Recharging the Batteries: Winter in Napa Valley!

(Pictured above from left to right, front row, Gian, Stefan and Antony

Back row, Ralph, Julie, Sherri, Alton, Kim, Jon and Captain Rick)

Where does a wine specialist go for a weekend getaway vacation to re charge his batteries and rejuvenate the soul after the busy holiday season? How about Napa Valley! That is exactly what I did with my wife Kim, son Alton and our family friends from Tampa Florida, Rick, Sherri and their 8 year old triplets Gian, Anthny and Stefan.

Napa in the winter is so beautiful, peaceful and quiet that you almost got the feeling that the valley was closed. But it’s not! It’s just winter!

While everyone here in California is fully embracing the wonderful set of winter storms that are bringing rain and snow to help fill our depleted reservoirs after 4 years of draught, the people working in the tasting rooms and restaurants of Napa are taking this time to exhale and relax after a long tourist season.

This Napa trip was all about doing no business, just relaxing and sipping wine, and that is exactly what we did while taking the roads less traveled. The wet damp weather was perfect for tasting wine and food next to a nice warm fireplace; and everyone was free to fully enjoy the experience because we had a great driver and coach, Tom from Magnum Tours.

Saturday was our day on Howell Mountain and quite frankly Howell Mt. is always very quiet compared to the valley floor and loaded with small, high quality producers. As readers of this blog are aware at PrimeCellar we represent one of the greatest wines on the mountain, Lamborn Vineyards. We started at Clif Family Vineyards a 26 acre working farm offering a full line of specialty food products that include salts, chocolates, nuts, jams, butters and of course a selection of the famous Clif Bars. Our palates were immediately invigorated by their wine and cheese pairings, 2014 Mendocino Gewurztraminer served with Mt. Tam cheese with green pepper jam, the 2014 Oak Knoll Chardonnay served with Dry Jack cheese and Lemon Ginger Almonds and the 2012 Gary’s Improv Howell Mt. Zinfandel served with Big Rock Blue cheese and Blackberry Jam with Smoked Paprika Almonds. And then there was lunch! The Clif Family tasting room called Velo Vino at 709 Main St. in St.Helena is a popular destination for cyclists and foodies because that is where you will find their outstanding food truck “Bruschetteria” parked.

Our lunch came right from the truck and it was superb! The truck is one of only 3 in California that features it own Rotisserie on board and the local roasted rosemary chicken was just outstanding. The creamy red polenta was the best I’ve ever tasted and my wife Kim said she could have eaten the salad of Cabbage, Kale, Fuji apples with a garlic-anchovy dressing all day long.

Our next stop was only a minute away at Red Cap Vineyards where their motto is “We make wine for family and friends”. The team here consists of owners Tom and Desiree Altemus, winemaker Rudy Zuidema, Social Media Director Michael Nguyen and their Big Dog Roscoe!

Tom prepared for us a delicious, fresh baked Margarita pizza. It was raining so we sat in their dining room and tasted their 2013 Sauvignon Blanc as well as the 2011 and 2012 Howell Mt. Cabernet Sauvignon. All were lovely and we bought the all the wines. Red Cap can now count us all as new friends and I look forward to following the development of their wines and our next visit.

We finished the day at the tip top of the mountain 2300 feet above the valley floor to visit the pioneer of mountain wines, Robert Craig. Mr. Craig started farming mountain fruit in the early 1980’s and was a key figure in establishing the AVA’s of Mt. Veeder and Spring Mountain. His winery on Howell Mt. built in 1992 and the estate continues to make outstanding wine today under the direction of President/CEO/Partner Elton Stone. I have been a fan of these wines for decades; the small yields from the mountain fruit make strong, complex wines with lots of spice, freshness and drive. I cannot wait to buy their 2013 Bordeaux Blend called Affinity!

Sunday morning it was back down highway 29 and a quick stop to taste the delicious Cabernets Sauvignons made by Provenance and Hewitt on our way to Tres Sabors Vineyards located on the Rutherford Bench. Winemaker Julie Johnson was a founding partner of Frogs Leap in 1981 and her husband Jon Engelskirger has made wine for over 30 years at places like Silverado, Robert Pepi, Hanna and Turnbull. The combination of all that talent and experience makes for a lineup of great wines that include Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Rutherford Cabernet and my personal favorite Petite Sirah. The fact that they are such wonderful people seals the deal for me and is the reason that after 40 years in the wine business Tres Sabors is the only “Wine Club” I am a current member of.

We tasted all the wines with turkey soup and killer sandwiches, and then we all headed outside. The boys all fed the chickens and the goats in the mud and a great time was had by all! I cannot wait to come back; it was a great weekend and I’m recharged!

Cheers and Happy Chinese New Year of the Monkey to all of you!

Ralph Sands

PrimeCellar Consultant

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Mr. Ralph Sands

Wine Consultant

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