Having stayed four days in Sonoma County, one of California’s most famous wine countries, we naturally had to check out Napa Valley, surely the state’s premier vineyard region.
Arriving in Calistoga, we checked into the Napa Valley Fairgrounds RV park, which at $40 a night was rather reasonable for an upmarket, spa-centric area. Most, if not all counties in California seem to have fairgrounds that host agricultural and commercial events, and these usually have an adjoining RV park offering basic bathrooms and showers, water and electric hook-up and WiFi (which may or may
We escaped our parking lot home in minutes, anxious to start the trek down the Silverado Trail. This route and the larger Highway 29 to the west are the main arteries of the narrow valley, which is home to hundreds of wineries.
Traveling off-season, we were among very few fellow tourists, but boy are those locals feisty! If you don’t drive fast – at least 60 miles an hour – they get mad: tailgating, honking and shaking their fists if you fail to keep up the pace. It is really hard to read those tiny winery signs at 60, and pulling a trailer down an unfamiliar, smallish, curving road at that speed is probably not recommended either.
But living among tipsy tourists must understandably get annoying, and they probably want the place to themselves for the winter.
We were, though, treated to an extremely tasteful display of autumn colors, as row upon row of vines neared harvest. This maturity, set against the bluest sky and two ranges of small mountains, was very calming indeed.
Wine tasting probably isn’t the best activity for young kids, so during our three-day stay we sampled just two wineries.
At one end of the spectrum was Casa Nuestra, a very rustic feeling place that encouraged picnicking, didn’t mind Sophia running around with the vineyard dog, Trigger and played NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’ in the background. Coinciding with us was a giddy foursome from Cleveland that extolled the place’s simplicity (and comparatively lower prices). Chattily, they wanted to know everything about us and when they left, we all got hearty hugs and well wishes.
From my last visit, about ten years ago, I didn’t remember Napa Valley being so stingy. Now, visitors are generally charged $10 for a tasting, which consists of six or so of the teeniest sips of reds and whites. This charge is deducted against any purchases, presumably discouraging visitors from running rampant free of charge through the valley.
Daniel and I shared a tasting, just in case we didn’t want to buy a bottle. Perhaps sensing our lack of commitment, our server - who was very nice and then later very helpful with things to do in the area – gave us ever smaller droplets to divide between us. Or was that our imagination?
The second place we visited, Paraduxx, came highly recommended by our friends The Rowlands, who we visited at Chico, in northern California. Managed by Perrin’s close friend Jenny K, the lady herself gave us a personal, knowledgeable and unrushed tasting, even taking time to coo over Lulu and chat with Sophia, who sang loud songs next to hushed lunchtime tasters.
“It’s so Ibiza”, Daniel noted. Owing to the warm autumn day, we and the other visitors had been shown to the winery’s back garden, which features endless vine views, comfy bamboo furniture and even chill-out music. Inside, the furniture is very modern – stainless steel and black leather.
Another highlight was the generous portions, accompanied by yummy cheese and crackers to help us distinguish the different wine flavors.
Despite its relative youth, Paraduxx, a label belonging to the larger Duckhorn group, seems to have been a favorite of George W Bush’s White House, having been served three times at state dinners.
Claire – On maternity leave from career as editor of monthly finance trade magazines, and occasionally a freelance translator. Half-American/half-English, raised in the suburbs of New York, has lived in London for almost nine years.
Daniel – Furniture designer/maker based on London’s Columbia Road flower market, for ten years, also an aspiring painter and DIY supremo. On one-year career break to reconsider options. English by birth, but mother is half-American and spent part of her childhood in Bronxville, New York.
Sophia – 3.5-year old spitfire who loves school, singing, swimming and being a big sister
Lulu – Born May 8 of this year, a model baby who eats, sleeps and gurgles.
Special guests – American, British and international friends and family who drop in along our trip to see whatever part of the country they fancy. They’re welcome to travel in the car with us and sleep in an adjoining tent.