For our final day in San Francisco, we decided to splash out on a day tour to the famous Napa Valley to enjoy some wine tasting. Despite my Dad’s best efforts, I’m not much of a wine buff, but although my knowledge may be limited, I am certainly an enthusiastic consumer, and it felt like it would be wrong to miss a chance to sample some of the best New World wine around.
Although you can drive between wineries independently, we decided that this would rather spoil the whole purpose of the day, and so booked onto one of the highly recommended Platypus Tours, in which you are transported by minibus across the grape fields of Napa to a selection of boutique wineries.
It didn’t help that I was more than a teensy bit hungover from our cocktails and Transylvanian wine at the Stinking Rose the previous night, but, after a little caffeine, we successfully caught the early morning ferry across the bay to Vallejo. There, we were met by our guide, Doug, from Platypus to begin the day. Once again, the weather had come through, and, Napa being considerably warmer than San Francisco Bay, we were back in hot summer territory.
Doug was clearly a dyed-in-the-wool oenophile (apparently his wife keeps telling him off for the amount of money he spends on wine), and was passionate about the wines of Napa. Platypus specialises in taking visitors to smaller, boutique wineries that are less well known than the biggest exporters, and who often produce fantastic wine in very limited qualities, with many not exporting internationally or even distributing outside of the state.
McKenzie-Mueller is a family-run business that uses very traditional methods of cultivation. Sam, the daughter of the owners, gave us a tour of the facilities, and talked us through the process of cultivation and winemaking – which was fascinating – before we proceeded to our first wine tasting. I was immediately unable to resist the lure of delicious wine and ended up buying a bottle of Cabernet Franc as a gift for my wine-loving Dad, as well as a Merlot for myself.
The second was Silenus (named after a mythical companion of the god of wine Dionysus), a winery that not only grows its own grapes but that allows artisan winemakers (who have often considerable experience in the large concerns) to create wine under their own label. Here, I particularly enjoyed the whites and rosés, but managed to avoid making any more impulsive purchases. I also managed to spill red wine all down my top, but was rescued by the faubulous ‘Wine Away,’ a miracle product that completely removed the stain. The whole group were astounded by how effective it was, but sadly they didn’t sell it! After the wine tasting we were treated to a tasty lunch, which helped to soak up some of the excess alcohol, before heading on.
We only stopped fairly briefly at the third winery, Monticello, which contained a miniature version of Jefferson’s Monticello, which we had visited in Virginia earlier in the trip. Again, we tried a variety of delicious wine, although again I was able to resist the temptation to buy.
St Clair Brown
My resolve not to spend any more money cracked, however, at the fourth and final winery of the day St. Clair Brown is an ‘urban winery’ set up by a team of women, which combined high quality wine with beautiful food. There is also an on-site garden and a beer bottling facility on the way, meaning that this will essentially be a one-stop shop for boutique drinks and snacks in Napa.
Our host, Marilyn, the director of food and beverage at the winery, treated us to a delicious peach-ginger iced tea, smoked almonds and what is possibly the best hummus I’ve ever had, which helped the various wines on offer slip down very nicely indeed. Here, I couldn’t quite resist taking home a Muscat for myself, as well as a delicious Chardonnay as a thank you to my friend for catsitting for me over the summer. I genuinely did not want to leave St. Clair Brown, and suspect I would be a very regular visitor if I lived in the area.
Life of Luxury
It was a fantastic day, and while it didn’t come cheap (especially with four bottles of expensive wine purchased), it felt like a fitting (almost) end to our journey across the States. Sitting in the shade in Napa, with vistas out to the endless fields of grapes, glass of wine in hand – what really could be better? I would thoroughly recommend Platypus – we visited four fantastic wineries, had a great guide in Doug, and it was a sociable day with a great group of wine lovers on the minibus.
Highpoints: Er, it was a day of tasting wine.
Lowpoints: Probably not advisable to drink a bottle of wine on the night before a wine tasting tour. Still, the ‘hair of the dog’ approach seemed to work on this occasion!
Up next: A mad dash down the PCH