The One Where Napa Valley Wins my Heart


On our first day in California, we touched down at the San Francisco airport. We'd left home in the dark before dawn and flown across the country. Upon arrival, I checked my trusty iPhone to see if my children missed me yet and discovered that my phone, too, had gone along with the plan to spend the week in California. Everything had shifted to the new time zone. I had arrived. And it was still early in the morning. I've always wanted to gain three hours in a day.


Before I left, I'd set up a very private Instagram account for just my children and three friends. It was really the only social media/phone/computer I used all week. And I'm so glad I did it. Instagram was a very convenient way to take pictures, tag them with locations, and stay in touch with the people I loved. One of the friends was Beka, who lives in northern California. She was able to follow our journey in real time and offer so very many useful suggestions along the way. It was a deliberate and well-considered decision to leave the fancy Nikon at home. I didn't want to get so caught up in the perfect shot that it got in the way of the perfect moment. And I really didn't want to have to protect and carry my camera everywhere. So, the net photo result is "Northern California in Lo-Fi."


After landing, we drove the short distance across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. There, we had lunch at a charming waterfront restaurant called Scoma's. Lunch was delicious and the service wonderful--and sometime in that restaurant, I really started to believe I was on the trip of a lifetime. All the anxiety (and there was so very much of it) ebbed away into that bay. 


{view from our table in Sausalito}


From Sausalito, we drove to Napa. Initially, as we approached Napa, I was disappointed. Everything seemed so brown. Dusty brown hills. I even dared to speak aloud that Virginia was far more beautiful. As we drove further into wine country, the color deepened a bit and somehow the brown hills became a lovely green. Not a Virginia green, not at all, but a different gray-green, beautiful in its own right. I had hoped to conquer jetlag and keep chugging along until bedtime, but by the time we got to the hotel, I was truly grateful for the suggestion of a nap.




Our evening began with a reception in the hotel lobby. Wine, veggies and dip, and some lovely black swans welcomed us to Napa Valley. We had dinner that night at a restaurant called Fish Story. I promise not to bore you with the details of every meal, but this meal was worth noting. Amazing. I had trout with figs and hazelnuts on a bed of greens. I cannot do it justice (clearly, I'm no food critic). I assure you though, I'm on a mission to replicate that recipe. Our server was so nice and I quickly learned that everyone we met had a story; all the stories were love stories. The people of Napa Valley truly love where they work and live. We got to know several of them. I was sorry to say goodbye.


We went to three wineries the next day. Each one had its own distinct character. The first was a large winery whose wine is readily available in east coast supermarkets. We took a skytram up to the winery, where we had an automated tour. The views were breathtaking--literally. I was just plain astonished by how beautiful it all was. And I thought to myself how silly my comments of the day before sounded now. On the way down in the tram I remarked to Mike that the tour was just exactly what I'd hoped it would be. I had seen a lot and learned a lot and tasted a bit, too. He remarked that the views were exceptional, but that he had hoped for a more personal perspective than the one offered by the automated tours. He also commented about the odd lack of bugs and birds. Turned out his comments were the perfect segue to the next place.






Beka had suggested Grgich Hills Estate, a small biodynamic and organic farm and winery. Oh, I'm so glad we took her suggestion! At Grgich, we were treated to a personal tour given by a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic woman named Nicky. She introduced us to "Mike" Grgich, the 89-year-old Croatian immigrant who put Napa wines on the map by beating the best of the best in a 1976 Paris tasting. Mike Grgich was the youngest of eleven children who left Yugoslavia with wine knowledge, a love of freedom, and $39.00 in the soles of his shoe. And he has created a dream come true in Napa Valley.

When I expressed an interest in biodynamic farming and mentioned Rudolf Steiner, Nicky's eyes lit up.  Grgich Hills Estate uses biodynamic farming practices pioneered by Steiner. They sound a little crazy, but they produce amazing fruit! My Mike is ever the skeptic when I get too crunchy, but he enthusiastically conceded that this was some amazing wine. And he promptly invested in a plan to ensure we'd remember our time at Grgich with wine for... I don't know...ever?



We went to a third tasting that day, but I think perhaps I've gone on long enough and that place deserves a post of its own.