Napa Valley, Halloween Weekend, Day 1

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I know there hasn’t been very much airplane work in awhile. But I can explain.

The girlfriend and I have been dreaming (and saving) for a wine trip for awhile. For about 9 months, we’ve been planning a trip to Napa Valley, CA.

It was awesome.

This post is going to be pretty long because of all the pictures. Bear with me.

First and foremost, we showed up to the rental car counter in San Fransisco, and among a lot of the choices was a Nissan Cube. We decided that the Cube sounded like a perfect (pronounced “hilarious”) vehicle for our wine adventures, so we got it.


See? Hilarious!


We stayed at the Harvest Inn, located in St. Helena, CA. It was wonderful. (Quiet, two heated pools and hot-tubs, complimentary wine and cheese tastings from local vineyards between 5:30 and 6:30 on weekends, and a small bar that was open until 11 every night. (An oatmeal stout is a perfect nightcap after a long day of tasting and dining.)


Cute little bar.


Okay, let’s get started on Day 1.

My parents happened to be in Napa the same weekend (not so much of a coincidence) and we decided (with some help from friends, other suggestions) that we were going to follow the “once you’ve been on one wine tour, you’ve been on them all” philosophy.

Side note: I love wine tours. Even though all destemmers, presses, fermentation tanks, barrels, bottles, and tasting rooms look a lot a like, I’ll go on as many as you’ll let me.

We decided our one wine tour should be Opus One. They only do tours (by appointment only) at 10am on Friday and Saturday.

Let me just say, the next hour and a half of my life was a life-changing one. Religious experience.


Here's the approach to Opus One.



This is around the side of the building.



These are some (very well manicured) grape vines on Opus One's property. Beautiful.



Mom and dad, walking up to the entrance.


They had some beautiful olive trees in the open area inside the courtyard.





More olives!


It was gorgeous everywhere.


Beautiful architecture.


Inside the foyer, you can see they are getting ready for Halloween.

We met a nice gentleman from Opus One named Hank. He took us on a wonderful tour.


I love the reverse columns in the banister.



This thing was huge!



Another great shot of the olive trees.



An olive with a little drop of water on it.


Okay, back to wine.

They have a young frenchwoman as the assistant winemaker. Her job is to basically taste all the different barrels and tanks every day to categorize and record the wines characteristics as it ages. I looked for a job application, but they didn’t need anyone. Bummer.


This is a lab job I would take.


Then Hank took us into the main winemaking room. I was shocked at the scale (it is small) of the operation.

Without going into too much detail, the reason Opus One is so amazing is the care they put into each step. Some of the larger places use huge machines that really beat up on the grapes, juice, wine, etc. during all of the steps to make many different kinds of wines. Opus one really emphasizes quality over quantity (that’s why they can charge $300 per bottle), and they only make one wine. (Well, sometimes they make two, but I’m not going to explain here…go find out for yourself.)

You can see in this picture their operation is pretty small. From right to left, a destemmer, automatic sorter ($$$), press (roller instead of bladder) and then the must (juice and skin mixture) is sent to the fermentation tanks.


Each of the round disks in the floor is a cover to a fermentation tank below.





Hank explained that they use high density vineyards to stress the vines. Stressed vines give less fruit, but much higher quality fruit.


You can see the idea of stressing by the coloration in the vines. The vines on the edges (and along walkways in the middle) have more soil, room to grow, etc, so they are still green. The better-stressed vines are in the middle, competing for resources, and producing better fruit. That's why they are starting to turn yellow/red.



Hank showing us a destemmer.



A simple map of their fermentation tanks.


We were lucky that they had just emptied some wine from one of the tanks. Now, they are scooping out the rest of the must from the tank.


There are a whole bunch of rules about going in there. Apparently every couple years someone dies from suffocation (fermentation=carbon dioxide) because they went in there before they were able to ventilate the tank. Here, you can see the harness and the rope used for safety.


They’ll take that extra must, and stick it in another press just to make sure they have all of the (wonderful) wine out.


Here's the last press.



An example with an empty tank.


Then, Hank had us descend into what looked like a dungeon.


Down the staircase.



Into a beautiful lower foyer.



Past some second-year barrel aging rooms.



And into the tasting room. Whoa.


Oh my god. We are going to get to taste some OPUS ONE!


Such an elegant presentation.


At this point, Hank was just teasing us. He asked us to come out into the first-year barrel aging room.


They paint the center section of the barrels red so you can't see the drips while they fill and sample the barrels. Nice touch.



Seriously. This was so cool.


Then, Hank handed everyone a glass (it was killing me, he served the ladies first…ugh).







So, then the pictures got bad. I was having a love affair with my glass.


Girlfriend, Mom, and Hank. (Girlfriend sniffing.)



She turned around and said "Ooooooooooooh" all giddily.


After another 15 minutes of making love to that glass of wine, we made our way back outside.


More barrels.


Up on the rooftop, we enjoyed some of the (overcast) views.


Olive trees, looking west.



More west.






It was so beautiful up here.



Looking north.



Girlfriend, mom, and dad.



Robert Mondavi and Baron Phillipe, founders of Opus One.


Finally, we had to go.


Looking from Opus One back out toward the entrance.



Another good shot of the entrance.


Next, off to lunch.


Taylor's Refresher (now "Gott's?), or maybe it used to be Gott's. I don't know.


It’s this cool little walk-up diner with amazing food and a pretty decent wine list.


I had a blue-cheese burger.




I nice half-bottle of zin for the family.


After lunch, we headed to Rombauer (to try their famous Chardonnay).

I was more impressed with the garden area. I saw a dinosaur in the garden.


That's my kind of T-Rex.


We walked by a pretty awesome old door, though. This must be for barrel storage.


Old door.


We like a few of their wines (great Merlot, Cab, and really did like their famous buttery Chardonnay), but the guy who poured our tasting was kind of a jerk. Not modest at all, and I just didn’t feel like buying from them. It was our only weird service experience all weekend.

Next up, Sterling (for the tram ride and views).


All of these places have really cool driveways.


We sprung for the Silver VIP experience.


I finally got a picture of my girlfriend's abs on the internet. Ha.


So then, we all loaded up onto the tram (gondola?) and headed up.


My mom turned to my dad and said, "We forgot the skis."



Looking up toward Sterling.



Looking back down after about a 2 minute ride.



This is Castello Di Amorosa. Kind of cool looking, but I've heard it's hokey and has bad wine.


Inside Sterling, they hand you a glass of wine, and send you on a self-guided tour. (Every 50 yards or so they fill you back up with something new.)


Some fermentation tanks.



Some old, but huge, barrels. I can't remember if these were used for fermentation or just large-scale barrel aging.



Lots o barrels.


At the end of the self-guided tour, you end up on a pretty balcony looking south over much of Napa Valley.


Looking south over the valley.



Nice views.



I liked this bell.


Back inside, we headed to the tasting room, and were seated for a nice tasting.


They were all pretty good, but none of us bought any wine. I think lunch killed our palates.


Next, off to Clos Pegase. This place was suggested for the art and archtecture, but not necessarily the wine.


Cool place.



The light was actually pretty good for some of these pictures.



I don't know if one of these "L"s fell down or that is how it is supposed to be.



Looking down one of the vineyard rows.



Hey, look! Art!



This is looking toward the tasting room/building.



I heard there is a giant hand underground. I believe it.



Very pretty building.


After a few more pictures, we decided to actually go tasting, and I ran over to these vines (which still had fruit on them) and picked a grape.

Wine grapes taste very different (kind of bitter) from regular store grapes. I was waxing poetic about how awesome it was when a gentlemen from the winery walked past. I looked down sheepishly, trying to avoid his eyes, and everyone started toward the tasting room.

As we all walked toward the door, he leaned over and said, “don’t worry, everyone does it.”

Darn. I thought I got away with it. Puts a whole new meaning to “caught red-handed.”


I can't get over how beautiful the views are. Here's the crime scene.



Alright Andrew, you are getting a little camera-happy.



Seriously, Andrew. Put the camera down.



”]Hey, more art!



But more importantly, WINE!


I took a picture of the tasting menu mostly because this is the only place we bought wine on Friday. Based on the recommendation, we were going to like the architecture (which we did) more than the wine. We loved the Syrah, and bought two bottles.

Take that, overly-commercialized Sterling.


All excellent, we liked the Syrah and Origami the best.



They have an artist onsite designing labels. Pretty awesome.



Random trunk.



Barrels and art.


This is my favorite picture from the whole trip.


I giggled for about 5 minutes at this. I'm not joking. My mom had to drag me into the next room so I stopped laughing.



Wholy art.



This guy looks like he is reaching for the vineyards.



I should really put the camera away.




After wine tasting, the girlfriend and I thought it would be a good idea to hop in the hot tub.

She grabbed the camera away from me, so lucky you, here’s a picture of me running from the camera in my bathrobe.

Yup, this is in public.

After much running, I finally slowed down enough for her to catch up and snap a posed shot.

Dinner at Brix that night was fantastic. Highly recommended. I’ll post Saturday’s pictures soon.

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