Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Napa Valley - Wine Country (Part IV)

What is not to love about Napa, California?  There is great wine, awesome food, friendly people, and beautiful rolling hills.  Our exploration of the Napa Valley started at a spectacular winery called Ladera Vineyards.  Thanks to a new friend (Tobi) we met while wine tasting and touring in Solvang, California she hooked us up with her brother-in-law for a wine tasting and tour at this small and history laden winery that has been making incredible wines since 1886.  Jerry treated us to a tasting of the wines proudly produced by the winery and explained the wineries philosophy of producing award-winning wines in the style of the estates European founders.

The winery and estate vineyards sit beautifully perched on Howell Mountain – one of the valleys most prized appellations.  The vineyard sits along a broad ridge on a 1,600 to 1,800-foot “high plateau” above the valley floor made up of highly volcanic soils rich in minerals but low in nutrients.  While this inhospitable soil combination sounds like an awful place to plant grapes to you and me, this is a wine makers dream.  This soil type is perfect for stressing the grapes which results in smaller yields and intensely flavored grapes and the terroir of Howell Mountain produces unbelievable grapes.  Combine great grapes with the winery’s skilled farming techniques, careful handling of the grapes, and an expert wine maker and the result is an amalgamation of flavors resulting in some of the best bottles of cabernet sauvignon and worthy of 94 points by Wine Spectator. 

Ladera produces wine in the old style using gravity
to move the grapes from the upper sorting level
down to the fermenting tanks and then down
again to the barrel room.  

Thanks for the great tour Jerry and sharing
your wonderful wines.

Ladera is considered a small winery only producing about 12,000 cases per year, as compared to some of the large Napa wineries that produce millions.
One of the winery's "mousers" who was not working very hard when we saw her.
Napa Valley is as rich in food as it is wine.  Some of the most famous chefs adorn the restaurant scene and the Culinary Institute of America has a gorgeous campus outfitted from an old winery called “Greystone” (that is well worth a visit).  With all this food richness, we decided to pass on the upscale French Laundry (Thomas Keller’s flagship restaurant) and jump into cheesy goodness at Squeeze Inn Hamburgers and the famous roadside diner that is Taylor's Refresher.  

The Squeeze Inn burger is famous for its cheddar cheese "skirt" melted on the flat top .
The landmark eatery was recently bought by the Gott brothers but they did not dare change the name of this Napa Valley institution.  
Taylor's Refresher is known for their Ahi Tuna Burger.  Don't worry for you beef eaters....the green chili cheese burger  got rave reviews from Betsy.
Taylor's is not fancy just good food.
Napa has some great markets and we found ourselves at the Oxbow Public Market on more than one occasion. The restored market has eateries, bars, gourmet food vendors, an awesome cheese shop, and other specialty foods for sale.

On our last day in Napa we decided to go to The Hess Collection, not only to taste their wines, but also to view the art collection.  Mr. Hess has quite an eclectic collection of modern art that is on display at the winery.  (Sorry, photography was not allowed so you will have to use you imagination or log on to their website)  The friendly people and enjoyable atmosphere of this winery was a really great way to end our time in Napa.

The original stone buildings are still used and add  charming  character to the property.
The barrel room was beautiful.
The tasting room...yum!
Pictures and soil samples (at the far right) of the Hess Vineyards are displayed in the tasting room.
These gnarly vines are over 130 years old and still producing grapes.
Our stop in Napa was originally scheduled for three days, but three turned into five, and five turned into eight.  Seems we just could not pull ourselves away from the great wine and food that this valley in known for.  And now I will leave you with the obligatory Spirit pictures.

Me and Spirit waiting for our food!

Spirit even met a friend at lunch!


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