We completely maximized our rental car. Picked it up at 8:30 a.m. and got it back 20 minutes shy of closing at 8 p.m. I was excited and yet slightly terrified at the thought of navigating San Francisco's crazy hills, but to my relief (and a little disappointment), the route we took to Golden Gate Bridge was nothing crazy. I had imagined sparks flying as we raced over hills. Oh well.
Our first stop was Cakebread for some buttery chardonnay that I've sampled from some of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland and elsewhere. During our tasting, Ella paid us back for yesterday's late night with a bit of fussiness. There were a couple wine snobs in our group, and as Sarah said so beautifully later in the car about an older gentleman on our tour, "if he didn't shit on a schedule, his life would fall apart." Ha!
Cakebread ages its wine in French oak barrels that cost more than $1,300 each and only last a few years. Crazy! We also learned that Napa has 14 types of soil within a five-mile radius, which makes it perfect for growing different types of grapes.
A downside to traveling to Napa with a one-year-old is that you can't attend any official winery tours. A few weeks ago when Sarah asked if she could bring Ella along, I called a bunch of wineries I was considering for a visit and asked if they were family friendly for small children. Luckily, about half were.
We visited St. Supery not so much for its wine, but for its self-guided tour. The indoor part of the tour was pretty sterile, but did feature a station where you could test your ability to sniff notes of fruit, straw etc. in different wines. That was pretty interesting. Outside, we got free reign of wandering the demonstration vineyard and had a blast sampling grapes off the vine, which were tiny and acidic, but good. Rows were marked for different wines, and the grapes did taste different from one another.
We saw a ton of kids and families at St. Supery, which was two minutes down the road from Cakebread. For as close as they were, each vineyard offered a completely different experience.
We scheduled a late lunch on Greystone's terrace on the campus of the Culinary Institute of America in case Ella was ornery. But, she was a doll during our fantastic two-hour affair. Built in 1889, Greystone is the former Christian Brothers Winery, and before that was a monastery. The building is gorgeous, and the terrace overlooks the hills of St. Helena. We were blessed with sunny, mild weather and yummy food.
We started with today's temptations, an assortment of starters selected by the chef. My friend Michelle suggested trying these when she was in Sonoma a few months ago, and they did not disappoint. There were five starters to sample for each of us, and they included chilled potato leek soup, buffalo mozzarella with basil puree and bacon bits, fried green tomatoes (on a stick!), mushroom bruschetta and flatbread topped with hummus. Since Ella was such a good girl, we all got dessert. I had the chocolate molten lava cake (my favorite!), Sarah had a peach tart and Ella had some melon ice cream. We left with full bellies and big smiles, even though we stayed a lot longer than we planned.
Next was Domaine Carneros, a sparkling wine vineyard aka champagne. Apparently you can't call wine champagne if it's not produced in Champagne, France. Whatever you want to call it, our tasting flight and accompanying cheese plate was great! We were able to sample a rose sparkling wine, which I've been curious about, and it was good. Once our server knew Ella's name, she came out with their signature, limited edition rose sparkling wine for 2008 which is called Ella after Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah bought a bottle as a memento.
The grounds here are gorgeous. Lush hillsides, a lake and a lovely terrace for tastings. Champagne, cheese, scenery...what more could a girl ask for? The staff here were all very friendly, and the terrace was packed with people, so it seems like a popular place.
Initially when we thought we'd have more time, we planned to visit a vineyard in Sonoma and then detour to Highway 1 for some ocean-side scenic driving. We left Domaine Carneros just before 6 p.m., and everyone else must have decided to head home at the same time because traffic was much heavier on our return trip. We abandoned our Highway 1 idea because if we didn't get the car back by 8 p.m., we'd have to pay for another day's rental since all rental agencies are closed tomorrow. However, we found an incredible scenic stop just before the Golden Gate Bridge and drove up a curvy cliff for some awesome views of the bridge and San Francisco, so we ended up with a good compromise.
Got back to the hotel, plotted out tomorrow's adventure and then we all crashed. Tomorrow is Alcatraz! I'm even more excited since I saw Michael Symon's first Dinner Impossible episode, which featured it.