A July 2003 trip
to Napa Valley by kimpauley
Quote: Having gotten an ever-elusive reservation to the French Laundry, we made a pilgrimage of epicurean proportions.
Kim Thomas and his wife Nancy have active imaginations (and are very interesting people in their own right). They have decorated the Inn and invited in artists to make it a place like none you have ever seen before.
There are three rooms, each themed after a particular famous person: Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Dr. Seuss, and Jimmy Buffett. How, you ask, did Jimmy wind up in such company? He happens to be one of Kim's favorites.
We stayed in the Dodgson room, a sumptuous study in purples. The furniture was antique and the attached bathroom a literal trip down the rabbit hole (read your Alice in Wonderland if you don't understand and check out the picture of the cat from the ceiling). If you wanted to do any light reading, Dodgson's books were conveniently placed around the room.
A friend of ours stayed in the Dr. Seuss room. Whimsical and charming, it is as brightly colored as you would expect it to be. It even came with Dr. Seuss-themed games, though I think it takes the mind of a child to play them (at least without the benefit of instructions, which we couldn't find). The Dr. Seuss room had an adjacent, but not attached, bathroom.
The Inn includes a library with an intersting collection of books and a comfortable living area filled with incredible artwork (including an original Dali). You'll see etched wine bottles just like the ones at wineries all over the area, as Kim started the company that makes them. The outside is just as inventive and colorful, with a garden filled with flowers and interesting art and artifacts.
Kim, though he doesn't live at the Inn, was very accessible and friendly. He gave us great recommendations, made reservations, and served up a great breakfast every morning.
Note: The Inn of Imagination is no longer under the same ownership and may not even be a B&B anymore, after the owner sold it to move to Mexico. :-(
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 28, 2003
The Inn of Imagination
470 Randolph Street
Napa Valley, California
La Toque is a good restaurant. Some could even call it a great restaurant. They are trying really hard, but they aren’t quite at the same level as the top-tier restaurants in the country. I don’t want to discourage you from going – it is a good restaurant and we had a nice dining experience there. But don’t let people tell you it is an incredible restaurant. It just isn’t there yet.
You can see the difference in the little things – service that can sometimes be a little slow, some things a little off in the presentation, etc.
The one thing that really sets it apart is their truffle menus. If you happen to be in Napa when truffles are in season, that’s the best time to go visit La Toque.
The menus at La Toque are great tasting menus ($98/person, with vegetarian options available). The best thing we had on the particular night that we went was fresh skate served with champagne grapes. It was tender and delicious. The vegetarian dish was also a nice surprise. Two people at our table got it and it was so good I was wishing I had selected it for my main course as well.
The cheese courses are also quite good and served in a traditional manner. I advise you to go with the wine pairing as well; at $48/person, you do get around a bottle apiece once you add up all the pours, so it is worth the money. The only "bad" thing, and I say that loosely, is that you’ll usually wind up with more white wine than red. I happen to like red better, but I was surprised at how many of the whites I would have tried again.
The atmosphere is very nice, as the restaurant is quite small and intimate. Perfect for a romantic evening. You can learn more about La Toque at their Web site at http://www.latoque.com.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on November 10, 2003
1140 Rutherford Road
Rutherford, California 94573
Be sure to make a reservation for the Library Tour (800-487-7757). They also host wine & cheese tasting seminars.
For more on ZD, visit their site at http://www.zdwines.com. ZD was started by Norman de Leuze and Gino Zepponi (former aerospace engineers) in 1969, so the winery is actually one of the elder statesmen (in a way).
I highly recommend their Pinot Noir and Cab, though they are perhaps better known for their Chardonay.
ZD Wines Library Wine Tasting
8383 Silverado Trail
Napa Valley, California 94558
Attraction | "Del Dotto's Cave & Barrel Tour"
The winery itself is a little difficult to find (look for the water tower). It is located in the historic Hedgeside Distillery Building and has only a very small sign. The building was built originally in 1884 and includes one of only six original caves (hand dug!) still in use in the valley.
You MUST make an appointment for the Cave and Barrel tastings and trust me, it is well worth it (cost $20/person as of this writing). The tour is advertised as taking about 45 minutes. We were there at least that and possibly longer.
This is one of the few tours that I have been on in Napa or Sonoma where I really learned something (and not in a boring or stodgy way). During the tour you will take a more or less "horizontal" tasting where you taste the same wine from barrels of different origin. It was amazing how big a difference the different oaks made. Some of the barrels include those made from Missouri oak, Virginia oak, Pennsylvania oak and Troncias and Nevers from French oak.
The most surprising one to me was the Missouri oak, which imparts a flavor so sweet that you feel like you are drinking liquid caramel, no matter how young the wine is.
Another unusual thing about Del Dotto is that they will actually bottle wine straight from the barrel for you, if you happen to take a liking to one of the tastings. No other winery I know of does that. You can truly get something unique, as the wines are normally blended before they are sold.
At the end of the tour, you get to try some lovely chocolate with your wine. It was a pleasant finish to an all-around wonderful tour.
The Del Dotto family is not one of the snobby wine families. You will quite possibly run into a family member manning the front counter or wandering in the caves.
I highly recommend this tour. I can't repeat that enough.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 5, 2003
Del Dotto's Cave Experience and Barrel Tour
1055 Atlas Peak Road
Napa Valley, California
Attraction | "Clos Pegase Winery & Tasting"
There are, however, two reasons to visit Clos Pegase that have nothing at all to do with wine.
One is the art. The family has amassed quite a collection of sculpture and art over the years and much of it is on display and publicly accessible at the winery. They even offer free daily tours (11 AM and 2 PM). Not all of the family shares an appreciation for art...our innkeeper (see my review of The Inn of Imagination) explained how the "black sheep" of the family once painted the fingernail of a giant thumb statue bright red. They had to fly in an expert to clean the sculpture.
The sculpture garden alone is enough to warrant a trip to Clos Pegase. But, if that weren't enough, if you happen to be there on the third Saturday of the month, you are treated to a free (no reservation required) presentation on Bacchus. Bacchus, the impish imbibing spirit, is the true driving force behind Clos Pegase.
Jan Shrem, the owner, presents "Bacchus the Rascal, A Bacchanalian History Seen Through 4,000 Years of Art." The multi-media presentation is given (except in December and January) at 2pm in the Cave Theater.
Another unusual thing about Clos Pegase is that they allow anyone to picnic at the site, including bringing your own brown bag lunch. Many other wineries expressly forbid this (some will literally shoo you away).
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on November 5, 2003
Clos Pegase Winery & Tasting
1060 Dunaweal Lane
Napa Valley, California
That stop was one of our best finds in the valley. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, you'll like Reynolds.
We happened in on the winery with perfect timing. As we were pulling up, a couple of high rollers in a limousine were on their way out. They had just purchased quite a bit of wine in magnum sizes and had the owner of the winery, Steve Reynolds, down in the tasting room signing labels left and right. We were the last visit of the day, and the Reynolds family was having a great day between the large purchasers that had just left and because a new baby daughter had been born just the day before.
So, before Steve went back up to visit his wife, he directed the staff to let us try everything. And try everything we did. We tried every wine in the tasting room, beginning with the Gneiss label (quite good, solid wines) up to their reserve Cab that comes with a stunning dried mustard flower (real!) on the label. The label is handmade and hand-applied to each bottle.
After tasting everything in the tasting room, they brought us out back and we tried a bit of everything that they had in barrel (the Pinot they are working on promises to be very, very good). Even more amazingly, Steve is working on a new wine that will have grapes from each of the growing regions in Napa. He is the first to try this (that I know of). He let us try a bit of that as well. We immediately signed up for the waiting list on that one. It is going to be an incredible wine.
Even though the circumstances of our visit could not be duplicated, I get the feeling that you will always find a wonderful welcome at the Reynolds Family Winery. The staff and family are very nice and friendly, as well as knowledgeable. They are doing what they do because they love wine.
To find out more (and to print out a "coupon" to receive a free tasting), visit their website at http://www.reynoldsfamilywinery.com.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on November 6, 2003
Reynolds Family Winery
3266 Silverado Trail
Napa Valley, California 94558