Monday, July 08, 2019

Let Them Drink Cakebread

Our fourth day in Napa Valley began at Cakebread Cellars, one of the few places on the trip we'd picked out more for the wine than the sights. We arrived a bit earlier than our reservation time, and were treated to a mini-tour of the facilities -- including a more rare sample or two they don't always pour. (That's what they tell all the guests, I'm sure.)

Cakebread is a wine my husband and I discovered at a fancy dinner years ago, that we pick up now and then for special occasions. The name didn't quite stick in our heads the first time around, which led to our discovery of Cupcake wine -- a less expensive but "decent for cheap wine" wine. Hilariously, as our guide at Cakebread Cellars was leading us through the tasting tour, he brought up this name confusion unprompted. Cupcake Vineyards named themselves on purpose, he opined, to capitalize on "accidental purchases" meant for the more respected, higher quality Cakebread Cellars. If true, we certainly fell for it. The genuine article does taste better though. Enough to be worth the notably higher price? Perhaps not... so we resisted the temptation to join their pricey wine club.

In driving all around Napa Valley over the previous few days, we'd driven by Robert Mondavi Winery several times. My husband and I had stopped there years ago and not been particularly impressed. Still, their place looks beautiful and inviting. And their wine is widely distributed all over Denver; if you've ever paid even a little attention in the wine section of a liquor store, Robert Mondavi is a name you'd probably recognize. So after three days of "Ooo.... Robert Mondavi." / "Yeah, but they aren't very good.", day four finally wore us down. "Ooo.... Robert Mondavi." / "Should we just go there?"

The wine, as remembered, didn't really hold up next to many others we'd had during the trip. But the stop was still worthwhile. Their wide open courtyard is still a picturesque spot, and two of us picked up hats in the gift shop that seemed appropriately summery and suited to the trip.

Our next reservation of the day was at Rutherford Hill Winery, which we'd chosen after hearing about its caves. Getting out of the hot sun, touring a barrel-filled wine cave... it sounded like fun. It was perhaps a little less special than imagined. We'd been conjuring notions of naturally occurring caves converted into elaborate wine cellars. Instead, the "caves" had been methodically constructed in the hillside.

The facade was still impressive, and the inside as cool and comfortable as hoped for, but inside it felt almost more like a warehouse than a cave. Still, here we were, approaching our dozenth winery stop of the trip, and each place had had its own particular feeling about it. That in and of itself made Rutherford Hill feel like a fun addition to our "collection." (Randomly running into someone my husband knew, also on vacation from Denver, was an unexpected moment too.)

We were feeling done with wine for the day, but nevertheless stopped at one more winery in the late afternoon: Beringer Vineyards. This place was more about the sight-seeing and the history, in any case. Its photogenic Rhine House was something to see.

Beringer is also the oldest operating winery in Napa Valley (dating back to the 1870s), and has been offering tours and tastings since the repeal of Prohibition. Most of us opted out of any sampling, but we all enjoyed a short walk around the grounds.

Before heading back to our house, we stopped briefly at Mad Fritz Brewery. The switch away from wine was welcome, and their approach to beer an interesting one -- they used no added fruits or extracts to flavor their beers, but neither did they rigidly adhere to particular yeasts or malts for particular styles. The result was a range of beers all pure and refreshing, but a bit different the norm in a satisfying way.

The evening concluded with steaks we'd picked up at the Oxbow Public Market, and a few chapters of our various books before bed. We had one more full day of the trip, and plans that (for once) didn't center on wine.

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