Drinking in the Beauty of Napa

By Rick & Chris Millikan

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Exploring California’s renowned wine country seems the perfect holiday! Arriving at a touted Napa riverside resort, headlights expose hitches of cottage-style house trailers squatting in the dark. Scenarios from *Trailer Park Boys* flash through our minds! Yet, the resort’s sunny breakfast orientation reassures our plans to drink in Napa’s beauty and natural wonders.



Social director Lucy provides us unseasoned sippers detailed guides full of tasty possibilities. Outlining resort amenities, including wine-sampling evenings, she adds, “The adjacent Napa River is one of California’s four navigable waterways. Forty-niners canoed up this river stocking grub for treks to the goldfields, often packing local wine, which is why you’re here, right?”


Our explorations begin at Copia, named for the goddess of abundance. This grandiose complex introduces visitors to wine’s extensive pleasures, and benefits. To sample a multitude of Napa’s wines, guests plunk tokens into an array of vending-style machines. Some will attend its wine-tasting programs, arts performances and exhibitions. Upstairs, we investigate the food and wine museum featuring, among other fascinating items, antique teapots, toasters, an early blender and a replicated first dishwasher.


Outside, well-tended gardens, an attractive grid of raised plots, showcase fruits and vegetables that pair well with particular wines. Here, we see volunteers cultivating and reaping exceptional produce for its on-site restaurant and gourmet cooking classes.


Considering extra inducements of Napa’s 400 wineries, such as art galleries, gardens, caves, great vistas, picnic grounds, specialty wines, unique architecture, organic vineyards, cooking demos/classes, and even bocce ball areas, we set out looping through sun-drenched countryside. Soon, vibrant red, yellow and white-blossomed rose bushes front trellised rows of gnarly vines. Lucy’s free tasting tickets persuade us to stop at the ivy-covered brick Cosentino Winery. 


Inside, Georgian grape groupies invite us to imbibe with them. Fred, their designated tour driver grins, and introduces himself with a happy face business card. Meanwhile, our cheery sommelier pours a series of reds. Feeling like connoisseurs, we comment, “Nice colour!” “Good bouquet!” “Great body!” “Delicately delicious!” “Terrific aftertaste.” Nobody ritually spits out the wine, in fact, we cough up money for two bottles; those chipper Georgians buy two cases.


Nearby, extensive vineyards encircle V. Sattui Winery. Inside its Italian-style villa, we’re served another round of five glasses: their excellent Riesling, a Gamay Rose, Cabernet, solera-made Madeira and Zinfandel, California’s popular indigenous wine.


Beloved Zinfandel vines may be pampered beyond their productive stage, living for more than a century! Slick wine labels like Cardinal Zin, Commander Zinskey, Zin Man and Zebra Zin readily sell this heritage libation. And we all feel pretty Zin sipping this perky pale potable. When a red-nosed fellow beside us requests a sixth taste, the sommelier smiles, “Sorry, five’s our legal serving limit!” 


Rather than explore V. Sattui’s underground cellars and caves, we visit its museum and discover that prohibition put many vintners like Victorio out of business. In 1975, grandson Daryl Sattui took out a small loan and lived here in his van, working hard to re-establish Victorio’s 1885 winery. Now, tending 300 acres of vineyards annually, V. Sattui Winery sells 40,000 cases, strictly to visitors like us.


A few miles north, we pull into Daryl’s next enterprise. Here, he modelled a winery after a Tuscan castle where three stories underground provide ideal conditions for wine to mellow. Costing over a 100 million and taking 10 years to build, Castello di Amorosa is North America’s only authentically constructed castle.


Crossing its moat and passing through the courtyard, we begin tippling around its cozy bar before touring its regal interior. Entering the huge dining hall, we see that Italian painters had reproduced “Good Government;” the original mural graces Siena’s city hall.


After visiting the chapel with saintly frescos, we dash behind our guide through a bewildering labyrinth of corridors filled with wine barrels. Sighting torture devices in the dungeon, our guide jokes, “That iron maiden and stretch table could be used nowadays to persuade some guys to pay up bar tabs!”


Our castle tour ends in the knight’s tasting room filled with heraldic shields and suits of armour, its walls covered in frescos of jousting. After final toasts to “King” Daryl, we saunter off singing the theme from the Man of La Mancha, “’dream the impossible dream.’”


At Napa Valley’s northern end, we pass through Sarasota Hot Springs, a popular health spa area on our way to Old Faithful geyser. Arriving just in time, we witness this wondrous waterworks work their wonder, performing for over five minutes, boiling, sizzling and spouting a sparkly 40-foot gusher!


Lucy had advised, “If you do go there, check out the fainting goats!” So, wanting to test these renowned possum-playing goats, we sneak up and growl.  These Tennessee Fainting goats seem unimpressed. Like most kids, they’d rather nibble purchased grain from our hands.  


Four miles further, we enter the Petrified Forest. Following a shady trail through native purple-barked manzanita, moss-clad California oaks and mottled pink, yellow and orange arbutus, we arrive at the sites of 10 huge prehistoric logs. A sign tells us that over three million years ago, a volcano buried a towering grove of Redwood in fiery ash.

Logging, ahem, writing about these silvery mineralized woody wonders in our journals, we head back to V. Sattui Winery. From its gourmet deli, we purchase cold cuts, cheese, potato salad and fresh baked bread. Uncorking a bottle of mischievous red wine, we picnic in shady gardens with scores of others.


On our last day, we choose wineries featuring awesome views. Winding up a quiet road at the valley’s south end, we arrive at Artesa. Parked above terraced vineyards, we climb a long staircase beside a cascading waterfall, stroll past sparkling fountains, reflecting pools and commanding sculpture and, as promised, sweeping panoramas of Napa Valley, Carneros and San Francisco.


This modern winery looks like an art gallery. Inside, expanses of glass, including a large skylight above the Spanish courtyard, provide natural lighting. Rich wood panels add distinctive warmth. Here, we taste its notable sparkling wines and several robust reds, while awaiting a guided tour.


The guide recounts Codornîu family’s winemaking history, which began west of Barcelona in the mid-16th century. They now produce wines worldwide. In Artesa’s huge cellars, we listen to Gregorian Chants melodiously mellow mountains of kegs. The guide continues, “Not only is wine a matter of grapes, it’s also about oak: choosing the most aromatic species, charring barrels to enhance oaken flavours and protecting this delectable wood from hungry beetles.”

Our penultimate stop, Kirkland Ranch Winery lies along Napa Valley’s southern edge. Their three-story log and stone hilltop ranch house perches above extensive vineyards and rolling pastureland. Inside, mariachis celebrate “Cinco de Mayo” strumming guitars, blaring their trumpets and wistfully harmonizing.


On the main floor, stuffed animal heads gaze down on us thirsty folk around the u-shaped bar; a large mural above depicts its early ranch days. Exemplifying western hospitality, a lanky cowboy-sommelier pours a range of reds, telling us about their organic vineyards, where Peruvian shepherds bring flocks of sheep to graze away weeds while fertilizing the vines. 


He smiles knowingly as we giddily recount our tourist tales: free trolley-rides around Victorian-style Napa; explorations in historic Sonoma; hopping the local Vallejo ferry to San Francisco, and best of all, drinking in the beauty of Napa with memorable encounters of the wine kind.  




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