Friday, April 24, 2009

Birthday Trip: Napa Valley - Day THREE

Brian and I headed into Napa - one of the original counties of California, created in 1850 at the time of statehood. The word napa is of Native American derivation and has been variously translated as "grizzly bear", "house", "motherland" and "fish". Of the many explanations of the name's origin, the most plausible seems to be that it is derived from the Patwin word napo meaning house, although local residents will often cite an urban legend that gives the translation as "you will always return".

The Napa Valley is widely considered one of the top American Viticultural areas in California, and all of the United States, with a history dating back to the early nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century there were more than one hundred and forty wineries in the area.

Of those original wineries several still exist in the valley today including Charles Krug Winery, Shramsburg, Chateau Montelena and Beringer.

Planning our 2 1/2 days in the Napa Valley wasn't easy......too many wineries and not enough time. We carefully reviewed a few guide books and I chose most of the wineries with open tasting rooms (many are by appointment only). We decided to head north as far as possible (Calistoga) and work our way back to American Canyon (where our hotel is) via the Silverado Trail - a little off the beaten path.

In 1852 the first permanent road was built from Napa to Calistoga, providing a major trade route for hauling wheat, and fruit, the primary crops, as well as travelers. This road would later be known as The Silverado Trail.

I highlighted some 25 wineries on a map - knowing that we would only have time for a handful. Here was our Friday itinerary:

Sterling Vineyards - Large commercial winery - Tram Ride (highlight of the trip for Brian) - seated tasting room with panoramic views.Rutherford Hill - a western Chalet - impressive 25ft tall door - intimate tasting room - chocolate covered blueberries and port.

Mumm Napa - Wonderful sparkling wines - sunny patio overlooking the vineyard.

Clos Du Val - Decorative grounds - wonderful tasting selection - eclectic staff

Luna Vineyards - Small beautiful Italian decor - wines poured by winemaker.

After our journey along the Silverado trail was complete, Brian and I had a wonderful tapas dinner at Zuzu's in downtown Napa. What a wonderful way to end my birthday.....small plates, delicately prepared, well-balanced local fare with Spanish influenced flavors.Here was our menu choices:

Seasoned and toasted Almonds - Fresh Gulf Shrimp with Garlic, piquin chili and smokey pimeton - Grass-fed flat iron steak with roasted jalapeno chimicurri - Fingerling potatoes with leeks, spring onion in a romecso sauce - Pan roasted California Asparagus with jamon serrano ham in a green garlic sauce.