100 bottles of wine on the wall

photo-153I’ve had a few work hard/play hard weeks of late. I’m cranking away on Mosaic, and giving a lot of speeches. We’ve also had and will have a lot of vacations crammed into the months from mid-April to July 4. (If you missed my Tulip Time spring break post, you can read it here).

This past weekend I went with my husband’s 3 siblings and their spouses to Napa and Sonoma in California. We were celebrating my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday, and I think I tried more wines in 3 days than I have in the previous year. It was a vacation requiring some stamina. Here’s how it went.

Friday May 9 – My parents arrived to take care of the kids for the weekend. My husband and I drove to PHL. We were on time, if cutting it a bit closer than I usually like (at gate 45 minutes before flight). Alas, there was no plane at the gate. The hour delay before a 6 hour flight made me very grateful we were traveling without children. Both of us worked the whole way — showing we were meant for each other — and I found, from all the number crunching I was doing on Mosaic, that people work the most and sleep the least on Wednesdays. Upon arriving, we met my brother-in-law and his wife, rented our car and drove to Sonoma. It was only 10 p.m. when we got there, but it was Pacific time and hence late for us. My husband and his brother went to Taco Bell and, finding the restaurant closed but the drive-thru open, walked through the drive-thru. The ensuing taco was a culinary low point for the weekend, but hey.

Saturday May 10 — I slept until 6 a.m., which was better than I thought I’d do. I got some reading done, met up with the other 4 members of our party, had breakfast, and then the stretch limo picked us up at 9:45. It was pretty humorous, all of us climbing in and out of that thing like a clown car, becoming more humorous as the wineries went on. (We got a limo so we could all go together and so no one had to drive — and a limo is just more fun than an 11-passenger van).

Most of our 18 winery tastings over the next 3 days worked like this: We’d pull up, go up to the counter, and get our glasses. We’d get light pours of 4-5 wines from the winery, hear about each wine, then pay a tasting fee or buy bottles. No one can ship to PA, so I wasn’t buying bottles (I also don’t like checking bags) but the rest of the family did their part for the California economy. The wines were really good — much better than I usually drink. We’ve made a list of ones to buy for parties, and I have a few I’d love to get for special occasions next time we hit the wine stores in PA. Then we will have to label them so I don’t accidentally sip them as part of my post-work, kid-chasing time, when the quality of the wine is not the key thing that matters.

But yes, the wine was good. And if you do the math of 6 wineries a day, at 4-5 glasses per winery, you see that we come out to at least 25 glasses a day for 3 days in a row. They are supposed to be light pours, but some places want to give you your money’s worth (especially those with higher tasting fees — most were around $10, but they went up to $50). You can dump wine in the buckets, but it’s really good wine! And so the temptation is always to finish the glass of some amazing $125 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. By the end of day 1, in which we hit Martinelli, Rodney Strong, and Chateau St. Jean, among other places, I had to nap, rousing only when my husband came up to the hotel room and told me everyone had basically eaten all the pizza our crew had ordered. I ate a piece, hunted down some frozen yogurt at a nearby strip mall, then it was back to bed at 9:30.

Sunday May 11 — Mother’s Day, and I sort of slept in. I woke up at 6:30. Sunday was our “light” day because of our evening plans (more on that below).

We got up and drove in our rental cars to our new hotel in Napa, where we’d stay the next 2 nights. Then the same limo driver met us at 9:45 and we hit Stag’s Leap, Orin Swift, Honig, Louis Martini, and Beringer. After that, we went to the hotel for a nap, then got gussied up and went to The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s famous restaurant.

It was quite good, and my brother-in-law made great wine selections, mercifully avoiding the 4-figure bottles on the menu. We asked the sommelier about that, and it turns out that someone had, earlier that week, tasted a $5000 bottle and sent it back. It happens. We suspect those may be good nights for the staff. We started with caviar and oysters and progressed through beet salad, scallops, halibut, lamb, cheese, ice cream, fresh doughnuts and chocolates. I quite enjoyed that the butter is sourced from a Vermont farm that only serves Keller’s restaurants. With the butter at least, you know that you are getting an experience that you will get no where else.

Since French Laundry was on my bucket list, I’m glad I can now cross that off. I am still pondering some of the tastes, like the caviar mixed with tapioca, or how that humble appetizer of the bacon-wrapped scallop can be elevated by a top restaurant doing great presentation. I also realized, as I was eating, that I’ve been to a lot of great restaurants in my life (including one of Keller’s other restaurants, Per Se). I love to eat, so that makes me quite happy and grateful. Nonetheless, there’s a slight downside, which is that it’s hard for anything to stand head and shoulders above other great meals in my mind. I think my fondest memory of a multi-course tasting menu may be the first time my husband took me to Aquavit in NYC, but that was our third date, we were falling in love, and at age 24, I had never had such a menu before. It was all new and wonderful. Such is the hedonic treadmill.

Nonetheless, it was a great way to celebrate a 40th birthday. Maybe I’ll go back for mine!

Monday, May 12 — I managed to sleep until almost 7:30! The limo got us at 9:30 and we hit Caymus, Hewitt, and others. Hewitt was particularly fun because the winemaker (Tom Rinaldi) came to chat with us, and then the woman running the tasting brought us back into the area with the barrels, and pulled some 2012 cab out of the barrel. You can see how wines gain complexity over time. Tom also shared a bit from one of his favorite barrels. He had a sophisticated system for indicating something was off with a barrel — namely, spray-painting “No” on it. I guess that works!

Unfortunately, the first two wineries were so wonderful, and poured so generously, that post our picnic lunch at Hewitt I was needing to slow down. We hit Alpha and Omega, and then another 3 wineries that I remember little about, because I basically decided to nap in the car and not do the tastings. I went in one, and heard I was being offered one of the best wines in the world, but if you’ve already had way too much of the best wines in the world, the marginal utility of another sip is very low. Fortunately, the nap worked, and when those of us who survived the day all right went out to dinner at Celadon in downtown Napa, we all switched to beer and cocktails. I think I’ll be drinking beer for a while now.

Tuesday May 13 — we got up early to brave Bay Area traffic for the airport and flights home. Fortunately, we were an HOV car, and my husband had his EZ Pass with him, so we shaved at least 30 minutes off one toll wait. He took off for Seattle, and I flew home, finishing my Mosaic logs in route.

The trip was fun, and the landscape was so beautiful in wine country, you can see why people want to move there. The hills rise up gently over vineyards and the sky is stunningly blue. Perfect to sit and enjoy a glass of wine. Or 20.

10 thoughts on “100 bottles of wine on the wall

  1. Sounds like a great trip! It’s funny that you found out people work more on Wednesdays. I’ve always scheduled more work for myself on Wednesdays on purpose- I have a bit of flexibility within my school schedule, and I make Wednesday my heaviest day. I also make it my after-school teaching day. It’s a good buckling-down day, when the previous weekend’s relaxing has worn off, but you’re not anticipating the next weekend yet. This is true for my students too. (If I had to pick a day off in the middle of the week, though, it would definitely be Wednesday!)

  2. Great to read about your trip! At some point, I’ll blog about our grandparenting adventure with our wonderful grandchildren. And yes, we drank wine too–celebrating bedtime each night!

  3. Sounds like a ton of fun! I am such a lightweight I don’t know that I could handle this kind of trip anymore, even if I did dump my wine into a bucket. We went out to dinner on Sun, and I think I had 3-4 glasses total and I totally paid for it all day Monday. We were thinking that maybe next time we should skip the wine pairings, but then we thought — No! — the wine pairings were as good as the food! Glad you got all that work done on the plane. Flying is the best for being productive.

  4. I have been twice to the San Francisco area and have wanted to go on a wine tasting tour. The first trip we just didn’t have time to fit it in and the second I was pregnant and the tours would have been a waste! Maybe once the kids are older.
    It does sound like a great time!

  5. ohhh, that sounds amazing. And wow, you guys are hardcore wine tasters. We did a Napa trip as a celebration for a work project completed (when I was a consultant in my 20s) and we hit 4 wineries and I was DONE.

    PA does have weird liquor laws. Is it still true that you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday, and not at the grocery?

    But this reminds me that we’re due for a kid-free trip, so I’m off to plan something this summer while my parents are here. Woot!

    1. No, where you can’t buy alcohol on Sunday is many places in the south (sometimes its not until noon on Sunday, because…you have to go to church first, sometimes its all day). In PA you can only buy wine & spirits at the state wine & spirit shops. Beer can only be sold in eat-in establishments (in 6 packs or bottles) (at least in the city). So every ‘hood has a few “deli” places with a few tables in the middle and tons of beers and some crappy sandwiches. Or you can go to a distributor and buy a case.

      1. Ah yes, my parents live in Georgia and I was getting that confused with growing up in Pittsburgh and having to go to the beer distributor. When I started college in CA there was some weird law that you couldn’t buy alcohol between 2am and 6am on any night. But it was available *everywhere*.

  6. Sounds fun, but I’m getting a headache just thinking about all that wine (and I’m not a TOTAL lightweight, but that is a LOT)!
    I’ve been to Napa to do wine tastings twice, both times we did that for one day of a 3-4 day SF trip.
    I wish I could work on planes. I get so motion sick on any moving vehicle that I can’t concentrate much on anything serious, though I can read a bit if the flight is smooth.

  7. I am so jealous of your trip to French Laundry!!! It’s on my bucket list too!!

    A tip on the wine tasting: often, you can split tastings -meaning that you get one glass for two people to share. My husband and I do this often – you still get to taste, but you aren’t as wobbly afterward and you can hit up more wineries! The tasting rooms don’t mind (although it helps to buy some wine afterward of course!)

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