Saturday was intended to be a bit of a down day for us but even so, the calendar began to fill quickly. Today like most mornings began with a 10 AM tasting which brings me to a Donna quote, “one of the best things about wine country is that you can start drinking wine at 10 AM and no one judges you ;-).”
This morning began at Alpha Omega in Rutherford, right off Hwy. 29. We were not familiar with AO but they were recommended by Kai Whitney at Merryvale Winery during our visit in March. We were greeting in the elegant yet understated tasting room by Rick Patton, tasting room manager. AO is fairly new, only 4 years old but the owners have owned wineries in other parts of California. The tasting room with views of a fountain pond and vineyards is divided into three parts. The first is a tasting bar and sales area with plenty of logo gear for purchase. The second is two private tasting rooms that can hold 8-12 people and the third is a wrap around covered porch with the pond and vineyard views.
Rick did a great job taking us through the wines. A local bartender had raved about their oaked Chardonnay but alas, they were out. AO is a very small production winery as compared to others on Hwy. 29 producing only 9,000 cases. This wine is found in only a few restaurants and is sold mainly to wine club members and to winery visitors.
We were joined by winemaker, Jean Hoefliger. You may recognize his name from his time at Newton. Jean is a tall broad-shouldered young man from Switzerland with a fiery passion about wine making. We spoke at length about their unique barrel fermentation style with skin contact lasting up to 90 days. I expected these reds to be so tannic my teeth would sizzle but in fact they were surprisingly soft and very enjoyable. These wines are consistently receiving well deserved scores from 88 to 94. We finished our tasting with a barrel sample of the yet to be released 2008 Era Cabernet which Parker rated 90-92 in barrel. This wine was so balanced, complex and supple I never would have guessed it was 2008.
Next, off to a Napa gourmet lunch. We stood outside in line at Gott’s Roadside (Formerly Taylors Refreshers), an old drive in from the 1940’s. The line starts at about 11:30 each morning and can wrap the building. The burgers are legendary. Where else can you order a burger, sit on a picnic table near a highway and drink Shafer Cabernet or Rombauer Chardonnay from the burger stand’s wine list? Donna had a traditional burger while I had an Ahi tuna burger with jalapeno aioli. Life is great.
We had some time to kill so we cruised along Silverado Trail and stopped in for a couple of tastings. Earlier in the day we had received an invitation from Dennis Cakebread of Cakebread Cellars to the American Harvest Workshop Marketplace on the Cakebread property. Here we were treated to a sampling of artisan foods and specialties from five chefs. We milled around the beautiful courtyard sampling some great food like fresh plucked oysters, lamb from Sonoma, fresh mushrooms, grilled duck and our surprise favorite, grilled Antelope from Texas. Antelope is very tender and is not at all gamey. Cakebread cellars served a Syrah and a Syrah driven Rose’ called Vin du Porch. The Syrah was lovely and the Vin du Porch was definitely a manly rose’.
Being the Napa history buff that I am, the highlight was a chance to sit on a small rock wall and chat with co-founder Dolores Cakebread. She is a beautiful, friendly and spry woman who just turned 80 years old. It was great to spend a little time chatting with a living Napa legend. I did not get a chance to try the Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc but I’ll take Dolores’s word when she emphatically says “it’s the best.”
We finished the evening in conversation with our friend and wine industry publicist, Julie Ann Kodmur. She is also the wife of well-known winemaker Stu Smith of Smith-Madrone fame. We dined on small plates under the stars at the SolBar at the Solage Resort near Calistoga. Julie Ann was kind enough to bring along a bottle of the killer dry Riesling from Smith-Madrone. We shared a number of small plates including sliders with onions cooked for 10 hours, pasilla chile rubbed pork tacos and spicy shrimp lettuce wraps. The Solage service was impecable. We watched from the SolBar as the sun set across Howell Mountain and on the end of another wondrous wine country day.