Napa Valley, Day 4

Our first winery for our first and final full day in Napa Valley was Schramsberg, known for their sparkling wines even up to the White House!

We had a scheduled tour which took us back into their caves and through the finishing process. I had no idea the amount of effort involved in wine-making, particularly sparkling wines.

Don’t worry, that’s natural moss growing up there, not any kind of spider web. Though it really was revolting.

The sparkling wine process is complicated, and I’m going to butcher it if I try to repeat as our fabulous tour guide did. The wine is in the caves to ferment, and the pressure in those bottles can reach incredible heights. If the bottles have a weakness, he said, the pressure will find it and burst the bottles. Which is why they have sections of the cave covered in canvas at the peak fermentation period, to protect us tourists.

In some spots, there were bottles missing from those types of mishaps, and they replace the bottle with cardboard or item of similar size.

To keep the sediment rotating in the bottles, there is a complicated and time consuming process called riddling. They have a machine now that does riddling mechanically, but some bottles are still rotated regularly by hand on racks like these:

And the mechanical riddler:

Likewise, while they use mostly mechanical labelers now, there are some bottle that still require labeling by hand. There are two women whose job this is, and they use this old equipment that’s been the same for ages:

Following our enlightening and educational tour, and with a new appreciation for sparkling wine, our small group sat down in a room together around a large table for our tasting.

Our guide demonstrated the best way to aerate sparkling wine or champagne, which is not to swirl it around but to roll it on the palm of your hand.

He poured our tastings quickly, but not to get us to move faster; instead, he said that we should taste the wines at different temperatures. Allowing the wine to warm up a bit would introduce new flavors. So we were encouraged to try each wine again and again as it stood on the table.

I also enjoyed the fact that the table was made of an old riddling rack covered in glass. It was very charming. We enjoyed lingering over our glasses before leaving.

Our next stop was to a bit more touristy but highly recommended winery (simply for its looks!): The Castello di Amorosa.

The Castle Winery parking lot was separated by grape vines, so I was excited to get up close and personal with some grapes for the first time this trip.

The castle itself was very authentic looking, though newer than any real castle would be! We did not take a tour here, but we were able to walk around the outside in inside courtyard without it. The view from the castle was also amazing.

In addition to wine tasting, they also offer grape oil tasting, and I was surprised to find that I could taste a difference in the different varieties of oil. The wine tasting was not spectacular, though we had just been spoiled at the attention and thought we received at Schramsberg.

The tasting room was open and bar like, but our bartender did not really speak to us about the wines we were drinking. While you can’t get their wine anywhere else, and we enjoyed their Merlot, Cab Sauv and sweet wine, we still left without any bottles. We were satisfied with the beautiful setting and were glad we came.

It was near time for lunch, so we decided, at Brian’s parents’ suggestion, to stop and buy a lunch to picnic with at the geyser in Castiloga (a region in Napa Valley).

We stopped at St Palisades Deli for sandwiches, and arrived at the geyser minutes before it went off.

We ate our sandwiches (which were fabulous, by the way), and then stopped at the goats. The Old Faithful Geyser of California has a collection of goats, including fainting goats.

We did our best to try and get the fainting goats to faint, but they weren’t surprised.

(This is not a fainting goat)

Our next stop was Sterling Vineyards, which is more well known. They have an air tram lift (similar to a ski lift) to their winery.

We were told that the scenery from the winery is beautiful, and that was true.

The tastings at Sterling are done in a gradual fashion, along your walk and “self-guided tour” around the winery. It was casual and well done, and I enjoyed walking around with our glass of wine.

Since we only paid for the base tastings, we were able to taste the basic wines. At the end though we enjoyed Malvasia Bianca, a sweet wine only available there. It was good palate quencher.

All in all, Sterling was worth the views, though we didn’t anticipate the time it would take to wait in line for the lift to and from the winery itself.

We following Sterling with a visit to Rombauer, which we had some difficulty finding because it was on the opposite side of the road from what we expected.

Rombauer was recommended to us the prior day by a couple who came to Napa Valley specifically to visit. We enjoyed it, and particularly their Zinfandel which she paired with a bittersweet chocolate (my favorite part, obviously).

The winery itself was quaint. It had a nice view and small gardens with sculptures, and it wasn’t very crowded though it was smaller.

With the day nearly ending (or at least, the part where wineries are open), we decided to visit V. Sattui.

V. Sattui was the most crowded place we had been to yet, but it was beautiful. They offer a deli and a huge assortment of cheeses. So as not to ruin our dinner, we opted for a sausage stuffed mushroom, which tasted like pizza without the marinara and bread.

Because their tasting room was so crowded, we decided to get a bottle and eat outside.

Despite the crowds, we were still able to find room outdoors to sit down and eat. We got a bottle of their Zinfandel, which we enjoyed enough to try and bring home the rest of the open bottle on an airplane.

Our bellies satisfied, we left for downtown Napa to find a place for dinner.

Before dinner though, we did find a tasting room in Napa still open when we arrived. Waterstone at Oxbow

So close to closing time, there weren’t many people in the room. I loved their recycled glass counter tops in particular. One thing I noticed was that this tasting room offered an opportunity to buy by the glass, instead of just tastings and bottles. We hadn’t seen that anywhere else.

We shut that place down and left to cross the bridge back to downtown. I could see as we walked up and down the street lots of tasting rooms for yet another kind of experience if we had had the time.

In downtown Napa, there is a small micro-brewery (leave it to Brian to find those), so we decided on one more stop before dinner.

Downtown Joe’s offered a tasting of their entire lineup, which we had to try. I enjoyed their great raspberry ale.

It was finally time for dinner, and by this time it was prime eating hour, so we had to wait for about a half hour before being seated at the Bounty Hunter. We waited outside at a table, so it wasn’t any hardship on this beautiful evening.

It was dimly lit and dark outside at this point, so we don’t have any (good) photos, but they had simply amazing BBQ and offered 3 sauces.

We split a dish of pulled pork brisket and ribs, and the cole slaw was excellent. I am not a BBQ person, but to me, this was exceptional food.

So ended a wonderful day in Napa Valley, from tours to sightseeing to downtown, touristy spots to those less traveled.

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