Shafer Vineyards

By grace.g.yang · January 25, 2016
Under: California,Napa Valley,Wine

The last vineyard we visited during our trip to Napa was Shafer Vineyards, a winery we’ve been looking forward to visiting for quite some time. The winery isn’t open during the weekends, so you have to be lucky enough to be visiting Napa during the week AND Shafer has to be available for appointments. We realized that winter time is the best time to visit Napa – the weather is very mild (although it rained right when we left) and some of the better vineyards have more openings (Far Niente, another vineyard we’ve been looking forward to visiting, had been booked the last two visits we had to the area).

Shafer Vineyards was opened by a man who worked in the Illinois suburbs (in publishing) and then decided to move his family out to Napa while the kids were in high school because he had read that if you wanted to have a second career, you need to get started before you turn 50. The wines at Shafer are all exceptional so it worked out for the Shafer’s; his kids work for the winery in some capacity (one is a lawyer that helps trademark their wines, another is a winemaker, and one of his daughters grows grapes and sells them to multiple wineries in the valley). While all of the wines are delicious, they might be most well known for their 100% cabernet sauvignon, Hillside Select. One bottle of Hillside Select will set you back $250 (the same price as Opus One), but you can only purchase it if you go in person or if you’re on their mailing list (which has a waitlist – it’s one in, one out at this point).

We tried all of their wines during our tasting:


Starting with the chardonnay, then the merlot, the one point five, Relentless, and we finished with the Hillside Select. We enjoyed all of the wines but purchased a bottle of the Relentless because we liked it so much. The name comes from their winemaker, Elias Fernandez, who has a relentless drive for perfection in his winemaking. He was a classmate of Doug Shafer at UC Davis and was hired soon after graduation because of his ability to make great wines.

We brought home the Relentless (and couldn’t wait to drink it so we had it on New Year’s Eve with my family) and were about to purchase the Hillside Select, but decided against it at the last minute because we already purchased the Opus One on the previous visit.

One funny thing that happened during our tasting – the tasting had about 8 people (including us). One couple brought along some food – chips (okay) and packaged lunch meat (also okay, except for the fact that they were placing it in their mouth the way a kid would eat a long piece of fruit by the foot; she pulled the turkey apart into one long piece of meat, tilted her head back, and chewed with her mouth open while the hostess was going over the notes of the wine). It’s totally okay to bring food with you when you go on a tasting because it’s a lot of wine in a short amount of time, but you should usually not make a huge deal of it/places usually offer some cheese and crackers! It got better, though, because the woman was mad that she couldn’t purchase Hillside Select because she’s still on the waiting list and the man she was sitting next to got on the list over 20 years ago and continues to receive his shipments; the hostess said people usually don’t opt out of the list (unless they die) and the woman told the lucky man that she should get off the list so she could get on! I mean, it would be kind of funny if she were kidding, but she said it with a straight face.

We ended with a nice dessert wine and dark chocolates with a dried tart cherry – it was so delicious and a great way to end our very interesting wine tasting at Shafer!

Mustard’s Grill

By grace.g.yang · January 22, 2016
Under: American,California,Lunch,My Life,Napa Valley

After doing two wine tastings, we went to Mustard’s Grill for lunch. I’ve been once before and Ken and I decided to eat there for a quick bite before more tastings because it’s casual and the food is very good:


We started with some sourdough bread on our table:


And then Ken ordered a butternut squash soup because he was feeling a little under the weather:


I had a little bit of the butternut squash soup, but I thought it was too sweet. I like butternut squash soup with more savory vegetables (onions, tomatoes, or even miso paste) but most restaurants make it with a combination of butternut squash and apples, which I think makes it too sweet.

We shared lunch, which included an Hunan grilled chicken salad:


The salad includes sesame noodles, asian slaw, chiles, and peanut sauce. The peanut sauce is very thick and too strong of a combination of soy sauce and peanut butter, the salad was pretty good overall. Honestly, the salad and the soup were enough for us, but we also ordered a pork chop (their signature dish):


The pork chop, called the Famous Mongolian Pork Chop, includes sweet & sour red cabbage, housemade mustard, and mashed potatoes. The sweet and sour red cabbage combined with the mustard and pork chop were pretty perfect – it was way too much food for us! Next time, I’d prefer to order the pork chop and maybe a smaller salad instead of the soup.

The food is always good at Mustard’s and it’s very central to many of the vineyards in Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford. It’s not difficult to make a reservation there and it’s also close to a bed and breakfast I like (The Oleander Inn). Hopefully the next time we visit we’ll have a bigger group so we can have enough people to order dessert!

Opus One Winery

By grace.g.yang · January 21, 2016
Under: California,Drinks,Napa Valley,Wine

After Far Niente, we drove to Opus One, a nearby winery where the building looks like it’s straight out of Xenu. The futuristic winery is very popular with Asians (seriously, the last time we were there, it was all Asians and there weren’t any Caucasians there except the employees). My dad even knew about the vineyard and said the wine is very popular amongst the wealthy in Taiwan. Opus One is different from other wineries because you just have to make a reservation and there isn’t really a wine tour, you can sit outside and enjoy your wine. Since it was too cold to sit on the patio, we sat indoors, near the hostesses; the hostesses are very knowledgeable about the wine but don’t push it on you since it’s so famous.

We enjoyed their newly released vintage, the 2012, in the newly renovated living area:


Opus One was started by two families – the Rothschild family and the Mondavi family – back in 1979. They release one main wine a year (their Cabernet) and on our recent visit, discovered that they also release another wine called Overture, which is about half as much as the Cabernet. You can sample the current release, the last release (which costs a little more), and the overture.

They have magnums, too:


We were only going to visit to have a glass of wine, but then ended up purchasing a bottle to save for a special occasion. The last time we went, we purchased a 2010 vintage, which we’re saving for a special occasion and we have to figure out what the 2012 vintage will be celebrating! I told my dad we would drink it when he’s in town so he can also enjoy it, so he needs to visit soon (although we said we’d be patient and let the wine mature before drinking it).

Far Niente

By grace.g.yang · January 20, 2016
Under: California,Napa Valley,Travels,Wine

On our first day in Napa, we made a reservation for a wine tour at Far Niente:


The drive to Far Niente was very beautiful – the property borders the some of the vineyards that the Robert Mondavi Vineyards owns. Far Niente spans 13.5 acres, which includes their gardens:


Me and Ken in the outdoor space overlooking Robert Mondavi’s vineyards:


After we took our photos, we walked downstairs to where the wine is made – the story of the Far Niente building and winery are both very interesting – the building was abandoned during prohibition and was basically left alone until the current owners (the Nickel family) purchased it in 1979. For the 60 years the winery was abandoned, the building was used for parties (illegally) and when the Nickel family purchased it in 1979, it needed to be completely rebuilt. They kept the original stones but the interior had to be repaired and remodeled. It also used to have an airport in the front lawn (but that’s been replaced by the gardens since the Nickel family owned a nursery in the midwest prior to moving to Napa).

The caves were made with some dynamite, a hope, and a prayer (the owners decided to build it themselves and were faced with fines from the city after they had used the dynamite and started building it without any permits). Luckily, they obtained the correct permits and finished building the caves where the wine is now stored:


The red barrels denote red wines and these are the chardonnays:


The tanks where the wines are kept – these are currently round but they are planning to update the tanks and make them square for easier cleaning and to stack them next to each other:


There is a room in the caves that contains a lot of nice vintages:


There’s also a small gate for another wine they produce, Dolce, which is a sweet dessert wine that they call “liquid gold”:


We finished the tour of the vineyard with a look at all of the cars the Nickels have collected – they still drive these around town and host parties in the garage:


After walking through the caves and by the garage, we went back to the main building for our wine tasting! You have to make a reservation to go to Far Niente (no walk ins are allowed) because they don’t have the capacity for large groups. You sit at their main table for the wine tasting:


You try all of their wines (two chardonnays, two cabernets and Dolce, their dessert wine):


Ken liked both chardonnays, a “bright” 2014 Estate Bottled and “smooth” 2013 Cave Collection. He was a fan of both Cabernets as well, characterizing the 2011 Cave Collection as “soft” due to the cooler conditions that year and the 2013 Estate Bottled which was “big” and slightly more tannic. We purchased the 2013 because even though it was younger, it had a lot of potential and will be great in 2-5 years (if we can be patient for that long). We finished with the Dolce, which was a very tasty and not as sweet as a typical dessert wine. I really enjoyed the Dolce but thought a bottle might be too much to take home. For our anniversary, we went to Nickel and Nickel, a sister winery with horses in the front lawn. We will definitely be back to Far Niente the next time we’re in Napa and had a great experience, thanks to our hostess, Brittany Nies, who showed us around and told us about the Far Niente history.

The North Block Hotel

By grace.g.yang · January 19, 2016
Under: California,Napa Valley

After our successful holiday party, Ken and I flew to San Francisco for Christmas (and other festivities!). Since it was a cross country flight and the holidays, we decided to buy first class tickets so we could sleep on both the way there and the way back. We started off with some champagne:


And ate dinner soon after – the appetizer was a Mediterranean platter with hummus, a kale salad and some cold cuts:


The movie I ended up watching was Straight Outta Compton (a definite watch – Ken and I both loved it). For dinner, we ate chicken and mashed potatoes:


The flight was smooth and much shorter than I remembered and we landed in San Francisco around 11pm. Right after, we drove to In-N-Out on our way to Napa and we drove straight to Napa (and arrived around 12:30am!). We rented a room at the North Block Hotel (where our friend, Tuesday, was married last year!) The hotels look like townhouses:


There’s one room on the first floor and one on the second – we stayed in a really nice room with a very comfortable bed:


In front of the door, there was a little seating area for you to enjoy your wine:


And a luxurious bathroom with heated floors:


Their lobby/checkin area was decorated for the holidays with upside down Christmas trees and lots of cool coffee table books:


They also have a gym (next to their spa on the lower level) and a very cute black lab that walks around the lobby during the day with the manager. We had such a wonderful stay (and it’s so close to everything in Yountville so we were able to eat in town while we were there). We can’t wait to go back!

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