A chance to taste a mind-boggling selection of early twentieth-century Bordeaux precipitated our most recent visit to Napa when we received a backdoor invitation to a rare wine dinner in Napa. We knew the dinner would be on a Saturday night, but we struggled with how long to spend in Napa because of three youngest daughters had the potential to be in playoff games the days before and after the set date. We checked calendars and ran through every conceivable bracket combination and then threw caution and frugality to the wind and booked a quick Friday through Monday morning trip. With every conference win, we worried that our return home on Monday afternoon would conflict with a game. Sadly, the playoff run for the kids’ college and high school teams ended on the same Wednesday before our trip. Even more sadly, it was, of course, way too late to change our reservations and get an extra day in Napa. And then, most sadly of all, the rare wine dinner was abruptly cancelled because of low numbers. After a little pissing and moaning about the whole reason we were shoehorning the trip in a jam-packed month was the dinner, we realized a short trip to Napa is still a trip to Napa and we suddenly felt flush with cash from our anticipated wine dinner refund.


Because I take my bad travel juju with me wherever I go, our flight was delayed on the tarmac for over an hour before takeoff. We joked that we’d have to ask the valet to keep the car at the front so we could quickly check in to our hotel and change into our dinner clothes before our first tasting of the trip and a dinner at Meadowood. Then we hit Friday afternoon traffic leaving San Francisco. Our window to check-in at our hotel kept shrinking every time Google Maps said, “slow down ahead” and we realized that we would have to go straight to the Herb Lamb tasting and change there. Classy, right? And figure out what to do with the car since we had planned on Ubering over to the winery and then dinner. We updated our destination to the Lamb vineyard and were well-rewarded with our decision to drink wine rather than get gussied up for dinner. The tasting at Lamb helped us unwind with their selection of reds and we ordered the HL cab.

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Looking down on the Herb Lamb Vineyards

A short drive to Meadowood and the valet staff understood our car quandary and offered to bring the car up when the Uber arrived so we could transfer our luggage and parked our car overnight. When we caught sight of the wine list, we were grateful we had another ride home. We chose a 2013 Paul Pillot white burgundy to go with the beginning of the tasting menu, then a 1998 Dalla Valle cab that had mellowed out, and we moved onto a bolder, newer Cab with a 2012 Beckenstoffer Dr.Crane from Paul Hobbs. We finished with a bottle of 2007 Sauternes.


Our first visit Saturday morning was the Italics property. We loved the documentary Decanted and Italics was featured, but at the time of filming, it was just getting started. I’ll admit we were a little star struck when we toured the cave that had been under construction. The recurring theme at every winery was what to do about the smoke taint on this year’s vintage. Italics had some fermentation barrels that they were experimenting with doing some sort of chemical bonding to get rid of the smoke molecules.


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I may have squealed like a fangirl when I saw the cave from Decanted!

A quick trip to the Oxbow Market for lunch and then off to Del Dotto for a barrel tasting. The cave is a tad theatrical with its velvet drapes, Murano chandeliers, and marble imported from Italy and they employed a bit of showmanship by filling our glasses courtesy of a wine thief straight out of the barrel. I was not won over until we got to their Howell Mountain David cab; my husband liked everything—so much so that we ended up in the wine club and then had the “privilege” of buying their member-only wines. Our retirement may be delayed for a few years thanks to their flagship cab—the Beast. It’s worth it.

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Subtlety is not a hallmark of Del Dotto. They make cabs that will knock your socks off.

A parade of the biggest and boldest cabs met us at the Vintner’s Collective. Getting a box from them is sort of like opening a Christmas present—it’s always just what I wanted and, for me, a surprise. Kudos to my husband who can keep track of all the nays and yeas at the end of a wine-filled day. With grey teeth and an overwhelmed palate, we had a quick pizza and beer dinner.

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Neither earthquakes nor wildfires can keep VC from offering the best, hard-to-get wines.

Sunday we drove to the Vaca Mountains to visit the Jarvis winery. For the first time we saw the damage from the wildfires up close and like the morning after a campfire, we could smell the charred wood in air. Our host informed us that the interior of the Jarvis cave had some smoke damage, but from ceiling of the enormous cave to the velvet chairs in the anteroom, everything was pristine and there was no lingering scent of smoke. A standout from the tasting was comparing the 2011 and 2012 cabs. The 2011 smelled like jalapeno—freakiest thing ever. I loved that Jarvis offered cases of half-bottles. Oh, and they have great swag for wine club members.

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Except for growing the grapes, the entirety of wine making takes place in the Jarvis cave. You can see where the fires swept over the top of the cave.

A farewell lunch with our friends, and some strolling through Napa rounded out our Sunday and then up at o’dark thirty to get to SFO in time for our morning flight. So while I still haven’t tasted a Bordeaux grown and bottled while all of Europe battled in the trenches of WWI, I had something better—a fun-filled weekend with dear friends and a chance to taste new Napa wines.

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