Napa Valley Visit

By Annie Field

We started this morning with a vague plan, to try some wine and enjoy ourselves. Not being at all familiar with the local viticultural regions we took a punt and picked a route around Sonoma, Glen Ellen, Napa and Petaluma (our base). This plan was rapidly turfed when we started battling Labor Day Holiday traffic both on and off (tasting tables!) the road.

Our first stop was Domaine Carneros in Napa. Owned by the Taittinger Champagne House, it is certified organic and just a little bit fancy! We tried four of their wines for an affordable $25 (a person! Ouch!). The stand out was Le Reve Blanc de Blanc: light golden in colour, lemons and apples on the nose and peaches and shortbread on the palate. The finish was smooth and dry.

Continuing our theme (does two stops classify as a theme?) we headed north west through the mountains to Glen Ellen. Up-hill from the town proper we arrived at Benzinger Estate. A family run Demeter Bio-dynamic certified winery and vineyard. We took a tour of their facilities, including the fascinating insectary where they grow plants to lure “friendly” bugs to the site. I could have wandered the plantings for hours.

As part of the tour our guide discussed the use of different oaks and corks in their product. He adamantly informed the group that no wine worth its salt should be sealed under screw-cap. Like it was common law or something. Outrageous.

The Benzinger 2006 Oonapais Sonoma Mountain (Bordeaux blend) had an earthy nose, rich with plum and coffee. Well balanced tannins and excellent length supported complex flavours of blackcurrant and cocoa.

We finished our day with a surprising meal in downtown Napa. Not wanting to find ourselves at one of the many tourist traps, I found a link to a New York Times article reviewing West Coast restaurants. This led us to a table at Ubuntu, a community based vegetarian restaurant and yoga centre.

We were blown away by the variety and inventiveness in the menu. It should be included in study texts for Melbourne chefs caught in the unstoppable mushroom-pumpkin risotto cycle. Every dish made us stop and rethink what we were eating. Potatoes roasted in cucumber ash? Yes, it really worked.

They grow many of the ingredients bio-dynamically in the kitchen garden and source the others locally. Can I get a plate of harmony and connectedness on the side please?

Note – this post was contributed by my daughter Annie Field. See her travel blog at Curiouser & Curiouser.

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