By Kevin Nelson
Some time ago I was having a glass of pinot and a pizza at the bar of Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville, and I asked the bartender what Coppola himself liked to drink. Coppola, the well-known filmmaker, owns the place.
The great man himself.
The bartender grabbed a menu and pointed to the top where a box with a picture answered my question. His “favorite tropical drink,” it said, is “Navy Grog” and its ingredients are “fresh lime juice, grapefruit, soda, honey, Puerto Rican rum, dark Jamaican rum, Demerara rum, Angostura bitters, crushed ice cone.” No details on the proportions.
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
BY KEVIN NELSON
Nick Elliott, proprietor of Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley, calls it “the million dollar view,” and he may be underselling it.
Nick Elliott, right, and a guest with the Santa Lucia Mountains behind them.
It is a beyond-doubt spectacularly gorgeous view of the Santa Lucia Mountains, a coastal range in the Monterey Peninsula and central California. Stretching out for miles and miles are green ridges and mountains covered by live oak trees. Above is a pale blue sky with nary a cloud in sight.
“Charlie Chaplin, Marlon Brando, Vincent Price, June Allyson, all these great old Hollywood stars used to love coming to Holman Ranch,” said Elliott. “It’s always been a place to put up your feet and get away.” 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.’
By Kevin Nelson
Being a fan of wine and the movies, I headed with great anticipation up Highway 101 north into Sonoma past Santa Rosa and Healdsburg into the Alexander Valley. Just before the funky little wine country town of Geyserville, I turned off the highway and found what I was looking for: the gates leading me into the Francis Ford Coppola Winery.
Coppola is, of course, a big name for film fans and increasingly for wine and travel devotees as well. He is the five-time Academy Award director of such landmark films as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. He is also a winery owner and winemaker and the owner of resorts in Argentina, Belize, Guatemala and Italy. Home base for him is California and one of his holdings is the historic Inglenook Winery in Napa Valley, where he lives. The Geyserville winery is about an hour and a half north of San Francisco.
Parking in a dirt lot with olive trees, I climbed a flight of steps up into the main buildings and saw something I can’t recall seeing in any other Sonoma or Napa Valley winery: a spectacular resort-style swimming pool that could fit in just fine with the best of Miami or Las Vegas.
Being in the mood to celebrate, we looked in our wine stash and found something to celebrate with: a Shiraz from Greg Norman Estates. It turned out to be a deft choice. It took a while for it to open up but once it did, it provided rich flavors that were earthy yet smooth. We liked it. We have had other Greg Norman wines, including the sparkling, and there is not a glass we have tasted that we have not liked. They’re top flight.
Greg Norman is himself a top flight former pro golfer, one of the world’s best in his time, whose nickname was “The Shark.” Thus, the red shark logo on the label of the bottle. The grapes for the Shiraz are grown on the Limestone Coast of Norman’s native Australia and based on what we’ve tasted this is no celebrity brand; this is wine with a point of view and character. Good for a celebration—or not. We did not quite make it all the way through the bottle the first night and so the next night, with nothing more than to celebrate than being alive, I finished it off. I may have enjoyed its unfolding pleasures even more the second night.
Want to know how a Sauvignon Blanc resembles a Doris Day song? See more of our wine tasting notes and comments at Tasty Sips. —Kevin Nelson
By Kevin Nelson
The author, on the road.
Wednesday after swinging Tarzan-like through the Sonoma redwoods at Sonoma Canopy Tours, my son and I drove back through the upper or northern end of the Sonoma Valley via Highway 12. As embarrassing as it is to admit, this was the first time I had ever done this—drive the entire length of Sonoma Valley, on the Sonoma Highway, in one shot.
Sonoma Valley is one of the grand wine-growing regions of California and Highway 12 is its Main Street, the road that cuts through the center of it. When you come in from the north, you see the vineyards, long driveways, welcoming signs and gracious buildings of the many wineries located there—Ledson, Chateau St. Jean, Kunde, Deerfield Ranch, to name but a few of the worthies.
Pretty soon you’ll see the turn for Glen Ellen and you can decide if you want to go there and see Jack London’s old Valley of the Moon hangout or keep going along 12 to Sonoma the plaza and town.
Seeing these places made me think that if you’re coming to Sonoma Valley from San Francisco, don’t forget to keep going north up valley, all the way north if you have the time. Or if you’ve spent the day in Healdsburg and are headed back to the city, instead of powering south down 101 all the way, turn east to Highway 12 and mosey on down through the upper Sonoma Valley. Especially now with the vines bursting with fruit and harvest right around the corner, it’s a nice drive. Nice place to have a drink too.
Google thumbnail of the drive.
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
The first time I drank Starmont Chardonnay was at Merryvale Winery in St. Helena. I was sharing a table with Sean Foster, Merryvale’s chief winemaker, who was guiding us through a tasting of Starmont, Merryvale and Profile wines, all of which are Merryvale brands. We sat in the atmospheric Redwood Barrel Room next to the Cask Room.
The second time I had Starmont was also at Merryvale, this time for a party held during Premiere Napa Valley Week, the big annual charity auction extravaganza. I had just come from another party at Meadowood and had arranged to meet a travel editor there who was offering me an assignment reviewing restaurants in Wine Country. She never showed, the job fizzled out, but I had a fine time nonetheless, tasting barrel samples of a 2013 Stanly Ranch Estate Pinot Noir (pictured) and chatting with Starmont’s winemaker, Jeff Crawford. Later I ate wood-fired duck confit pizza and drank Merryvale’s Cab Sauvignon with an Arkansas wine distributor who had come to the valley on business for the weekend. Continue reading
Napa Valley is known for many things. Wine, wineries and vineyards, of course. And very good eats, including an array of exceptional restaurants. Sculpture, painting and other fine art are a fixture at many wineries and during the summer concert season the valley comes alive with the sounds of rock, classical and jazz.
Napa Valley is also big into healthy living, and has been since the late 1800s when Robert Louis Stevenson and other travelers came from around the world to soak in its hot springs and spas. Today, many valley wineries sponsor health and fitness programs to attract visitors who would like to combine bike riding or yoga with the customary wine country pleasures of eating and drinking. Here are two ways to be fit (and then have some wine after) in Napa Valley: Continue reading
By Susan Hutchinson Arnett and Harley Arnett
Driving up to California wine country, stopping to taste wine at a winery, and enjoying a late lunch at a cute café is a favorite pastime of ours. After a recent brief cool rain, the sky was crisp blue with puffy clouds, the air was clean, and it was mid-week—definitely a plus since there are fewer visitors and much less traffic in the Napa Valley during the week.
Taking the Silverado Trail up the valley to Calistoga, you will find Frank Family Vineyards. First constructed in 1884 as the Larkmead Winery, the Old Stone Winery that you first see is now listed on the National Register of Historical Places. The 80-year old yellow Craftsman house, surrounded by a beautiful garden area, is the location for the tasting rooms. The area is well landscaped, and old trees, including a 100-year old elm, hover over the grounds offering well-shaded areas for patrons to enjoy. Continue reading