Napa, 2010

We’re about to conclude the first leg of our trip out west, the Napa Valley part of things. Here’s a link to the Flickr set of photos and one video; Annette also uploaded a bunch of stuff to Facebook, but I’ll worry about getting those pictures downloaded and uploaded to Flickr when I get home.

A couple of quick thoughts before Ashland:

The idea of this trip, more or less, was to cash in our frequent flyer miles (meaning the flights cost us about $40 or so) and to take a trip to see where Will was born and where Annette and I started our post-PhD program lives, Ashland, Oregon. But first, Napa.

Our flight into Sacramento was uneventful, but we didn’t get to the hotel/motel until almost 1 am west coast time or 4 am east coast time, so our first day in Napa was pretty quiet, actually. We stopped in downtown Napa for lunch– good food, but not much reason to stop there tourism-wise. Drove past wineries, stopped at Bouchon Bakery for lovely pastries and coffee, and then got to our hotel, a Best Western in Calistoga, CA. Great place, actually– lovely little town, nice hotel, reasonably priced, etc.

Tuesday night we went to Bouchon, which is a Thomas Keller restaurant in Yountville. I would have preferred going to Ad Hoc (because I have a cookbook from there), but it was closed both Tuesday and Wednesday. And The French Laundry, well, that would have been a little out of our budget. Bouchon was great, and surprisingly accessible and not crazy expensive. We have spent as much or more in a couple of different restaurants in Ann Arbor, and this was much better. Will had a great mussels dish, Annette had a bib lettuce salad that she thought was the best ever (and some good lobster bisque), and I pigged out over some deliciously fatty pork shoulder.

And then Wednesday, we got up and really had tourism proper. Napa Valley is a little tricky with a 12 year-old; as Annette put it, it’s sort of like how adults feel about a place like Chuck E. Cheese: sure, there’s stuff adults can do there, but the place is really made for kids. So is the case with wine country. As a result, we ended up keeping it pretty simple and mostly kid-friendly. We went to the California petrified forest and the “Old Faithful” of California; both were pretty much tourist-traps, but kinda fun. We went to the Sterling winery, which has the kid-friendly attraction of a gondola ride from the parking lot to the winery itself– that was pretty cool, and the views from that place were spectacular.

But the real surprise and hit of the day was Castello Di Amorosa, which is basically this pet/vanity project of a guy who has been active in the Napa Valley wine world for a long long time. Check out the link and the pictures to see what I mean; but basically, I would say it was an all-around hit for our group. I thought it was going to be super cheesy, but actually, it was a really well-done castle reproduction, and as some of the picture suggest, it looks quite a bit like quite a few things in Italy. We had a great guy serving us up too much wine in the tasting room, and it was pretty good wine, too.

We didn’t get to see a lot more than that, unfortunately, but what we saw was lovely. Oh, almost forgot– we did get a chance to go into the the west coast branch of the the Culinary Institute of America, which has about the best kitchen tool/toy/porn store I’ve ever been in. I ended up buying a couple of great looking CIA cookbooks, which are not the kind of thing you can typically get at a Borders or something.

And now on to Ashland. I’m finishing this post now from here, and I am sure I’ll photos to upload in a few days.

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