And it was such a blast! For my 30th, my mom wanted to take me on a trip, and I know that Craig gets stressed with leaving the dogs at home when we go places and getting him to go on a vacation can be a struggle. I have always wanted to do a California wine tasting trip, and since Craig doesn’t care for wine, he would never go with me. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to go wine tasting with people that would enjoy it! So my mom & her partner got going getting it set up. And before we knew it, my cousin Kari and aunt had also joined the trip! I never knew that they were wine drinkers but apparently every Christmas they send each other a wine basket each (see here now to look at the wine baskets)! So the five of us descended upon Seatac airport one rainy Saturday morning in October, and flew out to San Francisco. We took so many pictures so I just made collages for each day/event to make it less intense.
Our first day consisted of flying from Seatac to San Francisco, getting a car, and trying to make it out of the city in traffic. We stopped at the golden gate bridge and then drove up the coast a bit to get some late lunch. We finally made it to our VRBO house after dark and had a dinner of apples, cheese, wine, and beer.
Day 2 started with our awesome tour guide Dean from Woody’s Wine Tours. Let me take a quick moment to gush like crazy about Dean. He was incredible. Friendly, patient, go-with-the-flow, but still able to wrangle 5 women who had clearly been swallowing all of the wine tastes we were doing. He was super knowledgeable and did an awesome job of telling us about the history and gossip of the region without being annoying (this is a very fine line). We had a picnic lunch at one of the wineries and he brought us real plates and silverware, fabric napkins, etc. He was happy to move around engagements to get us to specific wineries that we wanted to check out. On day 2, he brought us a bottle of sparkling wine to kick it off because we were celebrating birthdays. He was awesome. If you’re considering doing a wine tour, go with Dean at Woody’s. Anyway, we started out our first day in Sonoma with a trip to the Francis Ford Coppola winery. It is this ridiculous Italian style palatial estate with a huge pool, bocce courts, etc. It’s also essentially a shrine that Francis built to himself, with tons of movie memorabilia. Regardless, we ponied up for the “fancy” tasting with some of their better wines. We got to go upstairs to sit at a gorgeous old zinc bar. The guy doing our pours also gave us a splash of sparkling wine for the birthday celebration and we also got to taste their port made from petit syrah and we got a little piece of chocolate.
After Coppola, we headed to Robert Young for lunch and another tasting. I also learned that the Tide Stick that I decided to bring with me was worth its weight in gold. I successfully removed a red wine stain from my white top. And there was some serious singing to hits of the 80s while in transit.
We rounded out the day’s tour at Ridge Vineyards. Their wines are incredible. Now, this is also the 3rd winery we had hit that day, so my palette could have been essentially shot, but I fell in love with their $50 Cabernet. So I bought a bottle. It is going to be a special occasion wine! The cool thing about this vineyard is that many of their vines are over 100 years old, and as such were not set up with modern trellising techniques or irrigation. Also, they have this incredible covered patio with super comfy lounge furniture that they run their tastings on. AND – see below where I discuss Montelena. Ridge won their class with their ’71 Monte Bello. We all could have stayed there all afternoon, but Dean was on the clock, so we did our tasting and headed back “home.”
After our “outings” of wine tasting, we got a ride back into town and hit the Kendall Jackson tasting room, and then wandered around downtown Healdsburg trying to figure out what we wanted for dinner. Then an Uber trip home and I forced everyone to watch Bottle Shock (a decidedly cheesy movie about the true events that put California wines on the map in the 1970s).
After a bit of a long night and a slow start in the morning, we headed to Napa Valley and did a tour and then tasting at Robert Mondavi. It was pretty cool to see how such a large winemaker produces their wines. We also got to watch the most ridiculous dude tasting in quite possibly the most obnoxious way possible.
Following Mondavi, we had lunch at the Hill Family tasting room in Yountville, and got to try their tasty wines too. To be honest, I was mostly just passing time until we made it to Chateau Montelena, because I can hardly contain my excitement for it.
And then the Main Event: Chateau Montelena. If you have seen the movie Bottle Shock, you will surely recognize the winery. If you haven’t, then your quick rundown on why I was so excited to go there is: In the 70’s, California was making some incredible wines, but the French, and the rest of the world didn’t quite get it. A British wine snob went to California to try some of their wines, realized that they’re incredible, and arranged for a blind taste test with the who’s who of French wine snobs. California wines were rated best in each category and a California chardonnay won the white tasting. That chardonnay was a 1973 Chateau Montelena wine. Anyway, the tasting (that the British wine snob incorrectly didn’t think California stood a chance at) put California on the map. And Chateau Montelena has been kind of an inside joke punchline between Craig and I. “Oh, what can we bring?” “A ’73 Montelena Chardonnay.” “I’m gonna grab a couple of bottles of wine, any preferences?” “73 Montelena Chardonnay.” etc, etc, etc. So given the option of totally screwing up our tasting schedule to check out Montelena, I jumped at the chance. At the beginning of the trip, my mom offered to buy me a wine club membership to any winery that I wanted, and I was really trying to make a wise decision. I had hoped that I would love the wines at Montelena. In my head they were so built up that I believe I would have been horrifyingly disappointed had they not been stellar. But I loved every single one of them! So it was between Ridge from Sonoma, or Montelena, and I just couldn’t pass up getting boxes of Montelena wines a couple of times a year. I was pleased as punch at the prospect. Every single one of their wines had this rich, almost creamy mouthfeel to them that I couldn’t get enough of.
After that, we headed back to home base, spent some time resting and getting ready to go out to a fancy dinner, and then headed back into town for 100% the best meal of my life at Chalkboard in Healdsburg.
And the next day, it was time to go home! We packed up and headed into San Francisco for brunch and irish coffees at The Buena Vista, some time at the wharf, and some competition at the antique arcade before heading to the airport for our return flight.
And a few more random photos. During the trip, there was a running joke about my selfie-taking. I took a lot of selfies. It was kind of fun, but in honor of that, I made a whole collage of my selfies!