Wine Country: The Wineries Part I

We hit a lot of wineries on this trip. All of them for their amazing wine; some moreso for the experience we heard about with their wine and their property.  Here's part one of our list.  If you ever need a Napa wine suggestion, I think we've got a pretty sturdy collection of wineries to go by now after three years of this fun!

Monday (Sonoma)
Hess Collection
Sebastiani Winery
Gundlach Bundschu (pronouced: Gun Lock Bun Shoe)

We started the week with Hess Collection Wines.  Along with their wines, they are very well known for their art collection at the winery.  We went in not really knowing what to expect, and left very impressed.  I couldn't take any pictures of the art, but it was 3 floors of gallery.  We spent an hour alone just walking through trying all the pieces, and still didn't get through one of the floors.  We have had one of their Cab's before during steak night, so it was nice to try their other varieties as well.  Really liked their Chardonnays. 
rainy day at Hess Collection

 Hess view
Next we headed to Etude.  We tried their wine last year when we went out to dinner with Irma and Steve and really loved their Pinot Noir, so wanted to see how their other wines stacked up.  Their tasting room staff was really enjoyable, made it a great experience.  We didn't have any others that blew us away, but that's ok.    
Etude Tasting Room

Next stop was Sebastiani in Sonoma.  We'd still never been to Sonoma, so we didn't really know what to expect.  What a quaint little town!  Their downtown square reminded me a lot of San Antonio, and there were so many people out walking around all the shops.  Sebastiani was right off the square, and it was an interesting stop.  Our tasting room hostess was full of energy and very blunt about their wines with which we'd like, which weren't crowd faves, so I REALLY appreciated the candidness. We were in a phase of rating the wines when we were there, and they were across the board with likes and dislikes.  We purchased wine from them of the few we liked.  Hopefully they will age well over time.  

By this point, we were hitting the 5pm zone where the majority of wineries were closing.  We asked our Sebastiani host her preferences and she didn't hesitate for a second to say we needed to get down to Gundlach Bundschu.  Terry had mentioned it during our scouting of where we were going to try, but I'd never heard of them before, so I brushed it off then.  We took her advice though and headed the 4 miles down the road, and we are so glad that we did!  It was a mesh of Modern Hipster meets 70's Hippie meets rural sophistication.  I loved it there.  Really loved their wine too.  The host there reminded me of a friend from Maryland with his laid back ways, so it was a very layed back tasting and so much fun.  Bought a few bottles from them (that I hope we break into sooner rather than later.) :-)
view from Gundlach Bundschu
We were wined out at this point, so we went and got appetizers and walked around downtown Sonoma until dinner and then we were off to our next hotel destination. 

Tuesday (Santa Rosa / Healdsburg)
Kendall Jackson Estate
Martin Ray
La Crema

Kendall Jackson started our fun filled day (lie: what started our fun day was the not-so-fun experience of Terry thinking he lost his wallet.  After 10 panic-filled minutes, we called back to the hotel to find out he left it in the room, PHEW!! Now on to the fun!)
We have Kendall Jackson quite often at home, so we thought it'd be fun to go and try out their wine from the Estate.  What enticed us more was that they had a food and wine pairing opportunity, so we jumped on it.  I'll highlight that more in the food post of the trip.
Take away from this that if you are ever in Santa Rosa / Healdsburg area, it is worth the stop in to Kendall.  The tasting room was beautiful, and the garden alone we could have spent hours in.  Lots and lots of pictures there. 

 Next we headed up for a tour of Simi Winery in Healdsburg.  The one major thing we have learned is that after three trips out now, we really aren't gaining any more knowledge by doing the tours through the wineries other than that wineries specific history.  Other than that they spend a lot of time on casking and barreling and wine production that is interesting, but that we've already been through before.  Definitely worth doing though if a first-timer.
Steel Tanks at Simi

Barrel storage at Simi

The one cool thing of this tour was getting to see a "Cork Tree".  It's squishes just like a cork does, and what I didn't know before is that they don't actually chop down the tree, they shave off the outer edgings that can regrow.  It was so cool in person.

From Simi, we spent some time in Healdsburg, the new up and coming "it" town for the trendy restaurants and stupidly overpriced lifestyle.  Very quaint and very outdoor friendly.  We stopped into a tasting room called Murphy-Goode.....unfortunately not so good.  Glad we had a 2-for-1 tasting for sure.  Then we walked around the corner to La Crema's tasting room.  The lady hosting us was more than a bit obnoxious, and you all know that I love some sarcasm, but it was to the point of being off-putting.  We bought one of their Pinots, but we didn't hang out there at all.
The rest of the evening was wandering downtown, haphazardly finding the Napa Valley Grocery (!!!) having a mini-picnic in the park, trying out an appetizer at one restaurant we were recommended, and calling it a night.  Fun wine day overall. 

Wednesday (Napa)The Terraces

Wednesday started in the afternoon, as we had a Mud Mask session in Calistoga (They are known for their mud baths bc of all the natural springs in the area).  
We made a reservation to tour The Terraces off a suggestion from Catherine.  We were the only people there with the owners and we got a tour of the property by ATV.  Such a cool experience.  In a way reminded me of Larkmead last year, but even better. 

The Terraces; riding around in ATV to see grounds
 Old Shed for their Balsamic Barrel Aging
 Balsamic Barrel Aging, currently at 12 years, will wait until 25 years to sell.  All barrels are different wood so very different tastes from each.  We were able to try two different ones!
After the tour, we went up to their tasting room that felt more like a living room and kitchen than a place to sample wine.  Translated: It felt like home! :-)  I think I possibly would have bought every wine on their list if it weren't for us being unsure how many bottles we were going to be purchasing the rest of the week and to know if we'd have enough room in the shipper boxes.  AMAZING wine.

Leaving the Terraces, we took off towards Hall.  On our way though, we drove by Franciscan and we had a free tasting with them, so we detoured in to try them out.  Once we were in, we found out that they also provide the tastings for Mt. Veeder wines, which we both really love.  It was really crowded, felt very hustle bustle, and we were both in a mellow mood after just having a 1 on 1 tour at The Terraces and having our picnic lunch outside on their property, so we finished our tasting and scooted along rather quickly to our next destination. 
Franciscan (we made a lot of wishes in the wishing wells around the Valley)

Hall was everything we were searching for.  The art pieces on the property made the perfect setting, and the weather made it the perfect opportunity to have our tasting outdoors on their tree-shaded patio.  The wine host was very enthusiastic, but in a good way!  Loved almost every wine their brought us, so much so that we opted to give a go at their wine club.  Looking forward to that shipment arriving!

Ceiling in Hall.  Had lots of large metal art sculptures around the grounds as well.  

Thursday (Silverado Trail Napa / Yountville)
Joseph Phelps
Cornerstone Cellars

Thursday turned out being a short list for wineries because we scheduled massages (gotta love Massage Envy), and then we had to drive down to Oakland to get Em and Sarah.
We started at Twomey and unfortunately I didn't take a single picture there.  We bought wine from them, so I would recommend them, but maybe I just still wasn't quite awake yet.  They are a sister winery of Silver Oak, and we visited them two years ago and loved it.  Twomeys tasting room is quite small though, but it had a really pretty cellar room that was unique.
Next we landed at Joseph Phelps.  We would never typically go here (because their wines are out of our comfort price point typically), but while we were in Charlotte, we talked to the owner of Ruths Chris after dinner and he told us he was the 2nd leading purchaser from them, so he would schedule a tasting for us.  Sweet!!  Pays to be social!! :-)  The views were a stiff competition to the wines; to the next level!  So gorgeous.
view from Joseph Phelps
 another from Joseph Phelps

We left Phelps and drifted down to Yountville.  We still had never been to this small town just outside of Napa, but the restaurants alone enticed us.  I purchased a Groupon when we finalized our trip for a Tasting Room called Cornerstone Cellars where we each got a tasting and cheese plate along with two bottles of wine.  Don't remember how much I paid for it, but I remember saying, "Wow, that's usually the cost of one bottle, and we get two, a tasting, AND food?!" Good buy, and great service. It was quaint, we had our own couch to relax and enjoy the experience.  I really liked their tasting room! 

 Tasting Room for Cornerstone Cellars


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