This month, our Sundays in Stags Leap feature is all about the cheese. I started thinking about how my appreciation for cheese has been shaped by travel. I remember my first trip to France as a solid swiss and cheddar gal, and suddenly, the evening meal that was finished off with an extraordinary wedge of brie...soft, melt in the mouth buttery goodness placed just so on a crunchy baguette, followed with a swish of a full bodied red Bordeaux. Wow. There was no going back!
My next French cheese adventure was at a local bar, in Macau, a small town outside of Ludon. The wonders of the croque monsieur were soon apparent. I never thought that a "grilled cheese" sandwich could ever be so inspiring! I recall cutting the dripping butter/melting cheese with a good localbeer and some steamed clams. Not bad...
I returned home to work as a stock clerk at the Oakville Grocery Company. This gave me a chance to try and replicate some of these wonderful bread and cheese combinations. The baguettes were from Sciambra bakery and the brie was imported! I felt so enlightened. My family thought I was a snob, but soon, my mom was making her own luxury combination: a toasted walnut half with a small spread of blue cheese chased by a glass of port. Ok, the competition was on...
I remember certain cheeses of the 1980's that were part of our family's hospitality: Cambozola Blue, Maytag Blue, San Joaquin Gold, or Sonoma Dry Jack. Each of these cheeses were arranged just so on a cutting board with sliced baguette and prosciutto (another addiction that sent salami firmly to the sidelines). We played around with the various combinations of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon paired with hard, soft, stinky, mild, local or imported cheese.
As more travel ensued, so did my regional understanding of cheese. From Portugal to Turkey, I tried them all! The simple daily meal of bread, cheese and wine made me realize that most of the pleasure came from the place...a grassy riverbank, the steps of a cathedral, a park bench. To be nourished while taking in my surroundings was a revelation. I love a great restaurant meal, don't misunderstand, but the simplicity of a hunk of bread and a chunk of cheese is bliss.
So, as football season begins, consider upping your game with a wine and cheese pairing. Or, stop in at Sunshine Foods and let Dylan pick out a few select wedges for a park picnic. Pick up a baguette at Bouchon Bakery or a country batard at the Model Bakery, and enjoy!
Toasted walnut half spread with a bit of Cambozola Blue. Drink with port or a full bodied red wine.
Grilled, stuffed pepper. Drink with a chilled dry white wine.
Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold with sliced pink lady apples. Drink with Sencha green tea for breakfast.
With fall around the corner and harvest vastly approaching we will soon be seeing a lot more of our veteran visitors along with the rookies to make their plans to indulge in everything the Napa Valley has to offer. As Baldacci’s Certified Wine Snob, I have some experience of how to make the most of your trip in Napa Valley. I have created a list of tips to make your next visit to see us even better.
1. Call Ahead
The most discussed issue in our Tasting Room is how a surprising the number of wineries are now asking for appointments regardless of party size.
Although perhaps more prevalent now, this has been a legal requirement for most tasting rooms to stay within their permitted usage (of which Baldacci Family Vineyards must also comply) for a number of years and is more broadly referred to as part of the WDO, or Winery Definition Ordinance.
As best practice, call ahead or use online reservation services such as VinoVisit or CellarPass to book your tasting appointment so you get to visit all the wineries on your wish list. The benefit of just a little advance planning will not only eliminate surprises but likely will offer different tasting experiences! Here at Baldacci we have our great patio and bar for tastings but also schedule private tastings and tours in our Cellar for those that inquire ahead of time.
PRO-TIP: Throughout the Valley you can discover more experiences beyond just tasting such as cave tours like Jarvis, food pairings like B Cellars, cooking demonstrations and more…it usually requires nothing more than asking for it ahead of time!
The Napa Valley is home to some of the most desired restaurant experiences and celebrated chefs, so hopefully planning for a great meal or two while you’re visiting is on your agenda. Since wine runs through the veins of the Valley it shouldn’t be too surprising that nearly every restaurant offers a great selection of vino, from the hamburger joint down the street to our three-star Michelin rated restaurants.
PRO-TIP: If you bring in a rockstar bottle, do be sure to leave a pour behind for the service staff especially if they did a great job…and sometimes they’ll waive the corkage fee to show their appreciation.
3. Appellation Education
With regard to grape growing and wine production, the Napa Valley is an American Viticultural Area (or AVA for short).
These geographic distinctions are approved by the federal government and are meant to recognize areas that share nearly identical grape growing conditions. With the immense soil diversity the Napa Valley enjoys along with changes in microclimate and elevation we currently have sixteen recognized AVA’s within the Napa Valley AVA itself totaling seventeen different named grape growing regions.
PRO-TIP: Schedule an entire day tasting within one AVA. You’ll develop a deeper appreciation and understanding to what makes that area unique and you’ll save on driving time between wineries.
4. Get a Driver
Responsible drinking means not driving drunk. A common misconception is that police in Napa Valley are somehow lenient towards or permit impaired driving…nothing could be further from the truth.
A full day of tasting numerous wines and numerous wineries can and will take its toll. There are a wide variety of driving services available, from professional chauffeurs to group tours to individuals hired to drive your vehicle for you. Beyond the immediate benefit of not driving impaired you additionally have a local expert who knows the roads, can help set your agenda, and can recommend new wineries.
PRO-TIP: Always be responsible.
5. Try Something New
Pretty self-explanatory. If you’re a regular to the Valley it’s easy to get caught up in the favorites and not venture out to experience new tasting rooms, restaurants, art exhibits, hiking trails or hot air balloon rides. Lean on the experience and recommendations of people out here and past visitors…word of mouth is still the number one driver of new guests.
PRO-TIP: Phone a friend.
With Harvest fast approaching, there is a tangible Frenzy upon the air. Along with this beautiful season, comes the subject of fruit flies and the never ending battle to keep them out of the tempting swimming pools on our bar and patio…Also known as our guests wine glasses. Attempts to shoo, dissuade and distract are altogether useless. Methods considered and discarded. Fly strips bought and unused.
I am happy to report that a solution has been found in the form of Dan. He happened to drop by the tasting room on a quiet afternoon with some special plants he had cultivated. Drum roll please….Venus Fly Traps (Dionaea Muscipula) and a few other carnivorous beauties. Each one has a slightly different style and all are quite efficient. Dan explained to us that some work in an active fashion (trapping prey) or passive (prey becomes immobilized by sticking to the flowers). We now have several of these beautiful yet hungry beasties dotted around our place and I am stunned by the reduction of flying things in general.
They are simply potted in very wet soil in a container of water and that’s all folks. They must be watered about once a week and meals are on the house so to speak. I’m considering getting a few for my own home.
Napa Valley Escape
It's 3p and you are searching online for the perfect getaway to the Napa Valley...how difficult can this be? 400+ wineries, 125+ restaurants all packed into a 26 mile long Valley that is 1.5 hours from San Francisco. Easy, right? Maybe not...where to begin? Where to end? Travel time? Yikes!
Plan your trip around your budget, areas of interest and travel time. As a rule of thumb, stick to three wineries per day...maybe four if you don't venture off the Valley floor and you eat lunch on the go! Meals here are amazing! If you have only a couple of days, eat out for both lunch and dinner. Just pace yourself...early lunch, late dinner with time for a stroll in between. Drink a lot of water! Hire a driver and relax...less is best and just plan on visiting a few times per year.
- Artesa - architecture
- Baldacci Family Vineyards - cave tour & Cabernet Sauvignon only tasting
- Miner Family - one stop shop
- Ehlers Estate - history, biodynamic, certified organic
- Aubert Wines - Burgundy focus, cult, award winning
- Chateau Montelena - Bottleshock fame
- Duckhorn Vineyards - iconic winery
- El Molino - history, caves and under the radar
- Salvestrin Winery - boutique, family owned
- Nickel & Nickel - single vineyard wines
- Palmaz Vineyards - over the top
- Hess Collection - art, view
- Cabernet Sauvignon focus
- Cult focus
- Oxbow Market - marketplace with many options
- ZuZu - tapas, small bites, lots of variety
- Angèle - civilized, French, overlooks the river
- Redd Wood - upscale pizza and more
- Hurley's - seasonal, local favorite
- Gott's Roadside - best burger and shake
- Cindy's Backstreet - comfort food with inspiration
- Solbar @ Solage - ultimate spa cuisine
- Busters Southern BBQ - oh yea...
- The Bounty Hunter - raucous
- Farm Restaurant - elegant
- Terra - romantic, intimate
- Press Napa Valley - wine list and steak (ask for Charles Kimball, best server ever)
- Auberge du Soleil - wine list and view
- Farmstead Restaurant - farm to fork
- Market Restaurant - wines by the glass, mac & cheese, locals favorite
- Bouchon Bistro - fun French
- Lucy @ The Bardessono - refined, luxury
- JoLe - uptempo
- Dive Bars
Other activities, if you have time...click on an image for links...
If you still feel overwhelmed, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'd be happy to help you create an itinerary that is perfect just for you!
Literally embodying summer and grilling is the tiny France region of Côte-Rôtie AOC, a.k.a. “The Roasted Slope.” The Côte-Rôtie lies at the far northern limits of the Rhone just south of Burgundy with only about 550 planted acres specializing in Syrah-based red wines. Sloped (up to 60 degrees!) and rocky vineyards face south along the Rhone River to take advantage of the sun exposure which promotes ripening during the summer but also prevents vines from freezing during the harsh winters. This region also contends with the famous “mistral”, a strong, cold wind that pushes down to the Mediterranean during winter and spring months sometimes reaching 50 mph for extended periods of time.
Syrah dominates the region similar to other Northern Rhone AOC’s like Hermitage, Cornas and Saint-Joseph. Here at Baldacci Family Vineyards we grow this varietal on our Honey B Estate Vineyard in the cool climate of Carneros where it traditionally gets blended into our Fraternity wine but also sometimes earns its own bottling as Allwin.
Wines from the Côte-Rôtie are easily distinguished by their aromatics: green olive, pepper, violet, blackberry, plum, leather and a personal favorite, bacon. These wines pair great with barbecue cuisine, bringing together meat, spice and vegetal qualities. Even within this small region, two sub-regions developed from the rocky terroir: the Côte Blonde (lighter, elegant and enjoyed sooner) and the Côte Brune (darker, more tannin, more ageworthy). Most wines found are blended by local negociants to incorporate both characteristics.
Astonishingly, the tiny region of Côte-Rôtie has been a grapegrowing region for over two millennia thanks to the Romans during the time of Caligula. Since it received the official AOC status in 1940, the wines are unique in a couple respects. For one, a white wine grape (Viognier) is permitted to be blended into the Syrah. Viognier adds additional aromatic character but it has to be blended by cofermentation, a style of production Côte-Rôtie AOC laws mandate. “Cofermentation” means all the grapes (in this case Syrah and Viognier clusters) are brought to tank to begin fermentation together, in lieu of the more traditional individual fermentation prior to blending.
For your next summer barbecue, consider pushing Zin and Cab to the side for a wine that was truly born of roasting.
“The sun is out, the grill is hot, and the pool is luke…” a great line from one of my favorite actors Owen Wilson, in one of my favorite movies Meet the Parents. He is describing the day as he is about to entertain his guests, but to me it perfectly describes the summer days here in California. It always seems like the sun is out, the pool is luke, and the grill is ALWAYS hot.
A lot of people pride themselves in their skills on the grills, while I do not want to sell myself short, I have mastered the art of direct and indirect heat, but in the end less is more. Nothing says summer like burgers, hot dogs and a baseball game. The key to all is fresh ingredients, patience on the grill and a good team like the Oakland Athletics to watch.
Sunday afternoon is a great time for my family to gather in the backyard, enjoy a 1:00 first pitch and begin a late lunch, early dinner type of meal. As I said less is more, this meal calls for limited prep time, and a cook time of about an inning and a half depending on how the A’s are swinging the bats. I like to get the grill going before any of the prep work has begun, consistent temperature is vital to a solid tasting burger or dog. It is important to have plenty of time to dial in the perfect temperature of 375 degrees, hot enough to get a good char, but also allows for a consistent cook all the way through without burning the outside.
Now comes the fun part, grilling, the patties should be set, the dogs are ready to cook, and now it is time to throw them on the grill. At the right temperature the burgers and dogs should be fairly straightforward and easy. Once the burger starts to curl up off the grill and show some browning underneath, it is time to flip, generally after about 6 minutes. At the same time you flip the burger, it is time to roll the hot dog on the other side. Two even cooking times will give you the perfectly balanced burger and dog. I usually like to throw the buns on with a couple of minutes left to warm up before serving, at the same time is it a good idea to ask around for the people who are looking to make it a cheese burger.
As the grill begins to heat up, that is the perfect time to get all of the ingredients prepared. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, mustard and relish are necessary for both hot dogs and burgers. With the core ingredients covered, I like to switch things up to give my guests some unforeseen and rarely used options when it comes to their hot dog and burger building. I love to throw in a couple of different mustards, including hot and sweet, Dijon and spicy mustard, in case the guest wants to spice it up. I have recently found that jalapenos on the hot dog are key for a nice kick of spice with a hint on sweetness. And while it is frowned upon by some burger enthusiasts, a good ole fashioned “Rodeo Burger”, which consists of a ridiculous amount of BBQ sauce and extra cheese, is usually enjoyed by at least one carnivore in the group!
Now comes the best part, cracking open a nice bottle of Elizabeth Pinot Noir, pouring enough for everyone to enjoy, allowing them to build their burger or dog and sit down just in time for a big A’s Rally!!
|There is nothing like grilling and drinking Baldacci wine with family and friends during the long summer days. You may think more beer and barbecue, but I like wine. It has the intensity, body, aroma and flavor to complement almost anything you can grill over a fire. Before the guests arrive, I start early by chilling a bottle of Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. I also prepare an easy appetizer by throwing a couple of seasoned pitas on the grill. I let them get just enough color on each side before cutting them up into bit-size triangles. These make the perfect cracker to enjoy with hummus, which pairs well with a refreshing glass of Baldacci's Gewurztraminer. The clean and dry style Gewuztraminer will complement the creaminess of the hummus.
|Summer grilling season often means super fresh fare of veggies to go around. I love making veggie skewers, they are easy and delicious. Pick out some of your summer favorites and slice them into big pieces. I prefer bell peppers, zucchini and mushrooms. I also love to grill corn on the cob with lots of butter! These skewers and corn taste amazing with either Baldacci's Sorelle Chardonnay or Elizabeth Pinot Noir. Both these wines are grill friendly and are capable of handling all sorts of barbecue favorites.|
The protein is one of the best parts of grilling. Browns Valley Market has some of the best meat in Napa. Anything you get from there is always tender and delicious. I usually like to grill hamburgers or a tri-tip or steak. The best wine to enjoy with these types of meat are Baldacci's Black Label Cabernet or Syrah. The big bold flavors in these wines are mellowed by the meat's fat; while at the same time the salt in the meat will also help intensify the fruit creating a palate pleaser to remember. These wines definitely shine at any barbecue gathering!
So next time you find yourself pulling out the grill remember it's also a nice time to pull out the wine. Enjoy!
|For me Summer time is about moving the kitchen outdoors and cooking with fire! There are all sorts of foods that I like to apply fire to but my most favorite is Tequila Lime Chicken. Nothing fancy… just quality ingredients make this an off the charts dinner for the family to enjoy on the patio. First I track down some boneless organic chicken breasts along with brown sugar, cilantro, high quality Tequila (not any of the cheap stuff… bad memories of Tijuana) and some local olive oil produced here in the Napa Valley. I have found that our friends at Round Pond make some off the charts olive oil! After the roundup of the ingredients the last piece of the puzzle comes from my lime tree in my back yard.|
With 4 – 8 pieces of chicken in a one gallon zip lock bag, add olive oil so that there is plenty to coat the chicken. (Make sure your olive oil is fresh and that it has not passed its shelf life which happens to be very short by the way.) Add 1 cup of brown sugar followed by 1 cup of your finest Tequila. Include the lime juice from 6 limes and half a handful of chopped cilantro will round things out. Mix all of these ingredients together in the zip lock bag for an hour or two and then cook over indirect heat on your grill. As you are cooking, pour the contents from the bag over the chicken on the grill so that the brown sugar continues to caramelize while you cook. Indirect heat will prevent flame ups when you pour the marinade over each side of the chicken on the grill. Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked it is time to feast! The chicken is phenomenal on its own, but pair it with a bottle of Baldacci’s dry Gewürztraminer and it is to die for!
|Mount St. Helena, CA|
I love to run, but my favorite end of the week exercise is my Sunday hike. It’s my time to slow down, feel the week fall behind me and re-energize for the next week. It’s about seeing a place for the first time, even if it’s my favorite trail that I have traveled hundreds of times…it’s the awareness of the seasons, the subtle changes in light and foliage and flowers…it’s about hugging my favorite redwood tree and giving thanks.
For those of you who are new or who are veterans of the Napa Valley, the best way to plan a Sunday hike is to gauge your energy level on Sunday morning! Do you want to stroll or break a sweat? Picnic or just water? View or solitude? All things are possible!
For a picnic hike, pop into Cal-Mart and grab a fantastic sandwich, drink and other snacks. Table Rock is the best place for a view and a place to eat. It is a bit of a climb and you will have earned your picnic, but fortunately, it’s not too far. In the spring there are plenty of wild flowers and there is an area where people have put rocks into creative formations which seem surprisingly natural and almost unearthly. Go early as parking is limited and since the trail is western facing, you will be in the sun. No dogs are allowed.
Mount St. Helena is a longer hike, but has the sense of accomplishment…that flat topped peak at the north end of the Valley that has been in your sites will now take on a different dimension. The trail is actually a fire road, so very easy to navigate with a steady uphill grade for about five miles. There is an old wooden platform at the base of the cell phone towers to sit back on, and enjoy the view. On clear days most of the San Francisco Bay Area is visible, to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the West, the Sierra’s to the East and the top of Mt. Shasta, 192 miles to the north. This hike has been a family Thanksgiving tradition for over 20 years and it is how we all earn our extra helping of pumpkin pie! No dogs allowed.
One of the best state parks is Napa Bothe. This little gem is tucked up into Ritchey Canyon and the rich forest belies our more arid Valley floor climate. It is so unexpected to find beautiful redwood trees, ferns and seasonal flowers. This is also an excellent park for weekend camping! Even if you are a local, it’s nice to break out the car camping gear and spend the night under the stars without the grind of a long drive. There are many different trails and my favorite is Coyote Peak for the view and the solitude as you follow Ritchey Creek up to the summit. If you have young children, this is one of the best “intro to car camping” parks around as it is often overlooked for sites on the Coast or the Sierra’s, thus making it a quiet and peaceful nature escape that is close to home.
|Ritchey Canyon to Coyote Peak Trail||Lake Hennessey|
Lake Hennessey is my go to Sunday stroll. Follow old Howell Mountain Road to Conn Valley Road and keep driving until you cross a small bridge over Conn Creek. If you hit Greenfield Road, you’ve gone too far. The parking turn out is just before the bridge, on the east side of the road. Directly across the parking area is a gate to access the dirt road which follows Lake Hennessey along the west side. It’s about two miles to the dam with an easy, level grade until just before the settling ponds. The short climb up the slight incline brings you to the top of the dam. This walk is a bird watcher’s paradise! Pack a picnic from Sunshine Market and bring your binoculars. It is so easy to pass a few hours sitting on the bank of the lake soaking in the sunshine with the sounds of water and wildlife to gently lull you into a nap.
Without having to plan too much in advance, Napa offers two small parks for a quick hike. Choose from either Alston Park or Westwood Hills Park as a remedy for the Sunday hang-over when it’s necessary to have some exercise, without being too serious. Both have benches perfectly placed for a rest and a view and both are active with locals and their dogs. These parks can also be best enjoyed with a pastry from Alexis Baking Company or Sweetie Pies and a hot cup of coffee!
If you want something a bit more strenuous, Skyline Wilderness Park is part of the greater Bay Area Ridge Trail system. The hike up to Lake Marie is steep but gorgeous. It’s a true trail that can be narrow and rocky, but given that you are minutes from downtown Napa, it provides nearby adventure and an escape from the world.
|Skyline Wilderness Park, Lake Marie and Buckeye Trail|
Finally, for those of you who love to backpack, I highly recommend the Lost Coast. It is as remote as the literature describes and the variation in terrain is fantastic! Redwoods, open scrub brush, coastal wild flowers, lush ferns which grow along the creeks, grassland and more…this area is still wild and we saw whales, a bear and a multitude of birds. The trail is often a goat scramble, but the final reward is a campsite on the beach at Little Jackass Creek. Pure backpacking bliss!
While the Roman Empire was expanding their political and military reach from Italy to the Atlantic, they propagated two additional components of their everyday life that we as Napa Valley vintners are proud to carry on in the modern era: winemaking and bocce. Influencing every region they conquered the Romans brought a rich history of viticulture and winemaking practices out of the Italian peninsula including the first recorded instances of glass blown containers. This disbursal helped set the foundation for what we generically call “The Old World” of wine across the European region.
Bocce, stemming originally from the Latin word “bottica” (meaning “ball”), developed simply enough as an organized game soldiers played in their downtime throwing larger stones at a smaller “leader” stone, with whomever getting closest to hitting the leader would win the point. The first records of this game show up over 6,000 years ago in Egypt, then in Greece and witnessed an explosion under the Romans. To this day historians claim ancient bocce as the Godfather to the modern era’s most physically and athletically demanding sports such as bowling, curling and tetherball.
As the sport spread in popularity so did follow its prohibition. Numerous instances in European history point to Kings as well as the Catholic Church banning the game as it presented a clear distraction to more necessary daily pursuits and a more pious life. Upon being notified during a game of bocce that the feared Spanish Armada was about to attack the English, Sir Francis Drake remarked “First, we finish the game; then we have time for the invincible armada.” Even the new colonies of America considered protecting the commoner’s right to bocce as a fundamental and unalienable right deserving of its own constitutional amendment, but a lack of bipartisan support stopped the bill from progressing.
Nowadays the dimensions of the field of play vary but it’s usually a long stretch of level crushed stone or oyster shell (replacing the customary Roman practice of the crushed bones of your vanquished foes). A target ball - the pallino - is tossed down the field of play and two teams battle bowling larger balls to get closest to the pallino and hereby scoring points. And in homage to our Roman forefathers, we here in the Valley prefer to bowl with one hand while holding a glass of wine with the other.
Starting my career in the illicit and lucrative underground bocce scene in Oakland, I was drafted three years ago as a pro into the highly competitive St Helena Bocce Sunday Night League with fellow bocce enthusiast, Michael Baldacci (a.k.a Michael “Bal-bacci”). A good night of competition often ends in elation, tears, an iced shoulder or two and usually celebratory (or consoling) cocktails. We look forward to continued American domination this season against the highly touted New Zealand, French and Finnish squads, as well as a much needed All-Star break.
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