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Posts Tagged ‘wine tours’

Jake’s Corner: Three Days in Wine Country

February 12th, 2013 No comments

Our very own Jake Austad, master of custom cellar designs, is an expert at touring wine country, and wants to share his tips and tricks. Jake has insider advice on the best vineyards to visit, the best places to eat, and tourist traps to avoid. So pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of your favorite vino, and hear how an expert does wine country. Check back, because Jake will be blogging regularly in our new “Jake’s Corner” posts.

Day 1:

I would start the morning up north in Calistoga at Chateau Montelena, known almost more for its historical value than for its wines. The winemakers at Chateau Montelena are part of the group that started the Napa Valley wine boom. Tthe first thing I’d do would be to make a noon reservation at Duckhorn (reservations are required). Reserve the estate tasting and tour for a great experience. To learn something a little extra, do the food and wine pairing.

If you managed to resist the food at Duckhorn, I would travel into St. Helena for a late lunch at Brassica (Now called Cindy Pawlcyn’s Wood Grill and Wine Bar). It’s a Mediterranean place that has received rave reviews, and is a personal favorite of mine to boot.  At this point in time, you probably only have time for one more tasting. I would finish at Hall in St. Helena. Since Hall has no appointment needed and stays open until 5:30 PM, you won’t be tied to a tight schedule.  One of Hall’s new releases, a cab, was in the top 10 wines of 2011.

Since I’m a huge Iron Chef geek, I would eat dinner that night at Morimoto. It’s also in the revitalized river walk area in Napa, so if you’re looking to take a stroll before or after your meal, it’s a great place to do so.

Insider tip:  Don’t fall victim to the lure of the Napa Valley Wine Train. This tourist trap has three main pitfalls: 1. Trains are really not that romantic. 2. Unless they have improved the menu dramatically since 2000, the food is awful. 3. The wine list is not that impressive, and what is impressive is so marked up that you can’t bring yourself to drink it.

Day 2:

I would head up the Silverado Trail, especially if it’s a Saturday. The less inexperienced wine tasters will be driving up the 29, so this is a nice way to avoid them. Start the day with a 10AM appointment at Quintessa. It’s a property and vineyard tour, along with the wine caves and a tasting of three or four vintages. Like Duckhorn, it’s appointment-only, so you have to make a reservation in advance. I know the wine are fabulous. It’s also one of the few places in Napa that does estate-grown only. Quintessa is a Bordeaux-style blend that makes only one blended wine every year, so the vintage tasting will be unique.

After that, start heading back to Napa again, and hit Mumm just to clean the palate with some bubbly. It should be time to grab lunch, so I would cut over on Rutherford Road and hit Rutherford Grill for lunch. I love Rutherford Grill, and never miss an opportunity to go. There is a decision to make at this point. Option 1: One more tour at Chappellet, a unique experience that puts you up in the hills, and has some pretty good wine to boot. After a 90-minute tour and tasting, you should have enough time to hit Miner. If you are “toured out,” do Option 2: hit Miner on the way back towards Napa on the Silverado Trial. Most likely, you’ll make a quick visit, since you don’t want to miss your 2:30 tour reservation at Staggs Leap. Again, I’m a sucker for history, and Staggs Leap is another historic winery that started it all and has been around for over 100 years.

After Staggs, your last stop will be Darioush.  This winery doesn’t close until 5PM, and if you have anything left on the palate, they do some great cabs that are always cracking the top 100 wines of the year in the Wine Spectator. Take a nap after before hitting the French Laundry for dinner.  If super-rich French food is to much to stomach, try Coles Chop House or the Napa Valley Grill.

Day 3:

At this point, I’d pack the bags and drive over the mountain to Healdsburg and the Dry Creek Valley. Make a reservation at Charlie Palmer’s place, Hotel Healdsburg. Start at Zichichi and then drive south down West Dry Creek Road (eventually turning into Westside Rd). It’s a small, twisty, windy road but a offers a unique change from the large-cellar, big tour, big tasting rooms in Napa with little cottages and family-owned wineries. I’d go all the way down to Porter Creek Winery a few miles down. You taste their wines in a little cottage, and often, the winemaker is the guy pouring the wines. Porter Creek is also a fully organic place, tends to bottle a lot of grapes that are normally blended (like cab franc).

From there, start making the venture back towards Healdsburg.  Another great stops on the way is Williams Seleym (always a top 100 producer). It’s not a bad idea at this time to go park back at the hotel and walk around the square in Healdsburg. There is Stephen & Walker, which has a fabulous port, and several other places to check out. And if you need to switch to beer, there is a brewing company in the square. This way, you can take a day without reservations or a schedule, and just do whatever you want,  from a simple sandwich lunch to a pastry at the downtown bakery, to Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen for dinner.

Winery Quest Pro: an Awesome Wine Travel App

September 27th, 2011 No comments

Winery Quest Pro

It’s travel time!  Remember Jake Austad’s trek through California’s wine country?  Here’s a handy, travel app specifically made so that you can enjoy such an adventure: Winery Quest Pro.  Designed for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch, this informative winery reference tool gives you everything you need to plan your California wine trip.  With 20 regional maps, filters for your favorite wine interests, detailed winery profiles, and a GPS navigated trip log, you’ve got everything necessary to embark on your own journey through California’s wine country. With Winery Quest Pro, planning your trip is easy!  And with the freshest wine and winery data updated daily, you’ll be kept in the loop with current information. Winery Quest Pro requires an iOS of 3.0 or later.  Available from iTunes with rave reviews, its current price is $7.99. 

Have a favorite wine app? Tell us about it in the comments and maybe we will review it!

Wine Storage Tourism?

February 10th, 2011 2 comments

Wine cellar in an old mine in Cricova, Moldova

Image source: www.sejur.com

This morning, I was doing something that you may very well have been doing just seconds ago: Browsing the web for wine-related news. I came across an article (a well-illustrated one, too!) about the underground wine cellars of Moldova.

Now odds are good that you can’t find Moldova on a map (I can’t), and you may never have even heard of this tiny eastern European country. However, Moldova is apparently the 7th largest wine exporter in the world, and the limestone-mines-turned-wine-cellar house hundreds of bottles of wine. These cellars have made the town of Cricova a tourist attraction worthy of being visited by wine enthusiasts in particular, although the beauty of the area attracts a variety of tourists.

This all got me thinking about wine storage tourism. We’re all pretty familiar with the idea of wine tourism–Napa Valley, French wine country–but you don’t hear about wine storage tourism, by which I mean travel aimed at seeing historic wine storage sites. The mine-cellars of Moldova cannot possibly be the only historic wine storage site worthy of tourist traffic.

Have you ever been on a wine-storage tourism jaunt, or included a wine storage site in your itinerary? We’d love to hear about where you went and what you saw!

3 More Wine Apps for iPhone

November 26th, 2010 2 comments

Since we got such a great response to our original 3 iPhone Apps for Wine Lovers post, we thought we’d give you iPhone-wielding wine lovers three new reasons to shop for apps.  Here’s what’s new and cool:

Cor.kz Wine Info: If you’re feature-happy, this is the app for you.  It allows you to scan the barcode available on most bottles, then searches its wine database–which is nearly a million strong, by the way–to track down the bottle you’re considering.  You can read reviews, make notes, and even compare similar bottles side-by-side.  Cor.kz has got choosing a bottle of wine down to a science.  Price: $3.99

Fromage: Fromage is to vinophiles like, well, cheese is to wine.  Cheese is probably the world’s most popular snack to accompany your favorite beverage, but pairing wines and cheeses is notoriously difficult.  Enter Fromage.  This simple app has a database of over 650 cheeses, and for each, it gives a flavor profile and offers wine pairing suggestions.  Your cheese platter choices just got easy.  Price: $2.99

Wine Wherever: This is the perfect app for the traveling wine lover.  With a tap of your iPhone screen, you can get a complete listing of all the wineries in your area.  So next time you’re in Oregon, California, New York, or even Texas, check out Wine Wherever and imbibe of the best local beverages.  Price: $2.99 per regional map.

Know of a great wine app (for any platform–see our previous posts for Android and Blackberry) that we haven’t covered yet? Tell us about it in the comments!

Discovering Sonoma County!

August 19th, 2009 No comments
Good Laughs and Port

Good Laughs and Port

As wine enthusiasts, I’m sure by now you have seen the movie Bottle Shock and the event that put California wines and the Napa Valley on the map. Since that time, Napa has evolved into a major wine destination, with busy tasting rooms and weekend traffic heading north through Yountville, Rutherford and St. Helena. Personally, I love the area, the food and the wines. However, on your next trip to Northern California, don’t forget Sonoma County.

Every year (at least once a year) I take a business trip to the Bay Area to market Vintage Cellars to wine shops, storage facilities, interior designers and architects. It’s a whirlwind tour to market custom cellars, wine storage cabinets and cooling units in 2 days. Why do I work so hard on Thursday and Friday? So I can spend Saturday and Sunday in wine country. This year was a little different as I invited some friends from around the country join me. I was going to play wine tour guide on a weekend adventure in wine country.

I live life by a couple of simple rules and one is to never miss a chance to eat at the Rutherford Grill, just north of Napa. I had to stop by a couple of wineries on the way there, to set the mood for my friends and because the Rutherford Grill does not charge a corkage fee (an almost unheard of practice these days).  I’m a self proclaimed BBQ aficionado, and these ribs live up to my standards.  Wait, I went off course to hit this place but Sonoma County is just over the mountains to the west.

Sonoma County just feels like home when you get there. Sure, it has a fair share of big corporate wineries and stuffy shirts charging a $25 tasting fee for 1 oz of the estate grown Cab, but we hit the back roads to find some real small market gems. Sonoma offers a wide variety of regions perfect for a wide variety of grapes. The Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley are just a few must drive through places. Even on a Saturday, in tasting rooms no larger then your kitchen, my friends and I found a warm and inviting environment. We tasted amazing wines in all different varieties: Pinot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Merlot, Blends, Sav Blanc and Cab.

What I like about this atmosphere is many times the wine maker is available (if not the one pouring the tasting) for questions, comments and thoughts about the wine. Many of these wine makers are bold enough to do different styles like a 50/50 Cab/Zin mix or a straight Cab Franc. I like out of the ordinary and people willing to try something a little different even though it may not be popular in the market place. I met Alex Davis, wine maker at Porter Creek, a certified organic winery. I also met Virginia (owner) at Yoakim Bridge, a dry farmed vineyard. There is nothing better then a personal touch to a wine tasting. Oh, and ask any of them “what is the best place to grab dinner tonight?”…you won’t be disappointed.

My friends can’t wait to return as there are miles and miles of uncharted territory we have yet to discover…