Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Redwoods and Wine

During our San Francisco trip, we knew we wanted to see the giant redwood trees of Muir Woods and spend some time in Wine Country too. Walking and using public transportation got us around the city of San Fran just fine, but we scheduled ahead of time to rent a car on Thursday to venture beyond the Golden Gate Bridge.  

And when the rental car company asked "will a Fiat 500 be okay for you guys today?" I saw Thomas' eyes light up with boyish excitement. Zipping through the winding roads of northern California in a tiny bright red car? You got it! The day was already off to a fun start!




We made it to Muir Woods around 9:45 or 10 a.m. and were some of the first people in the park. Admission is $7 a person for ages 15+, but if you play your cards right you could plan your trip for one of their "fee free" days. The park was absolutely beautiful. Seeing those redwood trees in photos does not do them justice. They're MASSIVE, some standing more than 250 feet tall, and many of the trees are more than 1,000 years old! 


If you go to San Francisco, you HAVE TO make the trip to Muir Woods. Only 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, it's one of those places everyone should see once in their lives. We really could have spent the whole day there if we wanted. They have several hikes that go up from the main path, many that boast views of the Bay, and a cute cafe for lunch in the park, but we just didn't have the time this trip.



We left the park after 11:00 to continue our trip to Wine Country. We'd decided beforehand to do lunch in Sonoma and then tour a few wineries in Napa, so our first stop was to the girl & the fig. They serve "country food with a French passion," and it was honestly one of our favorite meals of our California trip. And the ambiance was perfect too!




We started with a cheese sampler and I'm so glad we splurged for one -- worth the $15 for what seems like not a lotta' food. Our cheeses:


  • Laura Chenel Chèvre – Sonoma, California {American goat cheese, served with lavender infused honey -- OUR FAVORITE!}
  • Beehive Cheese Barely Buzzed Weber – Canyon, Utah {cow's milk cheese hand-rubbed with expresso and lavender with subtle notes of butterscotch and caramel}
  • St. Jorge – Santa Rosa, California {cow’s milk cheese, tastes like a cross between cheddar and asiago}
  • ​Roquefort Gabriel Coulet – Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France {buttery, silky smooth soft cheese that is somewhat sweet with a gentle saltiness}
  • Redwood Hill Smoked Cheddar – Sonoma County, California {classic goat cheddar, with a milky flavor and rich, smoky taste}
  • Fleur de Maquis – Corsica, France {natural rind is covered with rosemary, thyme, coriander seeds, along with a few grains of black pepper}



For lunch, I had a croques monsieur with applewood-smoked ham and a side salad, and Thomas enjoyed a burger with brie, bacon and a fried egg.





We hit the road again close to 1:30 p.m. to make our way to Napa for the one thing we really came for... wine! One thing I did NOT know before our trip was that most wineries close by 4 or 4:30. I even bought an everything-you-need-to know-before-your-trip-to-Wine-Country book, but didn't pay attention to the times - oops! For this reason, we were only able to see three wineries during our time, but hey, that's what next time is for. If you're planning your trip to Sonoma/Napa, check out the times for the wineries you want to visit. We also found that some wineries my parents recommended were appointment only, so plan ahead!

The first winery we stopped at happened to become our favorite memory of the whole trip. The Robert Mondavi winery is a must-see! $25/each gets you a guided tour of everything, followed by a tasting of three wines and an appetizer paired with the Cabernet.



Robert Mondavi established the winery in 1966, and it was the first major winery built in Napa Valley in the post-Prohibition era. "Prior to Mondavi launching his own winery and brand in 1966, American wines were considered cheap imitations of those produced in Bordeaux, Burgundy and other long-established winegrowing regions of the world." {via}

In addition to winemaking, the grounds are home to summer music festivals that raise funds for local charities. Mondavi was also passionate about educating people about wine and its health benefits {I'll drink to that!} during a time when many in America were anti-alcohol.



We learned so much during our time at Mondavi's winery! Like, did you know that most grapevines go through numerous seasons before their grapes are ever harvested for fermenting? Those baby grapes in the early years are only used for vineyard fertilizer. So don't think you can just buy a winery and get rich quick - years and years of work go into it before you'd ever see your first harvest season to make wines. And did you know that the price of a wine oftentimes indicates how the grapes were harvested? Our trusty less-than-$10 wines are often made by machine-picked grapes, while handpicked grapes go into making higher quality, better tasting wines. Don't get me wrong, we still buy those cheapies when we need wine most of the time, but it's fun to educate yourself on the winemaking process and indulge in a fine wine for special occasions.









We were promised three wines, but got a fourth {moscato d'oro} as a dessert surprise. The first was a 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay {fermented in stainless steel tanks}, a 2011 Pinot Noir, and then a 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. The cab was served with wild mushroom arancini, a fried ball of mushroom and parmesan risotto, and we were given the recipe to take home. 

See that photo of Robert Mondavi to the right? He lived to be 94 years old, and our tour guide told us this year they're planning a huge event for what would have been his 100th birthday. The photograph was taken when he was in his late 80s. "Want to look that good when you're 80? Drink wine every day," said our tour guide!



I wish this blog were scratch-n-sniff so you could smell the oak and wine in the room photographed above! Another fun fact – Mrs. Mondavi was keen on presentation and attention to every detail, so it was her idea to stain the red stripes on the barrels. This way, as the barrels were being filled/corked, wine that splashed out wouldn't make the barrel look messy. Smart, lady! Maybe a little OCD? I think Mrs. Mondavi and I would get along famously. 

After leaving the Robert Mondavi winery, we made a quick stop at one just up the road called Alpha Omega. The grounds were beautiful and the main structure had a fun, modern vibe, but their tasting cost just the same as Mondavi and there was no tour {all wines tasted while standing at a bar}. Our last stop of the day was Beringer, where we took another tour + tasting.





The Beringer brothers were also integral in the history of Napa Valley – they were one of the first Napa wineries, and were allowed to stay open during prohibition under a federal license that allowed wine to be made for religious purposes. They'd previously worked in a family-owned vineyard in Germany, and they were drawn to Napa Valley because the rocky, fertile soil was so similar. Their wine was also fermented in man-made caves in the hillside where temperatures were consistent year-round. It was a pretty neat tour!

Can't remember all the wines we tried here, but I'll never forget my aha! moment when we learned about the different flavors you read about on a wine bottle's label. Ever wonder why some wines claim to have "subtle notes of citrus and pear," or "accents of espresso and black pepper"? I always thought, "how the heck do they get those flavors in there?" or "hmmm, can't say I taste pear in this wine." Well, our tour guide explained how these are simply metaphors that winemakers use to describe the taste to a consumer! They're just saying, "when I sip this wine, I'm reminded of..." BAM. Do you feel smarter? I know I sure did!

To explain this further, they had apothecary jars on our tour, filled with things like coffee beans, dried blueberries, nutmeg and vanilla bean. We were instructed to first smell one of the jars, and then take a small sip of wine. It was crazy how those very specific flavors came to life on your tongue! No two wines are the same, so this is the way winemakers choose to communicate the flavors the wine embodies.




Beautiful house on the grounds of Beringer's winery. Wish I could grow hydrangea like that in my yard someday!

We left Wine Country around 5:30 and made our way back to San Francisco for dinner at Pier 23, a restaurant Thomas has been dying to try since seeing it on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I had fish tacos and he ordered their famous oven roasted Dungeness Crab. 



Thursday was a busy one, but we loved every second of it. One thing's for sure - we can't wait to spend more time in Wine Country someday.


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