Many of the wineries in Napa Valley are all about shock and awe. Take the Robert Mondavi Winery, for example. The grounds and buildings are spectacular with detail in the well-worn tile, strategically placed painted furniture in south of the border colors, the fountains with massive sculptures, and expansive views of the vineyards and mountains. But the place was CROWDED and people are rounded up in cattle-style to be herded through the wine tasting (costing $20 apiece, mind you), pushed through the winery tour and ending up in the gift shop. (Note: Do not be misled by the picture to the left—Robert Mondavi Winery tapes off this area so no one is on the grass—if you were to look behind me there are literally hundreds of people milling around.) This is not our idea of a leisurely and enjoyable day visiting a winery. In fact, Mike’s words were, “I am not happy here”. So, we made a quick retreat.
Mike and I grew up in the wine country of Washington State. Most people don’t know that south-central Washington State is desert (no green trees grow naturally and temperatures in the summer exceed 100 degrees more often than not) and grapes like it there. The number of wineries are fewer and the grandeur of the wineries are not on the scale of Napa Valley and Napa Valley hills are by far more picturesque than the burnt sagebrush hills in that part of Washington State, but you know, I like the wineries there. They are intimate, no charge for tasting, the biggest crowd may be a dozen at a time (unless it is a special event) and your server can have a one-on-one conversation with you. And frankly, many of the wines rival Napa.
Now, having said all that…we found a winery today that reminded us of the wine tasting pace we enjoy. PlumpJack Winery was busy by our Washington standards (maybe two dozen there), but you felt the experience was much more relaxed than the mega-wineries. Nice little pocket patios with a farm-rustic feel. They still charge $10 for tasting, but with the number of people visiting I am sure they would go out of business if it were free. We are getting happier.
And I admit the shock and awe is what we came to Napa Valley to see. Domaine Carneros fits the bill for a grand entrance. It is a replica of the French Taittinger family’s 17th-century stone chateau in Champagne, and it is a WOW. The sparkling wine was fun to drink and the pinot noir was a nice red wine along with a cheese, fruit and nuts appetizer plate. With a table view of the expansive vineyards and the formal landscaping of the winery, we were quite happy.
Tomorrow, we ride our bikes over the Golden Gate Bridge. Wish us luck.