California Lifestyle—A Symphony of Wine and Food
Over the Presidents’ Day weekend I celebrated my birthday with family and friends in the San Francisco Bay Area on a quest for wine and the finest dining experience.
Early Saturday morning, we headed out to Napa Valley, where our first stop was Joseph Phelps Winery in Rutherford. It has the prettiest vineyards scenery and their wines have earned high respect in the market place. Winemaker Ashley Hepworth blends their six estates’ vineyards to produce well balanced wines. The 2006 and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from their Backus Vineyard are superb and retail at $250 a bottle, the 2006 Merlot and 2009 Sauvignon Blanc at $40 and $32 are very pleasant and affordable.
Our second stop was Spring Mountain Winery in St. Helena. This historical winery was the location of the Wine Country themed TV series “Falcon Crest.” Established in 1885, today it has 845 acres majestically sits on the slopes of Spring Mountain after four adjoining properties were acquired, each featuring a vineyard and a winery. Each has a different elevation, soil, and exposure to the elements and each block produces something unique. This great diversity of steep hillside plantings is the source of consistent, powerful, and distinctive red wines. The best we tasted were their Reserve Elivette Library 2000 to 2003 and well priced at $125 a bottle. The current releases of 2007 Syrah and Syrah co-Ferment and 2008 Chardonnay and 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon can also pair well with any of your fine meals.
Spring Mountain staff got us a table for lunch at Market, a chic restaurant on Main Street, St. Helena, we were told this is the best lunch place in town, sure enough she was right, our lunch was delightful and the place was charming.
Our next winery stop was Vine Cliff Winery in Oakville off Silverado Trail. A small vineyard known for rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignons from Oakville Appellation and bold Chardonnays from the acclaimed Carneros District. Originally established in 1871, Vine Cliff quickly grew into one of the region’s largest wineries, producing up to 19,000 gallons at its peak in the late 1800s. In 1900, the parasite phylloxera destroyed the vineyards and most of the winery structure disappeared in a matter of a few years, with the exception of the stone first floor and tunnels. In 1985, Charles and Nell Sweeney purchased the estate. Their son, Rob Sweeney took the role of General Manager responsible for planting 25 acres of Estate vines on the property’s 102 hilly, rocky acres. By 1999, new production facilities were completed including the 15,000 square feet of barrel aging caves. Vine Cliff Winery prides itself on small lots of intensely flavored, hand-made wines. Two of the six wines we tasted, the 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon was superb in rich flavor and smooth finish.
Our last tasting stop was Rubicon Estate Winery in Rutherford. Formerly Inglenook and Neibaum-Coppola Estate Winery, legendary movie director and wine maker Francis Ford Coppola has been making wines at this estate for 29 years before he purchased the original Inglenook Chateau in 1995 and united this historic Napa Valley estate established in 1879. The name was changed to Rubicon to celebrate the restoration of the organically certified vineyards, completion of the extensive wine caves and the return of wine making to the Chateau for the first time since 1966. The ivy-covered stone chateau building features distinctively appointed tasting rooms, vaulted stone cellars and a hand-carved staircase with an exquisite stained glass window bearing the winery’s logo leading to museum of documents, artifacts from Inglenook’s early beginning and the story of the Coppola family restoration of the Estate. A tasting of five wines in the impressive cavernous gift shop offers cabernet blanc, merlot, and zinfandel made from organically grown grapes. Bottles range from around $20 to more than $100. We were told the Coppola film memorabilia museum is no longer at this winery.
The highlight of our Wine Country visit was the dinner at the 3-Michelin star Restaurant at Meadowood. Chef Christopher Kostow studied his craft in Paris and South of France and earned 3-stars before age 30 last year at Meadowood. Our amazing 5-course tasting menu with wine pairing which started off with Roasted Sturgeon cooked with Bone Marrow, Compressed Pear and Crispy Brussels Sprouts paired with D. R. Stephens Chardonnay, Carneros 2008. We ended our dinner with combination of four desserts.
As you can imagine, after this amazing feast we had trouble staying awake. I had to roll out more than dozen jokes from my joke data base in my brain to keep all seven of us from falling asleep during our 90 minutes drive home. I want to thank Wolfgang Jilka, Director of Sales, and Nathaniel Dorn, manager of Restaurant at Meadowood who made great effort to give us the table for our group of seven. I highly recommend you to try this dining experience, but be sure to reserve your table three months in advance.
We ended our weekend with glorious weather on Sunday for our walk to downtown Tiburon waterfront and hiking up to the Marin Headlands and a late lunch at Slanted Door at San Francisco Ferry Building. Our evening at Cavallo Point Lodge started with a drink at the Farley Bar with managing partner Mike Freed and wife Lydia who are good friends for many years and we shared many memorable trips together to Italy, France and Fiji. Mike’s company Passport Resorts is known for their award-winning hotels that promote environmental, sustainability, local culture and ecotourism while offering luxurious and soulful guest experience. Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur and Cavallo Point Lodge are their signature hotels.
The Lodge is located at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge, offering a beautiful natural setting, a nurturing wellness spa, a cooking school and fine dining year round. Our dinner at Lodge’s 2-star restaurant Murray Circle was prepared by chef Joseph Humphrey and his team. This birthday weekend destroyed the diet I just started at beginning of this year. Oh well, who is counting the calories while having a great wine and food experience such as this!!