When you live in Elkhart, Indiana, and make wine in Napa Valley, periodically you need to go to Napa. Tough luck, you say? It’s a sacrifice, but it is part of wine making. My latest Napa trip was from Sunday, July 21 through Friday, July 26. I like to leave on the weekend (usually Sunday morning). Since I am a Million Miler and a lifetime Gold Card holder with American Airlines, they are my airline of choice. My favorite flight is the 10:10 am non-stop (Chicago) to San Francisco. With the three hour time difference I arrive in San Fran around 12:10 pm local time. I usually figure an hour to get my bag, take the train to the rental car terminal and get on the road. Assuming you have light traffic, it takes a little over an hour to get to the hotel in Napa. Arriving between 2:30 pm and 3:00 pm still gives me ample time for late afternoon meetings or activities.
Getting to the rental car terminal can be a little confusing if you aren’t used to the San Francisco Airport. I don’t know about you, but my luck always has me arriving or departing from the farthest gate at the end of the longest terminal. When you arrive in San Francisco, if you have a checked bag to pick up, you will get it at the lower level baggage claim area. You will have to use the elevator or escalator to get there. Once you have collected your bag, and assuming you want to rent a car, you want to head to the rental car terminal via the airport train, you’ll have to take the elevator to Level 3. These elevators are normally positioned around the baggage claim area (to the train). You will have to cross from your terminal (either 1, 2 or 3) to the train area on the enclosed Skybridge. Once across, you will take another escalator (there are elevators available as well) to the train boarding area. From Terminal 2 to the rental car terminal you must endure three more stops on the train and the awful computerized voice that makes the train announcements.
You will arrive on the check-in level of the travel car terminal. Believe me, it can be a zoo, as it was this trip. To avoid the check-in lanes, I always arrange the rental of the car in advance of the trip so I don’t have to wait in a long check-in line. For some unknown reason my preference for rental cars is Avis. I have signed up for the Avis Preferred program (I suggest joining a rental car program similar to Preferred so you can rent the car online prior to your trip) which is free. During the rental process (which I always do days in advance of the trip) I tell them my approximate arrival time and to my amazement I receive an email just prior to that telling me the location of my car and the parking spot number. What did we do without smart phones? I always get a GPS unit with my car to minimize the confusion of highways in San Francisco and to find my way around Napa Valley. Once you are through the city, it is pretty smooth sailing all the way to Napa.
On my past trips I have always stayed at the Marriott Hotel and Spa in Napa. This trip I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn. And after this experience, I believe this will be my future choice between the two. The Marriott is in need of a re-do and looks and feels rather tired. The Hilton has a good appearance and looks new and refreshing. The staff is pleasant and very helpful. If you are thinking of visiting Napa, I would highly recommend checking out their website here. Both hotels are located on Solano Avenue at the corner of Solano and Highway 29 (the main highway through the valley). You know the old saying: Location, Location, Location. And these hotels are just that. They provide excellent access to downtown Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and to other places in the surrounding area.
On this trip I had a very busy schedule which I have outlined here:
- Dinner at Napa Valley Bistro: Had dinner with my Napa friends Brian and Lori Nuss, Didier Loustau and Susan Quinn at this newly opened restaurant in downtown Napa. Shortly we will post an article on this restaurant.
- Blended wine: Winemaker Brian Nuss and I blended our 2011 Glenwood Cellars Cabernet. It’s in bottle now. A future piece will discuss Brian’s business (Vinoce) and the blending process.
- Lunch at Angéle: In the future we will post an article about this lovely restaurant.
- Dinner at Didier’s: My good friend Didier is a trained French chef and it’s always a treat to have dinner at his home. This night we enjoyed baked chicken with navy beans and lots of good wine.
- Sonoma: Wine tasting with the Humphries; more to follow on this experience.
- Afternoon: Interview with Didier; More on this later.
- Evening: A second dinner at Didier’s where he prepared a wonderful Paella.
- Lunch at French Blue: Article to follow.
- Vinoce Winery & Tasting Room: Article to follow.
- Wine Tasting: Susan, Didier’s business partner at ToutSuite, also works at a great cheese and wine shop in the Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa called the Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant. Oxbow carries a great eclectic collection of wines and cheese. Master sommelier Peter Granoff works the floor several days a week and is the wine buyer and co-owner of the shop. I was impressed with the shop and the depth of knowledge of all the staff. It was a great time.
- Dinner: At local Napa eatery Norman Rose. The Norman Rose Traven has the look and feel of a neighborhood pub. It offers classic American Comfort food (I had a very large burger) with lots of beers to choose from. I felt the wine list was a touch on the light side for Napa. That, however, did not stop us from sampling a couple bottles of Cabernet on the list. Norman Rose is located at 1401 First Street, Napa, CA 94558, (707)-258-1516; www.normanrosenapa.com
- Cork Wars Video Production. We will link you with this video soon and post an article on Cork Wars.
- Lunch with Didier: at Napa’s Angéle. Post on this meal to follow.
- Interview: Didier and Susan on their new company: ToutSuite Social Club. A post will follow on this.
- Dinner: A final dinner with winemaker Brian and Lori at Coles Chop House. Coles is a “Classic American Steakhouse” featuring an extensive wine list. It is located in downtown Napa at 1122 Main Street, Napa, CA 94559, (707) 224-6328; www.coleschophouse.com
- Departure: This is the punishing part of the trip. I had to catch the 6:10 am American flight to Chicago and had to leave the hotel at 3:30 am!
I have much to tell you about this trip and will do so in the months to come. Actually, the purpose of this trip was to blend our 2011 Glenwood Cellars Cabernet and begin the tasting for a new Glenwood Cellars Chardonnay which we hope to bottle and release in December 2013. We are working with Kent Humphrey, winemaker, and his sister Renée Humphrey at Eric Kent Wines in Santa Rosa, California (Sonoma County) on this project.
Lots of people ask me where to go if they go to Napa. So in future posts I will profile some tasting rooms, restaurants, etc. for all of you to try out. Please share with us all of your favorite restaurants, tasting rooms and places to go in Napa.