us unwound for a little bit before we decided to venture out to Oxbow Market for some wine, cheese and more wine.

It IS Napa after all.

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Napa, wine and girlfriends

I was raised on Manischewitz, so I like to think it is a miracle I like wine.

I remember very well the too sweet, too sugary grape “wine” I used to drink growing up in a (not really) Jewish family … the Friday night Shabbat dinners; the bar/bat mitzvahs; Passover with the four glasses. In fact, the first time I was ever buzzed was thanks to the purple stuff.

In my early 20s, my friends and I drank wine because we thought it was “grown up.” Except, we would get those huge wine goblets (think Courtney Cox’s monster glass on “Cougar Town”) and dump a bottle into two glasses. I couldn’t tell you if it tasted good or bad. If we were drinking $2 or $20 wine. I wasn’t drinking it to enjoy it. I was drinking it to get a little bit saucy.

OK, a lot saucy.

Fast-forward to my mid- and late-20s. Suddenly, I realized wine is good. It should be enjoyed. It pairs well with breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and, best of all, moments. Some of my best memories in my late 20s are sitting outside in the Las Vegas night, sipping wine with my friends, just talking about life.

Today, oh, I love my wine. Like LOVE. Yeah, I’m on a budget, so you won’t see my buying any super expensive bottles, but, I never turn a good glass of wine down.

In fact, some of the best “grape juice” I’ve had has been from the gorgeous Napa Valley.

Thankfully, Abby and Kristin also happen to like wine, so our trip to Napa this go ’round was full of yummy tastings and general awesomeness.

Our first stop?

Domaine Chandon.

 

The entrance to Domaine Chandon

OK, so we didn’t drink wine. We drank the bubbly, light, crisp and super fine champagne. But, still. It was delicious. The largest facility of the three vineyards we visited, Domaine Chandon offers a wide range of champagnes for the tasting (and the buying). They also make still red and whites, but we stuck with what they do best for this tasting.

The winery is set on a gorgeous plot of land, complete with pond, tasting room and restaurant, etoile, which offers dishes that are perfect for pairings, and a large outdoor terrace. If you have time, check out the rotating art exhibits around the property.

The three of us purchased our $20 three-course champagne tasting and headed for a seat in the early afternoon sun. We sat for a good hour-plus, sipping and chatting. Of course, while I was there, I ran into people I knew from my previous amateur wine drinking days of yore. From Maryland.

 

One of the gorgeous trees on Domaine Chandon's terrace

Thanks to my boss, the next winery we were scheduled to hit was Caymus to have a private tasting. We had about 30 minutes between the Chandon and Caymus and drove down the hand-crafted iron gates of Peju.

“Oooo,” I breathed, looking out the window at the gorgeous countryside and wineries, “Peju is supposed to be really good.”

We pulled in to determine if it is possible to go through a tasting in under 30. It could be done.

Napa Tasting #2: Peju.

 

The beautiful Peju entrance

Unlike other wineries I have been to, we waited with others in a bright and airy room, and then were ushered into a gorgeous tasting room with stained glass windows and a gift shop. The tasting was more of a presentation, with a staff member who was ridiculously knowledgeable about the wines (as he should be). We tried four wines and I think its pretty safe to say, both Abby and I really liked what we tasted.

I don’t like Merlot, but damn. The Peju Merlot was fantastic. Of course, I had to purchase it.

Then, we rushed on to Caymus and were sent straight to the private tasting room where a representative guided us thorough four tastings.

 

The rustic Caymus winery

And, another bottle was purchased.

At that point, it was about 4 p.m. and we needed to add some food to the day, so we headed to a roadside burger joint for hot dogs, grilled cheese, milkshakes and general yum.

The three wineries we went to, I loved.

I would also recommend the following wineries for additional tasty Napa goodness:

Darioush: This place is palatial. I wore jeans and a little sporty jacket, but would have felt more comfortable wearing something a bit more dressy. It is gorgeous. And, so are the wines.

Black Stallion: Rustic atmosphere and lots of natural lighting inside. The wines are great, and the staff is really friendly.

Chimney Rock: I liked the wines from Black Stallion more, but this winery scored major points for its gorgeous courtyard and grounds. Little touches like trickling fountains, towering trees and plenty of ground to have a picnic, make it one of my favorites to go for some relaxation. And good wine.

What’s your favorite winery in the Napa region?

 

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I need an airplane ride

After my trip in May to Maryland, I had convinced myself I needed one more visit to see my family and friends before Thanksgiving. May to late November was simply too long to go without a Family Fix.

I hemmed and hawed for a bit, deciding dates, asking work if I could have a quick trip back to my hometown. I got the go from them, and then I pulled up flights.

Holy. Mother. Of. Pricey.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Gone were the flights of yesterday, when I could go one-way from Las Vegas to Baltimore for $99 on Southwest. A one-way ticket had nearly tripled since the last time I lived in Las Vegas, two years ago. $240 one-way.

No way.

I tried to figure out a way to get a cheaper fare. I looked at SkyScanner. I searched Kayak. I applied for a Southwest credit card to get my free 20,000 miles (which only gets you one-way). Finally, I decided it just wasn’t worth the hard-earned $500+ to go home for a few days.

That money could pay for an entire vacation.

Yes, I wanted to see my family. But, I also knew there was a good chance they would be out here again before I took my Thanksgiving trip. (As evidenced in July when Mom was in California.) So, I let the idea go.

But, I still wanted to go somewhere before my Big Trip in September. I was in the throws of the denouement of my Las Vegas Honeymoon, and wanted to get out for a little before I became engrossed in the panic that had begun to set in. The panic of being stationary.

It all happened so quickly.

One night, Abby, Kristin and I were having a conversation about blogger ethics. We’re talking 50+ threads on my Gmail before we said “goodnight.”

“We should have this conversation over wine,” one of us had suggested. I don’t remember which one of us had the brilliant idea. Knowing us, it is a 33% chance of any.

And then, the idea was born.

Napa. July.

Within 24 hours, Abby and I had gone back and forth, picked dates and booked flights. I messaged my friend who owns a cute little place, Chardonnay Lodge, in Napa that we were coming to visit. I had done some PR work for her years back in trade, and had yet to cash in on the trade.

We had a hotel for the Saturday we were going.

A few days later, Kristin messaged we were set for Friday’s accommodations.

And then, my boss was working to set us up for tastings at wineries.

Kristin began planning our Friday evening activities — a meet-up with another awesome travel blogger, Spencer — and some low-cost noshing at San Francisco’s weekly food truck festival, Off the Grid.

Justlikethat my July Wanderlust and need to get on an airplane was quenched.

Everyday for three weeks, I thought about the trip. About getting out of town. About a girlie weekend. About the fact that the same time last year I had met Abby in Istanbul.

This was the first trip I had been on in years that actually had some semblance of a plan. Was being taken simply because it was three friends (even if I had yet to meet Kristin in person) who wanted to hang out, drink wine and talk travel.

Another first? I was flying Virgin America.

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