This blog is a little different than my typical local restaurant service critique. This is based on my experience in Napa Valley October 7-10, 2017. I was lucky enough to spend time at wonderful wineries and restaurants. Unfortunately, we also experienced the wild fires in the Napa Valley. Here is the timeline of events…
This trip to Napa was a short visit to see my brother, who was in town for a conference. His company had organized many wine tours and dinners for the attendees and their families.
For a day and half, we were treated like VIPs. As you know, I am usually in the business of treating others as VIPs, so this was a new experience for me and I must say, I loved it!! The gentleman who organized these tours and tastings, knows his wine and made a point to introduce us to some really fantastic boutique wineries as well as the larger award winners. I am so thankful to have been a part of this experience.
Saturday October 7th, 2017
1st tour – The Terraces Winery - 1450 Silverado Trl S, Saint Helena, CA 94574 (707) 963-1707 by appointment only.
We were taken on a tour through the vineyards, ate hot grapes right off the vine and tasted their amazing balsamic vinegars, housed in the 100+ year old stone house. Their wines were so delicious. I especially loved the Chenin Blanc. The staff was great. Really knowledgeable and down to earth. No pretension at this winery, which I so appreciate! A fun and relaxing afternoon. This winery is by appointment only, so plan ahead, but definitely a must visit.
The evening started with wine and appetizers on the terrace with beautiful views of the valley. The Rosato Rose was a great start to the night! Next, a private dinner in their wine cave used as a private dining room.
A catered, coursed wine dinner was definitely the highlight of this trip! Especially for me, as I used to plan, set up and work these events for others. What a pleasure to actually be a guest at one. The end of the evening was topped off by a visit from the Chef and then the owner and his wife (our host is a good friend with the Miner Family) stopped by for a visit and a glass of wine. What an honor! BTW, their wines were spectacular! The Wild Yeast Chardonnay was rich, creamy and toasty. A really nice Burgundy style wine turned this girl into a chard lover! The Oracle, their flagship Bordeaux style red wine, was by far one of the best wines on this trip. Full, juicy and rich. Did I mention that Miner wines are frequently served at the White House?
Sunday October 8th , 2017
Our day starts at 9am. Wine tasting for breakfast!
A gorgeous Rustic/Industrial tasting room was set up beautifully for an intimate tasting for 6 of us. Thanks so much to the Mark Simon, who gave up a day off during harvest time to give us a fantastic tour and tasting. I particularly loved their Cab Franc! They are a very small, boutique winery that typically sell out fast. I suggest joining their wine club so you can get first dibs.
By far the most breathtaking views in Napa Valley. The drive up the mountain was definitely an adventure! Newly constructed tasting room and an amazing outdoor picnic space overlooking the valley. We all wanted to move in and never leave! The 2200 square foot wine cave was filled with barrels of wine, a chef’s dining table and even a natural spring. This cave felt amazing on a 90 degree day.
The picnic lunch, picked up from a local country store, was just what we needed to nourish our bellies and soak in the Napa Valley views in their outdoor patio area. Our wine guide was really informative about the history of the winery, the wine community and Napa in the early days. I can’t neglect to mention that wines were definitely top tier.
3rd tour – Davis Estates Winery – 4060 Silverado Trl, Calistoga, CA 94515 (707) 942-0700 By appt. only
I absolutely fell in love with this estate for many reasons. The grounds were beautiful. Several unique touches such as, a floating sphere water feature, a full size rustic wind mill, an amazing terrace with huge porch swings and buildings so spectacular I was speechless. A rustic 100+ year old barn was a showstopper. Used as an event space for wine club members, with a large sitting area outfitted with restored, antique tractors and a dining space as well. I literally want this building as my home. I can’t stop thinking about it!
We were taken on a tour of the caves as well, which were incredible. Lined with unique paintings and artwork. I could have spent hours down here exploring, but we had a tasting to get to! We were taken to a large, comfortable ‘family room’ with an open kitchen. There was a seating area with sofas, a large, beautiful, rustic farm table with seating for 10 and a beautiful terrace with oversized porch swings that overlook the vineyards.
We were treated to a coursed tasting with small bites that were so expertly paired, I was amazed. I have been in the hospitality industry for a long time. I have worked with many talented Chefs and people with incredible wine knowledge. I have done my own wine/food pairings and think I am pretty good at it. The Executive Chef and the team who put this pairing together are to be applauded! It’s been a long time since I have tasted such brilliance! I cannot wait to visit this estate again.
We had a view of the 18th green from our cottage. We were lucky enough to watch the end of the Safeway Open Golf Tournament. Phil Mickelson was a couple hundred yards away from our cottage, signing autographs. It was time to get ready for dinner…
CIA – Culinary Institutes of America, is housed in the Greystone Building, built in the late 19th century and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The impressive Greystone facility in St. Helena was once home to the Christian Brothers. The Copia facility is located in downtown Napa. Appetizers were amazing, and the Saltimbocca entrée was perfectly crafted! The cocktail menu was so unique and inventive that I wanted to try them all! We never made it to the dessert course as we were informed that the Silverado Resort was being evacuated – As this news sunk in, we realized how much smoke was in the air. The fact that we didn’t notice this must have been due to the enjoyment of our dinner!
10pm - 8 of us jumped into the rented Yukon and rushed back to the resort, approximately 6 miles north. We saw a sea of cars driving south. The smoke filling the air was so pungent. Visibility was almost nil. As we pulled into the resort, we were informed that they were evacuating, but we kept going. The scene was controlled chaos. There didn’t seem to be panic at this point. There were dozens of people, with their belongings, loading into their vehicles. It was evident that there was some kind of command center on site, emergency vehicles littered the parking lot.
We all ran in different directions to go to our respective rooms. It was incredibly smoky and difficult to see, but we didn’t see any flames. As I mentioned earlier, we had a view of the 18th green which was on the backside of the resort, to the left of the Mansion. (The Grandstands, seen below, did burn down the following day.) Luckily, I never unpacked, so it took me about 30 seconds to gather my belongings. I was assisting my brother, when we realized we could barely see each other! We stepped out onto the patio and looked towards the green and saw flames on the other side. At that point we decided to get the hell outta dodge! We were approaching the door and the power went out. My brother told me to run, so I did, straight for the parking lot and my rental car. He was right behind me. I couldn’t see anything as I was running and as I stepped onto the sidewalk at the edge of the parking lot, I realized my brother was no longer behind me. I couldn’t see him, Wind was gusting at 50mph, ash and embers flying all around me. I was yelling my brother’s name and I wasn’t getting a response. Finally I saw a pinpoint of light, his cell phone flash light. Relief flooded through me. Police Officers were yelling for us to evacuate, NOW!! We jumped into my rental car, a Toyota Yaris. By the way, this is not the vehicle you want to be in when you are trying to run from a wild fire in 50mph winds! Note to self…go for the upgrade and more horsepower!
We didn’t know where to go, as no one was directing us, so we made the choice to follow the cars in front of us and luckily we made it to downtown Napa. Cell service was pretty much down at this point, but GPS was working, thankfully. We were looking for a hotel, but one after the other was booked. I wonder why?? Finally we found a Hampton Inn and were able to book a room. There were people loaded into the lobby and parking lot. All evacuees. Had we really thought about it, we would have kept driving south. It was increasingly difficult to breathe. We were about 7 miles south of the flames, which we could see. The sky was lit up a bright orange.
The normal rate for a Sunday night is $239. We were charged $375. Are you kidding me??? They said it was because of the golf tournament, which ended earlier that day. That is more than the Silverado charged, and the golf tournament was on-site! It was now almost midnight and there were dozens of people looking for a room at this moment – running from the fire. Some were vacationers and some were locals. We were all standing around coughing and visibly shaken from the experience. It seemed as though the Hampton Inn was completely taking advantage of the situation. Everyone was looking for water and of course the Hampton Inn provided us with water, for an additional charge. Let me tell you how angry this made me…I find it unethical to take advantage of people during a crisis. Do you? The hallways and rooms were filled with smoke. We had no cell service. We were glued to the television, trying to find news about where the fire was. We finally turned off the TV at 230am. We were waiting to see if we were going to be evacuated from this hotel as well. Needless to say, sleep was not to be had that night.
Monday October 9, 2017
6am, watching the news, the fire had grown from 200 acres to 20,000 acres. We knew we needed to get out of town. With no cell service, we didn’t really know what to do, so I started to wander the parking lot to find a signal, and I finally did. Thank you Verizon Wireless! I made phone calls to my husband and sister-in-law to let them know we were ok. We determined that my brother’s conference was cancelled. I was supposed to fly out of Oakland later that morning. We checked out and started to make our way south, out of town. It was a mass exodus. Long lines at the gas stations, banks, grocery stores. All credit card transaction machines were down. Freeways looking like parking lots. It didn’t look like I was going to make my flight which was just as well, as I didn’t want to ditch my brother. He was able to find a flight back home to Upstate NY the following day, out of SFO, so I changed my flight.
Alaska Airlines was great. They rebooked my flight for the next day out of San Francisco. They waived the flight change fee of $100, but I did have to pay $120 for the price difference in flights between Oakland and San Francisco. Thrifty Rental Car was a different story. I explained the situation and asked if I could return the car to San Francisco instead of Oakland (a distance of 12 miles). They said of course, for a nominal fee of $100. “What? Are you kidding me?” was my response. All I can say is, I was not thinking clearly. Had I been, I would have dropped the car in Oakland and taken BART into the city. We headed to SF, which took us 3 hours due to traffic.
As we arrived in San Francisco, we had the same problems as we did in Napa. Hotel after hotel was booked. It took us a couple of hours to find a vacancy. Holiday Inn Express, Fisherman’s Wharf. The room rate we were charged was $400. The average rate for Monday night stay is $216. Price gouging, again! We didn’t have much of a choice, so we booked a room. We made the most of our day together and went to lunch at pier 39. We were really craving Mexican food and found a great restaurant.
Great street tacos and margaritas! Service was attentive and the food arrived quickly. As we were sitting on the patio, enjoying the beautiful sunshine, we watched the smoke roll in from the north. Ash was actually dropping from the sky onto our plates. Our noses and eyes stinging from the smoke that filled the air. Apparently, we didn’t get far enough away. Despite everything, we had a great time walking along pier 39. Stopping into several shops picking up gifts and indulging in great chocolate!
At the end of this day, the adrenaline was wearing off and exhaustion was setting in. We decided to stay in the room, order room service of a bottle of wine and a couple of burgers. We were ready to just relax and watch a movie. The next day, at 5am, I wandered about ½ block away and found my home away from home, Starbucks! 2801 Jones St Ste 111, San Francisco, CA 94133. Thank you so much for being open at 5am!
I was ready for the great Pacific Northwest and cool, crisp air. Luckily, there were no flight delays and we both made it home safely. Hopefully, the next trip we take together will be slightly less adventurous. If you have an opportunity to donate to those most affected by the wild fires in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties, the residents, please do so. They need our help to rebuild.
What I really want to impart with this very long post is the fact that price gouging is out of hand. It happens in every industry around the world. Just because the market will bear exorbitant prices it doesn’t make it ethical to charge more than the actual value of something. Particularly during disasters. It is happening in Texas, Florida, Mexico, Puerto Rico and all the areas hard hit this year by natural disasters.
When will this stop? I understand that business is business, but it is possible to conduct business with compassion and heart. I would like to challenge large and small businesses alike to act with compassion and ethical standards. The most effective way I have found so far is visit a business’ Facebook page and air your feelings there. Most companies seem to respond fairly quickly. I did so with Thrifty Rental Car and was contacted immediately. The overcharges were credited to my account and they said they would address the local offices in California to make sure others are not treated in the same way. Fingers crossed.