Mary and I frequently get asked questions like what is our favorite wine? Tough to answer — there is never just one. Or, when you go to wine country, who do you go visit? This one is easier to answer. Ironically, we don’t get to go all that often and there are clearly favorite spots of ours to visit. We are headed to Northern California this coming fall for a celebratory vacation and have started making reservations. Here are some of the “stops” on our list.
Pride Mountain Vineyards is located high in the Mayacamas Mountains on the county line between Napa and Sonoma Counties. We were first introduced to Pride by Mary’s brother, John. One night at Boulevard, while we lived in Northern California, he served us the Pride Cabernet Franc. To date, it is the best domestic Cab Franc I have had, and like then, it is nearly impossible to get. The winery itself is absolutely stunning, with extraordinary views and gorgeous tasting areas. Pride is not a “walk-in” winery, so make your reservations well in advance. If they are not tasting the Cab Franc, you may want to ask for it. They sometimes have bottles squirreled away. While the winery is a bit of a drive up winding mountain roads, it is worth the time it takes.
Failla Winery located in St. Helena is another stop we have already booked for our coming trip. Owner and winemaker, Ehren Jordan, has been crafting some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in Northern California that I have found. The winery and tasting room are located in a small house off the Silverado Trail and is one of the most charming tasting venues I have seen. Like Pride, you will need to call and make an appointment to taste. When you do, request your tasting outside at the picnic table. It directly overlooks the Zinfandel vineyard that Ehren added several years ago. It is one of those wine country experiences you won’t soon forget.
On one of our days of tasting, we will almost certainly head to the southern end of the Napa Valley; it is easier at times to split the valley in two rather than trying to cover the entire thing in one day. When we head south, we will almost certainly include Truchard in our plans. JoAnne and Tony Truchard founded the winery in the 1970s and have been turning out spectacular wines ever since. You can walk in to Truchard, but if you want a tour to go along with your tasting we recommend calling. Truchard recently completed a new tasting room and the experience is wonderful, with some of the best hospitality in “the valley.”
We will also be adding in some new stops to our schedule. This time around we hope to see Staglin, Shafer and Frank Family. Although we have never been to the wineries, we have carried wines from all three producers for many years. They are among the best we have, so we are excited to see the facilities where these “gems” are created. As we always do in wine country, we will pick a couple of random wineries we know nothing about to stop in and taste. This is one of the best parts of wine country and we encourage you to do the same when you travel there. You will no doubt find some new favorites and create some lasting memories.
Finally, on our list, we will pick a couple of the historically significant wineries to stop at. On top of that list is Chateau Montelena. We have been to Montelena before but it has easily been decades since we have been there. We recently re-watched the movie Bottle Shock, which is a great film on the early days of Napa Valley if you have not seen it. Chateau Montelena plays a central roll in the film, so it inspired us to make a return visit many years later. The winery is housed in one of the most iconic buildings in all of the Napa Valley and they are great winemakers, so the visit should be grand.
On the Sonoma side of the mountains, we will almost certainly go for a visit and tasting at Chateau St. Jean in the town of Kenwood. Before we moved to Coeur d’Alene to open the shop, we lived in Kenwood and one of our former homes was just next to the St. Jean Estate Vineyard. It will be a wonderful trip down memory lane, but also a great chance to taste really good wine in a historic chateau.
One final suggestion, if you have a wine that you really like from a wine tourism area like Napa, Sonoma or Walla Walla, go visit the winery. Call them first and let them know you are a fan and that you would like to learn more about the winery operations. Most every hospitality team will be thrilled to host one of their customers. Enjoy your trip!
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.