Napa and Sonoma with Book Club

Trip Start Jun 04, 2010
Trip End Jun 06, 2010

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Where I stayed
On the golf course

Flag of United States  , California
Sunday, June 6, 2010

This time the book we picked was "A Tale of Two Valleys: Wine, Wealth, and the Battle for the Good Life in Napa and Sonoma." It told us about the local flavor and play of money in the wine biz. Though we did keep coming back to one question How did the author, Alan Deutschman, get to stay in such nice homes in Napa and Sonoma? (Miami's read was “The Corpse Had a Familiar Face,” by Edna Buchanan.)

On our book club trips, there is no time to read! This two-night, three-day trip was a total slumber party giggle-fest. We rented a really nice place, property 233385 from , four bedrooms in a house with a sunken living room and a pool, right on the golf course, $900/night split seven ways. The house was just as nice (a bit nicer even?) than the pictures.

The first night, all jet laggy, we had dinner at La Tocque. We were offered a prix fixe menu that was way out of our league, but when we asked, we received an a la carte menu. The food was delish, small-ish, and beautiful. The service was amazing, five waitstaff descend on you and reveal your food all at once. Voila. 

Wine Tastings in Napa

On Saturday, we rented a limousine (also hundreds of dollars, but, you know, it was split seven ways, at least that’s how I will justify the bill). It was truly a woman-led weekend too. Because not only was our American Airlines pilot to SFO from JFK a woman, but so was our limo driver.

The first vineyard, which we we’d read about in the book was the Mondovi estate, Opus One, which we liked to call Opus Dei. The tasting – of like two tablespoons of wine -- cost about $30. It was smooth. I have to admit I am no connoisseur. Even after the weekend, I have no idea how to talk about wine and sound smart. I like it. I don’t like it. I am still most impressed by pretty modern art-type labels on the bottle. It’s all about the packaging to me.

At Opus Dei, the wine pourer told us to take in the view from the patio on the roof. I think he wanted us, Manhattan book lovers, to step aside and let the real wine lovers approach the bar. All of these wineries claimed the wines at their tastings were not the kind you can buy in any stores. Any where. They were the special-est of special house labels.  At Opus One, we had a Cabernet blend - Blue Rock and Chardonnay-Rombauer, Opus One 2005 and 2006

We moved aside and headed through the mausoleum-type lobby.

I was the last up the marble stairs. So I approached the rooftop alone. My response (and I don’t think it was at all influenced by the teeny tiny bit of wine) was WOW! Holy Sh!t! This country, this state, this region is totally fricken’ AMAZING. Exactly like visiting Red Rock Canyon in Las Vegas, “They don’t call it America the Beautiful for nothing, people!”

Time for an epiphany -- Here is one, I love my book club!

We then traveled to Rubicon where this flamboyant, quirky, nerdy tour guide made us sit in the sun squinting at him under a tree that grew both oranges and lemons. He regaled us with this long story of the winery that had once been Inglenook. The original owner, a Scandanavian map surveyer in Alaska and his family survived Prohibition by supplying the wine to the local priests and to the family. (See, despite the guide’s quirkiness, I do remember a lot of what he said.) Again, also, the sheer beauty of the locale cannot be overstated. It was gorgeous (say it with a Brooklyn accent. Like this, “GawJus.” It’s fun.) They said they produce less fruit per acre, which, I think means, less crowding, happier, tastier grapes.

Rubicon refers to the crossing over point into one’s downfall -- as in Napolean crossing the Rubicon River to his demise. We heard of how Coppola revived this wine estate from its dreaded wine-in-a-box fate. Remember wine in a box? Those were the days. I always liked wine in a box and I’m not proud to admit it. Although I didn’t confess that penchant at the fancy wineries. At home, alone, in my living room, it’s all right to admit though.

At Rubicon’s deep, dark wooden bar on a bright, hot sunny day (I think we’re getting tipsy now) we tasted Rubicon 2007 Captains Reserve Chardonnay (floral, tropical, buttery), Rubicon 2007 Captain’s Reserve pinot noir (all-spicey, holiday wine), Rubicon 2006 Captains Reserve Zinfandel (smooth), 2006 cask Cabernet Sauvignon (delicious), 2006 Rubicon (biggest body) (blend) mostly Cabernet  website:

A wine savvy guy standing next to me from Hong Kong recommended the Blancaneaux, but the friendly pourer there, Ed, did not have it on tap (that’s not the winery term, but you get my drift).

Ed told me something I will remember, “Good value wines don’t represent Napa. The estate collection does.” I don’t know what he meant. But I nodded and sipped knowingly.

Back in the car, our driver (Mandy?) overheard us say we liked white wine, so she suggested, Honig. Local people always know.

Honig means honey in German and the place was sweet. They use organic wine-making practices and there was some story about the bird feeders which I can’t really recall. Because we were sitting outside giggling. It was exquisitely fun. Honig was probably our group’s favorite place. A table beside us was celebrating a bachelor party so lots of giggles from them too. Our server was from Westchester, very cute.

The tastings we tried were: Honig 2008 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford, 2006 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (solid wine), 2006 Honig Cabarnet Sauvignon Bartolucci vineyard (big and bold), 2008 Honig Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc  (dessert-y, apricot-y) www.Honigwine. com

Words of wisdom from our Westchester pal? “Hillside fruit is more stressed so it is big and bold.” I nodded and sipped. But not knowingly. Stressed? No, not me.

By now we had some sun, some wine, and we stopped for some lunch at a terrific Mexican grocery store with awesome burritos and home-made chips. So yum.

Last stop, Grgich, Marc was our supersweet, Swiss or French pourer. I will cut to the chase with his words of wisdom, because this one is really good, “If you babysit the vine so much, it becomes lazy.” Wow! This region is not only GawJus (gorgeous) it is wise! Thank you, Marc!

At Grgich, (pronounced Grrrrrrr-gich) we drank 2006 Chardonnay, Carneros, estate grown Napa valley (terrific) 2007 Chardonnay Napa Valley, 2008 Fume Blanc, Napa Valley, 2007 Zinfandel Napa Valley, 2005 Merlot Napa Valley, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. To end it all, Marc gave us these chocolate-covered wine balls. We were quite happy.

The seven of us had many giggles that Saturday. We barbecued on the deck. Mary Katherine was so clever to know how to replace the gas. We dined on the golf course patio. The sky grew dark. We saw a shooting star.

We stayed up late into the night, even though we were still on Eastern Time. We played OutBurst.

Sonoma Sunday

On Sunday, we headed to Sonoma. I visited the Mission Church of Sonoma, Spanish-style simplicity in an empty sanctuary. I felt the holy spirit had left that church long ago. Then I went out into the Spartan back yard. There was a massive Prickley Pear Cactus and a simple fountain. Very cool.  This reminded me that if you're looking for the spirit, look to nature.

There was an art show going on in the town center. There was a blues band playing.

We had an awesome lunch. We still had the left-over bottle of champagne from the limo. Drinking in the park/town square is allowed. So we picked up sandwiches from the Sonoma Cheese Factory. (People grazed at the free cheese tastings there – including a tasting of lavender cheese. So cool. I love California.)

There was a big Italian family celebrating something at the picnic table next to us. It was a delicious afternoon. A delicious book club trip. (Thank you to my book club for the weekend and thanks to Laura for taking all the notes on What We Drank! (terrific!))
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Janet W on

Dan clearly does not "get" our book club. Reading the book is only a small part of the complex social structure that binds us. What use are words if those thoughts and ideas put into written form are not contemplated and discussed among friends whose thoughts and feelings resonate with one another. Book clubs frequently stand accused of not being about the book and instead being an escuse for a night out, a break from the kids and/or hubby. But isn't that the whole point - the book is the binding - it is what connects us and allows for the comfort of sharing secrets and dreams that would not otherwise be shared. It is what transports us to Vermont, Wesport, Miami, Napa and allows us to giggle in unison. Long live book clubs!

Laura on

Book Clubs are restorative. I agree whole-heartedly with Janet, although probably cannot word it as eloquently as she. Books transport you to another place, time or life which allows discussions among friends that probe all areas of your own lives, relationships and struggles. Bindings of books are strong, they last generations, so are the bindings of female friends.

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