My second day in Napa Valley was an easy going one. This is in contrast to most days, as you will see in later posts are filled with scheduled appointments, tastings and winemaker meetings. I know, you are already filled with sympathy for this strenuous job of glass tipping, jaw boning and writing.
We left our hotel in Calistoga and headed the 8 miles south to St. Helena for a peach muffin (the best) and a latte at Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company (The tip jar reads “Livin’ la Vida Mocha”). As we drove past Calistoga Roastery (which later becomes my new favorite breakfast hang out) who should jog across the street in front of us, but Bo and Heidi Barrett ( Bo of Chateau Montelena and the movie Bottle Shock fame and his wife Heidi, a very highly respected cult winemaker, Screaming Eagle & Dalla Valle to name a few). When Conch was considering studying winemaking, it was the movie’s portrayal of Napa Valley and Bo, however inaccurate, that sealed the deal. So this can be considered a true Napa Valley star sighting.
After breakfast and coffee it was time to do what any young person must do before he moves into his new digs, head to Target and Trader Joe to stock the pantry for a summer of cellar ratting. Luckily, it was a beautifully warm sunny day (one of the few so far this year, it seems) so we loaded our shopping bags into the pickup and headed back to unload. But with it now past noon, we had to make a lunch stop at Gott’s Roadside (AKA Taylor’s Refresher) for a burger and wine under the afternoon sun. This place is amazing, “Tray Gourmet.” The line was at least 40 people long, but who cares, that’s part of the romance. Plus, they have a killer wine list. So you grab a bottle or a glass and chat it up with your fellow diners and hope a picnic table is open when you’re ready. For the record, I had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a turkey burger.
With breakfast, lunch and pantry stocking behind us on a sunny Sunday afternoon we really had no choice but to stop into a couple of wineries for a taste. Two wineries I wanted Conch to experience were Corison and Alpha Omega. He’s heard me rave about these wines and tasted a few over the years so we took this opportunity to stop by. As a budding winemaker, I wanted Conch to sample these wines because of the very different winemaking techniques used by both brilliant winemakers to create superb Cabernets.
Corison Winery (Cathy Corison) is a small winery situated off Hwy 29 near St. Helena known for powerful and elegant Cabernets. More on this to come in a later post when Donna and I spend a morning with Cathy sampling a vertical of her damn yummy Cabernets.
If you want to get away from the Napa crowds and enjoy a simple, unhurried and intimate tasting of amazing wines, Corison is the place. The winery sits behind a turn of the century farmhouse and was designed to quietly fit in. There’s no tasting room, just a table set up near the winery door. While the wines are great on their own, they are even better in the winery when surrounded by wine barrels and that delicious winery aroma. The gal in the tasting room as it turned out was a former Stanford professor originally from New Zealand and was a bunch of fun, whip-smart and knowledgeable. She said she mans the tasting room on the weekends to keep busy. Not only were we treated to Cathy’s two Cabs but also her “fun project” Corazón, a line of more every-day wines including a Cabernet Rosé and a Gewurztraminer.
We pulled ourselves away from these great wines and conversation and headed the short distance to Alpha Omega. Read my Interview with A/O winemaker Jean Hoefliger. This winery is very modern, trendy in appearance and sleek. The wines on the other hand have a old world depth and quality. As quiet and intimate as Corison was, Alpha Omega was bustling but still each guest was given the full attention of one of the servers. The one disappointment at A/O was they were totally sold out of their oaked Chardonnay which I was quite looking forward to. I guess I wasn’t alone in my enjoyment of this wine. The folks in the tasting room were great to us and our bonus treat was to go barrel sample some of single vineyard Cabernets. These wines are going to be awesome when released.
With glasses of A/O Stagecoach Vineyards Cabernet straight from the barrel in hand, we headed for the patio couches to relax, enjoy the wine and watch the vineyard grow. As the sun slipped low against the western hills, we sat discussing the differences in technique and style between Cathy Corison’s more traditional approach and Jean Hoefliger’s “high risk” very extended maceration approach. I thought back to the days of helping Conch with his middle school spelling tests and science projects and decided helping with this “homework” was much more fun.
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