12 in 2014: May

Over Memorial Day weekend, we took a family trip to California to visit Aunt Kari and Uncle Brett and while we were there we brought Harper in to see Kari’s school and students and played in the park.

Snacking

Redwood City park

Redwood City park

Redwood City park

Redwood City park

We also took Harper to Stanford University to get her on the waiting list for 2030 admissions.

Yippee!! She got in…based on cuteness alone!

Stanford University

Just kidding. Uncle Brett is about to graduate from Stanford School of Engineering! So he took us on a tour of the beautiful campus. I felt so smart just walking through it!

Stanford University

Stanford University

Stanford University

Stanford University

Stanford University

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in the summer the grape grows

My mom, sister and I finally took that girls trip to wine country we’d always talked about. We planned it back in January, before my sister became engaged. So it ended up being a busy year to go, but it gave us plenty to talk about while we sipped wine and looked out at the vine covered hills.

My mom and I (coming from Chicago) flew into San Francisco and met my sister who flew in from NY and got situated in our rental car, me being the designated driver for the trip. You bet we got a covertible – what better place to drive with the top down!

Driving a convertible is as fun as it looks.

We spent the afternoon in San Fran, walking along fisherman’s wharf and up to Ghirardelli Square.

Not many sea lions left.

Then we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge (with the top up, it was chilly) and pulled off at the lookout on the other side. I’d read that this was the best view of the bridge – looking back across with the skyline in the distance. It was quite windy up there, but it was a clear day, so we couldn’t ask for better conditions to snap some photos.

We had an early dinner at Horizons in Sausalito, just 2 miles from the bridge lookout. The restaurant was a perfect choice – we timed it just right and it was right up the road. (I can take credit for that because I planned every step of this itinerary.) Actually, the restaurant was recommended to me by an acquaintance who used to live in Sausalito.

I wish we could have spent more time in Sausalito – what a quaint little town outside the city. It is all hills right up to the water, the main street through town is right on the edge of the bay overlooking the city. And the hills are peppered with little homes all around. I can imagine the cost per square foot of a home in Sausalito is pretty comparable to NYC – but the view would be worth every penny.

Back to the restaurant. Guys, it is right on the water. I mean literally. Boy, what a view. We ate outside and could see the SF skyline from our table. A sailboat floated by. A cruiser pulled up right next to the restaurant and docked for dinner.

So this is how Californians live? Man I’ve been stuck in the Midwest for too long. Did you know I was born in California? We left when I was 2. I think maybe I was destined to live in CA all along, and I’ve just taken a long detour in the Midwest. Yeah, that’s it.

See the rest of my San Fran pictures on Flickr.

We had to eat early so we could make it to Napa to check in to our bed and breakfast. We stayed at the Hennessey House in downtown Napa. It is on the National Register for Historic Places. It was my first time staying in a B&B and I really enjoyed it. Once you go B&B, you don’t go back. The owner was so nice and she made gourmet breakfasts every morning. She had wine and cheese in the evenings. If you are going to Napa, you must stay at the Hennessey House.

The next morning was the official start to Operation Wine Tasting. As I said, I planned the entire trip down to every detail. That’s just how I travel. Of ALL the wineries in Napa and Sonoma Valley, I had to narrow down the choices to a few a day. That was so hard. I kept 4 on the list each day, assuming we’d only get to 3.

But I underestimated my mom and sister. They were total champs. By god if we didn’t make it to all 4 wineries each day!

Disclaimer: I do not recommend 4 wineries a day for 3 days straight. Not that you wouldn’t completely enjoy yourself. It’s just not for the faint of heart. It’s not for amateurs.

Not a bad view to begin our wine tasting adventure.

Our first stop was Artesa in Carneros Valley. It’s a more modern winery, built into the side of a big hill with the top cut off. Hilltop wineries have the best views.

We toured the place and saw the bottling process and their barrel storage.

Mmmm. I’ll try each one please.

Next was Viansa. I loved the buildings and patio overlooking the vineyards, where we sat to have a picnic.

Our third stop of the day was Schug in the Carneros Valley. Walter Schug founded the winery in 1980 after helping create Joseph Phelp’s award-winning Insignia.

Schug is a Pinot house. Carneros Valley and the Russian River Valley north of it are where the Pinot grape thrives.

Our last stop of the day was Domaine Carneros – known for their sparkling wine. We each had a flight of 3 sparkling wines. What a way to end the first day!

But wait, the day ain’t over yet! We had dinner plans! We headed back to the B&B for some afternoon wine and cheeses (no we had not gotten enough wine at the wineries apparently) while we waited for the evening to roll in.

I took my mom and sister to Brix, where we had eaten with my family-in-law in 2008, because I loved it so much. I knew they would appreciate the farm-to-table cuisine. Brix has its own garden right in the backyard. We ate out on their patio overlooking the garden. While we waited for our food, I walked around it and snapped some pictures.

Thus our first day came to an end. Total Bottles Purchased So Far: 4

The next morning we started out at Grgich Hills where they grow their grapes organically and biodynamically. While we were there, the founder of Grgich Hills, Mike Grgich himself, walked by!

From there, we spent some time at V. Sattui wine tasting and picnicking. The niece of the founder was our pourer. V. Sattui is family owned and is celebrating their 125th anniversary this year. They only sell their wines at their winery in Napa.

Another very scenic winery. Love the ivy-sided buildings, fountains and flowers.

Our third stop was Duckhorn in Napa. Duckhorn is another small winery, but with big prices. We sat outside (although it was rather hot) on a wrap-around porch and tasted mostly cab’s and merlot’s. While we enjoyed the wines, we didn’t make any purchases here.

My sister is getting married next year. Hence, the cheerful glow.

Our final stop was one I’d been looking forward to all year. It was the only winery that was a repeat visit from my 2008 trip – one of our fav’s. Joseph Phelps is known for it’s Bordeaux-style blend Insignia. And because I will probably never own a bottle of Insignia of my own, the next best thing is to savor a small tasting of it while looking out at the vineyards. Another great view.

Dinner that night was at FARM at Carneros Inn. The name belies it’s elegant ambiance. It had cushy chairs and couches under an open-air lounge area. FARM, like Brix, is all about farm-to-table cuisine. Another great dinner.

End of day two. Total Bottles Purchased So Far: 10

The next morning, my mom got up at 5am for a hot air balloon ride. I lent her my camera (rule #1: do not take the strap off your neck!) and she did a great job capturing the whole process from beginning to end. It looks like she had a blast! After they landed they had a champagne breakfast. I wish I could have gone too, but Drew has made it clear that he’d rather me avoid “extreme sports” thank you very much. So I waited until I got home, showed him my mom’s pictures and said “Look what I did!” Ha!

Later that morning we headed back to Sonoma for day 3. Our first stop was Buena Vista, the oldest premium winery in California. It was tucked away on a tree-lined country road. It was hard to find even though it’s a pretty popular winery in Sonoma.

Our second stop was Sebastiani. This one wasn’t hard to find at all. It’s in downtown Sonoma – right around a residential area. We stopped at Vella Cheese down the street to grab some picnic items for lunch first. They have a really cool barrel room.

That’s what I love about visiting all these wineries (besides the wine itself) – the buildings, the views, the decor. They’re all so unique.

Our third stop was Gundlach Bundschu – Gun Bun for short. Another old winery. The founder came from Germany and purchased land before California was even a respected wine region. Read the history on their site – it’s a pretty neat story.

By this point, I thought we were done. We had a hard cut-off of 5pm to get our wine shipped home and by this time it was about 3:45. We’d had enough, right?

Wrong. We thought we’d fit in one last more. Let’s head to Black Stallion!

I’m glad we made time for this one. It’s a newer winery, but it’s pretty cool.

Wish we could have spent more time there. We stayed just long enough to try a few and purchase a few. Then we had to run back to the B&B to pick up the stash and take it to Buffalo Shipping. We had a hard time fitting all the bottles into the car! It’s not that we bought too much wine. Those convertibles have small trunks, you see.

Total Bottles Purchased So Far: 15

After we successfully “turned in” our wine to Buffalo Shipping and told them to pack it with tender loving care, we had some time to kill. The sommelier at Buena Vista had told us about this place in downtown Napa called Bounty Hunter. So we went there for a little pre-dinner snack and, yes, more wine. Although my mom had a beer to switch things up. They had an excellent selection of both.

Our last night’s dinner was at Mustard’s Grill. We’d heard it got a good review from Bobby Flay. It was excellent!

The trip came to an end all too quickly, but we had so much fun together just us girls. We vowed to do it again in a few years. There are plenty more wineries to visit!

I suppose I could have talked about the wine more in this post. Suffice it to say that I liked them all!

See the rest of my pictures from the trip on Flickr.

*Blog post title is a lyric from the song “In the Summer the Grape Grows” by Pisces

we’re out there having fun in the warm california sun

Our final day in Napa brought us to Mumm Napa – a small winery that specializes in sparkling wines and champagne. We sat outside and shared each other’s bubblies before heading in to peruse their Ansel Adams art gallery.

The next and final winery on our trip was a little vineyard in the hills off the beaten path. Joseph Phelps has an outdoor tasting area that offers a relaxing and scenic view. It was a memorable way to end our tour of California wine country. A toast to Barb and Steve for whom we planned this family trip – to celebrate Barb’s graduation and “big” birthday, and their 30th wedding anniversary!

We ate dinner that night in downtown Napa at Ristorante Allegria. In a blink of an eye, we were on the plane back to Chicago already wishing we could return to Napa—sooner rather than later. There was so much more to see and taste!

Check out the rest of my pictures from Day 3.

my heart is drenched in wine

Day two of our journey through Napa Valley began at the Robert Mondavi Winery. As you walked past the fountain and through the arch that framed the vineyard, there were tasting rooms on either side that spilled out into the grassy area with views of the vines just beyond. Our sommelier took us to a private room with a comfy atmosphere. There were leather couches and a mahogany bar and fireplace. A perfect spot for some very stoic pictures. Indeed.

Next, we were off to Cakebread Cellars, a small family-run winery that is a family favorite. We could walk right up and into the rows of vines – which made for some nice shots. Uncle Don made an appointment for us to taste some great wines, and we each left with at least a few bottles!


After lunch at Pizzeria Tra Vigne, we ventured off to Rubicon Estate, formerly known as Niebaum-Coppola. We pulled up to valet and received the red carpet treatment! Inside the museum and tasting hall there was a lot of movie memorabilia – even one of Coppola’s Oscars! We all resisted the high priced merchandise – but we did try on some hats!

Our last tastes of the day were in the form of Champagne (yum!) at Domaine Chandon. By this time in the afternoon it was a bit crowded and we were dragging just a tad, but it was our first taste of some bubbly! We posed for some pictures in front of the wall of wine bottles and relaxed outside in the grass, enjoying the libra sun.

After a stop at the hotel, we headed to dinner at 25 Degrees Brix. It was excellent California cuisine—the restaurant focuses on farm-to-table dining and organic, locally grown produce.

Check out the rest of my pictures from Day 2 in Napa.
See what we did on Day 3!

she went and took that california trip

Day one of our October Napa Valley trip began with us heading up to Calistoga to see the Old Faithful Geyser of CA. After about 20 minutes of waiting, we saw steam and smelled the sulfur. Then, woosh! Just enough time to shoot some quick pics and a bit of goofing off.

Then, we were off to our first winery of the trip! Down the street from the geyser is the Chateau Montelena. This smaller winery may sound familiar as they won the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976 – a blind wine tasting between California and French wines. It was also the subject of the recent movie “Bottle Shock”–which I recommend. As we walked in, we were greeted by their housecat, Monty.

After lunch at Hydro Grill, our next stop was Sterling Vineyards, situated high on a mountain. We took an aerial tram to get to the top where they had a self-guided tour and a rooftop patio that offered spectacular views of the valley.

Our next and final stop for the day was Beringer Vineyards. Beringer is the longest continuously run winery in Napa Valley and is always in the top 10 best wineries to visit. The grounds are beautiful and the old mansion has just recently been restored. (By this time, we had all fallen in love with Napa – it didn’t take long.) We were lucky enough to arrive for the last private tasting of the day. Our tour guide, Jameson, took us through the caves and into a private tasting room where we got to sip some reserve wines and even a wine straight from the barrel! That’s where we learned the art of the swirl and swish.

By the end of the day, we hadn’t yet reached our fill of wine, but had certainly worked up an appetite. We had reservations at Napa Valley Grille where we went all out with wine, salads, entrees, and of course—desserts!

Dinner at Napa Valley Grille

Dinner at Napa Valley Grille

Check out the rest of my pictures from Day 1 in Napa Valley on Flickr.
See what we did on Day 2!