Napa Valley

Tuesday, March 4, 2008 -- Dunnigan, CA

Today, our objective was to see Napa Valley. Our camp in Dunnigan is about 60 miles from the town of Napa. We had two choices in how to get there. The first was the easier and most logical as it's almost all 4-lane freeway, but a few more miles than the alternative. Choice two was a tad shorter but on the map the road looked like a serpent coiled up and ready to strike.

We chose the latter, of course.

The mountains of the coastal range form a series of valleys here, one of them being Napa Valley. The valley runs in a generally northwest to southeast direction. The Napa River drains the valley toward the southeast where it empties into San Pablo Bay, then San Francisco Bay, and finally the Pacific Ocean.

To get to the valley from Dunnigan, we first had to cross mountains that separate the Central Valley of California, where Dunnigan is, and Napa Valley. The road that goes through those mountains is the snakey road I referred to above.

It may be wavy and snaky, it may have many tight 20 and 30 mph curves around rock walls with warnings about falling rock, but it is fun to drive. It also seemed to me that everyone else driving it, particularly the locals, drove like they're battling for first place in the last lap at Le Mans. I was pushing the little old Blazer faster than I normally would, but was usually under control and actually having a pretty good time judging the curves and trying to achieve a measure of smoothness in my driving. My real challenge was to ride that fine line between keeping myself happy and keeping Dar happy. Being over that line involved pain caused by a finger jabbing me in the ribs. That's where my quest for smoothness came in... as long as the car seemed under control and the driving inputs smooth and the jerkiness kept to a minimum, my ribs remained pain-free.

To Dar's relief we got to Napa without incident and the first order of business was to find a tourist info center where we could pick up materials about all the wineries and where they're located. Conveniently, a hoity-toity California-style cafe was right next door and Dar thought it'd be perfect to replenish our energy prior to hitting the wineries. Sounded good to me... I was a tad hungry myself, until I found that an omelet was almost $12!. Welcome to Napa Valley.

During the rest of the day we drove a loop around the entire valley. There are literally hundreds of wineries and vineyards here -- all the names you've heard and many more. We chose three smaller ones -- Clos du Val, Sequoia, and Ehlers -- as the places to stop and sample their offerings. The tasting room hosts were all personable and knowledgeable about their wines, and since it was a mid-week day, they had time to spend with us. Not only did we learn a lot about making and tasting wine, we had a great time too.

I was not blessed with the ability to make fine distinctions in the subtle tastes inherent in sophisticated wines. Dar was. She and the tasting room host get into these long discussions about the "nose" and "long finish" of this or that wine. They can detect scents of tobacco, currant, or blackberry. Trying to be a part of this conversation, I add "this one's good" or "that one's very good". I try, but that's the extent of my abilities. I know what I like and I like almost anything I taste.

We re-traced our path on the same curvy road back home again. This time, after a day of wine-tasting, Dar was a little more mellow and, despite a little scream here and there, was more agreeable to seeing us win Le Mans. "Whatever you do don't let that low-life in the BMW get by us."

She was ready for bed early.



Slightly Better than Most