Napa Valley in early spring does not always offer the most hospitable weather. Though the valley can be flooded with spring rains, it is not flooded with tourists. On weekdays you feel like you have the whole place to yourself. The restaurants are full but not overflowing, the tasting room staff has plenty of time to educate, no need to elbow people out of the way to get to another pour and even winemakers have time to chat. Early spring in Napa does have its benefits, so join us at the Ceja Vineyards Tasting Room and Titus Vineyards Winery, two of our new favorite stops.
The unusually warm and sunny San Francisco February weather retreated in favor of a cold windy downpour as we arrived for our first 2011 wine country visit. We had much on our blogging plate for the ten days. Winemaker interviews, winery visits, wine tastings, the Vintners Hall of Fame Dinner, Symposium for Professional Wine Writers and the Premiere Napa Barrel Tasting and Wine Auction were more than enough to make the average liver cry uncle. As you can see being a wine blogger is just “damn hard work.”
After the 90 minute rain soaked drive to Napa, our first pit stop was not a winery, but Target to buy a new massive suitcase to replace the one whose wheels had suffered irreparable damage in the gentle care of too many baggage handlers. After dragging the heavy broken-wheeled bag through SFO, on to the tram, then through the rental car building only to drive in a downpour, we were ready for some wine to revive the soul.
Our first stop was the John Anthony Wines Tasting Lounge in downtown Napa next door to the Avia Hotel. The hip décor includes a tasting bar as well as comfortable seating to just sit back and drink some wine. At night the Tasting Lounge turns into more of cool wine bar scene. We liked the wines and atmosphere so much we met friends there for a pre-dinner glass of wine, later in the week.
I love neighborhood wine bars! Of course, the other half of B & B would say that I just love wine anywhere. That being said,, a wine bar becomes a neighborhood wine bar and one of my favorites because the staff treats you like family each time you visit. Of course, they need to have good food, wine and atmosphere. Since I split my time between the south suburbs of Denver, Colorado and Austin Texas, I have favorites in both cities.
Recently I was reading an article on our slow to rebound economy. The writer interviewed an upscale restaurateur who claimed his sales were still off by 60% from a couple of years ago. I have no idea where the restaurant is but that doesn’t seem to be the case in my two cities, Denver, CO and my beloved Austin, TX.
Donna and I spent a little time discussing the restaurateurs claim and agreed that we don’t eat out as much as we did. So we asked why? We came to the conclusion that there are a number of restaurants we like very much but refuse to pay their exorbitant wine mark ups. In my early days of wine collecting (that was a long time ago) in Austin I’ll admit I was spoiled (Henry and Jay, you know who you are). Back then wholesale laws and enforcement were much more lax and I’d buy cases of great wine wholesale, compliments of my restaurant buddies. So very early on I learned the real cost of wine.
Here’s my rant. What the hell am I getting when I pay a restaurant 200% or more than I can buy the exact same wine retail.
In our never-ending quest to imbibe in just about every wine-bar known to man, last night we began Donna’s (Mrs. Bacchus and Beery) birthday weekend at Max’s Wine Dive in Austin, TX. Max’s is a small chain with locations in Houston, San Antonio and Austin.
This ain’t your momma’s wine bar. Think rock-n-roll wine bar. Loud but not overwhelming music, southern comfort food and fine wine drew in a large 25 to 50 year old crowd. Sounds weird…but it works. The T-shirt I purchased said it all. “Fried Chicken & Champagne…Why the Hell Not!”