Monday, September 15, 2014

Travels to Napa Valley, California (Part 1)

Whether you are wine tasting or dining at renowned restaurants Napa Valley is one of the premier travel destinations in the world.  Breathtaking views abound at every turn with picturesque rolling hills planted with vineyards year-round and wineries of every stature dot the landscape.  Located just north of San Francisco, the Napa Valley has a history dating back to the early 19th century. Today Napa features more than 400 wineries and grows many different grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Zinfandel, and other popular varietals.

Keith had a work conference in San Francisco, so we decided to head out the weekend before for our own little getaway.  We flew into SFO on a Friday morning and rented a car to drive up north.  Along the way, we stopped at Lucasfilms Headquarters at the Presidio to see the Yoda Fountain.  The 26" life-size replica sits in front of the main offices.  Inside the lobby are bookshelves of other Star Wars movie memorabilia.  The geek in Keith was super happy to make this pit stop.

We continued northeast across the Golden Gate Bridge to make another pit stop at the famous Muir Woods National Monument.  Named after conservationist John Muir, this remnant of ancient coast redwood forest blanketed many northern California coasted valleys before the 1800s.  Redwoods of all ages, including many over 600 years old, grow among standing dead trees, rotting logs, and the diverse undergrowth.  These forest features provide habitat for a range of plants and animals adapted to low light and the moist conditions.

Closely related, the giant sequoia grows larger in bulk but is less tall than the coast redwood.  A giant sequoia's height averages 311 feet with a diameter of 40 feet, whereas the redwood averages a height of 379 feet with a diameter of 22 feet.  The redwoods thrive in this area from all the coastal fog that replenishes moisture, especially during the dry season.  It was very solemn, almost spiritual walking through the coves.  The light was angelic as it shone through the trees.

After exploring the forests, we drove a little further east along the windy road to see the Pacific coastline.  The marine layer was still a bit thick, so you could not see that far out onto the horizon.

Then we headed back west on towards Napa Valley.  It took us about 2 hours to get to our hotel.  So we relaxed a bit before heading out to dinner at Bouchon.  We were pretty exhausted from the full day of travel and went straight to bed after dinner to rest up for our first full day of winery tours.

On Saturday morning, we woke up early and head out to our first winery of the day - Pine Ridge Vineyards.  Founder Gary Andrus was inspired by the illustrious wines of Bordeaux, and believed in the Napa Valley's potential to produce wines of similar stature. He planted the property's original namesake vineyard on a steeply terraced hillside flanked by a dramatic ridgeline of pine trees in the Stags Leap District. The pioneering efforts with this first vineyard were met with tremendous success as the Bordeaux varietals planted – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot – thrived and produced wines of great distinction.  Today, the Estate's 200-acres span over five renowned Napa Valley appellations – Stags Leap District, Rutherford, Oakville, Carneros and Howell Mountain.  For $35 per person we did the Estate Tasting and had the opportunity to taste a selection of all five quintessential Pine Ridge Vineyards' current releases and library wines.  After the tasting, we walked around on the beautiful grounds.  Keith was shocked by how small and sweet the grape berries were.  Not like the ones you buy in the grocery store!

The morning marine layer had burned off and the sun was shining strong.  We continued on to our next winery... Read more at Part 2 of our travels to Napa Valley.

Have you visited Napa before? What are some of your favorites things to do and places to eat? Please share in the comments below!

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