Once upon a time in Napa Valley, people had to go up valley to Yountville or St. Helena for fine dining. Those days, thankfully, are long behind us.
One of the top restaurants in Napa Valley—indeed, in all the Bay Area—is La Toque, which is inside the Westin Verasa Hotel in downtown Napa, on the same street as the Oxbow Public Market. Known for its creative and oft-inspired pairings of wine and food, it is a Michelin one-star restaurant and has been for more than a decade.
Ken Frank in action. Photo courtesy of La Toque.
Late last year Jennifer Kaiser and I had an exemplary meal at La Toque and sat down beforehand for a talk with its executive chef and owner, Ken Frank, who noted that his favorite word appeared between “delicatessen” and “delight” in the dictionary.
“Delicious is my favorite word,” he said in our interview, which was published in the current issue of The Preiser Key magazine. “Food has to look good. It has to be interesting. And at the end of the day it needs to be flat-out delicious.” Continue reading
BY KEVIN NELSON
Many Napa Valley travelers begin their day with a stop at Domaine Carneros winery in Napa. Many travelers also end their day there. One reason for this is the winery’s strategic location almost equidistant between the twin capitals of northern California wine country—four miles from Napa and five miles from Sonoma.
There are, of course, many other reasons to stop at this lovely hillside winery built in the style of an ancient French chateau. Only the state’s second-smallest volume producer of champagne, Domaine Carneros nonetheless has a giant reputation in the world of quality sparkling wines, winning many awards for its products. For those who love Marilyn Monroe’s favorite drink, here are five things you must do when you visit Domaine Carneros:
The hilltop chateau of Domaine Carneros.
Robert and Margrit Mondavi.
They held the annual blessing of the grapes at Robert Mondavi Winery Wednesday, and it turned into a tribute in words and song to Margrit Mondavi, who died in early September at age 91.
Margrit was the wife of Robert Mondavi, the late founder of the landmark Napa Valley winery, an artist, and a cultural and artistic ambassador for Mondavi wines and Napa Valley for decades. Her passing added a special poignancy to the formal ceremony that marks the beginning of harvest.
Employees at the Oakville winery, the media and others gathered in the To Kalon Cellar as Mondavi’s General Manager Glenn Workman began the ceremony with a toast to her, noting how this was the first harvest in nearly a half-century in which Margrit did not participate.
“While it does bring sadness that she’s not here, we know how she loved to celebrate,” he said as he and the 75 other people who were there raised glasses in her memory. Small tastes of Fumé Blanc, Mondavi’s trademark version of Sauvignon Blanc, were handed out to celebrants as they arrived for the ceremony. Continue reading
Paso Robles is probably the hippest wine scene in California at the moment. Sunset, LA Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Wine Enthusiast have all recently blessed it with major raves. One reason for its appeal is that compared to say, Napa Valley, the gold standard of California winemaking, it’s relatively new and still being discovered. There’s an edgy, pioneering quality to Paso Robles wine and the people involved in it that adds to the hip vibe.
There’s also a cowboy and Western ranch feel to the place because, in fact, there are cowboys (the modern California version of them anyhow, gunning around in giant Chevy pickups) and Western ranches with horses grazing in pastures alongside acres of hillsides devoted to Bacchus’s favorite fruit.
One local we spoke to said that all the changes occurring in the central coast basically started about ten years ago. Google and Facebook millionaires from Silicon Valley are weekending in the area and buying up property, so you can expect more big changes to come over the next ten years. And wine—the allure and mystique and business of it—is the engine driving all these changes. Here are six things you need to know about Paso wine now:
1. Paso Robles is the next Healdsburg. Like Healdsburg and Sonoma, Paso has an historic downtown plaza. Its central area is a wide grass lawn with oak trees and other trees that provide benevolent shade on hot days. Nice spot for a picnic. Continue reading
BY KEVIN NELSON
Owning a vineyard and making your own wine is a dream shared by people in all walks of life, including professional athletes and coaches.
Here are six sports superstars and one coach—a Formula One world driving champion, Heisman Trophy-winning Pro Bowl NFL cornerback, four-time NASCAR Cup champion, Hall of Fame pitcher who led the New York Mets to their first World Series title, a Rose Bowl and Super Bowl-winning coach, another race car driver and an elite PGA golfer once ranked No. 1 in the world—that have turned their dreams into a reality by establishing wineries or wine brands.
Despite their varied backgrounds, all share one thing in common: a love of wine. Known mainly for their sports achievements, they would also like to be known as the makers of excellent Cabernets, Chardonnays or Pinot Noirs.
Mario Andretti looks every inch the consummate winemaker: hale, hearty, in robust good health. If you did not know better you would not suspect he was one of the fastest men to ever drive a racing car, the winner of the Indianapolis 500 and Formula One world racing crown, among many other titles. Long retired from racing, the 76-year-old oversees a Napa Valley winery that goes by his name. Andretti Winery’s Montona Reserve wines are named after the area in Italy where he was born and raised before immigrating to the U.S. as a teenager. Continue reading
When I was young and living in Lake Tahoe, California I drank my share of Coors beer and now, many years later, I had the pleasure the other day of visiting, and drinking the wine of Goosecross, a Napa Valley winery now owned and managed by Christi Coors Ficeli, the great great granddaughter of Adolph Coors. Below are some pictures of the winery from my visit there.—Kevin Nelson
The front door of Goosecross in Yountville.
Winemaker Bill Nancarrow draws Riesling from a wine ‘egg.’
Carmen Policy at his Casa Piena vineyards. Photos by Dave Nelson
By Dave Nelson
The proprietor of Policy Vineyards pours a glass of wine for me and says:
“Up here, I have the time to actually listen to what people have to say. I never knew I was capable of that. I’ve learned more here, kicking back, than I did when I was right there in the middle of everything.”
I should clarify the geography. “Up here” refers to Yountville in the Napa Valley. The “middle of everything” is where Carmen Policy has always managed to be.
“I have always been able to understand where people are going and how they’re going to get there,” Policy continues. “That enabled me to deal with both sides of the equation. There have been times when people on my side have thought I was disloyal because I was able to articulate the other side’s position.”
Skills like that would serve well if you were, say, a county prosecutor, a defense attorney, or an NFL executive. Policy has been all those things, of course. He is most famous for his work as President of the San Francisco 49ers in the golden era of the 1980’s. He is credited as the first executive to crack the NFL’s salary cap rules, enabling the Niners to horde the football talent that carried the team to five championships. Continue reading
By Niklas Gerste
Editor’s note: Today we welcome a new contributor to WineTravelAdventure, Niklas Gerste, a knowledgeable wine industry veteran who lives and works in Australia. Here he provides advice on selecting the best Merlots:
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are amongst the most popular red wine varieties in Australia, the United States and throughout the world. When blended together, they form a classic combination that is identified by breeding and distinction.
Eden Valley, Australia.
According to a leading wine producer, the ideal blend of Cabernet Merlot is about 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 percent Merlot. Merlot is a varietal that contains at least 13.5 percent alcohol, but can approach 14.5 percent, especially when it is grown in a warmer climate such as Australia, California or Chile. The wine is often said to have a plummy taste and notes of chocolate. It’s also considered to be smooth and very easy to drink. Among wine aficionados it is considered to be one of the classic varietal combinations in the world of wine.
Cabernet blends are usually dark, rich full-bodied reds. The main grape varietals blended are Cabernet, Merlot and Shiraz; Cabernet, Shiraz, Malbec and Merlot; and Cabernet and Petit Verdot, or they can also include Cabernet with Rosé for a lighter color and taste. Most Merlots are easy drinking reds that go well both with food as well as on their own. This is an approachable grape varietal and is often recommended as the first red wine someone new to red wine should drink. Continue reading