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Featured: Crushing on Napa

Sitting at Starbucks in Waikiki one day in September, my friend from Tokyo taught me, “If you want a glass of wine in Japan, this is what you say…,” let me backtrack — I’m the kind of person that gets stir crazy from 10 minutes on Rosetta Stone, but having a lesson in something applicable made the learning process approachable, fun even… so back to the lesson.  ”It’s a lot like filling in the blank,” she said, “first, you say if you want white or red, shiro or aka, respectively, followed by wain o ippai onegaishimas?” Armed with my new vocabulary, I felt confident about my upcoming trip, though I wondered if I’d even have a chance to use it since I was going out of Hawaii.

You might ask why we were talking about wine, especially during my Japanese lesson, but the reason was simple enough — I was preparing to go to Napa, during “The Crush,” the autumn grape harvest in Wine Country.  It was all I could think about for weeks!

Jetlagged, but raring to go, Angela, my travel buddy, and I embarked on our wine tour for the day.  ”California wines can be tasted worldwide, but only in Wine Country can you experience the process,” our guide’s voice warbled through the loudspeaker.  We giggled like girls on our first day of school as we sat near the back of the bus; experience is precisely what we came for.  The day began with a Champagne House, yup, that’s right, it was 10am and we were tasting bubbles. A great idea as long as you’re not on an empty stomach.  Our first lesson: How to Open a Champagne Bottle (click the link), courtesy of Domaine Chandon Champagne House.  As the days turned into a week, Napa got progressively more entertaining.

A WAFT through Napa

The Wandering Concierge’s top picks for wine, accommodations, food and travel to-dos.

Your ticket to a taste of Rubicon heaven.

W: Niebaum-Coppola’s Rubicon Estate is my pick for the “W” in wine.  The sprawling Rutherford chateau is reminiscent of an era long past,  and if you are a Cab drinker, you’ll be pleased by their beautifully balanced offerings.  Skip the tour (a bit lengthy) and head for the tasting room.  Look for Ed at the Rubicon Bar for a five-wine tasting featuring non-distributed Captain’s reserve wines, as well as their CASK and flagship Rubicon cabernets (The “Daniel Tasting,” $25).  Ed is knowledgeable, good humored and actually drinks wine (Writer’s Note:  I say this because I was surprised by how many tasting rooms had servers that don’t drink wine, yet make recommendations to customers.  Thankfully, this was not the case at Rubicon; Don’t hesitate to ask if your server drinks wine before you start a tasting, believe me, it makes a difference!)  After your tasting, roam the grounds at your leisure in a haze of cabernet perfection.

New at the Estate:

This winter, Rubicon’s Chef Alex Lovick begins a new wine and food tasting program with seasonally changing food offerings paired with wines like their award-winning CASK Cabernet, this tasting is available daily for $35.

The Chateau is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily.

A: Please do not leave Napa without staying at Lavender or one of her sister properties.  Located in Yountville, Napa’s foodie heaven, this Bed and Breakfast is walking distance from world-renowned restaurant French Laundry.  Take a bike ride at sunset through the vineyards using one of the Bed and Breakfasts complimentary Elektra bicycles, enjoy in-house wine tastings from wineries throughout Napa, or try a slept-in-too-late for breakfast-soak in Room 7′s private jetted tub (don’t forget the bubbles — ones for the bath and ones for your flute) as the calming fragrance of lavender wafts in the air, the crisp morning air clears your head and the heat of your bubble bath enfolds you.

This quietly elegant B & B has excellent specials like the “carpe diem” package that rewards you for your spontaneity with rates from $135-$175 depending on the time of year.  For a full list of their current promotions go to: http://www.lavendernapa.com/specials.htm and don’t forget to say a warm aloha to Ms. Marian at the front desk, the picture of unpretentious and exceptional service.

Room 7's private jetted tub.

F: Staying in Yountville, with more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere in the country, made it difficult to go elsewhere to satiate our palates; luckily, we discovered V. Sattui Winery before we got there.  With their gourmet market & deli, and 2.5 acres of tree-shaded grounds for picnicking, V. Sattui was my favorite stop for food (who doesn’t love to eat alfresco!)     They have over 200 cheeses from around the world to pair with your bottle of wine while you bask in the Napa sun.

Celebrating their 125th Anniversary, V. Sattui is the place for the perfect picnic.

T: Travel on the Napa Valley Wine Train to Grgich Hills Estate where Mr. Grgich still traverses the grounds in his signature blue beret.  The tour at Grgich Hills was the most informative and enjoyable of all the tours we experienced, especially since there’s a great chance of running into the man himself.  If you find yourself hungry after your tour, stop at California classic, Filippi’s Pizza Grotto (forgive me, I’m from New York), mere steps away from the Wine Train.

Let the Wine Train be your designated driver.

As one of nine cities that are considered the Great Wine Capitals of the world (and the only one in the US) Napa is a delight for any traveler.  Whether or not you like wine, there are a myriad of experiences in Napa just waiting to entertain you, like world-class spas, art-inspired wineries, romance around every bubble, and the food that will keep you coming back for more.  I have a feeling you’re going to love it!

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Coming up:

Hawaii for the Holidays: What not to miss while traveling to Hawaii in December, a section packed with gift-giving ideas and the chance to win marvelous prizes.

UPDATE:

Enter the Sweepstakes here.  Good Luck!

Prize is for two tickets to Ballet Hawaii’s opening night performance of Nutcracker on Friday, December 17, 2010. The winner will be announced in the December 14th article.  A hui hou!

Editor's Note: Have a question or comment? Leave a message in the comments below.

Katherine HsiaKnown affectionately as "the wandering concierge," Katherine segued a hospitality career in fabulous New York City into a life pursuing her passions of writing, adventure and travel on the spectacular island of O'ahu. She is a freelance writer for publications such as Honolulu Magazine, Hawai'i Parent, Freesurf, and more, while working on her Hawaiian comic and non-fiction book. She enjoys seeing life for its whimsical beauty, great meals with good friends, her love affair with travel, and being overstimulated by new experiences. Want to get in touch with Kat? Add her on facebook or send her a message on her website, http://www.katherinehsia.com, where she's been known to get her blog on.

  • Al Peña

    Are you drunk yet?! Great Napa write-up and as always, coming up with better & better writing skills. Keep up the good work Kaye. Tito Al

  • http://www.katherinehsia.com Katherine Hsia

    Tito Al,

    Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you are reading and I hope you are enjoying a Happy Holiday season in New York.

    Aloha!

  • Peng Mempin

    When my brother took me and my family to Napa last 2004, we never got to check-out these places maybe because we had our kids with us. Now that i know that Napa have these wonderful sites, thanks to your very informative and elaborate tour, am now planning to go back, hopefully with your Dad, and do what you actually did!

    More power to you and all the best always!

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