Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Napa Chronicles: Day 4 - Another Day of Wine

After falling in love with Napa Valley the previous day - the scenery, the wine, the relaxation, what's not to love?! - we set off on our second straight day of wine tasting. We did all agree that on future Napa trips, it might be best not to schedule two back-to-back days of 7 hour wine tours in a row. I think a day or half day in between would be nice. Some might argue that you don't actually have to DRINK the wine on the tours but merely TASTE it and use the spit buckets.  To these people I say....HAAAAAAAAAAHAHAHA. Hahahaa. Ha. Yeah, not gonna happen.

Anyway, we may have been moving a bit more slowly and some of us may have been a bit worse for the wear, but nevertheless we loaded up on the bus and headed out for another fun-filled day at the vineyards. This time we used a different tour company (Eclectic Tours) - two had come highly recommended to us, so we decided to try out both to get different experiences. Our driver was very nice, as was the van, but we all agreed that we by far preferred Platypus Tours and especially our driver Mark. Eclectic was a bit more stuffy, whereas Platypus was super laid back. For our group, the attitude is essential. I assume Eclectic is perhaps  more used to a certain level of sophistication and wine knowledge that our group just...lacked! Considering Lane would later take a deep whiff of a cabernet and declare he was picking up "hints of frito pie," I'd say that's a safe assumption to make. (More on that later!)

In front of the Eclectic Tours van

Unfortunately for the hungover/dehydrated among us, our first stop was at Kuleto, which can only be accessed by driving straight up a mountain...seriously. The road to Kuleto is rocky, steep, and narrow. Not a drive where you'd want to look out the window too much if you're squeamish about sharp drops into rocky ravines. Despite my fear of heights, I actually didn't mind it. Probably because I knew lots of wine awaited me at the end! Kuleto did not disappoint. It was probably the most breathtaking property in terms of scenery. And the colorful stories about the vineyard's proprietor didn't hurt either. We were told to keep an eye out for the fun-loving 60-something Pat Kuleto...he can sometimes be seen walking around sans pants on his boat...which is made in the ancient no-nails style of construction, which floats on his turquoise pond that gets its color from some sort of algae treatment used to keep the water pure, which is located at the bottom of the terraced hill where Mr. Kuleto had Mexican brick layers hand craft custom patios and pizza ovens on every single level. So yeah...the place was RIDICULOUS. Oh, and the wine was also fabulous! We basically spent half the tour fantasizing about how we could gain regular access to the place. Seeing as the dude's wife is in her early 30s, we may have to draw straws for who is going to take one for the team and become the next Mrs. Kuleto. Here are some pics from the fabulous property:

My favorite picture 

Chase Cellars
Next up was a vineyard of a much smaller and more humble scale - Chase Cellars. It's an adorable family place part-owned and run by the fabulous Katie. After hanging out with her for just an hour we'd hatched a plan to get our previous day's driver, Mark, to go out to Chase so they could meet, fall in love, and invite us all back to their wedding. Still waiting on that invitation! Katie was lots of fun, the wines were great, and there were a couple unique experiences that made Chase one of the surprise stand-outs. First, we got to actually walk in the vineyard amongst the vines. She showed us how to tell by the trunk of the vines if they were old or young and described the planting and harvest process to us. So interesting! She also had a very fun ring-hook game that only Steven and Derek managed to master. But maybe everyone's FAVORITE thing was the Zinfandel Chocolate Sauce she brought out for us to try. Pretty sure Derek chugged half of it when she wasn't looking! Most of us brought a bottle to bring home - hellloooooo grown-up ice cream sundaes! Here was our lovely time at Chase:

 These girls. I love them. 

yummy wines! 

Good job, boys! 

Lunchtime - Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen
After Chase, we needed to counteract all the liquid nutrition with a little bit of ACTUAL nutrition, so we went to lunch at Cindy's Backstreet Kitchen. Aside from Bottega, this was my second favorite food experience of the whole trip! It was homey, unpretentious, and delicious. Apparently they make a damn good margarita, too...just ask Lolly, who enjoyed two with her lunch (which later turned out to be a rather ill-advised decision)! I think we were all a bit loopy at lunch, and thank goodness the hostess sat us upstairs in the gallery where we were away from the majority of the respectable restaurant customers. Words cannot really express it, so I'll let the pictures do the talking:

The proper way to present a delectable dish
The proper reaction to the above ridiculousness

how'd those margs treat ya, Lolly?!

Our final winery stop of the day was Kelham, and it turned into what I - very affectionately - call a total shitshow! Kelham has an amazing, sprawling patio on its grounds where the you can lounge on plush patio furniture, take in the scenery, and taste their wines. As the host walked up to seat us, Lolly stepped forward and announced "Hi, I'm Fun Lolly. You're gonna like us!" While I don't know if her prediction came true, we did have a heck of a time at Kelham. We met the matriarch of the family, who was a hilarious, spirited woman who thankfully could handle our rowdy crowd. Her son also sauntered over to chat us up as well, and...let's just say he'd fit right in at some of the more douchey clubs in Dallas. From his skull belt buckle and tight jeans to his perfectly coiffed hair, he was definitely entertaining! We didn't end up purchasing any wines from Kelham - they were good but not worth their price tag in our opinion - but we did use our time there to show just how sophisticated and well-refined we Texans are. Cue Lane expertly swishing his wine, smelling it, and declaring that he was getting "hints of frito pie" and that it would "pair nicely with a plate of chicken wings." I'm not sure which statement exactly did it, but one of those proclamations caused Josh to do a classic spit-take onto the table and his wife (luckily it was one of the white wines since she was wearing white pants)! I may have been in a bit of a wine haze, because I didn't actually catch what Lane said...Josh's spit-take snapped me back to reality and I had to ask what was so funny! Oops! It was around this time that Lolly also decided to befriend the winery employee who was refilling our waters and removing our trash. The woman didn't really speak English, which prompted Lolly to try to proclaim her love for all things Spanish.  I think the girl was a bit alarmed, but we all got a huge kick out of it! No matter how silly we were, though, we can at least say we weren't as drunk as the group of idiot girls who jumped into the Kelhams' pool!

 "hints of frito pie" 

 We were only a few glasses away from this 

After our tour, we were all in serious need of a nap, so we headed back to the hotel to rest and relax before our fanciest dinner of the trip - Auberge du Soleil. We were so pumped to be able to get a reservation on the famed terrace with beautiful views of the valley. In retrospect, it was not probably not the BEST idea we've ever had to book this nice of a dinner at the end of 2 straight days of wine bingeing. Honestly, a burger and fries would not have been an unwelcome sight. But we were NOT gonna miss out on the chance to eat at this fabulous restaurant, so we made ourselves presentable and headed out. Well, most of us did. After several minutes of waiting for the Arnolds to appear, Lane traipsed down to our van, announced that they were bowing out due to Lolly being indisposed (aka asleep on the bathroom floor), shouted YOLO!!!, and walked back into the hotel. So, sadly, we dined without the Arnolds that night. The food at Auberge was excellently crafted, but the real treat was the ambiance and the view.
What an amazing view!
 Fancy food! Both beautiful and delicious!  

Well, that FINALLY wraps up the posts about our Napa trip! It took me a while to get around to writing down all the memories, but I know I will always look back on this trip with the fondest of feelings! It was my first vacation with my sweet Steven, and the first out-of-state big group trip with the most amazing group of friends a girl could ask for (minus a few noteworthy couples who couldn't make it)! Needless to say, we will all be revisiting Napa as soon as possible!

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