Monday, January 2, 2012

Wino Heaven: Our First Day in Napa (Road Trip Day 3)

The Road Trip Continues...
Bright and early the alarm went off after a sleepless night dreaming of raccoons getting in the house every time the cat door opened at my friend Mira's, which was often. I've never had problems sleeping there before, but knowing they'd had raccoons make it through the cat door a couple of times wigged me out just enough to be certain in my half-asleep state that the furball curling up next to me was a rabid, clawed beast.

The boys picked me up precisely at 8AM and we were off to an early start to get to beautiful Napa. We were making great time, well on our way, passing through Castroville, the Artichoke Capital of the World, when I realized I'd left my camera battery charging in Mira's kitchen.

Though I may have told me to go to hell, Gregory obligingly headed back, despite his intense dislike of ever turning around. Since we were back in the neighborhood, it was decided that we should eat at Breakfast Club once again.

I've only ever eaten breakfast there, so I decided to change it up and order a little lunch. The Tuna Melt with Grilled Onions on Sourdough was very good, but didn't knock my socks off. I'll try other lunch things there, but so far would definitely recommend breakfasts over lunch.

Fully fortified, we finally made it to lovely Napa and went immediately to taste wine.

Our first appointment that day was with Hendry Winery. It's one of the highest rated wineries on Google, and there is definitely a reason for that. However, we were early, and so drove up the road five miles to Hess.

One of a growing number of wineries to tout environmentally sustainable practices, The Hess Collection is a fourth-generation, family-owned winery on a lovely property, and includes a little sculpture garden in front of, as well as an art musem above the tasting room/gift shop. $10 gets you four tastes off the menu. Our favorites were the Malbec and Muscat, though we didn't really give our tasting the time or attention it deserved since we were trying to get ...

Back to Hendry.

George Hendry is an engineer who builds cyclotrons but grew up tending to the animals and plants on the Napa property where he still lives today. Up until the 1960s, much of the property - like much of Napa - had a larger prune than grape crop due to the aftermath of Prohibition. Presently, with the help of a seemingly tightly-knit group which includes family, friends, and a crew that has been with them for an average of 20 years, they not only make delicious wine, but really make you feel the wine 'experience.'

The formal, sit-down tasting lasts about an hour, and if you can get in on a tour as well, add another hour to that.

Fellow engineer and cyclotron man, Jeff, was our tasting and tour guide. He has been with the winery since its beginnings, and gave the most informative yet entertaining presentation about all aspects of wine making and enjoying that I've ever had. He also wants you to know that, as scientists and wine makers who never want bad wine, they love the little breathable discs that are used with screwtops because they are much more reliable and never ever "cork," or go bad.

I also really loved that they have a basket full of sunblock in the bathroom for people who are taking the tour of the grounds. A thoughtful little detail.

After our super-duper awesome tasting and tour at Hendry we ended up at Napa Cellars and Folie á Deux to do some comparison tastings. Both labels are owned by the same family, and both were good, but Napa Cellars was consistently our favorite. Pictured here is the Chardonnay that was named "Best Chardonnay in the World" by someone other than themselves.

Dean, our wine pourer extraordinaire, was personable, knowledgable, and brought us out some chocolatey cookies which made us like him even more. Gregory and Joe bought something like a million bottles.

After chillaxing at our hotel for a few, it was finally time for dinner. The only reservation available was a pretty late one, but it was sooooo worth the wait.

Mustards Grill in Yountville is run by executive chef/owner Cindy Pawlcyn who, along with executive chef Dale Ray and what I can only imagine are magic cooking elves, makes little miracles happen in the kitchen. Our appetizers were Ahi Tuna Crackers, wasabi crème fraiche, soy vinaigrette and Crispy Calamari with curried slaw and fresno chilies. Both were exceptional, but I especially loved the calamari. The dressing was fantastic and the slaw so fresh.

Our friendly and funny waitress, Mo, helped us choose our entrees, and made the evening that much more enjoyable. We weren't drinking wine (for once!), but wine director and general manager Patrick Kellaher made his rounds to make sure everyone was happy.

For entrées, I had the Lemon and Garlic Chicken, local vegetables, lemon vinaigrette which was served with mashed potatoes. The garlic sauce was INCREDIBLE, and the chicken was cooked to perfection...nice and moist with a crisp, flavorful skin. Gregory wanted an entire plate of it. The chicken skin, I mean. Better than popcorn.

David's Half Pound Niman Ranch Hamburger with Maytag Blue Cheese was just about the best burger ever, and his side of brussels sprouts was buttery, shalloty goodness.

Gregory had the most popular dish...Famous Mongolian Pork Chop, sweet & sour red cabbage and housemade mustard. It was an excellent pork chop, rivaled only by a potential plate full of crispy chicken skin.

Joe ordered the variable Truckstop Deluxe (Always meat, often potatoes, rarely vegetables). That evening, it was a hunka hunka steak with mashed potatoes and greens. He also had the cocktail of the evening, The Sidecar, which was excellent.

For a group that was filled to the brim, we sure threw down on desserts.

We felt absolutely obligated to order the meringue beast that was showing up on everybody else's table. It's the sort of thing that small children can get lost in, so it's perfectly understandable why the "Our Famous Lemon-Lime Tart" (ridiculously tall brown sugar meringue, candied lemon peel) is so popular.

The creme brûlée was a perfectly good creme brûlée, and the cookie served with it was a perfectly good cookie. However, I've had good creme brûlée and cookies before, and these didn't offer anything that stood out from others. It was actually extra good when you had a piece of cookie WITH the creme brûlée, but there wasn't enough cookie to do that throughout the dessert.

We also tried the dessert of the evening which was cardamum ice cream on a waffle. The cardamum ice cream was the kind of thing that I could eat all day long.

Overall, I liked their food better than the desserts. Nothing wrong with the desserts, just more eye-rolling and pleasurable grunts from the food food than the sweet food.

We finally rolled back to the hotel, I got the best sleep I'd had in days, and I even won a dollar in the scratchers. Take that, non-winning MegaMillions ticket!


  1. So glad that you got to Hendry. The back end of the winery is leased by Yates Family Vineyard as a separate bonded winery. It is one of my favorites for Cabernet Franc (they have two), Viognier and Merlot (2005 Yates Flower).

    I visited them in the fall of 2010, and have stayed close in touch.

  2. Good to know for next time! I'm making my list of places to hit up on future trips...

  3. For my ways are strange ways and new ways and old ways,
    And deep ways and steep ways and high ways and low;
    I'm at home and at ease on a track that I know not,
    And restless and lost on a road that I know.