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Tips for Napa and Sonoma Valley

Headed to Napa or Sonoma? Tips on wine tasting & “must stops” for great food in Napa and Sonoma Valley!

Airports: Fly into San Francisco!

Even though it is much easier to fly in and substantially easier to get out of Sacramento International Airport from Dallas, Texas, we nearly always fly in to San Francisco International Airport for one reason; I LOVE SAN FRANCISCO! San Francisco is my 2nd favorite city in the world (next to Paris). I simply adore this incredible City by the Bay. Besides being so visually stunning; the arts are incredible, the people are so diverse, so much to see and do, and some of the absolute best restaurants in the entire world. Plus there is just something special about crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on the way to wine country that excites me now just thinking about it!

A few Tips for Wine Tasting and Food

Just after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge heading to Sonoma & Napa Valley’s, you will find an incredibly quaint little town by the name of Sausalito. You need to spend some time here walking around town, investigating the quaint shops and bookstores, and enjoying the many great restaurants. Lunch  or dinner on the pier at Salito’s Crab House or my favorite French Bistro in town “La Garage“!

When you continue on to Sonoma or Napa you have a choice; Turn on Hwy 37 and head to Napa Valley, or keep going on Hwy 101 and head to Sonoma Valley. If you are new to the Wine country of Napa and Sonoma Valley, I would go to Napa and see it first. Especially if you have never visited in past. Napa Valley in my opinion is what most folks will normally think of as “Wine Country” and the visions it brings to mind.

 Get on line or call the wineries the week before you decide to visit and schedule appointments if possible.

I will give you some examples of wineries and tasting rooms that we love, but keep in mind; If you see a sign or a winery that looks interesting just stop in! Most wineries will take guests if you simply walk in (more in Sonoma than Napa Valley). But be aware; if you want a tour or a library tasting be sure and call in advance and set an appointment.

If you only have 3 days to spend tasting and exploring wine country I would spend 1 day in Napa Valley, then one day in Southern Sonoma and the last day in Northern Sonoma. If you have more time then you can easily spend 3-4 days in each area and never get tired of the beauty, great food, and some of the best wines worldwide. You may get tired of the crowds on certain times of the year, but not the beauty!

Wise words to live by!
Wise words to live by!

You need to understand the differences between Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley.

Napa Valley is compact and you can easily drive from the city of Napa  in the southern valley to Calistoga in the northern Napa Valley on Hwy 29 in about an hour to 1-1/2 hours (depending on traffic). And there is almost one winery after another up and down Hwy 29 all the way to Calistoga.

Sonoma Valley is much larger, longer, and much wider! You should not try and visit one winery in Glen Ellen, Northern Sonoma Valley for example and then head to one near the city of Sonoma  in the Southern part of the valley. You will spend most of your day driving instead of doing what you came for; tasting new and different wines, eating incredible foods, and reveling in exactly how phenomenally beautiful wine country is!

So when you are in Sonoma Valley, plan your visits around the wineries and restaurants that you want to visit, then plan the next day in the other part of the valley.

Always the question when wine tasting!
Always the question when wine tasting!

Winetasting Pro Tips: 

  • SPIT! You will be consuming a lot of wine. Some you will like, some you will not. So learn to spit into the spit bucket, it is not rude.
  • Have a designated driver, or rent a car service. Even if you spit 100% of the time you will still get some alcohol in your system, it is just the way it is. Stay safe!
  • Try and stay away from a winery that has one or more tour buses out front unless you have an appointment. You will be part of the masses and will spend way to much time fighting to “get a pour” and this isn’t fun.

  • Enjoy the time you spend in each winery. Ask questions, try different styles, and immerse yourself in the culture of wine. This is a passion for most of the people working there at the winery, and they love to share information with people who are genuinely interested.
  • Be courteous and use common sense. Yes you are there to have fun and laugh, but if you are obnoxious, you can ruin the experience of others around you. Once again…SPIT! Also if the person pouring the wine enjoys spending time with you they are more likely to give you a “little something extra” like a heavier pour or a discount on products, or even no charge for the tasting!
  • Try Different wines that you would normally NOT buy at home. Keep in mind; it is a 2oz pour. If you do not like the wine, simply pour it into the spit bucket and try something else.
  • Buy a bottle or two if you like the wines to take home with you. Often the tasting fee (especially in Sonoma) will be waived or reduced if you purchase wine. Ask upfront for the rules. And remember to be pleasant!


Welcome Sign to Napa Valley!
Welcome Sign to Napa Valley!

 Restaurants in Napa Valley to visit:

Rutherford Grill is always a stop for us when in Rutherford and Napa Valley. American food with a great atmosphere and patio. Good wine list.

 Auberge du Soleil  is A MUST! Great spa and ‘adult only luxury hotel’ sitting up on the mountain overlooking the valley with stunning views. French bistro with over 40 wines by the glass. A terrific spa as well if you are interested!

Brix has a French / Napa inspired menu sitting on 16-acres of gardens and vineyards with spectacular views of the Mayacamas Mountains. One of the best wine lists in Napa Valley.

Wineries to visit Napa Valley:

Domaine Carneros.  Sparkling wines produced and poured here in a stunning French style Chateau setting just outside the city of Napa. You can buy wine by glass or bottle and sit out on the patio and soak it all in with bubbles in your glass! A great way to start your wine journey. Need to set appointment for best service but not mandatory.

Cuvaison is next door to Domaine Carneros outside of the city of Napa. Modern tasteful tasting room; nothing fancy but great views and exceptional wines. No appointment needed.

Darioush on the Silverado Trail in the City of Napa is built to look like a Persian Castle. The wines are outstanding and the property is one of the most impressive in all of wine country! They take walk-ins, but do yourself a favor and get appointment.

Whitehall Lane in St Helena has a great garden that you can picnic. The Whitehouse wines are outstanding, and always garner top reviews and scores from Parker, WS, and Tanzer. No appointment is needed for standard tasting, but is recommended, especially for library wines or big groups.

Ehlers Estate in St Helena requires an appointment, and is well worth the effort. Exceptional wines, and do NOT forget to taste some of the best Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the valley!

Frank Family Vineyards in Calistoga is a world class winery, and produces outstanding wines that consistently score mid-90’s with the wine pundants. They are open to the public and take walkins, but they are usually very busy. Make an appointment if possible.

Chateau Montelena is a “must see” when in Calistoga! This is the winery that helped best the best French wines in the famous Judgement Of Paris tasting in 1976, made famous by the movie Bottle Shock a few years ago. While the wines went through an awkward stage in the early 2000’s, the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are once again world class. The property is beautiful as well. No appointment required, but if you want a tour then call first and get appointment. Take a picnic basket!

Chateau Montelena..legendary!
Chateau Montelena..legendary!

Sonoma Valley

Sonoma Restaurants:

The Town of Sonoma Square is a fun area with lots to see and great restaurants. Here you will find The Girl and the Fig is a good restaurant for lunch or dinner with a good patio if weather permits. Sunflower Café for truly impressive breakfast.  Or soup, salads, and sandwichs for lunch. Both are on the square in City of Sonoma.

Fremont Diner just outside the Town of Sonoma is a legendary institution in the area! It really is a old dive that has “some” inside seating and picnic tables outside. Terrific chicken and waffles, biscuits and gravy, smoked ham, chicken sandwiches, and don’t leave without a slice of the sweet potato-pecan pie!

Barn Diva in Healdsburg has a really impressive back patio, hip night scene, good wine list, and an ever changing fresh menu according to the season. Order the Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey as a starter!

Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg Square is incredible! Wine list is almost exclusively Sonoma Valley and over 500 selections. White Table cloths and fine dinning in modern atmosphere.

Russian River Brewing is a world famous brew pub in Healdsburg. If you are a craft beer aficionado you know about the 8% ABV Pale India Ale “Phliney The Elder“. And the ever sought after (and very rare) Phliney the Younger that beer lovers camp out for days once a year upon release!  Pub food, wings, good pizza but go for the best craft beer in Sonoma or Napa Valley.

Release date for Phliney the Younger is Feb 5-12th!

Wineries in Sonoma Valley To Visit

Southern Sonoma Valley:

B.R. Cohn in Glen Ellen. This winery was established and until recently was owned by the Manager of the Doobie Brothers Band. Good wines and great olive oil! No reservation needed. Often they will have live music as well, so check out the website and adjust your schedule accordingly!

Chateau St Jean The 250 acre estate and 3550 sq ft house, property, and gardens are stunningly beautiful, and the higher end wines are very good. No appointment needed for tasting unless you want something special.

Middle and Northern Sonoma:

You should plan on spending 1/2 day in city of Healdsburg. Very cool town with tons of great restaurants and tasting rooms in the square.

When in Dry Creek, don’t forget to stop at Dry Creek General Store. The locals hang out here. You can stop and buy goods for lunch basket, or get a beer and sit on the front porch and hang out with locals!

Dry Creek general Store
Dry Creek general Store

Martin Ray Winery in Santa Rosa. Incredible chardonnay, pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, and zinfandel that are a consistent 90-95 point scores with Wine Spectator! The estate grounds are very pretty too, but call in advance and get an appointment several days in advance if you want to taste their wines.

Benovia Winery in Santa Rosa has EXCEPTIONAL Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache, and Chardonnay that are perennial favorites of Parker WS, and Tanzer. By appointment only.

Pappietro-Perry  in Dry Creek. This is some of my favorite Pinot Noir in Sonoma. But DO NOT expect a fancy tasting room, but don’t let that stop you from tasting! Ben and Yolonda Pappietro make artisanal Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel wines that will impress you. Bonus: The Dry Creek area is easily one of the most beautiful areas of Sonoma. Tell Yolanda I said hello! No appointment needed.

Dry Creek Vineyards  in Dry Creek. Good to exceptional and large portfolio of wines with exceptional value. The property is very pretty and you can pick up picnic supplies at Dry Creek General Store and picnic here! No appointment needed.

Ridge Vineyards  in the Healdsburg / Dry Creek area. Known for their award winning Zinfandel, but do not pass up the terrific Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Chardonnay, and Rhone Style Blends! But do not leave without buying some of the BEST ZINFANDEL produced in the world! No appointment required, but most times a waiting list will apply. So call and make an appointment to save time.

Francis Ford Coppola  in Geyserville.  No appointment needed. The director of Godfather & other classic films. Museum inside, with a pool and bar outside, lined on one side by  Cabanas. You can spend the day by the pool and rent a cabana with personal showers and toilets. Wines are ‘ok’, but go to see the facility and museum. Bonus: Coppola is one of the only spots in wine country that you can taste wines AND order a cocktail at the same establishment, because they were grandfathered in with a liquor license from the previous winery owner!

There is just so much to do and see in the Wine Country of Napa and Sonoma Valley. I hope this guide helps you with a few choice places to spend your time and money. And if you have more suggestions, comments, or ideas please share them in the comment section below!

Thank you for visiting the Texas Wineaux and reading my ramblings.

Please stop back from time to time for new content. Please leave a comment on your thoughts, favorite spots you love, and favorite restaurants in the comment section below.

Terry Hill is the Texas Wineaux!

Cheers From The Texas Wineaux!
Cheers From The Texas Wineaux!

VinGarde Valise – You’ve got to get one!

Do you travel with wine?

You’ve Got to get one of these VinGarde Valise Wine Suitcases!

Loaded up, Strapped down, and ready to travel!
Loaded up, Strapped down, and ready to travel!

I love wine.

I love wine related; art, glasses, gear, products, paraphernalia, accessories, contraptions, tools, gizmos, carriers, bottle openers, doohickeys, thingamajigs, and just about anything pertaining to wine. In fact I have way too many of these items because I am such a sucker for anything wine related. But I have the COOLEST new item that if you are a ‘Wine Geek” like me, you will have to have immediately!

It is the VinGarde Valise Wine Suitcase!

Prized bottles of wine are safe!
Prized bottles of wine are safe!

Like many of you that truly have a passion for wine, I like to bring a few bottles with me on my travels to make sure I have a good bottle to enjoy in my hotel room, or to take to dinner at that night. I also travel to wine producing areas all over California, France, & Texas, and occasionally Virginia, Ohio, Arkansas, Michigan, and Colorado.

Like most of us when we are touring and tasting wine; we buy wine, and like to bring a few bottles back with us to enjoy at home.

VinGarde Valise is the safest way to travel with wine!

You can carry from 1-12 bottles of 750ml bottles of wine safely and securely, and feel certain that your bottles of prize wine will survive the harrowing trip from home to the airport and back to your home without harm.

A full VinGarde Valise with 12 – 750ml bottles of wine will weigh 45-48 lbs, so no additional baggage fees for overweight luggage!

Using a configuration under twelve bottles leaves you with lots of space for clothes, books, overnight case, or anything else you need to transport. It also doubles as suitcase if you simply remove the foam insets on one or both sides.


Interior Straps for Extra Security
Interior Straps for Extra Security


It has an incredibly strong but lightweight polycarbonate casing. As well as: leather corner covers, double straps for extra security around the outside (if zipper breaks), more straps inside to keep the bottles secure, large strong zippers inside and out, double hand clasps top and side. And, sturdy removable spinner wheels plus a telescopic handle for ease of movement around the airport!

And, if you like to travel with Magnums of wine, or even carry your own wine glasses, they have replaceable foam inserts to accommodate both.

I have traveled to Colorado with 6 bottles on one side, and my clothes and personal items on the other side and it is the most versatile suitcase I have ever owned.

TRAKDOT Luggage Locator

And for added security; you can add a “Trakdot” Luggage Locator to your VinGarde Valise that has a GPS locator. This allows you to not only trace and locate your bags when missing, but it makes baggage claim incredibly easy because you can track your bag on your smartphone directly to Baggage Claim. Even if it is sent to the wrong airport!

If you decide to purchase this option; use this promotional code “VGV01” to receive an additional $10 discount AND an additional year of annual service free of charge!

I do not endorse many products, but when I get this excited about something I have to share it with my fellow Wineauxs!

You can find  more information and where to purchase the VinGarde Valise here:


Tell them the Texas Wineaux sent you!

Cheers from the Texas!
Cheers from the Texas!




Weekend in California Wine Country – Day Two

A  Weekend in Wine Country is Never Enough!

There just isn’t enough time to do everything I want to do; visit all the Wineries, see all the incredibly beautiful places, eat at all the terrific restaurants, and taste all the wines you want to taste!

As I stated in the Day One article, I could have every minute taken up with appointments if I chose too. But that wasn’t what my lovely bride Margie and I wanted to do on day two. We both have been burning the candle at both ends the last several months at our jobs, and we needed some Margie & Terry time. We wanted to just let it happen as it came with a two basic starting points:

  1.  Start in the City of Healdsburg, Sonoma County
  2.  Spend time together talking, laughing, meeting people, and making memories

We awoke on Saturday morning at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country Hotel in Santa Rosa needing coffee really bad. While the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country is comfortable and in a great location for Sonoma, I have to say the hotel needs a serious renovation. They do offer a full service restaurant, large rooms, and amenities such as wine tastings in the evening. However the rooms look like they were decorated in 1980. And the pool was completely torn apart and we had to listen to the workers refinishing the pool. But… we don’t spend a lot of time in our rooms; we basically sleep there and go, go, go! I personally prefer the newer Marriot Courtyard for my money.

We dressed, had coffee and a light breakfast at the hotel and back to our room to get ready for the day. We decided to drive to Healdsburg Square, park the car, and just discover the town. We arrived about 11:00 AM. After parking we strolled around dipping inside the many shops lined around the square, as Margie dearly loves to shop. I think it is something in women’s DNA. I am convinced that the word “SALE” works as a pheromone that draws women into a store, where they can nearly always find something “cute”! Along with clothes, you will find terrific restaurants, candy shops, bakeries with lots of goodies, ice cream shops, and lots of places with home and kitchen goods..

Square in Healdsburg, CA
Square in Healdsburg, CA

I really did not mind walking around the shops, because about every 4-5 shops it seems is a wine producer sampling their wines. Well, it would be rude not to do a tasting right? We first stopped for a tasting at Roadhouse Winery tucked away in the corner of the square.

Roadhouse Winery
Roadhouse Winery

I have to tell you I was a little hesitant at first, but also intrigued as well because I am currently on my Pinot Noir kick. Plus I really liked the label. The young men inside were laughing, joking around, and NOT taking much very serious…except their pinot noir. This they were very serious and enthusiastic about the product. And they should have been because the Pinot Noir that they were pouring was great! In fact I bought 4 bottles  and brought them back to Texas.

Next was an ice cream break at Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie. With a great selection of delicious deserts to temp you! And anyone that really knows me understands I love my ice cream as much as my wine.

On around the square for more shopping and wine tastings. We enjoyed the wines at Portalupi Wines so much we bought a glass each and sat down to chat and sip the terrific wine and decide our next move!

Portalupi Tasting Room Healdsburg Square
Portalupi Tasting Room Healdsburg Square

Remember, we had very little agenda upfront and decided to just let the day come to us. So we decided since we love the Dry Creek AVA so much; let’s drop the top on the convertable and go discover!

First stop is one of our favorite places in Sonoma; Dry Creek General Store. Established in 1881, the Dry Creek General Store is a very historic and unique establishment that is still to this day a local hangout. They offer great crafted sandwiches, soups, salads, and local gifts. We have a a tradition of buying coffee cups every time we stop to remind us of our great times in the valley. You can get a great sandwich or salad made to order, then head to the gardens or on the front stoop to enjoys with the locals. Many times we will load up on picnic supplies and head over to one of the local wineries to picnic. Regardless this is a MUST STOP when in the area!

Dry Creek general Store
Dry Creek general Store

After a great sandwich, and wine out of our new coffee mugs, we are off to explore!

Dry Creek General Store Mugs
Dry Creek General Store Mugs

Feeling adventurous we just took a road and drove, looking and exploring until we ran upon a small winery by the name of Zichichi Family Vineyard.

There was a small sign out front that got my attention: “Wine Enthusiast 95 Points”

Zichichi Sauvignon Blanc wowed us!
Zichichi Sauvignon Blanc wowed us!


Now we were WAY off the beaten path, but what the heck? Let’s check it out. We were extremely surprised and pleased.

A little history of Zichichi:

In 2000 a New Orleans Physician Steve Zichichi and his wife Kristen purchased the 22 acres in Dry Creek Valley. 14 acres of zinfandel and 4 acres of petit sirah, all planted in 1928 and 1964 by the previous Bartolozzi Ranch. After several years of selling grapes to local wineries, the Zichichi’s built their own winery in 2006. They now produce an Estate Zinfandel, an Old Vine Zinfandel, A Cabernet Sauvignon, a Petite Sirah, and an incredible Sauvignon Blanc that blew me away!

In fact, we loved the Sauvignon Blanc so much that we bought a case and shipped it to Texas, where we almost immediately drank every bottle and wished we had bought 2 cases! I am on the very short member list now, and have already bought the next vintage. They are very unique in that they sell out most of their wines to members every year, usually within 3 months.

We were taken to the back for barrel samples of the upcoming vintages of Old Vine Zinfandel and this was quite impressive. You can really see how well the wines have been made, and the promise to come in a few years. We will stop in again next trip to the area.

After driving around the wondrous beauty of Dry Creek and Russian River Valley, we headed back to the room to rest up, then clean up for dinner. I made dinner reservations at Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa. Margie and I had visited, and loved the original Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris, and in fact have artwork in our entryway of our home from the famous establishment in Paris. While I understood already that they were not affiliated, I was still intrigued.

While Willi’s Wine Bar was almost nothing like the Paris version, it was a very nice wine country restaurant, lots of character, and a very impressive wine list.

We like to arrive before our reservations and sit at the bar. We meet a lot of wonderful Bartenders and staff, as well as the patrons at the bar. We enjoyed a terrific bottle of Black Kitty Pinot Noir Soberanes Vineyard that was a suggestion of the Bartender. It was nicely perfumed with aromas of raspberry, violets, chocolate, and somewhat earthy. Chew tannins, and black cherry bursting in our mouth. Delicious Pinot Noir! We had a wonderful time at dinner, food was very good, and I would suggest it when in Santa Rosa.

Willi's Wine Bar Santa Rosa, CA
Willi’s Wine Bar Santa Rosa, CA

The next day was pack up and go home day. I carry with me a great packable wine shipper called “Wine Check”. It holds 12 bottles of wine in Styrofoam, covered by a very sturdy box, and then covered by a padded heavy duty vinyl cover. It has a removable strap and wheels on one end for easy transport. It weights 45-48 lbs full and you can check it as luggage on the plane!

Wine Check - Holds 12 bottles
Wine Check – Holds 12 bottles

I always bring back a nice booty of wine to enjoy!

Wine Booty March 2015!
Wine Booty March 2015!

Margie and I had a short, but incredible time in Wine Country. I hope this article helps you plan your next trip. If you ever want me to assist you with where to go taste wine, great places to eat, and beautiful places to visit feel free to email me. I would be happy to help you with suggestions.

Just keep in mind:

A Weekend in Wine Country is Never Enough!

Thank you again for reading the ramblings of a Texas Wineaux!

(Please leave a comment,good or bad, because I need the feedback.)

Grape Harvest

Weekend in California Wine Country – Day One

A weekend in Wine Country is never enough time.

Although the Wine Country is a great getaway and incredibly beautiful; 2 days in California Wine Country is just not enough. Especially if you are half a continent away from California in Dallas, Texas and you spend much of your valuable time in an airport, on an airplane, or trying to get a rental car!

My beautiful wife Margie was going to be in Oakland and Sacramento on business back in March, so I decided that would be the PERFECT excuse to take a day off and spend the weekend together in my personal  Mecca; Napa and Sonoma! So I set up a few appointments for winery visits on the first day day and left the last day wide open to do whatever came to mind.

Wine County Weekend!
Wine County Weekend!

You can imagine I have a multitude of  connections in the wine industry, and get offers to visit and write about my experiences on a regular basis. So I could have scheduled 4-5 winery visits per day and had every minute of our two days booked.But I really needed a nice relaxing and romantic weekend with my beautiful wife more than I needed to visit new wineries.

Margie is a Director of a large hair care products distributor, and lots of travel is just part of her job description. And the beginning of a New Year always brings on even more travel (to get the New Year started), so she has been away from home more than usual. Spending really quality time with each other was very high on our list.

SO…I only scheduled TWO (yes you read right, two) winery visits for the trip!

I flew into Oakland on Thursday, landing about Noon and rented a convertible Mustang. I then drove “topless” to Sacramento to pick Margie up at her hotel. She had just finished meeting with her clients in the early afternoon, and they were begging her to go to happy hour to celebrate a successful meeting. She politely said no, offering that I was picking her up and we were going to Wine Country for a fun weekend!

My wife is absolutely my best friend in the world, and we have an incredible marriage. We have so much fun together, sometimes doing absolutly nothing but making the best of our time making each other laugh.

I am a lucky man indeed!


Happy Couple
Happy Couple

The first night we decided to head over to Healdsburg for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Sonoma Valley;  BarnDiva. Located on Center Street in Healdsburg, it is an eclectic blend of different modern and old barn decor, with an ever changing menu. The bar scene is terrific and hip at night, and the Patio and area out back is calm, artistic, and relaxing during the day. The food is always creative, delicious, and ever changing according to the season. If you go you have to try the goat cheese croquettes with Wildflower Honey and Lavender is is incredible!!!

Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey.
Goat Cheese Croquettes with Lavender Honey.

We enjoyed a perfect 2009 Simmonet-Febvre Vaillons 1ér Cru Chablis with our dinner that was outstanding.

Bar at BarnDiva Healdsburg
Bar at BarnDiva Healdsburg

The next morning I had a 9:30 appointment with Jeff Mangahas, Winemaker at the legendary Williams Selyem Winery in Russian River, Sonoma Valley. Jeff was gracious and accommodating with his time. You can read more and the actual interview with Jeff in my previous post in March. It is times like these that I dearly love what I do, as I feel very humbled to have had this opportunity to interview and spend time just visiting and talking wine with Jeff. We loved the behind the scenes stories as well that can only be told by the winemaker!

Williams-Selyem Russian River
Williams-Selyem Russian River
Rare "Winery Only" wines, sold on premise.
Rare “Winery Only” wines, sold on premise.
Talking Wine and theory with Jeff Mangahas
Talking Wine and theory with Jeff Mangahas
Thank you Jeff!
Thank you Jeff!

Our next appointment wasn’t until 2:30 but it was across the mountain range in St Helena, Napa Valley. For those of you that have driven from Santa Rosa to Napa Valley know there is a mountain range between the two valleys. So as the crow flies it isn’t that far. But to drive you have 2 choices;

1. Go south on Hwy 101 and go around Southern Sonoma down and come up along the highway 121 to Scenic Hwy 29 where all the wineries are located just North of the City of Napa (BORING).

2. From Santa Rosa in Sonoma Valley head east along Calistoga Road, across the mountains to Petrified Forest Road to Calistoga. This is the scenic route! If you can ALWAYS take this route because it is so beautiful and so “Northern California”.

Calistoga, CA is a beautiful place to stay, taste wine, have lunch or dinner, shop, and just spend time! We had about 2 hours to kill before our next appointment at Fantesca, so we stopped and had lunch outside at Calistoga Kitchen on Cedar St. Very quaint and full of character. Great food, and we were so impressed with the owner and Chef Rick Wankel. Margie and I split a terrific BLT with duck egg and it was incredible! The bacon was localy sourced thick cut, smoked to perfection, and very meaty! We split a County Line Mixed Green Salad, and enjoyed a bottle of 2012 Cakebread Cellars Napa Chardonnay (that matched perfectly) and we were in heaven! The owner Rick explained his food is ingredients driven, featuring local growers, purveyors, and wines. If you are in the area I highly suggest a visit and tell them the Terry Hill the Texas Wineaux sent you!

Rick Warkel Chef, Calistoga Kitchen
Rick Warkel Chef, Calistoga Kitchen
Duck Egg BLT at Calistoga Kitchen
Duck Egg BLT at Calistoga Kitchen

When I took my Sommelier class at Texas Sommelier Conference (TEXSOM) many years ago, Master Sommelier DLynn Proctor assisted in our instructions and blind tastings, and I have kept contact with him over the years. You may know DLynn from the movie “SOMM”. Dlynn had suggested a few wineries to vist that were “unknown gems”  in Napa. I chose Fantesca Winery from his suggestion and it was terrific. Fantesca was an extremely interesting story.

Susan and Duane Hoff  were working for Best Buy, and decided they wanted to be in the wine business. So they bought 53 acres with 10 planted to vines in Napa Valley. The property was originally part of Caroline Bale’s dowry when she married Charles Krug, and the vineyards dated back to the 1860’s. After Phylloxera epidemic of the 1900’s and then Prohibition in the 1920’s the vineyard was allowed to go back to native forest for more than 70 years! The vineyard was replanted in 1997 with only 10 acres.

Susan Hoff is the real heart and soul of Fantesca, and she recruited the legendary winemaker Heidi Barrett to be the Winemaker. If you are not familiar with Heidi Barrett; she gained legendary status at Dalle Valle by creating powerful Cabs including the famous “Maya” cult cab that received two perfect 100-pt scores from Robert Parker. She then was hired by Screaming Eagle and AGAIN received two perfect 100-pt scores from Parker! This is a legendary name in Napa and she married well too. You may know Heidi’s husband Bo Barrett and Father-in-Law Jim Barrett of Chateau Montelena and the famous Judgment of Paris and the movie Bottle Shock.

We had a personal tasting of available wines, a barrel tasting, and a tour of the facilities including the Cave. The Cave was an old silver mine in Spring Mountain, and it holds the barrels for aging at a perfect 58-F.

Barrel Tasting in the Cave at Fantesca!
Barrel Tasting in the Cave at Fantesca!
Fantesca Chardonnay
Fantesca Chardonnay

The 2012 King Richard Reserve Russian River Pinot Noir and the 2012 Russian River Sonoma County Chardonnay were all that was available for tasting, and both were quite impressive. We left with few bottles of each, and we are looking forward to sharing these incredible Heidi Barrett wines soon! I will have tasting notes at that time.

Next stop was the iconic and legendary Chateau Montelena! I This is the historic winery that bested the French Burgundy in the famous Judgement of Paris! I have been all over Sonoma and Napa Valley and never visited in the past, so a quick visit of the beautiful property so full of history was a “must stop”. We strolled around the beautiful grounds longer than we did tasting wine because I know how incredible these Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are already because Margie and I often drink them at home.

The Pond at Chateau Montelena
The Pond at Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena
Chateau Montelena


Bottle Sizes of Ch Montelena
Bottle Sizes of Ch Montelena

We headed South on Hwy 29, and even though I knew it was getting late in the day I always have to stop at one of my favorite wineries; Peju Province Winery in the mecca for Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford. We stopped in for a quick tasting! Then back in the car to visit my very special friend Carrie at Napa Valley Wine and Cigar in the city of Napa!

Carrie at NV Wine and Cigar!
Carrie at NV Wine and Cigar!

Stopping to see Carrie is ALWAYS a MUST STOP for me when in Napa!

She is such a sweetheart, and she has an absolutely phenomenal selection of wines and cigars for all your hedonistic needs. If you tell her I sent you and ask very nicely, she will take you to the back room and the “special stash” of wines. I have bought some great wines from her over the years because she is on everyone’s wine lists, and has the wines in stock when no one else does!

Looking for a Harlan Estates or Screaming Eagle? She has it! How about a Dalle Valle or Saxum’s James Berry Vineyard? She has it!

Pick up a great stogie while you are there too!

We were exhausted after a long day in paradise, so we had a simple dinner and an early night getting ready for the next day!

Check back soon for Day-2 where we have NO SCHEDULE and we improvise the entire day!

Terry Hill The Texas Wineaux!

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