The weather forecasters were “calling for” (as they say in Amerispeak) rain with some windy conditions on Friday and Saturday. We awoke to gloomy, though still dry conditions and it wasn’t too long before we joined in the gloominess ourselves.
Being a weekday, albeit a Friday, I thought we might drive over to Napa Valley with ideas of its being a little quieter, perhaps for some lunch in St. Helena. Rather than the twisting and turning over the hills into the valley, we chose a more main roads route and softly-spoken Sue got us to downtown Napa itself where we stopped for a couple of espressos, largely to avail ourselves of their restroom. Napa was OK but unscintillating so we returned to the car to head up to St. Helena.
I suppose that the Napa Valley might be considered a natural habitat for a bottleneck. St. Helena is at least a bottleneck and may actually be a cork. Heading north into St. Helena, about two miles out, the traffic began a stop-start crawl. As we finally entered the town itself we spotted a parking lot with some spaces and swung over the southbound traffic stream only to discover that the car park was for “customers only” of something or other. There had to be a catch somewhere. Driving over the hills and dropping down into St. Helena missed all these traffic flow problems; that is clearly the better way to do it.
Time was marching on (it was now approaching 2:00PM) and we were unwilling to fight our way back into the slow-moving traffic to crawl deeper into St. Helena in search of another parking space so we went south and returned to good ol’ V. Sattui winery and its deli for another picnic, this time a chicken pesto sandwich with roasted vegetables but without the sunshine accompaniment.
Lunch over, we thought we’d try a tasting at Grgich Hills which we had spotted on our way up from Napa. Grgich Hills supposedly made president Ronnie Reagan’s favourite chardonnay, I had been told many years ago. The traffic heading north was still a nose to tail crawl as we headed south and into Grgich Hills. There was space for the car in the car park but there didn’t seem to be any space for us at the tasting counters which were crawling with pretty people.
We went down a little further to Rutherford Winery, a Robert Mondavi establishment, which looked bigger but where there were even more pretty people’s cars. We were met by a host who explained that there were two tasting rooms, one offering a tasting of “a flight” of three wines for $15 and the reserve room offering individual tastings at, if I understood correctly, $5 a glass. Hmm – and the difference is …? I didn’t ask. We had a nose around the gift shop where I overheard some pretentious prattle about Robert Mondavi having single-handedly changed America’s approach to sauvignon blanc, or some such. Then we left the pretty people to their fun and games.
We returned over Oakville Grade pausing for a wander around the square in Sonoma in an attempt to refresh our flagging spirits a little. The “called for” rain responded to the call and began. We headed back home via Whole Foods to pick up some of their crab cakes and salad before murdering two bottles of white without a single pretentious pretty person in sight. Personally, I only needed the wine.
It is quite incredible what has happened to the Napa Valley since I was travelling to San Francisco on a regular basis working. We used to drive out there at weekends and find plenty of space to spare both on the roads and in the tasting rooms. Now you can’t move on a weekday.
FF to tomorrow.