This is how we play catch up. The day had a strange sense of deja vu as we ended up in the same place on the same road doing the same thing several times. Only different. So let me explain. Every Tuesday they hold a Farmers' Market on the car park next to the Oxbow Market Building, so we started our day off there. What a fantastic range of stuff and so colourful. The tomatoes were all shades of red from the bright red that we are used to, to brick red! You know how raspberries are red? Well they also come in orange and yellow too. The onions were huge and the red ones a brilliant shade hinting towards pink! There was a great store selling Mexican dahlias with long colourful spikes. And all that was before we started spending money.
Truth be told we must be a soft touch for stalls that offer tasting opportunities. A lady selling peaches had such a wide range of fruit from soft, juicy peaches to firm sweet ones, and several in between. You could mix and match so we bought two of each of our favourite kinds! Didn't need to taste the apples but hit the same purchase plan just the same. At another stall we were feted with Bolani, an Afghan bread kind of like a pitta or a Naan bread, and flavoured with pumpkin, potato or spinach and spread with various dips in all sorts of combinations. We plumped for the spinach bolani, and jalopeno, cilantro and a garlic cheese yoghurt dip.
As we wandered through the market, various stall holders twigged the accent and we found ourselves in a range of the first of several interesting conversations through the day. Before leaving we popped indoors to pick up a bottle of the port infused chocolate liquer to make sure we'd got something for our ice cream for the rest of the trip.
The rest of the morning was spent picking out some of the seemingly more picturesque vineyard premises. This entailed a good 20 mile drive up towards Calistoga, just beyond the pretty township of St Helena. We would have liked to have stopped there but there were significant road works taking place slowing everybody down to a crawl, so we'd lost quite a bit of time. Our first target was the Sterling Vineyard which has a quite stunning modern complex easily viewed from the main road but not easily photographed. After a couple of useless forays down local sidetracks we decided to call it a bad job and head to Castello di Amoroso, which offers it's own great view of Sterling!
The Castello is quite a site; an authentic Italianate Castello, perched on the side of the Napa Valley complete with turrets, towers and appropriate brickwork and construction. It comes as no surprise then to discover that the owner is Italian! Needless to say, there's a fee to pay to enter, and a fee to pay for tasting, and depending on the fee you pay, the more of the castle you get to see. However, we were quite happy with what we'd seen from outside and hadn't planned on tasting here anyway.
Heading back south towards St Helena, we came across Chateau St Clement, an attractive house in no way seeking to appraise the American audience of the true chateau style, but well worthy of photograph anyway. However, that was as far as it got as this was what seemed to be a rarity - a vineyard in Napa Valley that closes one day a week! Just a little further along the road we were rewarded with the opportuity to visit the Beringer Estate with it's family home and winery just off the road. This time the European architectural influence is an understated Germanic - Belgian style with beautiful stained glass throughout the main building. In common with all of the vineyards visited to this point the grounds are immaculate with a strong gardening team out and about attending to various pruning and tidying activities.
We were now reaching lunchtime and decided that we would head to the valley slopes to seek an advantageous viewpoint across the valley. We tried a couple of side roads, only to find the local wooded slopes much denser than we had anticipated, and although our guide book hinted at a couple of vineyards with picnic facilities, it was clear that they were understandably for the use of paying customers only. So we cut our losses and headed up to Lake Hennessey, a small reservoir perched above the valley. We found a suitable lay by, parked the car and scrambled down the slope to the lakeside to enjoy our lunch in the quiet surroundings and attractive view of the lake. It was only when we clambered back up the slope that we found a big sign hinting at all manner of dark terrors should anyone be found, swimming, dog walking or picnicking on the shores!
Suitably refreshed we set out for our three main venues of the afternoon. With our wedding anniversary coming up later in the trip, we though it would be a good idea to celebrate with a bottle of Mumm's Sparkling. Having made our purchase we then took the opportunity to view the vineyard, the tasting terraces and the excellent art gallery on site. There's a small but rewarding display of Ansel Adams photos together with a provocative and lively display of photographs edited to show dream themes through the Third World.
And so to taste some wine. Remaining true to our intention to avoid the big names we ended up at Hagafen and Andretti vineyards. At both venues we were able to taste 4 wines, which of course became 6 or more with a careful bit of glass swapping, and when we expressed an interest in other wines not on the menu, the servers invariably fulfilled our interests! As a consquence, our car boot now has sufficient wine to see us well beyond the length of this trip, but I'm sure we'll get by!
Back at Napa, we were early enough for me to squeeze in a visit to the Loose Caboose, the local toy train shop. Some fantastic stuff, but mostly metal and sure to hammer the weight allowance so you're out of luck today Oliver. However, I hear they've got a great railway museum in Sacramento along our route to Lake Tahoe tomorrow.