Last week, in honor of California Wine Month, we shared a curated list of vino-focused bucket list experiences across the Golden State. Today, we share part two of this deep dive into the wow moments, exploring even more of the epicurean adventures as well as the venues that put viticulture on the map in this country.
The man. The myth. The winemaking legend. Beyond even wine, however, Mondavi was a pioneer of what is now widely known as the farm-to-table dining movement in the United States. As such, this twist on the movement is unlike any dinner – winemaker or otherwise – you will ever have. It begins with a tour of the working winery gardens, where you will season produced being harvested before heading to the kitchen yourself to help with the bounty. This is followed by a tour of the vineyards and winemaking facilities, and then a multi-course al fresco paired dinner overlooking the To Kalon vineyards and Mayacamas Mountains. It is the ultimate exploration into winemaking in American (and popular) culture. Only there during the daytime? Consider the lunch option – a similarly once-in-a-lifetime pairing event.
Not only was Schramsberg among the first wineries in the beloved Calistoga region of Napa, it was the very first to dig into Napa’s hillside to create wine caves. Yes, caves. The vineyard offers tours of the caves, which culminate in a candlelit wine tasting underground. There is one limited to just sparkling wines, but I recommend upgrading to the sparkling and red option. That is partially because I adore how the bevy of cheeses provided during the tasting pair with the wines, but also because in addition to some of the biggest and best bubbles you will ever taste, Schramsberg has some unbelievable Napa reds, especially cabernets.
So, when it comes to what to try at this epic estate, it is a tie! The brand was founded by none other than the family behind sparkling icon Champagne Taittinger, so you know we have to talk bubble pairings here. But, do not sleep on the pinot noir here either, as an aside. As for the ultimate in experiences on-site, first there is the brunch, available seasonally. When not in season, there is an alternative tasting experience that changes regularly, notably celebrating everything from the flavors in Mexico to the cuisine of Morocco and how each pair with their wines. Alternatively, consider the chips and dip experience. The “dip?” That would be caviar! This exclusive experience features three ample pours of bubbles paired with three types of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar and to-die-for gourmet potato chips, toast points and crème fraîche.
Long Meadow Ranch is one of the coolest farms in the world. Actually, there are several Long Meadow Ranch Farms, but St. Helena is the granddaddy of them all. The family-owned, biodynamic, solar-powered farm boasts wines, extra virgin olive oils, grass-fed beef, eggs and heirloom fruits and vegetables, and that is just to start. The Mountain Estate experience allows you to take in the grandeur of it all as it starts with a ride up its actual mountain estate, which allows for one of the best view of all of Napa you will ever find. Once high in winegrower heaven, you then have the opportunity to taste limited-production collection of estate-grown wines and olive oils in total bliss.
Russian River Valley
The Russian River Valley has been producing many of the world finest pinot noirs for decades. And this is the crown jewel of the region. Gary Farrell keeps its simple with its tasting, and that is the charm of it. Set high above the lush Valley below, this seated terrace tasting (weather permitting) feels like you are sitting with Dionysus (the Greek God of wine) himself, nibbling on artisan cheeses while sampling six of the highest rated pinots in the state. A bonus: during the tasting, a sommelier takes the time to show the actual soil, land and history of the area in both an interactive and entertaining way. Don’t worry – it doesn’t feel like school!
Much like what feels like half of Arizona, the Hamel family has ties to the Midwest. They are from Wisconsin, to be exact. How do I know? In its artwork, you will see badgers. All over. Even the wine labels of the ultra-high-end offers have a little badger on them. The furry friends are homage to the three generations in the family who are proudly alumni of the University of Wisconsin (a k a The Badgers). This Notre Dame fan was able to ignore them long enough to take in the grandeur of the property. And I am so glad that I did because the reserve tasting experience here includes a truly gourmet – and wildly imaginative – four-course seasonal menu atop their high elevation property with million-dollar views paired with their best Cabernet blends. Think Binkley’s. Think Christopher’s. It is that inventive, playful and gourmet.
This tasting room? It’s like buttah. Actually, it isn’t just like buttah…it serves buttah. As in, there is a full-on wine tasting paired with exquisite butters! This experience pairs five wines side by side so you can compare and contrast flavor profiles to see how much the same varietal – Cabernet – varies based on the climate and topography across Napa. Each sip is paired with a selection of imported and local butters as well as white truffle potato chips, artisan breads, delicately sliced jamón from Spain and a floret of P’tite Basque cheese that will blow your mind.
Not to be too obvious, but Blue Rock rocks. The vineyard’s history dates back to the 1800’s, when Italian immigrants migrated to the area because it physically looked like home (a k a Tuscany). After closing its doors thanks to prohibition, the magical setting fell into disarray until the late 1980’s, when Kenny and Cheryl Kahn acquired it and set out to painstakingly bring it back to life. Thirty years later – and back to its full splendor – the Kahns offer tastings by appointment at their slice of heaven high atop the mountainside. Beyond that, they host these amazing and private winemaker lunches. Inspired by their visits to France and Italy, during this four-course epicurean extravaganza, guests will experience local ingredients and perfect wine pairings, all with views of Alexander Valley beyond your wildest imagination.