I was at a bookstore the other day, best sellers dotting the front shelves. In the back, over by the kids books were a series of board games, dolls, and puzzles. A surprising number of the puzzles depicted scenes from California: cities and beaches, redwoods and wineries. A great many I recognized were from Napa Valley, famous for its picturesque wineries (grand scale, boutique and everything in between) and renowned varietals, and yet equally famous for its dramatic views, world-class resorts and restaurants.
My husband and I are lucky to have family who live in the region so weekend getaways are super easy and require little excuse or forward planning. About an hour from the Sacramento Airport, the end of August and into September is a ideal time to visit - when the summer heat tapers into fall, and the sun’s latitude slants just so across the rolling hills of fertile soil. Like many visitors and locals alike, we love to explore the offerings of both well-established and up-and-coming wineries; some to drink, some just to stroll the grounds. Understated and unbelievable, Napa Valley a must-experience destination for any and all.
Napa Valley Wine Train
If you’re looking for a way back to a simpler and more elegant frame of mind while on vacation, step onto the platform of the Napa Valley Wine Train, and come aboard for a trip to the past, through the present’s most “expensive and famous farm real estate in the country.” Built in 1864 to take travelers to Calistoga, the Napa Valley Wine Train (winetrain.com) is a three-hour tour from downtown Napa to St. Helena and back traveling along 36 miles of track to roll by 26 different wineries at about 10 miles an hour.
Traveling through nothing but incredible scenery, the train features a Gourmet Express multi-course meal on board, with car service in either the lounge or dining car. Meals are served at tables laid out with white linen, beautiful china and silverware. Our culinary adventure began with a selection of artisan cheeses and finely cut meats, followed by a choice of grilled and roasted beef tenderloin and the Chef’s fresh selection of seafood. Departing mid-morning or early evening, the trail rocks and rails from Oak Knoll to Rutherford. Four kitchens and local produce combine to a decadent conclusion. Every dish is made to order; and the ambience is certainly served up with each course.
Italics Wine Growers
My mom used to tell me “God made dirt, and dirt don’t hurt.” I’m sure it was within the context of some scrape or road rash I had as a kid, but as an adult, finding that the most intriguing part of my wine habit is the soil that the grapes came from definitely reminds me of my mother. At Italics Wine Growers (italics winegrowers.com), they’re approaching grapes from the ground up. “Soil is what it is, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Here in Coombsville, the soils are a result of volcanic eruptions that occurred some three to five million years ago.” And we’re drinking to that today!
A lot of factors influence the taste and body of that lovely libation, but the parent material is all the minerals, plants, and microorganisms you walk on. Those who walk the walk at Italics came down a long road to get here - all the way from the American Southeast. Texas to be exact. Taylor Martin, his wife, their 2 year-old, (and one to come soon!) live on the property and along with their carefully cultivated team of fellow oenophiles, and can’t get enough of the winery where Taylor will be the first to tell guests that “a tasting room is a place to sip and swirl, meet new people and make new friends, but there’s no reason it has to be a room. Not when you can walk among the vines … to learn firsthand about vine spacing, trellising and pruning - things that affect vigor, yield and quality. Or if you prefer, you can take a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the 16,000 square-foot cave. Nothing illuminates a winegrower’s art more than a cave tour and tasting where our party savored current releases and library wines accompanied with seasonal pairings of local cheese and charcuterie.
Taylor and his team have extended their enthusiasm to everyone who has experienced Italics since its inception in 2014. It may be one of the newer wineries on the map in Napa, but the flavor delivers about a million years of history, down to the last drop.