Friday, August 4, 2017

Cellar Dwellers Do Napa

Trip date: January 2016

A few years ago my friend Lorraine invited me to sit in as a guest at her Cellar Dwellers wine tasting. They were a group of 12 who got together regularly to eat, drink, and discuss delicious things. I knew most of the people in the group, though not well, and also had the pleasure of meeting some new friends; John, Amanda, Benson & Kel. That was June 19th, 2013.

I got to keep my seat and over the last 4 years these friends have been there for me in so many ways. And so many times. They are full of love, laughter, amazing taste, extraordinary skills, and are just all-around-great people that I feel so lucky to know. This week Kel passed away unexpectedly and now I am reeling from the sudden void he's left. I know the others are feeling it as well.

I only knew Kel a short while but I had so many awesome times with him both as part of the group and separately. Last January Cellar Dwellers (missing Sandra & Travis who were on a round-the-world-trip) decided to take our wine tasting on the road to the Napa area; I started this post before Kel left us, it seems fitting to finish it now.  

Our flight was delayed out of SeaTac so it was later than we planned when 6 of us finally touched down in Santa Rosa, got our rental van, and drove to The Retreat where we were meeting 4 other Cellar Dwellers and Sarah's parents, who were all cooking a gorgeous dinner for us. Each of us had our own bottle of the olive oil that the Lawers produce at our table setting.

Sarah's parents, David and Betsy, own Lawer Estates winery and vacation rentals in Calistoga where the 10 of us would be staying. After dinner we split up with 6 of us going to The Lodge, and the other 4 staying at The Farmhouse in the Vineyards. All of these properties are absolutely wonderful and I couldn't recommend them more!

The next morning was cool and drizzly, but we weren't too bothered as we were heading to the Culinary Institute of America to take a wine class called "Tasting Like a Pro". The 2 1/2  hour class was super fun and our group will forever disagree over the flavor charactistics of oak.
CIA Greystone has a lot of courses and if you're into food and/or wine it's a great thing to do while in the Napa area.

All that wine drinking, I mean tasting, had us ready for an afternoon cocktail and some lunch. We chose nearby Goose & Gander. There were many orders of Fried Chicken Sandwiches and the house burger outfitted with gruyere and bacon.
Main Street was perfect for window shopping, loading up on Model Bakery English muffins for the house, and doing a little wine tasting at Orin Swift before hitting the grocery store and heading back to The Lodge.
Lorraine and I made cocktails that night, Sonja and Gavin cooked a delicious dinner, and the others tried to conquer a giant puzzle. Afterward, Kel baked chocolate chip cookies, including gluten free ones for Sarah and Sonja taught us all to play a dice game. It felt like one big happy family!
We were up and out of the houses early the next day (minus Benson who was stuck in bed with a cold) to make our tasting appointment with the winemaker at Lioco, Kai Kliegl.  Pretty much everything here was fantastic including the Pinot Noirs. I think Lioco has become a CD fave and I know a few of us get very excited when we see their rosés in our shops in the summer.
Sarah's parents kindly invited us to have lunch with them at the Mayacama Country Club in nearby Santa Rosa. And because David is super generous, he brought both a 1999 and a 2003 Silver Oak for us to enjoy with lunch. Those Cabs definitely called for a burger!
We stopped for a little shopping at the Bottle Barn, which has great prices on booze and some things you can't get in Seattle. The back of our van continued to fill as we went to our afternoon tasting at Two Shepherds Wines. Our group was very divided on the wines here, they're pretty high acid, even for this girl. But they did have this super cute dog!

Before dinner we had the chance to stop into Lawer Estates and do a little wine shopping! Back at The Lodge, Lorraine and I mixed up some more drinks while Benson and Kel made a fabulous dinner served with lots of wine. There were more tipsy games at the dinner table as well. So fun!
The next morning was absolutely gorgeous so Sonja and I walked to The Farmhouse property and through the woods and vineyards. Everything was dormant as it was January, but it was still so beautiful!
It was our last morning and back at The Lodge the final pieces were laid in the puzzle, the last of the English muffins were toasted, we packed our bags and checked out of our lovely house.

Our final wine appointment was an over-the-top private tour and tasting at Ridge Vineyards. Ridge is one of the oldest vineyards in the Sonoma Valley and is very famous for coming in 5th at the Judgement of Paris.
The tour took place both in the vineyard and in the cellars and was quite interesting. We were then led to a private room and tasted through 5 wines. It was absolutely excellent. And then we all pulled out our wallets and did some more shopping!
We had a bit of time to kill before our flight so we drove to Healdsburg and walked around the quaint town. Pre-flight meals at In-n-Out Burger were obtained before unloading our van at Santa Rosa airport. Alaska Airlines allows each passenger flying out of STS to check a case of wine for free and boy did we take advantage of that!

Kel I love you and will miss you so damn much. I'm so lucky to know this group of wonderful people and I look forward to recounting many memories of you, continuing to learn about you, and hopefully coming to terms with the loss of you. But I'll never forget you. xoxo

All trip photos here.