Debbie and Ken's Excellent Adventure – we take off…..



All of you who know me, know I am “into” wine. Napa is one of the wine (and food!) capitals of the world. It is definitely a place to go when you are in the Bay area of CA.
I was meeting a girlfriend who I hadn’t seen in awhile from my old MCI days. We met for lunch in Yountville, which is about in the middle of the Napa Valley, which is really a “county” comprised of a bunch of towns. The main ones (from south to north on Route 29) being Napa, Yountville, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and Calistoga. There are about 300 wineries and the land is composed of
beautiful rolling hills blanketed with the verdant green of the vines, with higher foothills surrounding the entire Napa Valley. It’s like a picture postcard. The weather was a comfortable 75 and sunny. Yountville is one of the more upscale towns with many nice restaurants. Among the most famous, is the French Laundry, which is one of THE top restaurants in the entire country (actually was voted “Best Restaurant in the World” in 2003 and 2004). I hear there is a two year waiting list. It is hard to find, as the building is unpretentious.

French Laundry Restaurant

French Laundry Restaurant

French Laundry Building

French Laundry Building

Also in this small town, is Redd, where Kathy, my brother and I dined when Kathy and I visited about 2.5 years ago. It was a wonderful meal with wine parings with each course. Our ultimate treat for dining on the trip! My friend Elaine and I ate at Lucy’s for lunch, and had a delightful light meal sitting out on the patio. Very pleasant and also very upscale. (The bathroom had the ultimate fancy toilet! Very posh: the seat cover lifted when you opened the door and there were controls to warm the seat, use a bidet feature, dry your behind, etc. etc….) The prices reflected the atmosphere, so it was really nice that Elaine treated for our meal.

Afterwards, we went to Cakebread Winery. A lovely place where Kathy and I had also visited when we were here last.

There have been many changes to the Napa area in recent years. Tastings used to be free, or at least fairly inexpensive and you could apply the charge to any bottles of wine that you bought.
Now tastings are anywhere from $15 to $60! And some places you only got 3 or 4 inexpensive pours.
We went to Cakebread, where the people were very nice and it was $15 for 6 tastes (3 whites/3 reds – from bottles mostly in the $50-$60 range). Plus you get to keep the really nice wineglass they give you to taste your wine. Eric, our “host”, was knowledgeable and nice. It was a beautiful atmosphere there, as are many of the vineyards.

Cakebread Winery - family owned for 40 years

Cakebread Winery – family owned for 40 years

Napa Valley in general: really has become quite expensive. Was not that crowded (people can’t afford the expense?) and a number of the storefronts in town were empty. Not good. Sonoma, with its more low key, more rural/down to earth feel, appeals to me more. We go there on Tues. (We were supposed to go there last Tuesday, but went into San Fran. instead last Tues. to get Euros for our trip due to the BART strike being postponed for the week.)

One other thought about the vines in Napa Valley: displayed below is a picture. Note that the soil is just dirt.

Vines in Napa

Vines in Napa

Here is a picture that we took of the vines when we were in Provence France last fall. Note that the ground is made up of stones. Drainage is very important and it’s interesting how different the topographies are and yet both areas produce some of the best grapes/wines in the world.

Vines in Provence

Vines in Provence


Aside from our trip to Napa, the days roll by. Working out in the morning and computer work, chores, relaxing in the afternoon. Still getting used to the time versus money versus “it’s not a vacation” adjustment and trying to entertain ourselves without spending too much money. We seem to be focused a lot on this issue, but guess we’re just still adapting, so it’s to be expected.

Sunday we meet some other “old friends” in the city for a day of walking the neighborhoods (very doable in San Francisco, as it is really very small geographically), catching up and reconnecting.
Sure there will be a lot of laughs, and reminiscing.

Thanks to all who have been keeping in touch. 


4 thoughts on “NAPA!

  1. Yikes! You are getting really good at this blogging thing!! Maybe you can get a job at Channel 11 to travel around the world and report out – with pictures yet! Love you! Miss you! Judy

  2. I just typed for about 15 minutes, recalling previous trips to Napa & Sonoma – and reflecting on your comments. Then, it frustratingly simply disappeared. It’s too late tonight to even begin to reconstruct so it will have to remain in alphabet heaven forever. I am, however, recreating a summary of a book we read a number of years ago in Blue Stockings: The Soul of a Chef by Michael Rhulman. I’d highly recommend it. The following summary is from the internet. . .

    The book is divided into three sections. The first is about the certified master chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), the second is about a restaurant called Lola in Cleveland, Ohio, and the third is about Thomas Keller and his French Laundry. Somehow Ruhlman weaves these three sections together thematically–exploring what it means to be a great chef, contrasting the perfectionism of the chefs at the CIA to the free spirit of Michael Symon at Lola and culminating in the genius that is Thomas Keller.

    I must say that my dirty secret habit when it comes to food books is that I start them and I don’t finish them. I still haven’t made my way through Calvin Trillin’s “Tummy Trilogy” or Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential,” but Ruhlman’s book sped along so quickly my fingers burned. He is a deceptively skilled writer: the book is pleasure to read and all the while he’s operating as an entertainer and an academic. The book makes excellent points about the culture of cooking.

    My biggest criticism would be that Part One is too innately exciting to just stick at the front. The pure adreniline rush of following the seven contenders into an exam where “failure is not just possible for these chefs; it is probable” makes the Lola chapter and the Keller chapter feel anticlimactic. Still, Ruhlman seduces us in Parts Two and Three to the point where I began to love the people he was writing about (especially the people at Lola—it’s fascinating to me that Michael Symon’s personality has as much to do with his success as his cooking). The Keller chapter features a quote that’s inspirational for this website: “He learned just about everything by figuring it out himself.” Take heed, everyone: Thomas Keller started out as an amateur gourmet!

    Keep on blogging!

  3. Very interesting Debbie; I toured Napa over 20 years ago as a business side trip with Rob and yes all the tastings were free! Glad for your report as I would not have been prepared for that. Also interesting to see the difference between California and French vines growing…

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