April’s Amazing Adventures – Part 1

This post includes visits from our dear Chicago friends:  Tammy, Rob, and their boys Zach and Nick and Kate, Mike, and their daughter Elizabeth!  We start off in St Helena/Napa with Tammy & Rob and then are joined by Kate and Mike in San Francisco for a few fun-filled days before returning to St Helena/Napa to close out the week!  It was great to spend quality time with friends and share our new traveling lifestyle with them!

Thurs 4/2

Hall (St Helena) (our first repeat) – We enjoyed bringing Tammy, Rob, and the boys to Hall and had the pleasure of being served by Brian, who was our host on our first visit! He delivered once again by giving us a comprehensive and grand tasting of Hall’s amazing wines!


  • Darwin – 100% Syrah 3* – full body and big flavor profile, sharp tannins, balanced, long length
  • Walt Blue Jay Pinot Noir 3*
  • 2012 Napa Valley Cab 3* – blend of 13 out of 17 Napa Valley Appelations, firm tannins, full body, medium length
  • 1873 Cabernet – 1st vines planted on site, strong tannins, full body
  • Ellie’s – 79% Cabernet, 21% Merlot – named after Craig Hall’s mother, an artist and a teacher who enlisted in WWII the day the Navy announced it would accept women. She spent her military career teaching pilots celestial navigation and a procedure was named after her! This is one accomplished family! The artwork on the label is a pencil drawing by Ellie of an owl overlooking a vineyard.
  • Jack’s Masterpiece 3* – 96% cab, 4% petit verdot

Tidbits learned:

  • Tannins are most aggressive in stems (we didn’t know tannins were found there – knew they came from skins and barrels, they also come from seeds too – tannins here tannins there tannins everywhere!
  • Mt Veeder grapes above the fog line take longer to ripen – their Mt Veeder cabs should be aged about 15 years while the average cab is less than 10 years
  • Only living artists’ works are featured at Hall.

SUMMARY: Hall was the first winery we revisited! After going to more than 120 wineries this speaks for itself! Cool modern space with warm and welcoming service along with top notch wines makes Hall a great addition to your wine country itinerary and your wine collection. Hall will rank in the top 20 of our Top 100!


Sherwin Family (Spring Mountain)

We’ve heard wonderful things about Sherwin Family from more than a few people. Given it is right in the neighborhood of Pride and Schweiger, we thought it would be great to bring our visiting friends to!

The ride up Spring Mountain is memorable – windy mountain roads, one narrow area is flanked by redwoods on each side. You turn off Spring Mountain on what is more like a driveway to access a variety of excellent quality wineries (including Barnett.) We pull into Sherwin, which felt like pulling into someone’s very nice home, and were warmly greeted by our host Donna who sat us on their large deck with a beautiful view. We also got acquainted with the family’s young yellow lab Barnelli who made best friends with the Pipin boys and provided quite a bit of entertainment for all of us – very talented at jumping high to catch his stick!

Vineyard size: 16 acres Production: 800 cases (one of the smallest we’ve been to!)

Sherwin is known for their “Patriotic Pour” and it’s a great story. They submitted a magnum to a 9/11 fundraising event in Italy to benefit employees of the Windows on the World restaurant lost in the attacks. Their bottle featured very distinctive and patriotic hand-crafted artwork including Old Glory. It was such a hit at the auction the Sherwins wanted to produce more and donate more to the 9/11 cause. Because no alcohol or tobacco products are allowed to feature the American flag on their labels, they had to petition the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for an exception – they got it immediately! Wow, efficiency in a government agency! Sherwin is the only American winery to have Federal approval to place the image of the American flag on its wine bottle.


  • 2013 Chardonnay 3* – 200 cases
  • Cellar Scraps (no vintage) red blend 2.5-3* – blend of estate cab, petite sirah, and merlot, medium/firm tannins, full body, long length
  • 2009 Estate Cab 3*
  • 2008 Syrah 3* – grapes are from Dry Creek, medium/firm tannins, full body, some pepper and spice, long length, balanced, and complex – unfortunately it is their final vintage

SUMMARY: Sherwin Family was a special treat – we enjoyed the gorgeous views, the fun energetic dog, and some of the best-tasting wine we’ve had in Napa. The only downside is the limited selection and premium price. Sherwin Family will likely rank in the top 30-35 wineries in our Top 100.

Following our tasting we paid a visit to downtown Calistoga for some ice cream, shopping, and strolling!

Fri 4/3

Downtown Napa & Sonoma

Fri was focused on exploring downtown Napa and Sonoma. We walked around downtown Napa and over to the Oxbow Market for lunch at Gott’s. We tried to visit the fire museum but it was closed due to earthquake damage – many other buildings are still under scaffolding and repair as well throughout the city. Next on the agenda was downtown Sonoma for a nicer downtown experience! Shops were visited, the Barracks were explored, the end of the Mission Trail was passed through, and, of course, a little wine was tasted….

Highway 12 (Sonoma)

Highway 12 shares its downtown tasting room space with a boutique – what a cool and creative idea! Get a little buzzed and shop – brilliant! I’ve heard there are a few other places like this in Sonoma.

The attendant was very friendly and confirmed that Benziger was a great choice for a family-friendly tasting for us and our guests.

I didn’t taste the wines, but Dave seemed to like and he bought a bottle of their 2012 La Piazza Aleatico red to take back home!

Benziger Family Winery  (Glen Ellen)

We had Benziger on our target list after PK and Sheila recommended it. After confirming that it was kid-friendly we made the trip over from Sonoma with the Pipins and very glad we did!

The property is expansive – 85 acres (42 acres planted to grapes) and beautiful.

Production: 100K Sonoma County wines, with reserve, signature, and estate wines at 20K

Benziger is probably best known for its biodynamic approach to farming, which is a holistic approach, eliminates all chemicals and artificial inputs, and goes beyond organic practices to include even closer connections to nature such as lunar and seasonal cycles and planetary alignments. Jamie would love it!   It also nurtures and preserves the distinctive nature of each vineyard block (reminiscent of other high-quality vineyards such as Kuleto’s and Storybook.)

We didn’t have time to take the tram tour to learn more about their special practices and approach, but would definitely take advantage of it next time!

A bit on their history:

  • In the 1800s property was a resort and winery, briefly abandoned during Prohibition
  • Family-owned and operated-winery, started in the 70s
  • Replanted in 1980 by Benzigers under the Glen Ellen name, sold the brand in 1997
  • 2000 – went biodynamic

We did the Vintners Tasting and the wines did not disappoint:

  • 2012 Chardonnay Sangiacomo 3* – the Sangiacomos know how to farm!
  • 2011 Wine Makers Blend 3* – 60% cab/40% merlot, light body, fruity
  • 2012 Joaquim’s Inferno 3* – Zin, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Malbec, and Cabernet blend from a mountain-terraced block (unique in that most Zins originate from valley floor vineyards), ready to drink
  • 2011 Etta’s Blend 3* – 70% Cabernet, 30% Merlot, fruity, soft tannins, medium flavor profile, medium length
  • 2011 Oonpais Mountain Red 2.5* – estate blend of Cabernet, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec

SUMMARY: Benziger was an unexpected treat – similar to Hess Collection I didn’t expect to be impressed with a larger corporate winery. That’s one of the things to love about being in Napa – having access to their boutique smaller lot wines. It will rank in the 40-45 range of our Top 100.

Sat 4/4

Long weekend in San Francisco!

Cool pics taken en route  from the car!

And some more cool pics taken en route to San Francisco earlier in February before our work trips!  Golden Gate from the Sausalito side!

Exploratorium:  went there to meet up with Tammy, Rob, and the boys – but due to travel time conflicts we explored on our own for about an hour.  Luckily we didn’t raise too many eyebrows playing a few games with little kids with none of our own – ha ha!  They had a huge variety of interactive displays and games, pretty cool.

Chinatown:  We decided to walk around Chinatown for a bit and were treated to a bit of local entertainment before drinks and lunch nearby!

Enjoyed a relaxing soak out in the sun at the hotel – Hilton Union Square – one of the few with an outdoor pool and hot tub in the city!

Then met up with Tammy, Rob, and the boys for a tasty Italian dinner at Nob Hill Café. We definitely got a work out going up those huge hills!
After dinner we checked out the Tonga Room tiki bar at the Fairmont – pretty cool place for drinks, dinner, and dancing – pretty over the top!

Sun 4/5 – Happy Easter!

After a filling brunch and visit with the friends, Mike, Dave, Kate, Elizabeth, and I got our cable car fix after a very long wait!


Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, the Buena Vista

Irish coffee bartender in action!

“Bush man” who did startle me, embarrassing to say!

Pier 39 – Sea Lions Galore!

Painted Ladies on Steiner Street (opening scene on Full House)

Lombard St (San Francisco’s crookedest street)

Drinks and a view!  at the Top of the Mark – Intercontinental Mark Hopkins.  However, they have a horrid dress code – crappy t-shirts and jeans are fine while shorts on men/boys are a no-no!

Mike and I enjoyed a too-crowded hot tub before dinner and a bottle of Rombauer merlot at nearby Kuleto’s (the same owner as the Kuleto winery that we totally loved.)

Mon 4/6

Following a ride through Japantown we went to Twin Peaks – amazing panoramic views of the city, Golden Gate, and beyond!  Breathtaking!
So were the crazy Parisian style restrooms (their filthiness took your breath away!)

Haight-Asbury neighborhood – eclectic, colorful, whimsical – and many gorgeous ‘painted ladies’ Victorian houses!

Alcatraz Ferry Ride

Escape to Alcatraz Island!

Post-Alcatraz activities, including an amazing dinner at Crab House at Pier 39!

Tues 4/9


Rainy day in St Helena.  We had a relaxing morning and cruised to Calistoga for lunch at All Seasons Bistro.

The rain let up so we ventured over to the Old Faithful geyser where we were treated to multiple eruptions and some very cute animals.  My favorite were the fainting goats!

Castello di Amarosa (Calistoga)

We took advantage of the family-oriented Castello di Amarosa for Kate and Mike’s first Napa wine experience.  I visited before and thought the number of sheep and goats roaming around the vineyard was pretty cool.  They also offer pours of grape juice for the kids!

SUMMARY: Like its sister winery V Sattui, Castello di Amarosa is a great place to visit – more for the castle, the grounds, and experience than for the wines. While there were a few that we enjoyed the majority of the wines didn’t wow us. The Castle will either rank in the last quartile of our Top 100 or it may not make the list.

Wed 4/8

We re-visited two of our favorite wineries with the Lunn’s today. Their daughter had a blast hanging out with the Frog’s Leap dog and the adults enjoyed the informative tours and tastings at both places.

Mike picked up fixings for carne asada and made us some of the best steak on the grill we’ve ever had!

Such a fun time hanging out with old friends and having many laughs.

Frog’s Leap – See original winery review posted in April. Frog’s Leap continues to be one of our favorites!

Lunch at Gott’s in St Helena followed by our favorite hillside winery, Pride – See original winery review posted in Feb.

Thurs 4/9


While the Lunns were enjoying a long hike in Muir Woods for the day, Dave and I decided to kick back and relax and make a quick afternoon visit to Yountville.

After having a lovely lunch on the patio at the Bardessono’s Lucy restaurant (who had the fancy electronic toilettes!), we ventured over to Hope & Grace’s tasting room. I first heard about the winery from another customer over at Benessere. They had a comfortable and welcoming tasting room and our attendant was super friendly.

Hope & Grace (Yountville) – winery #105!!

A bit about the winery and winemaker:

  • 13 years ago the winemaker Charles Hendricks opened Hope & Grace, named after his 2 daughters. He is also the winemaker at James Cole, TVine, Regusci, and Barnett – all highly respected wineries – many of which I had visited and enjoyed.
  • Production: 2800 cases
  • All wines aged in French oak, except for the pinot gris (stainless)


  • 2012 Dry Riesling 2.5-3* – med acid, med body, full flavor profile
  • 2012 Chardonnay 3* – no malolactic ferm, full body, low-med acid, tropical fruits
  • 2012 Pinot Noir 2.5-3* – grapes from Doctor’s Vineyard (Santa Lucia highlands, near Big Sur/Carmel)
  • 2011 Merlot 3* – full body, med/firm tannins, full flavor profile – only 10 barrels produced
  • 2012 Malbec 3-3.5* – only 1 of 13 wineries making 100% Malbec, from Oak Knoll vineyard, ages well, full body, medium tannins. More fruity than Malbec from Argentina, Malbec grapes also one of the six in Bordeaux blends.
  • 2011 Cabernet Stag’s Leap 3* – med tannins, dark cherry and plum flavors
  • 2012 Lagrein, Paso Robles 2.5-3* – Northern Italian and Southern Austrian varietal, you can try something new every day in Napa! Not overly fruity, spicy and savory, 15 barrels produced

SUMMARY: Hope & Grace was an unexpected treat in downtown Yountville. The winery is unique in that their winemaker outsources his skills across a variety of wineries in the area and I can appreciate why – we enjoyed every wine on the list and would have loved to take them all home! Hope & Grace will rank ~35-40 in our Top 100.

The Lunns returned from their hike and Dave made a great burger dinner for us, using a recipe handed down from his grandmother – tasty!

Fri 4/10

Santa Rosa

Ventured over to Santa Rosa today for lunch and a visit to the Charles Schulz museum! Our initial intention was to go to the Russian River Brewing Company but the wait was way too long and we found a quaint little Italian place for pizza and subs and enjoyed the weather on their patio.

Charles Schulz Museum

After lunch we went over to the Charles Schulz Museum which I was probably more excited about than young Elizabeth – ha ha! Snoopy and the Peanuts gang have always been my favorite and my only artistic talent is drawing Snoopy sitting on top of a barn (thanks to my childhood friend Kim Yardley for teaching me how to!)

Upon entering the museum we were greeted by a very helpful attendant who shared some initial interesting facts with us including:

  • Woodstock the bird was created about a year after the big music fest
  • Frieda was named after Charles’s assistant (she, unlike the character, did not have naturally curly hair)

The museum was definitely worth a visit – the masterpiece of a huge mural made out of thousands of Peanuts strips was an eye-catcher. Inside there were a variety of exhibits showcasing original sketches by Charles organized by topic or theme of the strip – these included: nature appreciation, criticism, praise, hope, depression, and baseball blues. There were also exhibits showcasing the integration of other notable stories into Peanuts cartoons including Alice in Wonderland. A Snoopy house, memorabilia and a re-recreation of Shultz’s studio were upstairs.


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